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Monday, March 31, 2014

Syrian Army Chases Down Terrorists As They Flee ’Site 45’ in Latakia

Local Editor

Syrian armyUnits of the Syrian army chased on Monday armed terrorist groups in several areas and destroyed their weapons and hideouts, state-run news agency reported.

In Latakia, army and national defense forces establish full control over "site 45" in the northern countryside, as they continue to chase gunmen around, leaving 39 terrorists killed and 60 others injured, Al-Manar correspondent said.

The national military destroyed six fully manned vehicles on the road to Nabe'a al-Murr, while trying to flee after the army established control of site 45.


In Daraa, A unit of the armed forces eliminated all members of an armed terrorist group in al-Mlaiha al-Gharbiyeh in Daraa countryside and destroyed their weapons and ammunition.

The terrorist Saaduddin Qaloush , leader of the armed group, was identified among the killed.
Another army unit chased down an armed terrorist group in al-Wardat area in the countryside, leaving a number of its members killed and wounded.

In Homs, an army unit destroyed a rocket launcher and three vehicles equipped with heavy machine guns belonging to terrorists in Jebb al-Jarrah area in the eastern countryside, according to a military source.

Units of the armed forces thwarted an infiltration attempt by a terrorist group from al-Ghasbiah village into al-Dwair in the rural area, a military source told SANA, adding that a number of terrorists were killed and wounded.

Source: Agencies
31-03-2014 - 16:59 Last updated 31-03-2014 - 16:59 |


وقائع _ حسين مرتضى / العالم 30 03 2014

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Palestine TV covers up the crimes of the Palestinian Authority

A Palestinian security officer looks at a poster of president Mahmud Abbas as he is greeted by supporters (unseen), following his trip to Washington DC, on March 20, 2014, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Photo: AFP-Abbas Momani)
By: Orouba OthmanPublished Monday, March 31, 2014
Gaza: It is not only some political leaders who exploit the cause of Palestinian resistance fighters, even satellite TV channels do it. An example was displayed by Palestine TV that is run by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). The channel pretended to grieve martyred Hamas activist Hamza Abu al-Haija by featuring dramatic scenes on the screen. They entreated the Palestinians to forgive the PNA for its involvement in the killing of the martyr by the occupation forces in Jenin camp in the West Bank on 22 March.
The program Li Ajlikom (For You), presented by Manal Seif on Palestine TV last Thursday evening, began with a scene of the martyr at home with dramatic music in the background. For 14 minutes, the program dedicated to the prisoners, took its audience on a journey inside Abu al-Haija's life. The program trumped up crude emotions, ignoring the fact that the occupation had coordinated the operation to kill Abu al-Haija with the PNA's security apparatus. The station reached a climax in feigned lament for the martyr when it considered itself a main actor in the Jenin battle with Abu al-Haija, who died with two other martyrs,Yazan Jabarin and Mohammed Abu Zeina.

Li Ajlikom began by replaying an old interview with the martyr. The camera zoomed into his eyes full of tears and anguish for his father, who is serving nine life sentences for belonging to the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades. The program aired statements by the martyr talking about his longing for his father, and showed pictures of him with his friends and relatives. Next it moved to a segment about Abu al-Haija's resilience against the Zionist Alimam unit, which killed him after a crippling siege. The program showed the martyr's assassination without mentioning that it will have an opposite impact on the viewer.
The perpetrator had called on the PNA to remain in their headquarters until 22-year-old Abu al-Haija was killed. The program exonerated the PNA, despite the compelling evidence about its role in the assassination.

The program also failed to speak about the young man being hunted down by the PNA in his final years. PNA security forces had attempted to arrest him more than 20 times after having done so 10 times in the past. For five minutes, the song "You fascinated my soul, O martyr" rang loud, while the voices of the Jenin refugee camp condemning the PNA's involvement in the assassination of the three martyrs were muted. In the segment focusing on his funeral, the program deliberately muted the sounds of angry voices roaming the streets of the camp.

The assassination of Abu al-Haija came only a month after the martyrdom of Motaz Washha, who resisted the occupation's mightiest force alone, while the PNA refused to help him. The only action the security forces took was to carry his body in the military funeral they organized for him. But Palestine TV turned a blind eye to the truth of his killing and its Palestinian perpetrator. In both cases, the PNA had killed the two martyrs and marched in their funeral while Palestine TV’s job was to cover their tracks.
In the hospital
During Li Ajlikom, broadcast last Thursday, the cameraman and the presenter went to the hospital where Abu al-Haija's mother was admitted. Over the song "Ajmal al-Ommahat" by Marcel Khalife, the presenter approached the mother whose son's martyrdom added to her illness. With a short message, the mother congratulated her husband and her two sons Imad al-Din and Abdul-Salam, who are detained in the occupation's prisons, for Hamza's martyrdom. The program also interviewed the martyr's two sisters, a friend, and the wife of prisoner Abbas al-Sayyid who said they were proud of the young man.
Follow Orouba Othman on Twitter: @OroubaAyyoubOth
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Hezbollah, Syria, and Egypt on the verge of an understanding?

A handout picture made available by the Egyptian presidency shows Egypt's interim president Adly Mansour (R) and Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy (L) meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil (C), at the presidential palace in Cairo on March 10, 2014. (Photo: AFP/ Ho / Egyptian Presidency)
Published Monday, March 31, 2014

A meeting in Beirut a few days ago between Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy and Lebanese Industry Minister and Hezbollah MP Hussein al-Hajj Hassan marked the beginning of a dialogue between the two sides. It also complemented a series of behind- the-scenes contacts between Cairo and Tehran to open new channels of communication and end the war in Syria. Documents of meetings that Al-Akhbar obtained reveal an initiative proposed by Iran a while ago that suggests gradually transferring presidential powers in Syria to a national government. Will Saudi Arabia accept it?

Not many people paid attention to the political breakthrough that took place in Beirut during the visit by Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy on March 20. The visit marked the first public meeting between the Egyptian diplomat and Industry Minister and Hezbollah MP Hussein al-Hajj Hassan. This meeting sends an important message to Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. But does it mark the beginning of a shift in Egypt?

At first, the party was reluctant to accept the Egyptian invitation but, as usual, it gave precedence to national interest over personal sensitivities and the meeting took place.
There is information that Hezbollah, like Egypt, is interested in promoting openness and understanding. At first, the party was not very happy with the framework within which the meeting took place. There was a kind of disappointment with the Egyptian minister who began his quick visit to Lebanon by meeting the head the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea and most other Lebanese leaders. And instead of asking to meet Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, he asked that a Hezbollah minister visit him. At first, the party was reluctant to accept the Egyptian invitation but, as usual, it gave precedence to national interest over personal sensitivities and the meeting took place.

How did both sides read the meeting?

First, Hezbollah:

The party understands that Egypt needs to strengthen its relationship with Saudi Arabia right now for financial reasons and to complete the process of containing the Muslim Brotherhood and consolidating the authority of Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi so that he can become president soon, and he will.

This understanding does not rule out a sense of disappointment and disapproval however. Some of this disapproval has to do with the way the Egyptian authorities deal with Hezbollah on the judiciary and media level. How is it possible to lump the Lebanese party with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas in the legal case of the jail break at the 2011 Wadi al-Natroun prison as though Hezbollah is active inside Egypt? An accusation the party has denied repeatedly. The case is not based on any legal evidence according to Hezbollah, but is politically motivated.

The party denies that a Hezbollah cell played a role in releasing prisoners, including Hezbollah activist Sami Shihab, from Cairo prisons. First, Shihab was arrested on charges related to a nationalist cause, namely aiding Palestinians. The party bit its tongue when it came to arresting its activist in a case Shihab should have received honors for, not put behind bars. After he managed, with his comrades, to escape from an Egyptian prison during the chaotic period that followed the ousting of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, all the party did is smuggle him out of Egypt when they learned of his escape. Any other claims are false. This is Hezbollah’s firm position and it has evidence to support it.

Many parties close to Hezbollah see a lot of exaggeration in the Egyptian perception of the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. There is currently no financial ties or direct support for the Muslim Brotherhood. And the relationship with Hamas is still being tested. The Palestinian movement is expected to reevaluate its position with respect to what happened in the past three years. It is also expected to reposition itself as a resistance movement inside Palestine and not as part of a Muslim Brotherhood project in the region.

Hezbollah never felt comfortable with former Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi. The Muslim Brotherhood president disappointed many when he went to Iran and gave a speech that was unworthy of the hospitality he received or the place he was visiting. His hostile position towards Syria and Hezbollah and his decision to cut ties with Damascus created even more disappointment. Furthermore, when former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to Cairo, he was not well-received and was badly treated even at Al-Azhar University. Nevertheless, Hezbollah and Iran faced two choices, either return to the ghost of Mubarak’s era with Ahmed Shafik who ran against Mursi in the presidential elections or back Mursi. They reluctantly backed Mursi.

Second, Egypt:

People close to Fahmy said that his visit to Lebanon is important even for Egyptian domestic politics because of what Lebanon represents in terms of diversity and pluralism as opposed to the ideas of religious intolerance and terrorism.

Information indicates that there are four observations from the Egyptian side:

- The Egyptians stressed that starting their foreign minister’s Lebanon tour with a visit to Geagea was the result of a logistical mistake that has to do with the embassy and preparations for the visit. They realized later on the repercussions of this mistake.

- People close to Fahmy said that his visit to Lebanon is important even for Egyptian domestic politics because of what Lebanon represents in terms of diversity and pluralism as opposed to the ideas of religious intolerance and terrorism. That is why there is genuine interest in helping and training the Lebanese army and a willingness to contribute to the effort of arming it.

- A simple meeting between Fahmy and a Hezbollah minister means a lot. First, it broke the taboo placed on meeting with Hezbollah especially that it coincided with the trials in Cairo and because there is an Egyptian opposition to the role the Lebanese party is playing in Syria. Second, it is a meeting on a ministerial level. This saves Egypt any embarrassment while at the same time it paves the way to have other meetings in order to promote further cooperation through the ministries.

- The Egyptian side emphasized that the meeting with Hezbollah means that Egypt is open to all Lebanese parties and does not discriminate between one side or another. The Egyptian foreign minister was keen in all his meetings to avoid giving an opinion about the presidential candidates in Lebanon. Cairo does not want to interfere in this issue according to Fahmy’s inner circle.

What happened at the meeting?

The Egyptian minister said: “Cairo supports the role of Hezbollah as a resistance party.” He also said that there are many disagreements between the party and Cairo including its involvement in the war in Syria. But these disagreements do not rule out the desire for both sides to come together and to develop this rapport for the interest of both countries in order to protect Lebanon and the Resistance.

Al-Hajj Hassan explained that Hezbollah decided to participate in the war in Syria because of the great dangers that beset Lebanon. He said that the threat of terrorism was more serious than some people thought. He gave several examples including the issue of border areas and the town of Arsal. He also stressed that the party is worried about the targeting of the Lebanese army and that it supports the army and stands behind it. He emphasized that Hezbollah respects the constitutional frameworks and wants to elect a president according to these frameworks and the predetermined deadlines. He described the dangers of sectarian strife and how the party has worked hard to avoid them. He stressed Hezbollah’s desire to see Egypt resume its pioneering role at a very critical juncture in the history of Palestine.

In this sense, the meeting was fruitful and it coincides with an Egyptian desire to remobilize relationships on a regional level. Fahmy drew a very successful roadmap for Egyptian foreign relations. This meticulous diplomat, son of the diplomat Ismail Fahmy who resigned because of Camp David, was not close to the military establishment. Some viewed him with a measure of skepticism because of his relationship with Mohammed al-Baradei and for studying and teaching in the United States. Their view, however, changed dramatically after his success in establishing strategic relations with Russia and expanding Egypt’s choices and that of the military leadership towards India and China. Fahmy became the real architect of Egypt’s current foreign policy. Sisi realized his great potential especially when US Secretary of State John Kerry rushed to visit Egypt on the eve of the Russian delegation’s arrival in an effort to convince Cairo of the need to maintain the primacy of the US-Egyptian relationship. Kerry praised the Egyptian leadership in Cairo at the time but he was reprimanded in the White House while Fahmy, Sisi, and the new leadership smiled.

It is through the prism of this strategy that Fahmy regards the need to reestablish regional relationships with Saudi Arabia and Iran. He is certain that the Syrian crisis cannot be solved without Cairo, Tehran, Riyadh and Ankara. There have been several initiatives on this issue. Famed Egyptian writer, Mohammed Hassanein Heikal, visited Nasrallah. Some claimed that he was not officially tasked to do so. But people close to the Egyptian minister confirm that he was indeed asked to make this visit. This paved the way for the meeting between the Egyptian and Iranian foreign ministers a while back. Fahmy’s meeting with Hezbollah in Lebanon came in this context too. Paving the way towards Iran has begun despite the sensitivity of Egypt’s current relationship with Saudi Arabia.

The terms of a new Iranian initiative

Cairo was never, and will never be, happy with Turkey’s adventures in Syria.

Ideas regarding the Syrian crisis were exchanged recently between Iran and Egypt. Iran proposed an initiative but Egypt believed it is weak because the other side might reject it. Information indicates that this initiative included four points.

- A comprehensive cease-fire at a national level.

- Forming a national unity government consisting of the regime and the internal Syrian opposition.

- Laying the grounds for a new regime by transferring presidential powers to the government whereby the government will enjoy wide-ranging powers in the years to come.

- Preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections.

Cairo believes that the basics of the Iranian initiative are good but not sufficient. This initiative might develop later if consultations expand to include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey.

The Egyptian position is changing. Surely, Egypt did not head the list of Arab countries that refused to hand Syria’s seat at the Arab summit to the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) but Cairo did not oppose this decision. It preferred, however, to remain in the shadows for reasons having to do mostly with its relationship with Saudi Arabia and with the Syrian opposition.

Cairo knows that the SNC is in a tight position because of its current divisions. It is also aware that the legal grounds to hand over Syria’s seat to the opposition do not exist. It knows that the SNC’s head, Ahmad Jarba, who is seeking to renew his term, wants to get rid of nine members of the coalition. It is also aware of the difficulties that the opposition is facing on the ground. It is therefore weaving serious security relations with Syria. Reestablishing diplomatic ties, however, requires a Syrian initiative that has not materialized yet that would include the release of detainees from the opposition National Coordination Committee and other bodies such as Rajaa al-Nasser.

In addition, there is the position of the Egyptian army, which always repeats that Egyptian national security is organically tied to the national security of Syria and its army. Cairo was never, and will never be, happy with Turkey’s adventures in Syria. It might have even sent something of a warning in this regard.

There is no doubt that Cairo needs Syrian initiatives. There is also no doubt that its relationship with Saudi Arabia limits its ability to maneuver. But there are important changes on the Arab scene that might help it in the next phase. A prominent Kuwaiti MP for example says that Kuwait’s official position and that of some Gulf countries now supports Syria, fighting terrorism, preserving the Syrian army and encouraging a political solution that entails the survival of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He stresses that the emir of Kuwait literally told him so.

Does the meeting between Fahmy and Hussein al-Hajj signify the beginning of major changes? Definitely. But we are still at the beginning of the road.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Information Minister: Erdogan’s government facilitated terrorists’ entry to Lattakia

Posted on March 31, 2014 by 
Mar 31, 2014
Minister of Information Omran al-Zoubi said that the government of Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has regularly facilitated the entry of the armed terrorist groups into Kassab area in Lattakia countryside.
In an interview on the Syrian TV late Sunday, Minister al-Zoubi considered Erdogan’s acts as a violation of international resolutions calling for convicting all forms of terrorist acts.
He said that Erdogan’s acts prove that the Syrian leadership was right when it said that Erdogan and his government are involved in international terrorism, adding that “the persons who entered Lattakia northern countryside are neither opposition members nor Syrian citizens, they are groups of armed and trained foreigners with certain purposes and agendas.”
Minister al-Zoubi said that the Syrian Army and Armed Forces have foiled the attack of the terrorists, who are all of non-Syrian nationalities.
He stressed that no one can say that Syria has foiled the Geneva2 conference, highlighting that Syria has been calling, since the beginning of the crisis, for a political course that leads to solutions.
Al-Zoubi said that the stance of the Syrian state was rejected by the so-called “coalition” and its backers because they were not seeking a political solution but fragmenting the state and moving it to a direction that serves the US and Israeli interests in the region.
Source: Syrian Arab News Agency “SANA”

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Palmyrenes: Risking Their Lives to Preserve our Global Cultural Heritage

Palmyra - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - located 215 km northeast of Damascus, Syria on Nov 9, 2011. Palmyra was a renowned city in the ancient Silk Road and once played a crucial role as the trade center between the East and the West. With a period of prosperity lasting more than three centuries, Palmyra is often regarded as the "Bride of the Desert".[Photo/Xinhua]
Video about Palmyra


Franklin Lamb
Palmyra, Homs Governorate, Syria 

Even if one takes a public passenger van (the fare is just $ 7.50) and the driver is pro-Resistance, which he usually is, the trip takes only a bit more than half the time than with a more “normal” Lebanese van driver.This observer, seemingly ever miscalculates life’s realities.   For example, he deluded himself recently into believing that Hezbollah guys were about the wildest, luckiest and fastest drivers from the archeological sites in Baalbek in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, or for a fast trip from the charming village of Britel, to Beirut’s southern suburbs.
But these “H guys” as Americans living in Dahiyeh, often refer to them; remind one of some of the more snail-paced rural southern Iowan Sunday drivers compared to how some Syrian taxis drive these days, particularly at night, on the main highways of Syria, as I was just reminded.
During another 20-hour day (3/28/14) at certain critical moments dominated by my border-line insane, but disarmingly charming, taxi driver who I hired.  The day began OK as we set out from Damascus at dawn for Palmyra, designated in 1980, as one of six UNESCO World Heritage sites in Syria and located deep in the Syrian Desert.
We were advised to take the M-5 Damascus to Homs highway and then head west toward Iraq even though it is more than 100 kilometers longer than the normal Damascus route to the archeological site. For many centuries, Palmyra (oasis with Palms) was a vital caravan stop for travelers crossing the Syrian Desert and it earned the title, Bride of the Desert for its beauty.

Inscription of Queen Zenobia at Palmyra
In pre-crisis days when there were actually real tourists around here, hundreds a day would visit Palmyra’s archeological sites and tour buses used to take my preferred route. But nowadays Daish and Jabhat al Nusra types have cut the road and no way would this observer’s driver (or the Syrian army) agree to this shorter more direct route so I kept quiet.
Honored to be allowed to visit Syria’s damaged archeological sites during the current crisis, as part of a fascinating research project and often accompanied by Syrian army security,  spending time touring Palmyra, founded during the 2nd millennium  BC,  with its Bronze Age to Ottoman Period antiquities,  and its Greek, Roman and Arabic cultural artifacts is deeply inspiring.

But no less inspiring, on a human level, in this cradle of civilization, is the dedication, painstaking and sometimes dangerous work, of the Syrian people to preserve, protect, and reconstruct, where possible, Patrimoine Syrient.  The latter is also our Global Heritage of which the Syrian people are the custodians.
As is being increasingly well documented to the great credit of Syria’s Directorate General of Antiquities & Museums (DGAM) of the Ministry of Culture, hundreds of Syrian World Heritage sites, including those listed by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as warranting international protections, are being  threatened, damaged and in some cases substantially destroyed.
In Homs Governorate, one of 14 Administrative Districts  in Syria, there is extensive damage ranging from the Old City of Homs to  the recently liberated Roman fortress,  Crac des Chevaliers, 100 km west to Homs, and on to Palmyra, 200 km to east of Homs toward the Iraqi border.
For  ten months occupied by Islamist rebels but now it’s pretty much under Syrian army control. Even further east is Raqaa in the eastern Syria, near Iraq and reported to be under harsh, often drug fueled, Daish rule. Many other damaged antiquity sites still cannot be visited by representatives of the Ministry of Cultures Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) due to rebel control.
A main reason for this catastrophe is the short-term (and sometimes longer) loss of Government control over key areas, a predicament that leaves heritage sites vulnerable to vandals, thieves, and heavy equipment excavators, while also opening them up for militias to use as camps or firing ranges.Complicating preservation efforts further is despoilment by forgers and looters, smugglers of antiquities and black market operators, as well as extremist ideologues bent on the extirpation of priceless monuments.
Such assaults have, in the main, been done with impunity, and the looting is continuing today. Without more awareness, without an effort at galvanizing the international public and their governments to act, these assaults on Syria’s cultural heritage will continue until little is left to be learned from the decontextualized and ravaged artifacts.
Temple of Bel
Some of the most destructive and anguishing damages this observer was briefed on at Palmyra are to the Temple consecrated in CE 32 to the Semetic god, Bel. He was worshipped at Palmyra with the lunar god Agilibol and the sun god Yarhibol and this triad formed the center of religious life in Palmyra and the widespread Palmyrrene culture.
This observer took notes as he was shown the hole in the southern wall of the Temple (1x2m approx.) as well as another in the eastern wall of the wood warehouse adjacent to the guesthouse, to its southern side (1.5×1.5m approx.).
In addition, several columns of the southern portico of the Temple were hit, and two of them collapsed. The southern wall of the Temple was hit by hundreds of bullets and many shells in several places; the western wall was hit on the inside and outside; the northern wall was struck by two limited hits and the eastern wall of the Temple endured two large holes.
The column in the northeastern corner of the portico of the fence of the Temple was hit and one can see traces of burning the lintel of the eastern portico of the Temple. More burning was done to the northern wall and eastern wall as well as to the southern window of the Temple.
File:Palmyra tower-tomb.JPG
Tower tomb at Palmyra
Also shown by a guide from the Palmyra Museum and allowed to photograph, were the damaged and illegal excavations in the SE and SW tombs area, damage and illegal excavations of the Camp of Diocletian, damage to the walls of the Palmyra Museum, and antiquities thefts in the Oasis, Theater and Guest house.

The latter was occupied by Daish and/or Jablat al Nusra for ten months and they stole and stripped basically everything including the electrical wiring.
Several forty foot high columns adjacent the Guest House were also targeted in the summer of 2013 and parts of them were knocked off their foundations. Many shell cuts and bullet scares cover large areas of the ancient ruins.
The Director of Palmyra’s very impressive Museum, Dr. Khalil al Hariri, showed this observer more than one hundred priceless artifacts that had been stolen by rebels and recovered over the past two years from hiding places. This was mainly accomplished with the help of the local Syrian Nationalist population who refer to themselves as Palmyrenes.
Sometimes risking sniper fire or revenge attacks, local citizens continue to collect and report to authorities the stolen treasures. These and many other antiquities are now secured due to their efforts.  As a result partly of citizens vigilance and the far-sightedness of the Syrian government, and the lessons learned from Iraq and the Baghdad Museum, all of Syria’s 32 Museums, as well as 80% of all antiquities housed inside the local Palmyra Museum were buried secretly early in the conflict and as of today, none of the storage vaults have been discovered or damaged, with locals keeping secret what they know.
Heavy metal doors have also been installed at the entrances of Syria’s Museums with security augmented by government forces and volunteer local ‘neighborhood watch’ committees comprised of ordinary citizens.
This observer left Palmyra at dusk. En route back to Damascus, the more than two-dozen army checkpoints we were stopped at, as my driver raced like a bat out of hell the more than 200 miles, were remarkably understanding given that it was pitch black in the desert and they had earlier warned us more than once not to stay on the road after dark due to ‘terrorists’ sometimes appearing along the desert highway.

Early morning panorama of Palmyra
When I would suggest to my driver that maybe he should lower his speed a bit, at least down to a leisurely 75 mph or so since, we could not see much ahead of us partly due to his beat car and pretty dim one working headlight, he just smiled and said what so many around here seem to say to put one at ease when there is an eminent high probability of catastrophe about to erupt: “No problem.  Good road.  Just like America no?  Obama Qwess (good)? Then the guy floorboards and off we fly.

Panoramic view of the theater
Rather than preparing for a crash, I was actually wistful during our dark return trip to Damascus and was thinking about all what I experienced at Palmyra and the sadness that came across the face of Palmyrene, Dr. Kahlil Hariri, and Director of the Palmyra Museum during parts of our time together.
I will never forget the look on the gentleman’s face as he discussed how archeologists painstakingly shift the soil of archaeological sites teaspoon by teaspoon wearing nylon gloves to protect their finds, maybe a team working weeks or more on one square meter of earth.

And as he explained how today, international mafia operations backed by investors in Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and even by certain Western Museums and famous antiquity auction houses, are using massive heavy equipment to scoop thousands of square meters  from deep into our past in just minutes, as they violently and brutally gouge out our culture heritage to cash in by selling our treasures . And all the while these and many of governments are turning a blind eye or fail to enforce current municipal and international laws.
Syria’s Cultural Heritage, the cultural heritage of every one of us is also protected by a legal penumbra that emanates from and extends the 1949 Geneva Convention (IV) on the Protection of Civilians. Attacks on cultural heritage are also outlawed by post WW II bilateral and multilateral international treaties as well as international customary law.
The international community is obligated to act without further delay on its moral and legal responsibility to preserve and protect, and also, where necessary and where possible to reconstruct the damaged archeological sites, sites that for millennia have been in the custody of the Syrian people. It is to them who today all people of good will honor for their sacrifices and humanity.
Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program ( He is reachable c/o

Abu Zakariya: A must see

د يحيى ابو زكريا / حوار الاخبارية 29 03 2014

Shaaban on Land Day: Al-Quds and Golan eyes of Arab Nation

 Mar 30, 2014 
Damascus, (SANA) Presidential Political and Media Advisor Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban said that al-Quds and Golan are the eyes of the Arab Nation and it is the duty of all to defend them, adding “clinging to the land and sacrificing for it is the only choice for us.”
Shaaban pointed out Sunday during the inauguration of “From Golan to al-Quds” forum marking 38th anniversary of the Land Day, which was held by Al-Quds International Foundation in Damascus-based al-Sham Hotel with the participation of a number of researchers and thinkers, that those who defend al-Quds and Golan from any Arab country are actually defending themselves, their Arabism, religion and future, considering that “no-one has a favor in that as we are all targeted…and did not we believe in that, they would occupy our lands piece after piece.”
She pointed out that everybody sees how and why Syria is being targeted, “So we move back to the same equation which is clinging to the land, the principle and the value of sacrifice.”
“All those who launch assault on Syria will be repelled…hundreds of invaders had come to this land throughout thousands of years, but they were repelled and we have remained here because we believe in our land,” Shaaban added.
Presidential Political and Media Advisor clarified that the war waged on Syria is not of a sectarian nature but rather it is a war launched for controlling our land , pointing out that Israel set schemes for a hundred years in advance, and the sole response to that is represented through adhering to the land, the principles and the value of sacrifice.
“We should comprehend the principle of the land deeply and comprehensively because it is a basic condition for our existence, and if we take a panoramic view of the human history we could see that the entire conflicts revolve on the lands,” she elaborated.
“The Palestinians were not mistaken when they considered that their presence in the land is the only right and genuine existence,” Shaaban said.
She lauded the adherence of the Arabs and Syrians to the occupied Golan, reminding of what the late President Hafez al-Assad said “We will not give up a grain of soil of Golan.”
Shaaban stressed that the Arab-Zionist conflict is the compass of all what is going on in the Arab land, clarifying “We will not master analysis without realizing that the Palestinian issue is the Arabs’ central issue, and targeting the Palestinians is the first step for attacking all the Arabs.”
Assistant Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command Talal Naji said the reason behind the conspiring against the Syrian people is their adherence to the Palestinian Cause and belief in the liberation of the occupied Palestinian territories.
“The West wants the Arab leaders and countries to be in cahoots with them to liquidate the national rights of the Palestinian people,” he added.
He addressed the Syrian people by saying “We will always be with you until we liberate the occupied territories in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and each and every Arab land.”
“Land Day is the day of belonging to the genuine Arab national identity,” said Director General of al-Quds International Foundation Safir al-Jarad.
He highlighted the significance and symbolism of Golan and Palestine and the unity of their course of struggle in confronting the Israeli ambitions.
English Bulletin

NATO’s Secret Drone War in Syria – Turkish Drone Allegedly Downed by Syrian Army

Mar 27, 2014, NSNBC
While Turkish and Western – backed Jihadists in the region around Kassab are on the run from the Syrian armed forces, an MP for Turkey’s largest opposition party CHP alleged that the Syrian Army has drowned a Turkish drone over Kassab.
The Turkish Aydinlik Dayly (AD) cites Mehmed Ali Ediboglu, an MP for Turkey’s largest opposition party CHP, as saying that the Syrian armed forces have shot down a Turkish drone over the Syrian city of Kassab.
The downing of a Turkish drone has international implications, considering that Turkey is a core NATO member state.
Last week, a Syrian fighter jet was shot down over Kassab while pursuing Turkish backed insurgents. Eyewitnesses reported to nsnbc international that the Turkish military is targeting Syrian army positions with artillery and tank shells and that Turkish special forces had been observed in the area.
Yesterday it transpired that members of Turkey’s governing AKP and Turkey’s P.M. R.T. Erdogan may have been giving the order to shoot down a Syrian jet, three days before the incident happened.
The Syrian Arab Army and Turkish/Western – backed insurgents have been involved in heavy clashes in and around the city of Kassab in Syria’s Lattakia region. The Jihadist have been suffering heavy casualties. The fighting erupted on 21 March and continues.
Aydinlik Daily quotes local sources as saying that the Syrian Army also succeeded in neutralizing the commander of the so-called Kastal Maaf front, Mohammad al-Abdallah, and the leader of the Mostapha brigades in northern Lattakia.
Syrian armed forces have, reportedly, pursued terrorists who had infiltrated into the region via Turkey. The insurgents fled after suffering a defeat in in the Samra Mountains and in Kassab.
CHP Member of Parliament, Mehmed Ali Ediboglu, visited the Turkish – Syrian border area in Yayladagi after heavy clashes erupted in the region. Ediboglu stated that the Turkish military allows and controls insurgents moves while they are crossing the border to and from Syria.
Aydinlik Daily cites the Turkish MP as saying that social media report, that a Turkish drone had been shot down with a surface to air missile by the Syrian Army on March 22. Ediboglu added that Turkish jets also had crossed the border at several occasions, in order to gather data for the armed insurgents.
The Turkish MP said that the drone was shot down about 1.5 kilometers from the Syrian town of Kassab, over Syrian territory, and that the fact has been covered-up in Turkey because it could cause problems in terms of international law. Ediboglu called for an urgent investigation into the downing of a Syrian jet by Turkish F-16s last weekend as well as into the Turkish drone that was downed by the Syrian army. NATO could, arguably, be held accountable for the use of Turkish drones over Syrian territory because Turkey is a core member of the alliance.

Syrian-Armenian town’s fate murky after rebel grab

BADROUSIEH, Syria (AP), Mar 28, 2014
When hundreds of residents of the postcard-pretty coastal Syrian village of Kassab fled this week, it bore historic weight: it was the third time since 1900 that ethnic Armenians there felt compelled to run for their lives.They left once at the hands of vengeful Turkish neighbors, and later because of Ottoman forces. This time it was Syrian rebels storming into town. It was a heavy blow for the minority community that sees the town as key to preserving the Armenians’ identity in Syria.
Kassab “is a symbol of Armenian history, language and continuity. It’s very symbolic,” said Ohannes Geukjian, a political science professor who writes on contemporary Armenian history and politics. “And so the fall of Kassab, I consider it the defeat of Armenian identity in that area.”
Rebels seized control of Kassab on Sunday after launching an attack two days earlier in the coastal Syrian province of Latakia. The fighters were from an array of conservative and Islamic groups, including the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front.
The province has an ancient Armenian presence, but is better known as a bastion of support for President Bashar Assad. It is his ancestral home and that of followers of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, that he belongs to.
The clashes led most of Kassab’s estimated 2,000 residents to flee some 35 miles (57 kilometers) to Latakia city, emptying out a village that boasted a Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant church.
“We had to flee only with our clothes. We couldn’t take anything, not even the most precious thing — a handful of soil from Kassab. We couldn’t take our memories,” said a woman to Syrian state television. She identified herself as Kassab resident, but didn’t give her name.
Kassab is surrounded by the villas of middle-class Syrians who built their homes amid green wooded hills overlooking the sea. The area got a boost from a popular 2008 Syrian telenovela, “Daya, Daya,” which was filmed in nearby village of Samra. Tourists flock to the area in the summer.
Kassab residents, speaking to Syrian television, said mortar shells and gunfire came from the Turkish border toward their village. A Syrian field commander on a government-organized trip told journalists in the nearby town of Badrousieh that gunmen began their attack “with clear support from the Turks.”
Turkish officials refuted the claims.
“The allegations by some circles that Turkey is providing support to the opposition forces by letting them use its territory or through some other ways during the conflict … are totally unfounded,” the Turkish government said in a media statement on Wednesday.
The Turkish government was prepared to admit Syrian Armenian refugees and “protection could be provided to them,” the statement said.
Armenia’s President Serge Sarkisian said Kassab was attacked by Turkish militants in 1909, forcing local Armenians to flee for their lives. In 1915, as the 600-year-old Ottoman empire violently unraveled, the Armenian population was deported by the Turks, and thousands died as they marched across the desert.
A website created by Kassab descendants, “Kessabtsiner,” confirmed those events.
“This is the third expulsion of Armenians from Kassab and it represents a major challenge to modern mechanisms for the protection of ethnic minorities,” Sarkisian said in a statement this week.
In Washington, State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the United States is “deeply troubled” by the fighting that is “endangering the Armenian community in Kassab.” The U.S. has repeatedly expressed concerns over the growing influence of Islamic radicals in the rebel ranks, and Harf on Friday called on all groups involved in the fighting to protect civilians, religious minorities and their places of worship.
“We have long had concerns about the threat posed by violent extremists, and this latest threat to the Armenian community in Syria only underscores this further,” Harf said.
Syria’s main opposition bloc said in a statement the rebel units belonging to the moderate Free Syrian Army have been fighting against government forces in and around, but adamantly denied that any of the FSA fighters are behind the violence against the Armenians. The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition blamed Assad’s military for the bloodshed, saying they have “deliberately bombed these areas and accused the rebels of it.”
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey, however, denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
The forced flight from Kassab has deep meaning for many Armenians, because it is one of the last areas tracing back to the eleventh-century from the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia, said professor Geukjian.
Other areas in modern-day Syria once had ancient Armenian villages, but residents left to join larger communities in cities like Aleppo, or assimilated into the wider Christian minority, or emigrated, said Geuikjian. Only Kassab “kept its identity and language,” he said.
“When you say Kassab, you understand you are referring to the Armenians,” said Arpi Mangassarian of Badguer, a Beirut-based Armenian cultural organization. “It symbolizes Armenian culture.”
Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said ethnic Armenians accounted for about 70 percent of Kassab’s population.
Before the Syrian uprising, there were some 70,000 ethnic Armenians in Syria, particularly concentrated in the northern city of Aleppo and the area around Kassab. They were already a tiny minority among 23 million citizens, but part of Syria’s rich mosaic of tiny, ancient Christian and Muslim sects.
As the war grinds on, Armenians have been leaving to Lebanon, Armenia, Canada and the U.S.
The war has grown increasingly sectarian, as hardline Sunni rebel groups play a prominent role in the uprising, and Syrian minorities huddle behind Assad, fearing for their fate should extremists come to power.
There are no statistics of how many Armenians remain, but Geukjian estimated some 15,000 Armenians remained of a pre-war population of 40,000 in Aleppo. Others had drifted toward Latakia and yet others had remained in Kassab, he said.
“What will happen to us? We don’t know,” said the woman from Kassab, speaking to Syrian television.
The ancient area’s loss to ultra-conservative Muslim rebels suggests an uncertain future.
“We are afraid, if you want the truth. Of what is happening now, the future. The future is not clear,” Geukjian said.