In Multipolarity

New Cold, Dec 19, 2016

People at displaced persons center in Aleppo (photo by Andrew Ashdown)

People at displaced persons center in Aleppo (photo by Andrew Ashdown)

Enclosed are three reports by Reverend Andrew Ashdown and one report by Vanessa Beeley, published on their Fascebook pages.

Andrew Ashdown is a vicar in the Anglican Church in England. He just returned from a one-week visit to Damascus and Aleppo. His Facebook page is full of reports of his visit.

Vanessa Beeley is a journalist and Palestinian rights advocate in the UK who has reported on Syria for years. She is reporting from Aleppo.

Visit to a displaced persons center in Aleppo

Published on the Facebook page of Reverend Andrew Ashdown, Dec 14, 2016

This morning we visited the main IDP Registration centre at Jibrin, for Internally Displaced Persons from East Aleppo. They are registered here for humanitarian reasons and access to services, before they go either to relatives in other parts of Syria if they have them (many do), or to other reception centres where they are provided with accommodation, food and other services. During the past two weeks they have registered 95,000 refugees, but estimate there may be a further 10,000 who have not registered. There were thousands of people there who have arrived within the last couple of days. Let me make clear that we visited in a taxi without Government or Army accompaniment, and without prior notice. We were not expected.

The Centre is well organised. The Syrian Red Crescent have tents available that offer information about all social welfare facilities available, and offer free medical attention. In cases of emergency, ambulances are on hand to transport patients to hospital. Free food is being distributed by the Syrian Red Crescent and the Syrian Army, and we saw a convoy of Russian lorries providing aid. There is also a Russian field hospital on site which offers immediate medical treatment.

The sense of relief amongst the thousands of refugees is palpable. All were keen to talk, and we interviewed several who had arrived only yesterday and today. They all said the same thing. They said that they had been living in fear. They reported that the fighters have been telling everyone that the Syrian Army would kill anyone who fled to the West, but had killed many themselves who tried to leave – men, women and children. One woman broke down in tears as she told how one of her sons was killed by the rebels a few days ago, and another kidnapped. They also killed anyone who showed signs of supporting the Government. The refugees said that the ‘rebels’ told them that only those who support them are “true Muslims”, and that everyone else are ‘infidels’ and deserve to die.

hey told us they had been given very little food: that any aid that reached the area was mostly refused to them or sold at exorbitant prices. Likewise, most had been given no medical treatment. (A doctor who has been working with the refugees for weeks told me last night that in an area recently liberated, a warehouse filled with brand new internationally branded medicines had been discovered.) Most of the refugees said they had had members of their families killed by the rebels and consistently spoke of widespread murder, torture, rape and kidnap by the rebels. They said if anyone left their homes, their properties and belongings were confiscated and stolen.

One old man in a wheelchair who was being given free treatment in the Russian Field Hospital said he had been given no treatment for three years despite asking. He said: “Thank God we are free. We now have food. We can now live our lives. God bless the Syrian Army.” They all said they were glad to be out and to be free. All the refugees without exception were visibly without exception clearly profoundly relieved and happy to be free. One woman said: “This is heaven compared to what we have been living.” We asked if the Syrian Army had ill-treated anyone. They said never. One woman said: “They helped us to escape and they provide us with food and assistance.”

I therefore have two key questions:

  1. It is now only the Syrian Red Crescent, the Syrian Army, and the Russians who are providing humanitarian aid to the tens of thousands who have fled East Aleppo. Why are none of the international agencies offering to help them now?
  2.  Why is it, given that stories about massacres by the Syrian Army are headline news worldwide, and several international media units are in Aleppo, that there is not one international media agency actually at the Registration Centre talking to the refugees themselves? We were the only ones there. Here are people who have lived through it who are keen to talk, yet the media take at face value unverifiable claims by highly dubious sources. The collapse of any form of reliable investigative journalism in a context of global significance is utterly shocking.

Today the agreement for 4000 fighters to leave Aleppo is reported to have collapsed after the fighters had refused to fulfil the agreement. (I don’t know the details, but think about it… There is no reason on earth why the Syrian Government would want this agreement, which would involve the complete liberation of the city, to fail!) It is reported that the fighters refused to leave or let the civilians do so.

The refusal of the western media to report objectively, or to seek informed information from the thousands of civilians from East Aleppo who are keen to share their stories, whilst granting full credibility to terrorists without any on the ground verifiable information on their claims, is nothing short of obscene.

Everything that I have seen and heard in Aleppo; from civilians in East and West from all communities, and from talking with doctors, faith communities and with Army people as well, and witnessing and risking bombardments on both sides, convinces me that the reports in the western media are twisted fabrications of the horrors that are happening in ‘rebel’ controlled areas. And still, the media refuses to listen to the witness of the people themselves.

Postscript: Christmas is coming in Syria. In a country and a city in which people of all faiths are free to worship; where mosques and Churches stand side by side; and where Christmas music is playing in cafes and restaurants. And yet the world is mourning the defeat in Aleppo of extremists who destroy Christian and Muslim places of worship, and slaughter any who do not follow their obscene ideology.

Interview with Reverend Andrew Ashdown (Church of England) in Damascus, following his visit to Aleppo

Broadcast on, Dec 17, 2016 (six minutes)

The fall of extremist-controlled Aleppo

Published on the Facebook page of Reverend Andrew Ashdown, Dec 11, 2016

I sensed that I was coming to Aleppo at an historic moment, and tonight I think that is true. Throughout the night there has been an unceasing and relentless bombardment of the last ‘rebel’-controlled pockets in the city, all of which I have a bird’s eye view from my hotel room.

Every few seconds there are huge explosions rending the air and lighting up the sky a few kilometres away, interspersed with rapid bursts of gunfire. I can see tracer bullets, and the trail of missiles as they hit their target. This is a frightening, relentless and prolonged attack that has gone on for hours.

I watch and listen with sadness and ambiguity. Sadness because as a priest I abhor violence, hate conflict, am thinking of any civilians trapped in that hell-hole and wondering how many are dying – and because like everyone else, I only want peace. But ambiguity, because over the past few years, I have been listening to the voices of ordinary Syrians whose cries and experiences of brutality and violence at the hands of extremist terrorist factions supported by the international community have been ignored by the outside world ; and whose suffering in the conflict has been exploited and heightened by the arrogant intransigence and bloody-minded single-mindedness of an international agenda that has nothing to do with the interests or human rights of the Syrian people.

The fact is, across the country, and amongst the citizens of Aleppo – including those who have finally been able to flee the terrorist-controlled areas and are emerging with heart-rending accounts of the violence and brutality meted out on them these past years by the terrorists occupying their neighbourhoods – everyone wants to see the terrorists defeated and an end to the fighting.

Independent journalist, Vanessa Beeley interviewed one woman yesterday who had fled East Aleppo a few days ago and whose 8 year old daughter was killed and husband shot by the ‘rebels’, and who saw a woman shot in the mouth asking them for food who said: “I hope the Army will show them no mercy. They are animals and deserve to die.” (Vanessa will be uploading a video of the interview soon.)

The international community are calling for a ceasefire. Why on earth, when the Syrian Army are making such progress which the people of Aleppo are celebrating, and when every ceasefire so far has been used to resupply the terrorists, would the Syrian Government stop now? The last ceasefire which the Government held for two weeks last month was broken relentlessly by ‘rebel’ attacks on Western Aleppo that killed and maimed dozens of innocent civilians.

Make no mistake, this is not a Government attacking its own people. I have laid out before me a whole city, in the majority of which, and as in all other Government-held areas of the country, citizens from whatever faith or ethnic community, are getting on with their lives and living together. I am standing a few kilometres away from the battle zone but am safe. The bombing is taking place, not across the city, but only in those small pockets of the city where the ‘rebels’ have held out. Most of the civilians that have been able to flee those areas are being looked after in Centres run by the Syrian Government and Syrian Red Crescent and with aid which the Russians are providing. They all tell of the ‘rebels’ shooting at those trying to leave. (Few know anything about the ‘White Helmets’ and those that do, have little good to say about them because they are working with the terrorists.)

So I stand here watching a battle with deeply mixed and conflicted feelings…sadness at the loss of life taking place before me; but a feeling like so many others in this city that the Syrian Government has been left with no other choice. It is only when fighting ceases that a political solution can be found, but it is clear that as long as the Western -backed al-Qaeda linked terrorists are able to operate, there can and will be no peace in the city or the country.

Believe me, most Syrians are cheering their army on. The refusal of western governments and media to listen to the Syrian people, and to follow only their own agendas, has ensured that this brutal conflict and suffering on all sides has gone on for far too long. So as I watch a relentless battle taking place before my eyes, I feel that sadly, there is no other option. And when the battle ends, in Aleppo and in other parts of the country, the long and no doubt difficult and painful task of rebuilding people’s lives, and healing the pain, will begin.

Report from a displaced persons center in Aleppo

By Vanessa Beeley, published on Facebook, Dec 18, 2016 (with video)

Civilians from recently liberated East Aleppo gather at the registration centre in Jibreen 13/12/2016. People were steadily streaming in during the two hours we spent in this area, interviewing and filming.

Not once did we see any indication that the SAA, Hezbollah or any other allied soldiers were causing any distress for these civilians. On the contrary it was clear that everyone we spoke to was grateful to the Army for their freedom and respite from four years of incarceration under a Nusra Front led terrorist regime in their own homes in the districts of East Aleppo.

The lies that are being spun in the corporate media in the west are nothing short of grotesque.

* * *

Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.

For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents: “Don’t send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin.” Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it.

This month, people in Aleppo have finally seen glimmers of hope. The Syrian army and its allies have been pushing militants out of the city. Last week they reclaimed the main power plant. Regular electricity may soon be restored. The militants’ hold on the city could be ending.

Militants, true to form, are wreaking havoc as they are pushed out of the city by Russian and Syrian Army forces. “Turkish-Saudi backed ‘moderate rebels’ showered the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo with unguided rockets and gas jars,” one Aleppo resident wrote on social media. The Beirut-based analyst Marwa Osma asked, “The Syrian Arab Army, which is led by President Bashar Assad, is the only force on the ground, along with their allies, who are fighting ISIS — so you want to weaken the only system that is fighting ISIS?”

This does not fit with Washington’s narrative. As a result, much of the American press is reporting the opposite of what is actually happening. Many news reports suggest that Aleppo has been a “liberated zone” for three years but is now being pulled back into misery.

The US would be more secure if it had followed Russia’s foreign policy lead in the past.

Americans are being told that the virtuous course in Syria is to fight the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian partners. We are supposed to hope that a righteous coalition of Americans, Turks, Saudis, Kurds, and the “moderate opposition” will win.

This is convoluted nonsense, but Americans cannot be blamed for believing it. We have almost no real information about the combatants, their goals, or their tactics. Much blame for this lies with our media.

Under intense financial pressure, most American newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks have drastically reduced their corps of foreign correspondents. Much important news about the world now comes from reporters based in Washington. In that environment, access and credibility depend on acceptance of official paradigms. Reporters who cover Syria check with the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, and think tank “experts.” After a spin on that soiled carousel, they feel they have covered all sides of the story. This form of stenography produces the pabulum that passes for news about Syria.

Astonishingly brave correspondents in the war zone, including Americans, seek to counteract Washington-based reporting. At great risk to their own safety, these reporters are pushing to find the truth about the Syrian war. Their reporting often illuminates the darkness of groupthink. Yet for many consumers of news, their voices are lost in the cacophony. Reporting from the ground is often overwhelmed by the Washington consensus.

Washington-based reporters tell us that one potent force in Syria, al-Nusra, is made up of “rebels” or “moderates,” not that it is the local al-Qaeda franchise. Saudi Arabia is portrayed as aiding freedom fighters when in fact it is a prime sponsor of ISIS. Turkey has for years been running a “rat line” for foreign fighters wanting to join terror groups in Syria, but because the United States wants to stay on Turkey’s good side, we hear little about it. Nor are we often reminded that although we want to support the secular and battle-hardened Kurds, Turkey wants to kill them. Everything Russia and Iran do in Syria is described as negative and destabilizing, simply because it is they who are doing it — and because that is the official line in Washington.

Inevitably, this kind of disinformation has bled into the American presidential campaign. At the recent debate in Milwaukee, Hillary Clinton claimed that United Nations peace efforts in Syria were based on “an agreement I negotiated in June of 2012 in Geneva.” The precise opposite is true. In 2012 Secretary of State Clinton joined Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel in a successful effort to kill Kofi Annan’s UN peace plan because it would have accommodated Iran and kept Assad in power, at least temporarily. No one on the Milwaukee stage knew enough to challenge her.

Politicians may be forgiven for distorting their past actions. Governments may also be excused for promoting whatever narrative they believe best suits them. Journalism, however, is supposed to remain apart from the power elite and its inbred mendacity. In this crisis it has failed miserably.

Americans are said to be ignorant of the world. We are, but so are people in other countries. If people in Bhutan or Bolivia misunderstand Syria, however, that has no real effect. Our ignorance is more dangerous, because we act on it. The United States has the power to decree the death of nations. It can do so with popular support because many Americans — and many journalists — are content with the official story. In Syria, it is: “Fight Assad, Russia, and Iran! Join with our Turkish, Saudi, and Kurdish friends to support peace!” This is appallingly distant from reality. It is also likely to prolong the war and condemn more Syrians to suffering and death.

The media are misleading the public on Syria, by Stephen Kinzer, The Boston Globe, Feb 18, 2016

Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why….

Stephen Kinzer was a reporter at the New York Times for decades, including in Central America during the 1980s. He served as bureau chief of the Times in Berlin and in Istanbul during the 1990s.


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