Category Archives: Syria

The Powers Behind The Islamic State: Interview with Nafeez Ahmed

‘Investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed gives specific examples of how Saudi, Qatari, and American interests have supported the group formerly known as ISIS, and what the global community can do now to reign them in.’ (The Real News)

What Wannabe Jihadists Order on Amazon Before Leaving for Syria

Mehdi Hasan writes for the New Statesman:

The cast of Chris Morris’s black comedy Four Lions. Photo: Magnolia Pictures‘Can you guess which books the wannabe jihadists Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed ordered online from Amazon before they set out from Birmingham to fight in Syria last May? A copy of Milestones by the Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb? No. How about Messages to the World: the Statements of Osama Bin Laden? Guess again. Wait, The Anarchist Cookbook, right? Wrong.

Sarwar and Ahmed, both of whom pleaded guilty to terrorism offences last month, purchased Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies. You could not ask for better evidence to bolster the argument that the 1,400-year-old Islamic faith has little to do with the modern jihadist movement. The swivel-eyed young men who take sadistic pleasure in bombings and beheadings may try to justify their violence with recourse to religious rhetoric think the killers of Lee Rigby screaming “Allahu Akbar” at their trial; think of Islamic State beheading the photojournalist James Foley as part of its “holy war”but religious fervour isn’t what motivates most of them.’

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Suspect Identified in James Foley Beheading Is Failed Rapper

Rachel Browne reports for the Sydney Morning Herald:

‘British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 have identified the man suspected of the horrific beheading of American journalist James Foley, according to British media reports. The hooded man with an English accent is believed to be 23-year-old Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, known to fellow Islamic State militants as Jihadi John.

The former rapper left his family home in an affluent west London suburb last year to fight in the civil war in Syria. In early August he tweeted a photo of himself wearing military camouflage and a black hood, while holding a severed head in his left hand. British SAS forces are hunting Foley’s killer, using a range of high-tech equipment to track him down and potentially free other hostages.’

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Foley murder video ‘may have been staged’

Bill Gardner reports for The Telegraph:

Still from video which shows the beheading of American journalist James Foley‘The video of James Foley’s execution may have been staged, with the actual murder taking place off-camera, it has emerged. Forensic analysis of the footage of the journalist’s death has suggested that the British jihadist in the film may have been the frontman rather than the killer.

The clip, which apparently depicts Mr Foley’s brutal beheading, has been widely seen as a propaganda coup for Islamic State miltant group. But a study of the four-minute 40-second clip, carried out by an international forensic science company which has worked for police forces across Britain, suggested camera trickery and slick post-production techniques appear to have been used.’

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Air strikes? Talk of God? Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script after James Foley beheading

Robert Fisk writes for The Independent:

‘The “caliphate” has some pretty tough theatrical producers. They write a bleak and savage script. Our job is now to respond to each line, and they understand us well enough to know just what we’ll say. So they beheaded James Foley and threatened to do the same to one of his colleagues, and what do we do? Exactly what I predicted 24 hours ago: turn Foley’s murder into a further reason to go on bombing the Isis “caliphate”. And what else did they provoke from us – or at least from America’s vacationing President? A battle on strictly religious terms, which is exactly what they wanted.

Yes, Barack Obama – before he headed back to the golf links – informed the world that “No just God would stand for what they [Isis] did yesterday, and for what they do every single day.” So there you have it: Obama turned the “caliphate’s” savagery into an inter-religious battle of rival Gods, “ours” [ie the West’s] against “theirs” [the Muslim God, of course]. This was the nearest Obama has yet come in rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 in which he said that “we” are going to go on a “Crusade”.’

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Obama makes ISIS enemy number one

Justin Sink reports for The Hill:

‘The Obama administration has elevated the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to enemy No. 1 following the brutal murder of the American journalist James Foley. Top administration officials in recent days have denounced that the group in the strongest possible terms while warning it poses an imminent threat to American interests.

Officials have hinted that the U.S. might consider expanding the scope and intensity of airstrikes to take on ISIS, potentially by moving the bombing campaign in Iraq across the border into Syria. But whether the administration’s rhetorical shift will be matched by action remains to be seen.

The president’s own aides on Friday acknowledged that it would take “a long time” to fully defeat ISIS, and President Obama was elected in no small part due to his opposition to the war in Iraq and skepticism toward costly international entanglements.’

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U.S. Weighs Direct Military Action Against ISIS in Syria

Peter Baker And Michael D Shear report for The New York Times:

‘The Obama administration is debating a more robust intervention in Syria, including possible American airstrikes, in a significant escalation of its weeks-long military assault on the Islamic extremist group that has destabilized neighboring Iraq and killed an American journalist, officials said Friday.

While President Obama has long resisted being drawn into Syria’s bloody civil war, officials said recent advances by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had made clear that it represents a threat to the interests of the United States and its allies. The beheading of James Foley, the American journalist, has contributed to what officials called a “new context” for a challenge that has long divided the president’s team.

Officials said the options include speeding up and intensifying limited American efforts to train and arm moderate Syrian rebel forces that have been fighting both ISIS as well as the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Another option would be to bolster other partners on the ground to take on ISIS, including the Syrian Kurds.

But American officials said they would also take a look at airstrikes by fighter jets and bombers as well as potentially sending Special Operations forces into Syria, like those who tried to rescue Mr. Foley and other hostages on a mission in July. One possibility officials have discussed for Iraq that could be translated to Syria would be a series of unmanned drone strikes targeting ISIS leaders, much like those conducted in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.’

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Was Putin right about Syria?

Ishaan Tharoor writes for The Washington Post:

‘What a difference a year makes. Around this time last year, the West was gearing up for military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was accused of carrying out chemical weapons attacks on his own people. That intervention never came to pass, not least because domestic public opinion in countries such as Britain and the United States was opposed to further entanglements in the Middle East.

Now, the U.S. is contemplating extending airstrikes on Islamic State militants operating in Iraq in Syria — fighters belonging to a terrorist organization that is leading the war against Assad. The Islamic State’s territorial gains in Iraq and continued repression and slaughter of religious minorities there and in Syria have rightly triggered global condemnation. “I am no apologist for the Assad regime,” Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria, told NPR. “But in terms of our security, [the Islamic State] is by far the greatest threat.”

The irony of the moment is tragic. But to some, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Many cautioned against the earlier insistence of the Obama administration (as well as other governments) that Assad must go, fearing what would take hold in the vacuum. One of those critics happened to be Russian President Vladimir Putin, who warned against U.S. intervention in Syria in a New York Times op-ed last September.’

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Islamic State fighters surround Syrian airbase in rapid drive to recapture lost territory

Martin Chulov reports for The Guardian:

‘Islamic State extremists rampaging through Iraq have now turned their sights back towards Syria, where only a besieged airbase stands between the terror group and a rush for the Mediterranean coast that could split the country in two. The attack on the Tabqa airbase in eastern Syria comes as Isis continues to move back towards areas it controlled north of Aleppo until February. Using weapons the group looted from abandoned Iraqi military bases, Isis has returned with a vengeance to the area, stunning regional powers with its rapid advances.

Less than three months after taking Iraq’s second and fourth biggest cities, much of Anbar province and the Syrian border, the group is establishing itself with extraordinary speed as a regional power that will determine the fate of both countries. There are growing fears across the Middle East that no regional military can slow the group’s momentum. Isis now controls a swath of land slightly larger than the UK, from Aleppo to central Iraq, and holds sway over a population of at least four million people. The group’s rapid ability to organise and consolidate continues to splinter a fractured body politic in Iraq and Syria and is fast causing ramifications for the broader Middle East.’

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Foreign Secretary: UK won’t work with Assad in Islamic State battle

BBC News reports:

‘Britain will not work with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the battle against Islamic State (IS) extremists, the foreign secretary has told the BBC. Philip Hammond said to do so would not be “practical, sensible or helpful”. Former head of the Army Lord Dannatt and ex-Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind called for the move following the beheading of US journalist James Foley by IS militants. Mr Hammond also defended the monitoring of suspected extremists in the UK.

The UK government has called for President Assad to be removed as Syrian leader as a result of his actions during the country’s civil war. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One, the foreign secretary said to co-operate with the Syrian regime would “poison” what the UK was trying to achieve. He said: “We may very well find that we are fighting, on some occasions, the same people that he is but that doesn’t make us his ally.” Earlier, Lord Dannatt called for a dialogue.’

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Interpol Urges World Response to Islamic State Extremists

The Associated Press reports:

‘Interpol says the killing of an American journalist kidnapped in Syria shows the need for a coordinated international effort against the stream of foreign fighters joining extremists in the Middle East. The international policy agency said in a statement Thursday that James Foley’s death shows the “depravity” of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq and “highlights the ongoing plight of other innocent people across the region.”

France-based Interpol is particularly concerned that a man who appears in a video of Foley’s death may be British. Interpol says this highlights “the need for a multilateral response against the terror threat posed by radicalized transnational fighters travelling to conflict zones in the Middle East.” More than a thousand radicals from Europe have joined militant fighters in Syria and Iraq.’

Foley captors’ ransom demand revives debate over US no-pay policy

Ariel Zirulnick writes for The Christian Science Monitor:

‘The militant Islamist group that murdered freelance journalist James Foley had demanded a ransom from the US government before his beheading. But the US has a strict policy of not paying ransoms to terrorist groups, putting it at odds with several European countries who have paid in the past to free hostages. Mr. Foley’s death has revived the debate over the policy.The New York Times reported recently that ransoms have bankrolled Al Qaeda operations worldwide.

According to The New York Times, the self-declared Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) demanded a $100 million ransom for Mr. Foley, which the US refused to pay. (The Wall Street Journal cited a demand of 100 million euros.) IS has made a similar demand for Steven Sotloff, another American freelance journalist being held. The US attempted to rescue hostages in Syria in a special forces operation earlier this summer, but failed to do so.

Trading captives for payouts has become a routine way for militant groups to raise revenue, netting them at least $125 million in the last five years. “Kidnapping hostages is an easy spoil, which I may describe as a profitable trade and a precious treasure,” wrote Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The US refusal to pay may discourage the kidnapping of Americans, but it also makes it less likely that they would survive captivity.’

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U.S. bars all American airlines from flying over Syria

Reuters reports:

‘The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has barred all American airlines from flying over Syria, saying the ongoing conflict poses a “serious potential threat.” The FAA had previously warned American carriers to avoid flying over Syria. The new rule requires operators to contact the FAA before operating in the airspace.

The agency said the move was taken after “updated assessment of risk” and a lack of airlines wishing to fly in the airspace. “The ongoing armed conflict and volatile security environment in Syria poses a serious potential threat to civil aviation,” the FAA said in a statement.’

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Pentagon: U.S. ship finishes neutralizing Syria’s worst chemical arms

David Alexander reports for Reuters:

‘A specially equipped U.S. ship has finished neutralizing all 600 metric tons of the most dangerous of Syria’s chemical weapons components surrendered to the international community this year to avert threatened air strikes, the Pentagon said on Monday. It said the Cape Ray, equipped with the U.S.-developed Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, neutralized 581.5 metric tons of DF, a sarin precursor chemical, and 19.8 metric tons of HD, an ingredient of sulfur mustard, while afloat in the Mediterranean.

The vessel will travel to Finland and Germany in the next two weeks to unload the resulting effluent, which will undergo treatment as industrial waste to render it safer, a Pentagon spokeswoman said. It was the first time chemical weapons components had been neutralized at sea, the Pentagon said. Damascus agreed last September to a Russian proposal to give up its chemical weapons to avert threatened military strikes by the United States and France, which accused Syria of using the arms against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.’

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The caliphate vs. everyone else

Immanuel Wallerstein writes for Al Jazeera:

‘In the endless geopolitical realignments of the Middle East, the caliphate of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) seems to have frightened just about everyone else involved in Middle Eastern politics into a de facto geopolitical alliance. All of a sudden, we find Iran and the United States, the Kurds (both in Syria and Iraq) and Israel, Turkey and Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government, western Europe (Great Britain, France, and Germany) and Russia all pursuing in different ways the same objective: stop the caliphate from expanding and consolidating.

This hasn’t yet altered significantly other loci of geopolitical conflicts such as Israel/Palestine and Ukraine, but it is sure to have an impact on them. Of course, all these actors are pursuing middle-term objectives that are quite different. Nonetheless, look at what has happened in just the first half of August.’

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Syrian rebel commander says he collaborated with Israel in confession video

Elhanan Miller reports for The Times of Israel:

Syrian opposition commander Sharif As-Safouri confesses to collaborating with Israel (photo credit: Youtube screen capture)‘A Free Syrian Army commander, arrested last month by the Islamist militia Al-Nusra Front, told his captors he collaborated with Israel in return for medical and military support, in a video released this week

In a video uploaded to YouTube Monday by the Executive Sharia Council in the eastern Daraa Region, an Islamic court established by Al-Nusra in southern Syria, Sharif As-Safouri, the commander of the Free Syrian Army’s Al-Haramein Battalion, admitted to having entered Israel five times to meet with Israeli officers who later provided him with Soviet anti-tank weapons and light arms. Safouri was abducted by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front in the Quneitra area, near the Israeli border, on July 22.’

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The Islamic State (VICE Documentary)

‘The Islamic State, a hardline Sunni jihadist group that formerly had ties to al Qaeda, has conquered large swathes of Iraq and Syria. Previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the group has announced its intention to reestablish the caliphate and has declared its leader, the shadowy Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the caliph. The lightning advances the Islamic State made across Syria and Iraq in June shocked the world. But it’s not just the group’s military victories that have garnered attention — it’s also the pace with which its members have begun to carve out a viable state. Flush with cash and US weapons seized during its advances in Iraq, the Islamic State’s expansion shows no sign of slowing down. In the first week of August alone, Islamic State fighters have taken over new areas in northern Iraq, encroaching on Kurdish territory and sending Christians and other minorities fleeing as reports of massacres emerged.VICE News reporter Medyan Dairieh spent three weeks embedded with the Islamic State, gaining unprecedented access to the group in Iraq and Syria as the first and only journalist to document its inner workings.’ (VICE News)

Frankensteinian Hubris: Bush’s “Redirection” and the Rise of ISIS

Dan Sanchez writes for Antiwar:

6-photo-henry-his-monster‘[...] It is good to remember that the policy that led to this mess was initiated under the Bush Administration, with full cognizance of the possibility that it could result in severe terroristic and destabilizing blowback. It was in 2007 that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia launched what Seymour Hersh, who broke the story in The New Yorker, called “the Redirection.” Under this policy revolution, the U.S. and the Saudis (with Israel’s blessing and prodding) began trying to bolster Sunni radicals in an effort to “contain” the “Shiite resurgence” brought about by the U.S. empowerment of the Shiites in Iraq. It all started in Lebanon.

[...] As reported by Patrick Cockburn, not all of the Saudis embraced such a blowback-inviting policy, so it would be more accurate to call it a victory for the Prince Bandar bin Sultan line. The fact that U.S. policymakers concluded that beleaguered Iran, with its long track record of not attacking a single country, is more of a danger than Sunni radicals, like the ones responsible for 9/11 and every other Al Qaeda attack, is an indication of just how little our overlords care about actually protecting us, as compared to pursuing regional power politics.

[...] Some of the radical Sunnis the U.S. has bolstered in Syria (namely, ISIS) have now crossed over into Iraq, conquered much of the northwest, and may soon take Baghdad, Maliki’s capital. I imagine this has put plenty of “fear” into his government: mission accomplished. Although, I don’t know how much “incentive” they’ll have to “cooperate” when they’re all dead or in exile.

[...] They have indeed outsmarted them, and it has indeed been ugly. Obama and the Saudis ramped up in Syria the same policy that Bush and the Saudis started pursuing in Lebanon, and the result was the same but worse. Salafi psychos in Syria, as in Lebanon, were able to get their hands on plenty of U.S. and Saudi aid. And through the course of the U.S.-supported bloody rebellion in Syria, ISIS acquired experience, recruits, arms, and territory, which they used to launch their conquest in Iraq.’

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My Neighbour, My Enemy: Inside Lebanon’s Sectarian Battleground

‘Welcome to the frontline of sectarian warfare: Tripoli, North Lebanon. In Jabal Mohsen and Bab al Tabbaneh, violent clashes between Alawite and Sunni neighbours erupt every few weeks. These two slum communities have been slugging it out since the 1970s. Neither has the energy or will to escape the futile, bloody conflict that has come to define them both. A mother of two would rather hide her children in darkness than flee the city: “Even if they enter our houses, we will slaughter them, kill them: it’s either us or them”. Abu Rami is one of the 50,000 people crammed onto the hilltop called Jabal Muhsin. “My enemy and their enemy is hunger, poverty and ignorance. My enemy is not the guns they hold and fire at me”. So says this war-weary veteran they call ‘the living martyr’, thirty-five years a militia leader – a gunman since his teens.
Down below in the predominantly Sunni district of Bab al Tabbaneh, Salafist preacher and father Sheikh Bilal al-Masri is trigger-happy and eager for a fight.”I’ve only witnessed death and killings, jail, torture, displacement, rape looting” he says of the Syrian regime. As the conflict seems to pass on from each generation, the population can only hope for a common solution to emerge from the carnage.’ (Journeyman Pictures)

Isis brings its war to Lebanon – and it could be key to a masterplan

Robert Fisk writes for The Independent:

‘[...] The world’s attention, of course, has been concentrated on the slaughter in Gaza. In the Middle East, tragedy must come one day at a time, so the Syrian civil war and the Isis takeover of western Iraq continued in the shadows of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But the Islamists’ arrival in Lebanon and the prospect of a mini-civil war around Arsal – and perhaps as far as Tripoli – could have repercussions far graver than the Gaza war. As Islamists take over Lake Mosul and other districts from the Kurds in northern Iraq and press harder against Syrian government troops, their extension into Lebanon marks their furthest progress yet from the Tigris towards the Mediterranean.

In Arsal, the fighters – officially from el-Nusra, whose own members are already joining those of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s caliphate – adopted their usual practice of seizing large buildings in the centre of the town (in this case, the technical college, a hospital and a mosque) and clinging to them in the hope that their opponents would disintegrate. The Lebanese army, which has twice defeated Islamist rebellions inside Lebanon in the past 15 years, claimed to have retaken the college, but the statements from both the Lebanese commander and Prime Minister may be taken as accurate: that the takeover of Arsal had been planned long in advance and is part of a far greater rebel strategy.’

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Villagers drive out Islamic State jihadists in Eastern Syria

From BBC News:

‘Tribesmen in three villages in eastern Syria have driven out Islamic State (IS) militants, in a rare display of local resistance to the group. Four days of fighting left nine IS fighters, three tribesmen and five civilians dead, UK-based Syrian opposition activists say. The jihadists’ actions in the Ashara area had bred resentment locally, another activist based in Turkey said.

[...] Fighting erupted on Wednesday after IS detained three tribesmen, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Turkish-based activist Mustafa Osso said. The detentions apparently broke an agreement with local people in the villages of Kishkiyeh, Abu Hamam and Granij, and tribesmen torched the IS headquarters in Ashara in retaliation, the Observatory said. IS reportedly rushed in reinforcements from the Iraqi border town of Qaim but were forced out of the villages. Tribesmen also captured the nearby Tanak oil field, according to the Observatory.’

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Syrian rebels led by al-Nusra invade Lebanese border town

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

Yesterday’s [August 2nd] attack on the Lebanese border town of Arsal by Syrian rebels led by Jabhat al-Nusra continued apace today, with Lebanese officials now convinced this was no one-off raid but a concerted effort to capture the town outright.

13 Lebanese soldiers were reported killed since the fighting began Saturday, and a fourth civilian was slain today. The toll among the rebels is unknown, and no updated figures have been released since yesterday’s report of 11 killed.’

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Cluster bombs still in use, report says

Rick Gladstone reports for The New York Times:

Cluster bombs, internationally banned weapons that can maim and destroy indiscriminately, not only have been frequently used for the past two years by government forces in the Syrian civil war but also appear to have been deployed this year by antagonists in the South Sudan and eastern Ukraine conflicts, the director of a leading disarmament advocacy group said Wednesday.

Despite progress in eradicating cluster bombs and persuading more nations to join the treaty that prohibits them, the director of the group, Sarah Blakemore of the Cluster Munition Coalition, said the widened use of the weapons this year was troubling.’

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Former FBI director says Israel’s Gaza war aiding ISIS recruitment

Evan Perez and Elise Labott report for CNN:

‘Former FBI director Robert Mueller said Friday, “what’s happening in Gaza today will feed and fuel the desire for many more to join radical groups.”

Mueller was participating in a panel at the Aspen Security Forum discussing the growing flow of foreign fighter, particularly those with western passports, to countries like Syria with the intention of joining the global jihad.

Mueller added that those inspired to join radical groups will not necessarily go to the Gaza strip, but could feel prompted to look join the larger extremist movement elsewhere (for example, in Iraq and Syria).’

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Millions displaced by religious violence in 2013

The Associated Press reports:

Millions of people were forced from their homes because of their religious beliefs last year, the U.S. government said Monday, citing the devastating impact of conflicts in Syria, Iraq and the Central African Republic.

Secretary of State John Kerry called the displacement of families and devastation of communities from sectarian violence a troubling trend in the world, as he launched the State Department 2013 report on religious freedom… The report, released annually, reviews how religious freedoms are respected and violated in almost 200 countries and territories.’

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57 Years Ago: U.S. and Britain Approved Use of Islamic Extremists to Topple Syrian Government

From Washington’s Blog:

http://heavyeditorial.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/territorial_control_of_the_isis-svg.png?w=640&h=489‘BBC reports that – in 1957 – the British and American leaders approved the use of Islamic extremists and false flag attacks to topple the Syrian government:

Nearly 50 years before the war in Iraq, Britain and America sought a secretive “regime change” in another Arab country… by planning the invasion of Syria and the assassination of leading figures.

Newly discovered documents show how in 1957 [former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom] Harold Macmillan and President Dwight Eisenhower approved a CIA-MI6 plan to stage fake border incidents as an excuse for an invasion by Syria’s pro-western neighbours, and then to “eliminate” the most influential triumvirate in Damascus.

Although historians know that intelligence services had sought to topple the Syrian regime in the autumn of 1957, this is the first time any document has been found showing that the assassination of three leading figures was at the heart of the scheme. In the document drawn up by a top secret and high-level working group that met in Washington in September 1957, Mr Macmillan and President Eisenhower were left in no doubt about the need to assassinate the top men in Damascus.

Mr Macmillan ordered the plan withheld even from British chiefs of staff, because of their tendency “to chatter”.

Driving the call for action was the CIA’s Middle East chief Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of former president Theodore Roosevelt.

Kermit Roosevelt had a proven track record in this sort of thing.  According to the New York Times, he was the leader of the CIA’s coup in Iran in 1953, which – as subsequently admitted by the CIA – used false flag terror to topple the democratically elected leader or Iran.’

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‘Water war’ threatens Syria lifeline

Danya Chudacoff writes for Al Jazeera:

‘When severe water cuts began to hit Aleppo province in early May, residents started referring to a “water war” being waged at the expense of civilians. Images of beleaguered women and children drinking from open channels and carrying jerry cans of untreated groundwater only confirmed that the suffering across northern Syria had taken a turn for the worse. However, lost in the daily reports was a far more pernicious crisis coming to a head: a record six-metre drop in Lake Assad, the reservoir of Syria’s largest hydroelectric dam and the main source of water for drinking and irrigation to about five million people.

Under the watch of the  Islamic State group – formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – levels in Lake Assad have dropped so low that pumps used to funnel water east and west are either entirely out of commission or functioning at significantly reduced levels. The shortages compel residents in Aleppo and Al Raqqa to draw water from unreliable sources, which can pose serious health risks. The primary reason behind the drop appears to be a dramatic spike in electricity generation at the Euphrates Dam in al-Tabqa, which has been forced to work at alarmingly high rates.’

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Isis Marches Further Into Syria Tipping the Balance of Power in the Civil War

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

Syrian rebels with tank.

‘Isis fighters have captured much of eastern Syria in the past few days while international attention has been focused on the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Using tanks and artillery seized in Iraq, it has taken almost all of oil-rich Deir Ezzor province and is battling to crush the resistance of the Syrian Kurds.

Isis is establishing dominance over the opposition to Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, as other rebel groups flee or pledge allegiance to the caliphate declared by the Isis leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, after the capture of Mosul on 10 June. On Monday, the jihadists took over the rebel held half of Deir Ezzor on the Euphrates river, raising their black flag over the city and executing the rebel commander from Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qa’ida affiliate that was previously in control.

The recent Isis advances in Syria, following victories in Iraq last month, are altering the balance of power in the whole region. The opposition military forces not aligned with the Syrian government or Isis are being squeezed out of existence, making obsolete the US, British, Saudi and Turkish policy of backing groups hostile to both Assad and Isis.’

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Aleppo’s fall could prove turning point

Sophie Cousins reports for DW:

‘Aleppo, formerly Syria’s commercial hub, has been the target of the conflict’s most vicious air campaign, with government barrel bombs – oil drums packed with hundreds of kilograms of explosives and metal fragments – killing thousands in the rebel-held areas this year.Fears of a siege by government forces have risen after the army made dramatic gains in the last two weeks, taking the Sheikh Naijar industrial zone in the northeast.

…Yezid Sayigh, senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said the recapture of Aleppo would constitute a shift in the conflict. “The retaking of Aleppo would represent a big blow in terms of morale and political significance,” he told DW. “For the regime to reassert effective control of the city is a big signal of its ability to turn the tide and fight its way back. It doesn’t represent a major military prize, but a political one.”‘

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Assad begins third 7-Year term in Syria, vows to look after its people

Hwaida Saad and Alan Cowell report for The New York Times:

‘Feted by supporters, whom he hailed as the victors of his country’s brutal civil war, a triumphant President Bashar al-Assad was sworn in on Wednesday for a third seven-year term after an election that was widely seen as a gesture of calculated defiance toward the United States and others in the West and in the Arab world seeking his ouster.

With his right hand on the Quran, the holy book of Islam, Mr. Assad took the oath at the People’s Palace overlooking Damascus, the capital. But even as he prepared for a new term, rebels offered a counterpoint, firing five mortar shells into Damascus and killing four people. Two shells landed near the central Umayyad Square, the official news agency SANA said.’

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