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Friday, 21 October 2016


© Eva Bartlett

Oct 18, 2016, Strategic Culture Foundation

-Eva Bartlett

Since 2013, September has for the historic village of Maaloula been a month of tragic anniversaries. Crimes and atrocities committed by Western, Gulf, Turkish and Zionist-backed terrorists there in September alone include murders, maimings, kidnappings, and the beginning of what would be the vast destruction and looting of Maaloula’s rich and unique ancient heritage.
On September 4, 2013, a Jordanian suicide-bomber exploded his truck at the Syrian army checkpoint at the arched gate outside the village. This was immediately followed by attacks on Syrian soldiers nearby, mainly by al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) terrorists—including Chechens, Uighurs, Turkestanis, Libyans, and Saudis, as well as locals.

Gate at the outskirts of Maaloula, where on September 4, 2013, al-Nusra and other terrorists carried out a series of coordinated attacks on Syrian soldiers, the start of the battle for Maaloula.© Eva Bartlett
On September 7, 2013, terrorists point-blank assassinated three unarmed Maaloula men after they refused to convert to Islam, critically injuring one of the men’s sisters.
On September 13, 2013, a group of roughly twenty Syrians, including a Maaloula local, climbed the mountains above the town in an attempt to observe the never-interrupted, nearly 1,700 year old, annual traditions of the Festival of the Holy Cross. Terrorists attacked the men, killing roughly half of them and abducting the others (1).
Although since March 2013 al-Nusra and FSA, among other terrorist factions, had occupied areas of the cliffs above and beyond the over 4,000 year old village, the September 4th attack began what would be an eight month battle by Maaloula’s defence forces, the Syrian Arab Army, and Hezbollah to liberate the village from terrorists who bombed, burned, looted, and in any way possible attempted to destroy the heritage of Maaloula.
According to Maaloula local defence soldiers, between September 4, 2013 and April 14, 2014, at least 200 soldiers of the Syrian army were killed in the battles to liberate Maaloula, including at least four who were savagely beheaded in the initial terrorist attacks. Their honourable sacrifices will not be forgotten.
The less-recognized heroes in Maaloula’s fight against terrorism were those villagers who defied terrorists’ commands or with arms resisted them, and continue to do so now.
In July 2016, I returned to Maaloula to see how life had improved since April 2014, and to hear the accounts of Maaloula’s heroic defenders and of a woman left for dead.

Testimonies of Terror and Bravery
Mikhael Taalab, a baker in nearby ‘Ayn at-Tina, Anton Taalab (Mikhael’s nephew), a shoemaker and a postman, and Serkis Zakhen a fourth year university student, were assassinated by terrorists on September 7, 2013, with the aid of treacherous local terrorists (2).

Mikhael Taalab, Anton Taalab, and Serkis Zakhen, point-blank assassinated by terrorists on September 7, 2013. © Eva Bartlett
Anton’s sister Antoinette survived the attack, but is physically and mentally still wounded. Her left elbow is jointless from the grenade, which tore off flesh and bone, and while the chest bullet wound has since healed, when recounting the events, she struggled to breathe, affected by the memories. Sitting on her balcony, to a backdrop of evening calm Antoinette delivered her horror story.
“We woke up on September 7th to the voices of terrorists shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’.”
As al-Nusra and FSA terrorists spread through the streets and main square of the town, at least three of the armed men passed through an iron gate, and continued up a narrow, winding path in the old quarter, reaching the home of Antoinette and Anton.
“When they arrived here, our door was closed. They broke it open and burst into the house.”
Traditional Maaloula homes have a small curtained cave off the central sitting room, used like a pantry for storing grains and other goods. When the terrorists began shooting that morning, Anton, Antoinette, her elderly near-blind and near-deaf father, her aunt, Serkis and Mikhail hid in the cave. Had the terrorists been solely outsiders, the family might have survived the attack. The terrorists went straight for the cave.

The elderly near-blind and near-deaf father of Anoinette was wounded in the September 7, 2013 attacks which killed his only son. © Eva Bartlett
“They told us to get out, told us they would give us safety,” Antoinette recounted. “Anton, Serkis and Mikhail went outside to the balcony to plead with them and my father, aunt and I stayed in the sitting room.”
Although they knew that only women and an elderly man remained in the room, the attackers shot inside. One of the bullets ricocheted off a wall and went through Antoinette’s chest. “When I was hit, I crawled under the chest in the corner of the living room and prayed to the Virgin Mary.”
Stepping inside her home, Antoinette showed me the white-walled, timber-ceilinged sitting room where her slight father lay sleeping under the photo of his murdered son. His sole son.

The author with Antoinette Taalab, critically-injured in September 7, 2013, terrorist attacks on her home.
The tiny storage cave in which they had initially sheltered, a large window, and the sofas were all covered with the same pattern of cloth. With its small, curtained opening, the cave entrance would have been almost unnoticeable, had the attackers not already known where to look.
Antoinette recounted how lying bleeding inside the house, she heard her brother, brother-in-law, and nephew being murdered.
“The terrorists told Anton to say the Shahada. Anton told them ‘I was born Christian and I will die Christian.’,” Antoinette recalled. Mikhael and Sarkis were likewise ordered to convert to Islam, and likewise refusing, were assassinated.
At some point in the invasion, the terrorists threw a grenade into the room. “There was a bright light and I felt something hit my arm,” Antoinette recounted, grasping her destroyed elbow.
Before leaving, terrorists deliberated on bringing a gas canister into the sitting room to explode, but in the end shot at and exploded it in its kitchen location.
When four hours later local defence force soldiers—braving heavy sniper fire—reached Antoinette, she was sallow and weak.
One soldier carried Antoinette over his shoulder while running under sniper fire for about 500 metres along the old quarter’s narrow, stepped, paths. He later explained that shehad been brave and had also refused to cower to her attackers, refusing their order to go with them in return for treatment to her chest and arm wounds. He quoted her as saying: “I told them leave me alone, I’d rather die.”
Due to the heavy sniping, it was impossible for the soldiers to return for Antoinette’s father. Wounded in his hand, he and her aunt remained one day in the home, with the bodies of his son and relatives, before being reached and taken to a home nearby.
It was three days before the Syrian Arab Red Crescent could retrieve the bodies of Anton, Mikhail and Serkis, also bringing out Antoinette’s father and seven other surviving elderly residents. Terrorists kidnapped six Maaloula men on the same day. Until now their whereabouts are not known (3).
Initial Attacks
According to Maaloula advocate Abdo Haddad, the number of terrorists attacking Maaloula were far more than what was initially thought to be 400 terrorists.
“After they first attacked Maaloula, every terrorist group wanted to claim they were part of the attack. We had people from every neighbouring village attacking us, including Yabroud, Rankous, and including terrorists of Hamas, Ahrar al-Sham, Ahfad al-Rasoul, among others. These people were rewarded after they destroyed civilization,” he said, referring to how the West supplies “moderates” such as these with TOW missiles and other weapons to kill more Syrians.
Head of Maaloula City Council, Naji Wahbi, echoed what other residents said regarding the subject of local terrorists:
“The people who were in the FSA in Maaloula, we knew them personally. They were first FSA, then became al-Nusra, and some later became ISIS. The local FSA brought al-Nusra to Maaloula.”
According to Wahbi, the Syrian army did not have a presence within the village and had not for some months. “It was all civilians.”
Local defenders had until September succeeded in keeping terrorists at bay, but early on the morning of September 4th, al-Nusra and other terrorists descended from the mountaintop, first in the suicide pickup truck, then followed by a number of vehicles loaded with terrorists.
Although defence forces on guard in the village tried repeatedly to warn the Syrian soldiers at the checkpoint beyond, there was no response. One of the soldiers explained that it is believed the Syrian soldiers had been drugged or poisoned:
“On the morning of the attack, one of our Muslim families took food that was drugged to the soldiers at the checkpoint. When we saw the pickup truck going down, we shot rounds in the air to warn those at the checkpoint, but no one replied. The truck reached them and exploded.”
Abdo Haddad, further explained:
“Our defenders did everything they could to alert the soldiers at the checkpoint. They called their cell phones, their landlines, their radio. They shot five warning shots, in intervals. The soldiers—if they had been awake—should have been alarmed.”
One of the more notorious terrorists from Maaloula, Emad Diab, was the number two in command of the terrorists attacking the village, Haddad explained.
“He is also the uncle of the woman who we believe poisoned the soldiers at the checkpoint.” According to Haddad, Diab in late 2014 is believed to have used the same drugging technique, in tea, on Syrian soldiers and Hezbollah resistance at Assal al-Ward, leading to their killing or capture.
By September 7th, after days of battles against the terrorist factions, another effort was made to cleanse the village and return it to safety. Local soldiers in the old quarter largely kept the terrorists from entering, but eventually terrorists did infiltrate some areas, including their assault on the home of Antoinette and Anton.
Dr Joseph Saadeh, a dentist and also a city council member, lives in old Maaloula but was in neighbouring ‘Ayn at-Tina that day, doing what he could to defend his village.
“We were at the centre of the army commander, and we helped them with some locations. Our defenders in the old city told us the areas where the terrorists were, and we pointed them out on the map so that the army could give the coordinates to fire on the terrorists.”
The odds weren’t in the favour of the defenders of Maaloula that day. Terrorists were able to take positions in the caves above the village, and eventually to take over the village, the start of an on-off occupation which lasted until April 2014.
Maaloula defence were able, however, to escort the remaining elderly from their homes in the old quarter, through twisting narrow lanes to a drain tunnel near the Thekla convent where the most infirm were evacuated in armoured vehicles. Those remaining residents who could walk took an arduous route of walking along inside the drain until they reached the Green Valley area, which they traversed and walked about two kilometres to ‘Ayn at-Tine, Dr. Saadeh said.
The local defenders remained until after the last civilian who wanted to leave had left.
Selfless Vigilance
Directly below the cliffs of Sts Sergius & Bacchus monastery lie old Maaloula’s ancient stone and earthen homes; homes wedged in between and into rock walls. Beyond is the newer areas of the village, the fertile and treed Green Valley, and in the distance the Damascus to Homs highway. From along the cliffs above Maaloula, al-Nusra and other terrorists sniped at villagers and soldiers, and rolled tires packed with explosives onto the houses below.

With safety returned to Maaloula, so too return traditions like this elderly man’s daily pilgrimage to pray at the Sts Sergius & Bacchus monastery. © Eva Bartlett
During my overnight July visit, in the late afternoon one of the local defenders collected vegetables from a small garden plot below the monastery balcony, for a meal of rice, cooked zucchini and potatoes, and cucumber yogurt.
Instead of returning to their homes and lives, these men forego comfort to maintain, in shifts, a 24 hour/day vigilant watch for attempted incursions by terrorist factions as close as ten to fifteen kilometers away in different directions (4).

A serenity and calm which was interrupted in 2013, and for which Maaloula defenders remain vigilant. © Eva Bartlett
The blue and white Virgin Mary statue which was absent from its perch on a ledge beyond the Saffir hotel when I visited in June 2014 had been restored to its position overlooking Maaloula. Church bells, the massive 1,700 year old wooden door of Sts Sergius and Bacchus monastery, and some of the artifacts stolen from the village had also been returned.
On a street below, near the main square, a man and some children collected water from a spring. It was at that spring on September 17, 2013, that 65 year old farmer Zaki Tabib was shot in his head by a terrorist sniper. Tabib was one of about fifteen mostly-elderly villagers who had refused to evacuate a week earlier.

A spring in the centre of Maaloula where in September 2013, terrorists sniped and killed an elderly man collecting water. © Eva Bartlett
Abdo Haddad, also one of Tabib’s nephews, commented on the stoicness of his uncle and men like him. “These old men are so pure in their heart that they don’t believe someone in their village would kill them.”
Left bleeding on the street, the elderly man was dead by the time two courageous nephews braved a torrent of sniper fire to retrieve his body, in order to give him a proper burial.
In the evening at the monastery, in the midnight quiet, a Syrian flag fluttered softly in the breeze, and the village below glowed dimly. This quiet and calm betrayed the horrific violence and terrorism, which plagued the village just two years prior.
As I slept in one of the monastery rooms, in shifts throughout the night the local defence forces maintained their watch, protecting Maaloula.

A Maaloula local defence soldier traces the battles on a map of the town. © Eva Bartlett
Moving Beyond Tragedy
When walking around Maaloula, an air of relative normalcy prevails, with people on the streets and some shops open—some newly opened. When I visited in July, a group of youths in the central square stood clapping, whistling and joking with each other as one skillfully played a rhythmic traditional song on a cheap tin flute.
Yet, piles of rubble lay at many corners, and gaping holes in some walls remained evidence of the near total damage to the old part of the village. Although official estimates were that 80% of the homes were damaged, Abdo Haddad pointed out that “damage” in most cases means missing entire walls, and that in fact every house in the old quarter suffered damage, from mild to entire.
Many homes were boobytrapped by terrorists, to further kill and destroy. “They rigged houses so that when someone opened the door, an electrical trigger with a small charge would detonate and explode a gas canister,” Haddad explained, saying that they could not count the number of rigged houses, maybe tens, maybe more: “The whole village was on fire. For the safety of the soldiers, in many cases the army had to blow the booby trap instead of diffusing it.”
Early on the second day of my July visit, the local soldier who had saved Antoinette poured us coffee and pulled out maps of the town and surrounding area, narrating the battles they fought to save Maaloula. Although I later learned that these men endured hardships of sleeping in winter cold without adequate coats or blankets and not daring to make fires the enemy could see, and at times survived for days on dried fruits, this soldier never mentioned the difficulties, instead speaking only of the battles and of his love for Maaloula and Syria.
We walked from the monastery to the famed gap in the mountain, a meandering path which leads to the St. Thekla convent. Cliff walls swell on either side and tower over the winding passage, a path at times narrow and at times broadening into natural amphitheatre pocketed with caves. An older man walked slowly the route he might have walked countless times. Further along, a man transported concrete blocks by donkey into the narrow pathways of the old quarter.
A Maaloula resident walking through the historic crevice leading to St. Thekla convent.© Eva Bartlett

The paths of the old quarter are too narrow and stepped for anything but a donkey to carry reconstruction materials inside. © Eva Bartlett
The church walls and dome roof of St. Thekla convent remained blackened with soot from the fires terrorists lit within. Local stone masons stood on scaffolding, patiently rebuilding the thick walls in the traditional manner. Up the long staircase above the convent, the tomb in the cliffside grotto remained sooty black but was tidied up, with a few of the icons returned until complete restoration is possible. Other icons will never be returned, destroyed or stolen by the terrorist bandits, which occupied the convent.
Some of Maaloula’s devastated houses have been rebuilt or patched up, and from the vantage of the St. Thekla grotto’s balcony, their freshly painted walls were visible, as was laundry drying on outdoor lines atop a number of homes, more evidence of life returning and persisting in Maaloula.
The Institute for Aramaic Language, a two-story building which terrorists looted and destroyed, was in July ready to re-open, according to Naji Wahbi, with programs for all ages, as well as for foreigners wwanting to study the language.
Abdo Haddad noted that Maaloula’s elementary school is functioning mainly thanks to a number of young women who have for the past two years been teaching without salaries. “They are qualified but not officially accredited as teachers in the public sector. Had it not been for them, the school would have been closed.”
On September 7, 2016, villagers came together as they have every year since 2013 to honour the martyrs of three years prior. Close friends met early in the morning near the graves of Anton, Serkis and Mikhail, to share coffee and their memories. They brought with them three extra cups, for their fallen friends, and quiet solidarity for one anothes’s unspoken pain.
The afternoon saw Maaloula honouring the martyrs, with a procession which stopped at intervals to pray for their local protectors and the Syrian army, to pray for the kidnapped villagers and for the martyrs, and finally, to pray at the Virgin Mary statue above the village that peace would return to Syria.
For the third year renewed, on September 13thMaaloula celebrated the Festival of the Holy Cross, observing traditions dating to 326 AD.
*From Maaloula History Facebook page, celebrating the Festival of the Holy Cross.
Maaloula is still rebuilding, and much of its population is still displaced, but the people of Maaloula are not defeated. They cling tenaciously to their history and culture, and fight as tenaciously for their future.
Maaloula advocate Abdo Haddad emphasized how this fight is not only for his village and people, but for Syria.
“This formidable people who resisted tyranny, persecution and oppression, those are the people of Maaloula, of Syria. This is not about Christians versus Muslims, this is about defenders fighting for their people, country, futures.”
It is thanks to these heroes and their Syrian Arab Army soldiers and allies that future generations will carry on the language and traditions of the ancient village.
This continued and unwavering defence is emblematic of the defence waged by Syrians all over Syria.
(1) Information on the September 13 murders and kidnappings is from a Maaloula defence soldier.
(2) These accounts are corroborate by various Maaloula residents and defenders.
(3) These accounts are corroborate by various Maaloula residents and defenders.
(4) According to Maaloula defence soldiers.
fighting against the worst conceivable terrorism for their lives and for Syria.
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

President Assad’s Swiss SRF 1 TV Interview, October 19, 2016

President Assad’s Swiss SRF 1 TV Interview, October 19, 2016

H.E. President Bashar Al-Assad stressed that protecting civilians in Aleppo necessitates getting rid of the terrorists.
Speaking in an interview with the Swiss SRF 1 TV channel, President Assad said “Of course, it’s our mission according to the constitution and the law. We have to protect the people, and we have to get rid of those terrorists in Aleppo. That’s how we can protect civilians.”
He added that it goes without saying that the way to protect the civilians in Aleppo is to attack the terrorists who hold the civilians under their control and are killing them.
 Following is the full text of the interview, as published by SANA:
Journalist: Mr. President, thank you very much for having welcomed Swiss Television and our program Rundschau here in Damascus.
President Assad: You are most welcome in Syria.
Question 1: First, please, allow me to clarify one thing: may I ask you every question?
President Assad: Every question, without exception.
Question 2: I’m asking because one of your conditions is that interview is being broadcast in its full version. Are you afraid that we might manipulate your statements?
President Assad: You should answer that question, but I think we should build this relation upon the trust, and I think you are worried about the trust of your audience, so I don’t think so. I think you have good reputation in conveying the truth in every subject you try to cover.
Question 3: Do you see it as a lie, that the world considers you as to be a war criminal?
President Assad: That depends on what the reference in defining that word. Is it the international law, or is it the Western agenda or the Western political mood, let’s say, that’s being defined by vested-interests politicians in the West? According to the international law, as a President and as government and as Syrian Army, we are defending our country against the terrorists that have been invading Syria as proxies to other countries. So, if you want to go back to that word, the “war criminal,” I think the first one who should be tried under that title are the Western officials; starting with George Bush who invaded Iraq without any mandate from the Security Council. Second, Cameron and Sarkozy who invaded and destroyed Libya without mandate from the Security Council. Third, the Western officials who are supporting the terrorists during the last five years in Syria, either by providing them with political umbrella, or supporting them directly with armaments, or implementing embargo on the Syrian people that has led to the killing of thousands of Syrian civilians.
Question 4: But we are here to talk about your role in this war, and the US
Secretary of State John Kerry called you “Adolf Hitler” and “Saddam Hussein” in the same breath. Does it bother you?
President Assad: No, because they don’t have credibility. This is first of all. Second, for me as President, what I care about first and foremost is how the Syrian people look at me; second, my friends around the world – not my personal friends as President, I mean our friends as Syrians, like Russia, like Iran, like China, like the rest of the world – not the West, the West always tried to personalize things, just to cover the real goals which is about deposing government and getting rid of a certain president just to bring puppets to suit their agenda. So, going back to the beginning, no I don’t care about what Kerry said, at all. It has no influence on me.
Question 5: You’re the President of a country whose citizens are fleeing, half of your fellow citizens. The people are not only fleeing because of the terrorists, of ISIS, or the rebels, but also because of you.
President Assad: What do you mean by me? I’m not asking people to leave Syria, I’m not attacking people; I’m defending the people. Actually, the people are leaving Syria for two reasons: first reason is the action of the terrorists, direct action in killing the people. The second one is the action of the terrorists in order to paralyze the life in Syria; attacking schools, destroying infrastructure in every sector. Third, the embargo of the West that pressed many Syrians to find their livelihood outside Syria. These are the main reasons. If you can see that the second factor and the third factor are related, I mean the role of the terrorists and the West in undermining and hurting the livelihoods of the Syrians, is one and, let’s say, is commonality between the terrorists and Europe.
Question 6: When you speak of terrorists, who do you mean by that? Surely ISIS, but also the “Free Syrian Army” or the Kurds?
President Assad: What I mean is like what you mean as a Swiss citizen, if you have anyone who carries machineguns or armaments and killing people under any titles, and committed vandalism, destroying public or private properties; this is a terrorist. Anyone who adopts a political way in order to make any change he wants, this is not a terrorist. You can call him opposition. But you cannot call somebody who is killing people or holding armaments, you cannot call him opposition, in your country, in my country as well.
Question 7: Well, you don’t have any free opposition in your country.
President Assad: Of course we have, of course we have. We have real opposition, we have people who live in Syria, whom their grassroots are the Syrian people, they’re not opposition who were forged in other countries like France or UK or Saudi Arabia or Turkey. We have them, and you can go and meet them and deal with them with your camera. You can do that yourself.
Question 8: How do you explain to your three children what is happening in
Aleppo? I’m sure that you are discussing about it at the family table.
President Assad: Yeah, of course if I’m going to explain to them, I’m going to explain about what is happening in Syria, not only in Aleppo, taking into consideration that my children are full-grown now, they understand what is going on Syria. But if you want to explain to them or to any other child what is happening, I’m going to explain about the role of the terrorists, about the role of Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia in supporting those terrorists with money, with logistic support, and the role of the West in supporting those terrorists either through armament or through helping them with the propaganda and the publicity. I’m going to explain to them in full what’s going on.
Question 9: Do you, as a father, also say that you have nothing to do with the bombardments of the hospitals in Aleppo?
President Assad: Look, when they say that we are bombarding the hospitals, it means that we are killing civilians. That is the meaning of the word. The question is why would the government kill civilians, whether in hospitals or in streets or schools or anywhere? You are talking about killing Syrians. When we kill Syrians, as a government, or as army, the biggest part of the Syrian society will be against us. You cannot succeed in your war if you are killing civilians. So, this story, and this narrative, is a mendacious narrative, to be frank with you. Of course, unfortunately, every war is a bad war, in every war you have innocent victims, whether children, women, elderly, any other civilian, any other innocent who is not part of this war, he could pay the price, this is unfortunately. That’s why we have to fight terrorism. When we don’t say that, it’s like saying – according to that question or that narrative, that you may reflect in your question – that the terrorists, Al Qaeda, al-Nusra, ISIS, are protecting the civilians, and we as government are killing the civilians. Who can believe that story? No one.
Question 10: But who else got airplanes or bunker-busting bombs besides your army?
President Assad: It’s like you’re saying that everyone who is killed in Syria was killed by the airplanes or aircrafts, military aircrafts! The majority of the people were killed by mortars shelled by the terrorists on them while they’re at schools, in their hospitals, in the streets, anywhere. It’s not related to the aerial bombardment. Sometimes you have aerial bombardment against the terrorists, but that doesn’t mean that every bomb that fell somewhere was by airplane or by the Syrian Army. If you are talking about a specific incident, let’s say, we have to verify that specific incident, but I’m answering you in general now.
Question 11: But you have the power to change the situation also for the children in Aleppo.
President Assad: Of course, that’s why-
Journalist: Will you do that?
President Assad: Exactly, that’s our mission, according to the constitution, according to the law; that we have to protect the people, that we have to get rid of those terrorists from Aleppo. This is where we can protect the civilians. How can you protect them while they are under the control of the terrorists? They’ve been killed by them, and they’ve been controlled fully by the terrorists. Is it our role to sit aside and watch? Is that how we can protect the Syrian people? We need to attack the terrorists, that’s self-evident.
Question 12: May I show you a picture?
President Assad: Of course.
Journalist: This young boy has become the symbol of the war. I think that you know this picture.
President Assad: Of course I saw it.
Journalist: His name is Omran. Five years old.
Journalist: Covered with blood, scared, traumatized. Is there anything you would like to say to Omran and his family?
President Assad: There’s something I would like to say to you first of all, because I want you to go back after my interview, and go to the internet to see the same picture of the same child, with his sister, both were rescued by what they call them in the West “White Helmets” which is a facelift of al-Nusra in Aleppo. They were rescued twice, each one in a different incident, and just as part of the publicity of those White Helmets. None of these incidents were true. You can have it manipulated, and it is manipulated. I’m going to send you those two pictures, and they are on the internet, just to see that this is a forged picture, not a real one. We have real pictures of children being harmed, but this one in specific is a forged one.
Question 13: But it’s true that innocent civilians are dying, in Aleppo.
President Assad: Of course, not only in Aleppo; in Syria. But now you are talking about Aleppo, because the whole hysteria in the West about Aleppo, for one reason; not because Aleppo is under siege, because Aleppo has been under siege for the last four years by the terrorists, and we haven’t heard a question by Western journalists about what’s happening in Aleppo that time, and we haven’t heard a single statement by Western officials regarding the children of Aleppo. Now, they are talking about Aleppo recently just because the terrorists are in a bad shape. This is the only reason, because the Syrian Army are making advancement, and the Western countries – mainly the United States and its allies like UK and France – feeling that they are losing the last cards of terrorism in Syria, and the main bastion of that terrorism today is Aleppo.
Question 14: Everything is allowed in this war for you.
President Assad: No, of course, you have the international law, you have the human rights charter, you have to obey. But in every war, every war in the world during the history, you cannot make sure a hundred percent that you can control everything in that direction. You always have flaws, that’s why I said every war is a bad war. But there’s difference between individual mistakes and the policy of the government. The policy of the government, to say that we are attacking civilians, we are attacking hospitals, we are attacking schools, we are doing all these atrocities, that’s not possible, because you cannot work or go against your interests. You cannot go against your duty toward the people, otherwise you are going to lose the war as a government. You cannot withstand such a ferocious war for five years and a half while you are killing your own people. That’s impossible. But you always have mistakes, whether it’s about crossfire, it’s about individual mistakes… bring me a war, a single war in the recent history, that it was a clean war. You don’t have.
Question 15: Do you have made any mistakes too in this war?
President Assad: As President I define the policy of the country, according to our policy, the main pillars of this policy during the crisis is to fight terrorism, which I think is correct and we will not going to change it, of course, to make dialogue between the Syrians, and I think which is correct, the third one which is proven to be effective during the last two years is the reconciliations; local reconciliations with the militants who have been holding machineguns against the people and against the government and against the army, and this one has, again, proven that it’s a good step. So, these are the pillars of this policy. You cannot talk about mistakes in this policy. You can talk about mistakes in the implementation of the policy, that could be related to the individuals.
Question 16: You still believe in a diplomatic solution?
President Assad: Definitely, but you don’t have something called diplomatic solution or military solution; you have solution, but every conflict has many aspects, one of them is the security, like our situation, and the other one is in the political aspect of this solution. For example, if you ask me about how can you deal with Al Qaeda, with al-Nusra, with ISIS? Is it possible to make negotiations with them? They won’t make, they’re not ready to, they wouldn’t. They have their own ideology, repugnant ideology, so you cannot make political solution with this party; you have to fight them, you have to get rid of them. While if you talk about dialogue, you can make dialogue with two entities; the first one, political entities, any political entities, whether with or against or in the middle, and with every militant who is ready to give in his armament for the sake of the security or stability in Syria. Of course we believe in it.
Question 17: There are news from Russia about a short humanitarian pause in Aleppo on Thursday, what does it mean this humanitarian pause, can you explain?
President Assad: It’s a short halting of operations in order to allow the humanitarian supply to get into different areas in Aleppo, and at the same time to allow the civilians who wanted to leave the terrorist-held areas to move to the government-controlled area.
Question 18: This is really a step, an important step?
President Assad: Of course, it is an important step as a beginning, but it’s not enough. It’s about the continuation; how can you allow those civilians to leave. The majority of them wanted to leave the area held by the terrorists, but they won’t allow them. They either shoot them or they kill their families if they leave that area.
Question 19: Russia is on your side, what does it mean for you?
President Assad: No, it’s not on my side. It’s on the international law’s side. It’s on the other side which is opposite to the terrorists’ side. This is the position of Russia, because they wanted to make sure that the international law prevails, not the Western agenda in toppling every government that doesn’t fit with their agendas. They wanted to make sure that the terrorism doesn’t prevail in that area, that would affect negatively the Russians themselves, Russia itself as a country, and Europe and the rest of the world. That’s what it means for Russia to stand beside the legitimate Syrian government and the Syrian people.
Question 20: Mr. President, you use chemical weapons and barrel bombs in Syria against your own population, these are UN reports, you can’t ignore it.
President Assad: You are talking about two different issues. The chemical issue, it was proven to be false, and they haven’t a shred of evidence about the Syrian Army using chemical weapons, particularly before we give up our arsenal in 2013, now we don’t have it anyway. Before that, it was fiction because if you want to use such mass destruction armaments, you’re going to kill thousands of people in one incident, and we didn’t have such incidents. Beside that, we wouldn’t use it because you’re going to kill your own people, and that’s against your interest. So, this is a false allegation. We don’t have to waste our time with it. You live in Syria, there is a traditional war, but there is nothing related to mass destruction armaments.
Journalist: But the UN report is not a fiction.
President Assad: The UN report never has been credible, never, and because they put reports based on allegations, based on other reports, on forged reports, and they say this is a report. Did they send a delegation to make investigation? They sent one in 2013, and it couldn’t prove at all that the Syrian Army used chemical weapons. This is first. The second, which is more important, the first incident happened at the beginning of 2013 in Aleppo, when we said that the terrorists used chemical weapons against our army, and we invited the United Nations to send a delegation. We, we did, and at that time, the United States opposed that delegation because they already knew that this investigation – of course if it’s impartial – is going to prove that those terrorists, their proxies, used chemical armaments against the Syrian Army. Regarding the barrel bombs, I want to ask you: what is the definition of barrel bomb? If you go to our army, you don’t have in our records something called “barrel bomb,” so how do you understand – just to know how I can answer you – what a barrel bomb is? We have bombs.
Journalist: The destruction… it’s the destruction, and it is against humanitarian law.
President Assad: Every bomb can make destruction, every bomb, so you don’t have bomb to make nothing. So, this is a word that has been used in West as part of the Western narrative in order to show that there is an indiscriminate bomb that has been killing civilians indiscriminately and that opposes the Western narrative, I’ll show you the contradiction: in other areas they say that we are bombarding intentionally the hospitals, and you mentioned that, and they are targeting intentionally the schools, and we targeted intentionally the convoys to Aleppo last month, those targets need high-precision missiles. So, they have to choose which part of the narrative; we either have indiscriminate bombs or we have high-precision bombs. They keep contradicting in the same narrative, this is the Western reality now. So, which one to choose? I can answer you, but again, we don’t have any indiscriminate bombs. If we kill people indiscriminately, it means we are losing the war because people will be against us; I cannot kill the Syrian people, either morally or for my interest, because in that case I’m going to push the Syrian community and society towards the terrorists, not vice versa.
Question 21: I would like to mention the subject of torture prisons, Mr. President. Amnesty speaks of seventeen thousands dead. Regarding the prison of Saidnaya, there are still horrible reports. When will you allow an independent observer into that prison?
President Assad: Independent, and Amnesty International is not independent and it is not impartial.
Journalist: ICRC?
President Assad: We didn’t discuss it with the Red Cross, we didn’t discuss it. It should be discussed in our institutions, if you want to allow… if there is allegation, it could be discussed. We don’t say yes or no, but the report you have mentioned, it was a report made by Qatar, and financed by Qatar. You don’t know the source, you don’t know the names of those victims, nothing verified about that report. It was paid by Qatar directly in order to vilify and smear the Syrian government and the Syrian Army.
Journalist: But there are a lot of eyewitnesses.
President Assad: No one knows who are they. You don’t have anything clear about that. It’s not verified. So, no.
Journalist: Then open the door for organizations like Red Cross.
President Assad: It’s not my decision to tell you yes or no. We have institutions, if we need to discuss this part, we need to go back to the institutions before saying yes or no.
Question 22: Why are you sure that you are going to win this war?
President Assad: Because you have to defend your country, and you have to believe that you can win the war to defend your country. If you don’t have that belief, you will lose. You know, part of the war is what you believe in, so, it’s self-evident and very intuitive that you have to have that belief.
Question 23: If you walk through Damascus, your picture is everywhere, in every shop, in every restaurant, in every car, a symbol for a dictator, is this your way to fix your power?
President Assad: There is a difference between dictator and dictatorship. Dictator is about the person. I didn’t ask anyone to put my picture in Syria, I never did it. This is first. Second, to describe someone as a dictator, you should ask his people, I mean only his people can say that he is a dictator or he is a good guy.
Journalist: Thank you Mr. President for having answered our questions for Swiss Television and the Rundschau.
President Assad: Thank you for coming to Syria.
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US Spurns Russian Offer to Monitor November Election

[ Ed. note – Couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this story. The offer from the Russians obviously couldn’t have come at a better time. The current media uproar over Trump’s remarks about not accepting the election results (unless he wins) is only one spot on the giraffe, of course. The other awkwardness to muse upon is the US government’s history of making sanctimonious demands for Western observers to monitor elections in other countries–but of course now, with it’s own elections being seriously called into question, it refuses such an offer from Russia. ]
The US has rejected a Russian proposal to send diplomats to monitor the upcoming presidential elections and some states have even threatened to bring criminal charges against any that appear at ballot stations, Russian election officials reported Thursday.
Sources in the Central Elections Commission have told Izvestia daily that its representatives held a series of talks with the US State Department to discuss sending a delegation of monitors to US polling stations on November 8. US officials categorically rejected even the possibility of such a mission, however, instead recommending that Russia join the international mission of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
The request was also rejected on a state level, and in three states – Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas – officials used “very harsh formulas” to do so, the sources said. “In violation of all principles of democracy and international monitoring, in Texas they even threatened to hold monitors who appear at ballot stations criminally responsible,” they added.
The head of the Central Election Commission’s department for international relations, Vasily Likhachev told Interfax that the Russia could not go along with the suggestion to use ODIHR mission because participating in it would involve additional restrictions against visiting polling stations in some US states.
He also said that Russian experts planned to conduct “remote” monitoring of US polls “in spite of all the obstructions and complications” by analyzing reports from mass media and the internet, as well as other data received through open channels. The Central Elections Commission already has practice doing this, as it conducted such observations during the last US presidential election in 2012, he added.
Earlier this year, Russia sent personal invitations to US monitors asking them to observe the September parliamentary elections, and 63 accepted the offer. In total, 774 monitors from 63 nations received accreditation to observe Russia’s parliamentary elections. In addition, US representatives visited Russia earlier as part of an OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ monitoring mission.
Source: Russia Today
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Rise in torture of imprisoned Palestinian children by israel

By Ma’an
October 18/19, 2016
RAMALLAH — The “overwhelming majority” of Palestinian minors held in Israel’s Megiddo and Ofer prisons have been tortured during their detention and interrogation, the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs said Tuesday, amid a marked increase in the incarceration and mistreatment of Palestinian children by Israel.
Lawyer for the committee Luay Ukka said in a statement that, after a visit to Ofer prison, he had noticed that the number of juvenile prisoners there had noticeably increased over the past month.
As of mid-October, he said, the number of Palestinian prisoners in Ofer under 18 years old reached 28, half of whom were under 14 years old.
According to rights group Defence for Children International – Palestine (DCIP), Israel has also dramatically increased the use of administrative detention — internment without charge or trial — against minors.
According to DCIP, over the last year 19 Palestinian minors were administratively detained. Prior to October 2015, Israel had reportedly not held a Palestinian child from the occupied West Bank in administrative detention since December 2011.
“The overwhelming majority” of juvenile prisoners held at Ofer have been “tortured, beaten, and humiliated” during the raids carried out by Israeli forces to detain them as well as during their interrogation, according to Ukka.
Ukka also said that the majority of juvenile prisoners at Ofer prison were from Aida refugee camp and the town of al-Ubeidiya, both in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem.

Israeli soldiers detain a wounded Palestinian stone thrower after infiltrated members of the Israeli security forces shot at fellow protesters during clashes in Beit El, on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Ramallah, on October 7, 2015. Photo by AP.
Just last week, undercover Israeli forces detained eight Palestinian children from Aida refugee camp, as residents of the camp — particularly minors — have recently been subject to an intensification of violent military raids.
Fourteen-year-old Tamir Abu Salem, who was detained about a year ago in Aida, told Ukka that the raid sparked clashes between local youth and Israeli soldiers, and that he was shot in the head with a rubber-coated steel bullet before he was taken into custody, when he was also punched in the face.
Tamir said that the bullet rifted his skull bone and that “when I breathe part of my scalp puffs up and down.”
The 14-year-old reported that the only treatment he had received from the Israel Prison Service (IPS) were occasional pain killers — a common complaint among sick and wounded Palestinian detainees as part of a deliberate policy of medical neglect by Israeli prison authorities.
Separately, Hiba Masalha, another lawyer who also works with the committee, reported in a statement on Monday that the number of juvenile prisoners at Megiddo prison had also recently increased.
“Most of the juvenile prisoners are being tortured and humiliated during detention raids,” she said, adding that Palestinian minors were also being strip-searched when they arrived to Israeli detention centres.

Who are the terrorists here, and who’s having a good laugh? Photo by Ma’an
The release of the testimonies came a day after DCIP published a report saying that at least five Palestinian minors have been imprisoned by Israel without being charged in recent months over Facebook posts that Israeli authorities alleged amounted to “incitement.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs said in a September report that at least 1,000 Palestinian minors between the ages of 11 and 18 had been detained by Israel since January, a number of whom reported being abused and tortured while in detention.
According to prisoners’ rights groups Addameer, a total of 340 Palestinian minors are currently incarcerated by Israel as political prisoners.
Interrogations of Palestinian children can last up to 90 days according to Addameer, while in addition to being beaten and threatened, cases of sexual assault and placement in solitary confinement to elicit confessions are also reported, while confession documents they are forced to sign are in Hebrew — a language most Palestinian children do not speak.

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