[Midden-Oosten] What’s Happening in Raqqa, Idlib and in Syria

Jeff meisner op xs4all.nl
Do Nov 2 19:47:07 CET 2017


What’s Happening in Raqqa, Idlib and in Syria
Joseph Daher

http://peacenews.org/2017/10/29/whats-happening-in-raqqa-idlib-and-in-syria-joseph-daher/

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About The Author
Dr. Joseph Daher is an assistant teacher in the university of Lausanne, 
Switzerland and has a PhD in Development of the university of (School of 
Oriental and African Studies), SOAS, London, UK. He is the author of the 
book “Hezbollah: the political economy of the party of God,” Pluto 
Press, 2016, and the founder of the blog Syria Freedom Forever. He is a 
Swiss/Syrian leftist activist.
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You may have seen the horrible photo of 34 day-old Samar Dofdaa that 
activists circulated recently. Her family is one of thousands under 
siege in Eastern Ghouta by Assad forces. The baby was skeletal and in 
obvious agony. She died the next day. While world attention has left 
Syria, civilian suffering continues, but so does the remaining popular 
resistance.

The war continues and the suffering does not diminish on the ground. The 
Russian and Syrian air forces have intensified their bombing since 
September in support of the pro-regime troops’ military campaigns 
assisted by pro-Iranian Shi’a Islamic fundamentalist militias and 
Hezbollah in several regions: Deraa, Deir ez-Zor, Hama , Homs, Eastern 
Ghouta, Idlib. In the eastern Ghouta region, more than 1,100 children 
have suffered from acute malnutrition in the past three months, UNICEF 
said. This area has been besieged by regime’s forces since 2013. No less 
than 397 civilians, including 206 children and 67 women, have died due 
to starvation and medication shortage particularly between the start of 
the siege in Eastern Ghouta in October 2012 and Oct. 22, 2017. Fadel 
Abdul Ghany, chairman of Syrian Network for Human Rights declared 
regarding this situation:

     “It is not only that the Syrian regime used siege as a mean of 
warfare, but the siege is now beyond military necessities and their 
proportions, as the siege has turned into a matter of starving and 
restricting civilians. Its cost is higher than any anticipated military 
objective, and has become a form of collective punishment that denied 
civilians basic services and food.”

On Oct. 24, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council draft resolution to 
extend by one year the investigation on the use of chemical weapons in 
Syria. Russia has rejected a renewal of the mandate of the UN experts 
and the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) to 
investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria. This is the ninth time 
Moscow has used its veto to protect its Syrian ally.

The United States is also not left out with its bombings in their 
so-called “war on terror” and especially in the campaign for the 
conquest of Raqqa. According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights 
(SOHR), more than 3,000 civilians and soldiers died in September alone, 
the deadliest month of the year. Many essential infrastructures have 
also been destroyed, including multiple hospitals in areas outside the 
control of the regime and Islamic State (IS).


Raqqa, IS defeated, but …

The IS was definitively expelled from the city of Raqqa in mid-October 
by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of fighters (Kurds, 
Arabs, Syriacs) dominated by the YPG, armed wing of the PYD, with the 
support of United States-led international coalition aviation after four 
months of intense fighting. The defeat of the jihadist group in Raqqa is 
certainly good news, but the cost in human terms, as in Mosul a few 
months ago, is terrible.

More than 80% of the city is destroyed and/or uninhabitable and basic 
infrastructure is now virtually non-existent. “The humanitarian crisis 
is more serious than ever,” the NGO Save the Children said in a 
statement a few days before IS troops were expelled, with a serious 
shortage of food, medicine, electricity, drinking water, and basic 
necessities. There are also no functioning medical facilities in the 
city and schools have long been closed.

In four months, the fighting killed between 1,300 and 1,800 civilians 
[1]. About 270,000 to 320,000 people have been displaced by the fighting 
and are living in miserable conditions in overcrowded camps in the 
outskirts of the city. They will not be able to return until the city is 
cleared of the mines and explosives scattered by the IS. Fourteen people 
were actually killed in the explosion of mines left in the ruins of 
Raqqa since IS’s expulsion from the city.

With the loss of Raqqa, IS now controls only 10% of the Syrian territory 
— compared with 33% at the beginning of the year — of which more than 
half in the province of Deir Zor, close to that of Raqqa. IS is the 
target of two separate offensives in Deir Zor: one led by the regime’s 
troops and its allies, supported by Russia, the other by the SDF 
supported by the United States. The province of Deir Zor has also 
suffered tremendously from these offensives and bombings. Since 
September 10, between 660 and 880 civilians have died, while more than 
200,000 people have fled the province.

However, this succession of defeats has not prevented the IS from 
multiplying suicide operations and car bomb attacks in different regions 
of the country. The jihadist group has also increased the number of 
abuses against civilians in the areas in which its soldiers are 
withdrawing, for example, on Oct. 23, the IS has been accused of 
“executing at least 116 civilians” in the city of al-Qaryatayn in Homs 
Province before being expelled. Qaryatayn was once home to roughly 
14,000 Syrian Muslims and Christians reliant on agriculture and 
government jobs in Damascus. When the town first fell to the IS in 2015, 
thousands of its residents fled for safety.

After the end of the military operations in Raqqa, large sections of the 
SDF left Raqqa for other regions, mainly for Deir Zor. The SDF announced 
that the city and its province would be part of a decentralized and 
federal Syria and that they intended to entrust the administration to a 
civil council, create a local police and protect the borders of the 
province from external threats.

The Raqqa civil council is composed of local dignitaries and was created 
six months ago under the guidance of the SDF. The council has a dual 
presidency, a man and a woman like the other SDF councils, led by Leila 
Mustafa, a Kurdish woman from the border town of Tel Abyad, mostly 
populated by Arabs, and her Arab counterpart Mahmoud al-Borsan, a former 
member of the Syrian parliament and a leader of the Walda tribe, who is 
influential in Raqqa.

The real dominant political force remains, however, the PYD, the Syrian 
branch of the PKK. Huge portraits of PKK founder Abdullah Ícalan were 
actually displayed in Raqqa’s central square, Naeem, during the 
announcement of SDF’s victory, while SDF commanders dedicated the 
victory of Raqqa to Ícalan and all the women.

It is necessary to underline a certain fear and mistrust present among 
certain sectors of the local Arab population against the SDF. Some 
Syrian activists have even spoken of a new occupation … [2]

Everything remains to be done in Raqqa to rebuild the city, help local 
people to resume a decent life and regain the trust of the local 
population.

On its side, the regime by the voice of its dictator Bashar al-Assad has 
promised to restore the authority of the state over the entire national 
territory, including Raqqa. For his part, the Minister for National 
Reconciliation, Ali Haidar, said that the future of Raqqa could be 
addressed “only within the framework of the final political structure of 
the Syrian state” in response to the communiqué of the SDF.


Idlib, but especially Afrin, in Ankara’s horizon

The Turkish army deployed in Idlib province in northern Syria, setting 
up observation posts as part of a mission to control SDF, whereas 
initially, the mission was officially aimed at dislodging Hay’at Tahrir 
al-Sham (HTS), a military alliance dominated by the jihadists of Jabhat 
al-Nusra. HTS actually agreed not to interfere with Turkish operations 
along the border and is therefore relatively spared for the moment by 
Ankara.

This Turkish military deployment in collaboration with Syrian armed 
opposition groups is part of the so-called de-escalation agreements 
reached with Iran and Russia in September and May. This new military 
expansion at the border came three months after another one between 
Aazaz and al-Bab. The objective is to isolate the city of Afrin 
controlled by the SDF. The Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Safak did 
not hesitate to titrate use as a headline in one of its editions at this 
period: “Today Idleb, tomorrow Afrin.” The Turkish government also 
placed in the areas opposition armed groups that it sponsors and 
supports. At the time of writing, the Turkish forces continued their 
incursions into the northern territories of the country.

As a reminder, Turkey occupies territories in the north of Syria, 
including towns and villages like Jarablus and al-Bab. They have even 
established their own institutions, favor their own humanitarian 
organizations, depriving others of acting, including local ones, and set 
up a local police trained in Turkey.


Popular resistances despite everything

This endless war against the Syrian people has not prevented popular 
resistance actions. On October 14, significant demonstrations took place 
in the provinces of Idlib, Homs, Eastern Ghouta and several other cities 
for the “day of rage,” despite the bombardments of the regime and Russia 
and the threat of Islamic fundamentalist groups often opposed to these 
mobilizations and not hesitating to repress activists and other sectors 
of civil society.

A few days before, on October 11, a strike was organized by shopkeepers 
and workers in the city of Idlib demanding the resignation of the 
officials in the HTS-led civil authority in Idlib, and that the jihadist 
coalition’s security forces remove the masks and hoods that conceal 
their identities. Increasing complains against HTS can be heard by the 
inhabitants of Idlib regarding the encroaching on almost every aspect of 
civilian life by the jihadist coalition. In recent months, HTS members 
continuously demonstrated intentions to impose control over civilian 
affairs: it has monitored money transfers, prohibited education projects 
that do not have its approval and sought control over bakeries, and 
water and transportation directorates in the province. HTS has committed 
numerous Human Rights violations in these past few months following 
their full control of the city and the province, including murders, 
arbitrary arrests, and raids relief organizations.

In addition, at the Central Prison in Homs, 500 political prisoners went 
on hunger strike in mid-October to demand international action for their 
release as they were under the threat of major repression by the regime. 
The prison’s director has however continued to threaten the prisoners 
after their call and detainees reported that the prison director also 
threatened to burn them with their families. Several Syrian 
organizations demanded that the Syrian regime immediately accept the 
demands of hunger strikers, to end referring prisoners to military 
courts or other courts, such as “the Terrorism Court,” and to stop all 
arbitrary executions. We should support the demands of the hunger 
strikers and moreover demand the liberation of all political prisoners.

Local popular and democratic initiatives were also continuing in 
different regions against the regime and Islamic fundamentalist 
organizations.

The resilience of what remains of the sectors of the popular democratic 
movement against the multiple enemies of freedom and dignity is 
admirable in this atmosphere of continuous war, of which the end remains 
the absolute priority to lessen the suffering of the civilian 
population.


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1. More than 1,000 civilians (1,058) died under US-led coalition 
bombings, 311 civilians by IS and 191 civilians by SDF. IS jihadists 
have also used many civilians as human shields.

2. One can and should have a critical stance against the PYD and its 
authoritarian practices (see the many posts and articles on my blog 
Syria Freedom Forever on the issue), but the comparison with the 
practices of the jihadist group IS and talk about new occupation on the 
IS model ignores the real and massive differences between the two groups 
(including comparing the management of territories between the two 
organizations) and is more of a misplaced propaganda. For example, we 
should denounce when around 10 civilians were injured on October 26 
after they got shot by SDF fighters after residents from “Al-Mashlab” 
neighborhood in Raqqa protested to demand SDF to allow them to go back 
to their homes, despite the lack of security as mentioned in the text.


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