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Wednesday, 9 October 2013

BBC Panorama with more dodgy footage



If anyone was in any doubt on whether the Panorama team were complicit in the Dodgy Napalm Report, they made 29th August, this may help you decide. I don't know whether to be shocked or not.

I did know Panorama had televised the full program on 30th Sept but had not got round to viewing it. A post on the Guardian CIF prompted me to check it out (thanks to Atvar48). It linked to this article.

In the original report Dr Rola Hallam is shown saying one thing. In the later full Panorama episode it appears they have cut and pasted the audio so Dr Rola is saying 'chemical weapon' instead of 'napalm'. As Dr Rola is wearing a mask as she is speaking they've not had to worry about lip-synching. Unless you had the original to reference you wouldn't even realise it.

Original report (see 2:16 to 2:38): "I need a pause 'cause it's just absolute chaos and carnage here. Erm..we've had a massive influx of what looks like...serious burns..err...seems like it must be so some sort of...I'm not really sure....maybe napalm...something similar to that. But obviously within the chaos of the situation it is very difficult to know exactly what is going on"

Later report: (see 32:29 to 32:40): " It's just absolute chaos and carnage here. Erm...we've just had a massive influx of what looks like...serious burns..err...seems like it must be some sort of...chemical weapon...I'm not really sure"

Alternative Later Report  (see 2:00 to 2:13)

While the footage of Dr Rola speaking with her mask on looks similar in both reports, note the guy with the the fluorescent jacket standing just behind to the side. In the original report he has his hands behind his back. In the second report, in the full Panorama program, he has his hands to the side. The footage is totally different. How much had Dr Rola said during this time? The only other reason we could have this difference is that her 'impromptu' interview had to have several takes, which is just as incriminating. But I have listened to the audio over and over. Each 'erm' and 'err' is exactly in the right place. The pitch of her voice etc. appears to be the same.

So why change her words to say 'chemical weapon' instead of 'napalm'? Did it look too suspicious with Dr Rola concluding napalm in all this 'chaos'? You'll also hear Dr Rola's associate say straight after "We don't know what we're dealing with" - as if to reinforce their innocence in all of this. Was 'chemical attack' more suited to the narrative?

Now, whatever the BBC claim about balance we all know they show whatever fits their bias. But when it comes to altering what someone has said in such a way then we're really in another ballpark altogether.

There are many more discrepancies which need a better look at, such as teenagers suddenly appearing in this later report which were totally absent from the first one. Now we can confirm that the guy with the stubble and faded jeans, who looks in his early 20s, showing Panorama around the 'school', is supposed to be the headmaster for seniors. Really?

They've also excluded the 'witness' pleading to the camera with his script on the full programme.

Note BBC iplayer may not be viewable outside of the UK. You can instead view the shorter BBC report here. And hopefully the BBC won't have tried to edit it again!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Deceit of Human Rights Watch

This is from an old post but an example of how HRW's researchers gladly accept the most preposterous 'witness' testimony to back their agenda.

HRW Report Link here

29th August 2011 - Media report on a warehouse in Libya where the charred skeletal remains of unidentified humans remain. HRW pin the carnage on the Khamis Brigade, a supposed elite force in the Libyan army.

So what do HRW use to support their claim? The following testimony from a guy who claimed to have escaped during the execution.

Let's analyse the witness statement.

Witness: Four soldiers climbed on the top of the warehouse, and another soldier opened the door. They started shooting at us through the roof. It was made of sheet metal. The guy at the door was throwing in grenades…I saw bullets and heard people saying Allahu Akbar, and that’s all. I saw [eight people] fall down. When [the guards] were refilling their ammunition, I ran out the door and jumped over the wall. I was not wounded, hamdullah. They just shot and killed us…

How does the witness know the precise number of soldiers that had climbed on the sheet metal roof. Has he got special vision?
Why does he need to tell us that the roof was sheet metal? As proof that he was there?
So, a guy was at the door throwing in grenades. I'll admit I'm not an expert on grenades but wouldn't this be shaking the crap off the roof? Wouldn't the explosions also come back on the soldier that was at the door?
The witness claims he escaped while the gunmen were reloading. So all 4 gunmen just happened to be re-loading at the same time. And presumably the guy at the door tossing in grenades also took a break.
He claims he ran out of the door. The same door that the soldier with the grenades was occupying or maybe another back door which they provided so prisoners could leave when they liked?

He's been in a warehouse being shot at by 4 soldiers, grenades being thrown in by a fifth, run out the door, climbed over a wall and miraculously has absolutely no injuries.

Witness: After I escaped, I saw one of the soldiers finish off anyone who was wounded lightly. He would just finish them off. I saw him from far away. He was wearing trouser fatigues and a civilian top. I recognized him. He was one of the ones guarding us. His name was Brahim and he was from Tajoura … After I escaped on August 23, I hid in a house outside the compound for three days, and saw that the guards were still there. 

Ok, he's just escaped from a horrific scene with his life and decides he wants to observe what else is happening there. Like you do. How could he see what was going on in the warehouse from being outside it, let alone from 'far away'.
He continued to observe the compound (for whatever reason) for 3 days to assure us that it was still controlled by Gaddafi's troops. Verifying that the rebels couldn't have done this. That the rebels just turned up as the place was burning. How convenient.
Now, about the fire:
 
Within three days the same warehouse was set on fire but the cause is unknown, Human Rights Watch said.

I can only guess the bodies were set on fire to cover up the crimes. There has to have been an accelerant used as even the bones are charred. Now, if the Khamis Brigade or other Gaddafi troops had done this and then wanted to cover up why would they be spray painting their name all over the building? Does that seem logical?

Here's another possible scenario: Rebels/Special Ops took over the compound, rounded up Gaddafi's troops and/or black Libyans/migrants. Killed (Tortured/mutilated?) and then tried to burn the evidence. Then stuck some graffiti on the walls so people, who think Murder She Wrote is a complicated whodunnit, would pin it on the Khamis Brigade.

If HRW can base a verdict on such testimony then it clearly shows they're either extremely incompetent or have a serious bias.

Please don't take this as an extreme example. Read other HRW reports and you'll see the same absurdities. They back up their agenda with nonsense and then claim to have facts. They know full well that the vast majority of people are never going to scrutinise their 'facts'. In fact it's rare that someone will even visit their website. The majority of their spin is sold through the mainstream media.


Video of some of the black Libyans/migrants who were killed/lynched by the angelic anti-Gaddafi rebel forces NATO supported. Note this is from the same area. Executed even while they were laying in the hospital. The rebels telling the media they were killed by the Libyan army.

So any investigation into these crimes, anyone to be prosecuted? No, the rebels were all given an amnesty from prosecution by the newly installed puppet government. Where are the Amnesia International and HRW campaigns for justice? Nowhere.


Thursday, 5 September 2013

Who is Dr Rola in faked Syrian Napalm report?

Dr Rola appearing on BBC Newsnight


Dr Rola has been doing the rounds with the media this week after her fake patients video got banded around, care of the BBC's Panorama team. Pushing for western humanitarian bombs to reign down on Syria and hoping  this new 'attack' would impression the vote in Parliament after a week of chemical weapons claims. For some reason she only wants to be known as Dr Rola in her interviews. In an article done by an associate of hers in The Lancet, she is referred to under the pseudonym of Dr Rola Ahmed.

There's been some confusion over who she is and if she is even a doctor.

She is Dr Rola Hallam. You can check her on the GMC register here. Also known as Dr Rola Al-Kurdi (Alkurdi) - her maiden name. Dr Simon Hallam, her husband, is also involved in Hand in Hand for Syria.

You can read more about her here

Her status is: Registered with a license to practise. She is not on the GP register and not on the Specialist register.

There is also a Dr Mousa Al-Kurdi who is believed to be her father. He played his part in fronting stories for the Chemical attack in Ghouta just the week before. He is referred to as an oncologist or gynaecologist depending on the report you read. Surprise, surprise he is also in the Syrian National Council - the western funded opposition group. But the news articles simply refer to him as a Syrian doctor avoiding his political connections, to make it appear he's some impartial observer.

Update: The GMC appeared to have removed all reference to Alkurdi/Al-Kurdi on their register when checking today (12/09/13). Their site advises that names can be withheld for search.

Other Links on Dr Rola:

http://wikispooks.com/wiki/Dr_Rola




Tuesday, 3 September 2013

BBC News Panorama - The Dodgy School Napalm Attack

More fakery destroying real lives



29th August 2013 - BBC Panorama Team claim to have a report on the Syrian government using napalm on a school. Killing 10 teenagers.

Link to video report here

Let's study the video:

It starts with amateur footage with the reporter, Ian Pannell, claiming a body is being covered. We see something that could possibly be a corpse but it could be anything. The reporter claims 10 teenagers were killed and that he witnessed the victims. However, it's not made clear if he is referring to the supposed patients in the field hospital or the ten dead.

00:33 -  They go back to visit the 'school'. There are no school signs on the front gate, not a single sign inside the courtyard or at the front of the building. To the left you see a private pool (??) In fact, all indicators show this is a private residence, not a school.

There is an impact of some kind of weapon with charring just around the damage. If this were napalm or any kind of similar accelerant the whole place would be charred black. But you don't see a single example of burning anywhere else at all. That BBC reporters bought this says a lot about them.

00:42 - Pannell reports that the headmaster doesn't want to be identified, eventhough we have clear pictures of the 'school'. So if this school existed it would hardly be difficult for the government to know who the headmaster is. So why doesn't he want to be identified....hmm.

1:02 - This is meant to be a school for teenagers but you can see a small child's swing for 5 year olds in the courtyard. Further proof that this is a private house.

1:46 - 'Patients' are walking in to the 'field hospital' run by a pro-rebel UK charity called Hand in Hand for Syria. It has a very similar resemblance to the dodgy charities that were created over Libya by regime change supporters. (More about Hand in Hand for Syria's Dr Rola here) Who were quoted all over the mainstream media with some of the most ridiculous stories.

The patients look in a bad way - very convincing. The first guy comes in limping like a zombie (remember him for later).

2:02 - We're shown a man on a bed being given oxygen? This seems to be a classic in rebel videos with 'patients'. They just start pumping them with these masks. Rather than worry about the 'patient', who we're supposed to believe can't breathe, they're more interested in showing us his back. Now look closely at the 'burns' - real burns would have made the skin red all over. Instead what you see is like a latex make up which has stretched with movement and left almost circular gapes which show perfectly fine skin underneath.

These are not real burns

2:06 - You hear Dr Rola saying "More coming?" Why would a woman who can speak Arabic be speaking English to a Syrian ambulance worker? All for the camera. We also see a man with a gas mask on (ooh scary) except no one else has bothered.

2:08 - We see footage of the same guy who walked in at 1:46 still getting off the pickup truck.

2:10 - The Medic/Dr decides rather than worry about the 'patients' she needs to speak to the BBC. "I need a pause", she says, because of the chaos. Now watch the Doc's eyes when she says the word 'napalm'. Just as she says it her eyes flick to the camera.

2:39 - A lady who supposedly has burns to her face and is covered in some kind of burns cream still has her head dress on? She is the same lady you see being stretchered in at 2:26 screaming.

2:45 - We're shown Ahmed, the 15 year old. In fact the only teenager. Where are all the others at this school? Again, injuries look convincing. But burn cream seems to have been applied everywhere except his hands? And where is Ahmed now? Will they be interviewing him to show his current injuries? Because they've yet to do so on any other 'patients' the rebels like to show. He would be a poster for intervention propaganda if they did. Note, that Ahmed's injuries look nothing like those of the other 'patients'. Nor do we see any footage of him walking in. Was he already at the hospital as a real patient?

2:55 - So now we've seen the patients, the classic format is followed. A 'witness' screams to the camera (looking down as if reading a script) "Dear United Nations....what kind of peace are you calling for...don't you see this".

3:03 - In the style typical of much rebel propaganda, everyone is thrown together acting like zombies. Watch our friend from 1:46 earlier. Super bad acting as he spots the camera. A man with 'serious burns' is more worried about giving a peace sign as he's supposedly in agony (see this video here of the same - guy does peace sign at 00:30). Then a younger guy starts doing the same. Both these guys wouldn't pass an audition for the Thriller video, but all very convincing for the Panorama team.

According to Ian Panell's tweets they first just happened to be at the hospital when victims started coming in from this incident. They then went to film at the school two days later - because it was a dangerous area. If it was such a dangerous area how come teenagers were happily going to school there? Having checked, it is summer holiday season for all schools in Syria, so they should not even be open. There are so many glaring problems with the story apart from the zombies with their make-up.

Another discrepancy, which isn't uncommon - The rebels have been providing other videos with different patients on youtube for the same attack where it becomes a 'college'. I believe some have said videos for the chemical attack discussed in Parliament were already being posted before the time it was supposed to have happened. I haven't scrutinised the whole timeline on that to verify. But guaranteed our media certainly aren't bothered with doing so.

This from the same Panorama who were supplying propaganda for the Iraq invasion in 2003 - Saddam- A warning from history. Then John Simpson, now Ian Pannell. Lies that really kill people.

HRW's report on this 'incident' by Mary Wareham:

 It is the end of the school day, teenage students gather in the playground before heading home. An aircraft buzzes overhead. A second later, chaos – at least 10 are dead and dozens wounded. Video images of the young victims – the dead, dying and severely wounded - show tell-tale signs of severe burns.

What video images of the dead? What has Ms Wareham even been watching?

That was the gruesome scene reported this week by the BBC of an apparent Syrian government airstrike in northern Syria in which an incendiary bomb was dropped on a school on August 26.  While we have not investigated this incident, we have recorded multiple instances of Syrian government use of air-delivered incendiary bombs since November 2012, including in a previous school attack
You've not investigated it, Ms Wareham? Why not? Oh..but hold on, you have investigated others. That's okay then. Let's have a look at how you investigated those:

A video posted to YouTube by activists from Quseir, Syria shows ZAB 2.5 incendiary submunitions burning in the playground of the Ghaleb Radi school following an airstrike on December 3, 2012.

Sounds like a lot of investigation there.

An activist told Human Rights Watch that four adults, including two Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters, were wounded during an airstrike using incendiary weapons in Maarat al-Numan on November 28. 

According to two local activists and video footage, approximately 20 civilians including women and children were wounded on December 3 by an airstrike on a school and neighboring homes in Quseir that apparently involved incendiary weapons. A home in Daraya also appears to have been hit by incendiary weapons, based on local residents and footage reviewed.

Based on the account of a witness, the first documented use of an incendiary weapon occurred on November 16. An activist in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, which had been heavily bombarded by Syrian forces in recent weeks, told Human Rights Watch that he filmed several videos showing ZAB incendiary submunitions being dropped on Daraya:


In other words your investigations consisted of what activists told you from their media centre. This activist witness claiming he had filmed this ammunition being deployed but only actually providing video of the supposed aftermath. Oh, what a surprise. So what did HRW actually investigate? Absolutely nothing.

Meanwhile Kenneth Roth. Executive Director of HRW, insists he has the facts because he has people on the ground. Of course he makes the statement deliberately ambiguous so we assume he means HRW staff. His interview on RT shows him in true form with a mass of deceit and spin.


Other Links:

http://www.globalresearch.ca/bbc-media-fabrications-on-alleged-incendiary-bomb-attack-in-aleppo-syria/5353099

Some great work by Robert Stuart who has been questioning the BBC over this.  See here


Thursday, 13 June 2013

Guardian's Ian Black goes to Damascus...to tell us what his Syrian friends are saying!

The Guardian's Editor, Ian Black goes all the way to Damascus and what does he come back with? The opinions of his 'friends' in Syria. Whoever these friends are. Likely other chattering class types who have no sense of anything but their own little world. He could have got all this information from an email. Instead he decided to waste aviation fuel and the Guardian's expense account.

Wednesday 24th April 2013. The Guardian do an Ian Black Q&A on Syria. Seems Black tripped up over a few questions asked and then someone, likely Black, decided they wanted to erase all record of his responses. Six days after, they removed all comments from the page. And no, this is not usual practice when they've done other Q&As in the past.

Here are some of the comments before they were deleted:

  • TheGriefWell
    4
    What impact is aid from organisations such as the British Red Cross having out there?
    Thanks.



  • Pam Dalloul
    2
    I also want to ask about the Red Cross in Syria. As the equivalent is the Red Crescent in Syria , does the Assad regime decide who receives aid ? I have heard that aid is only given to pro regime areas by the Red Crescent , is this correct?


    • herogram
      4
      @Pam Dalloul - the Red Crescent in Syria, like all Red Cross and Red Crescent societies worldwide, is independent from the government of the country and operates by the principles of neutrality and impartiality.
      This will give you some more information. Key info copied and pasted:
      Who is funding Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) operations?
      SARC aid work is funded by contributions from the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, UN-organisations and other international NGOs with funding from governments and other international donors. Red Cross Red Crescent is seeking funding for the ongoing humanitarian assistance to support food and non-food relief items, health care and safe drinking water as priorities.
      Can SARC work everywhere? Some media reports suggest otherwise.
      SARC is a community based organisation. SARC volunteers are working from branches and sub-branches across the country. They are part of the community who live in the respective area. They are providing lifesaving first aid services where health and medical services no longer function. SARC’s neutrality is key to deliver its humanitarian assistance to almost two million people monthly. SARC provides assistance to IDPs and across conflict lines. SARC volunteers are active in areas like Qaboun, Jobar, Douma, Telbiseh, Tel Kalakh, Al Bokamal and Menbej; to name a few.
      SARC volunteers are working under extremely difficult circumstances even putting their own lives at risk. 17 volunteers have lost their lives to date while providing humanitarian assistance, latest on 3 March in Jobar, a suburb to Damascus. Unsubstantiated reports and misinformation are adding to the risks to which SARC volunteers are exposed.
  • Jo Blick
    0
    What is the leadership like, of the people fighting Assads regime? are they planning to replace him with anything better? Do they have some sort of published aim?
  • PeterSchmidt
    5
    On the BBC's "World have your Say' I heard that more than 5 million Syrians have fled from rebel held areas, into the protection of Assad around Damascus. Have you managed to talk to any of them?
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      3
      @PeterSchmidt - Standard figure is that about 3.8m Syrians are internally displaced. Plenty of people are critical of the rebels, especially about what happened in Aleppo. In Damascus there is a palpable fear of criticizing the government and a broad sense of weariness about a crisis which is destroying the country.
    • plexply
      3
      @IanBlack -

      In Damascus there is a palpable fear of criticizing the government.
      Then how is it that your paper has interviewed Syrian citizens who support the FSA and have their pictures placed on their social networking accounts in government areas?
      When you and other media here were claiming violence in Damascus when nothing was going on (same as you did Tripoli) you later claimed on a visit that eventhough it was peaceful it was 'burning' or something or another. You see what you want to see.
  • Mano Buckshi
    1
    I have read recently that communities are increasingly organizing their own local councils to step in and provide basic municipal services given the collapsing infrastructure. Is there an awareness of the efforts outside of Syria to form the transitional and interim government or have they resigned themselves to living through a protracted conflict without end, thus making these types of local organizations that much more important from their perspective?
  • Ruleyourfeather
    0
    Have you found that many are escaping the area, trying to get to Lebanon?
  • Morpheus71
    0
    Where is the international community on the alleged chem attacks ? I also want to know are the fighters going to have a say in the new government to come ?
  • mattinbiglari
    1
    Do we know who was really behind the kidnapping of the two archbishops from Aleppo yet?
    Also have you spoken to many rebels about how they feel about Saudi and Qatari-funded elements within the FSA?
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      2
      @mattinbiglari - Not yet. Government and rebels accuse each other. Kidnapping bishops, several people have pointed out, would serve the regime's interests,
      I was in Damascus on a government issued visa. Met people who support opposition. Secular types unhappy with Islamist influence but insist the uprising is non-sectarian and committed to freedom and democracy. Not met anyone who believes post-Assad Syria will be an Islamist state.
    • RedOrchestra2
      9
      @IanBlack - No offence Ian, but that short note would indicate balance of probabilities that regime responsible.
      Surely the fact the church has said they were taken by Chechens, and more importantly that they were taken in a rebel controlled area - would be salient facts?
    • RedOrchestra2
      1
      @IanBlack - Sorry, I should also have said thank you for answering questions.
      I appreciate reporting from Syria (or indeed Mid East generally) means you will constantly have your statements questioned.
    • Grillo
      2
      @RedOrchestra2 - '...that short note would indicate balance of probabilities that regime responsible.'
      Well said.
    • lacilir
      3
      @IanBlack -
      Government and rebels accuse each other. Kidnapping bishops, several people have pointed out, would serve the regime's interests,
      The churches stated it was Chechen jihadis:
      Sources in both churches said the kidnappers were believed to be Chechen fighters, who stopped the car in an area outside of Aleppo.
      "The news which we have received is that an armed group... (of) Chechens stopped the car and kidnapped the two bishops while the driver was killed," an official from the Syriac Orthodox diocese said in a statement posted online.
      A source in the Greek Orthodox church said the kidnappers had described themselves as "Chechen jihadists."

      http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130424/no-news-kidnapped-syria-bishops-aleppo-archdiocese-0. Why are you and the Guardian dancing around this fact ?
    • haywales
      0
      @lacilir - Knowing one of the Bishops well, I have been following this story very carefully. And knowing Syria well, I don't believe anything anyone says, and you don't have to believe what I now write, but I am led to believe that the Bab al Hawa area is under government control. The very quick detailed response concerning the kidnappers is typical of the government, which always wants to blame foreign fighters. I think the bishops were kidnapped to scare the hell out of them and prevent them moving to a position less pro-government. They have been consistent in their balanced call for dialogue rather than denouncing the violence of the government, and there may be reasons to suggest that they might be tempted to a less neutral stance. So the govt. decided to scare them. I may be wrong.
  • patasola
    1
    What is the mood like among regime loyalists you spoke to? Are they confident they can tough it out, or are they secretly planning to escape?
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      2
      @patasola - Regime loyalists seem fairly upbeat. They claim that the tide is turning in Assad’s favour. They say the rebels are divided and dominated by jihadis and that these facts are now causing further disarray and confusion internationally. The vice foreign minister told me that there could be reform in Syria but only when hostilities stop. Assad would not step down.
  • sjxt
    1
    Ian, thanks for doing this and some absolutely first rate reporting from Damascus over recent days (not to mention your earlier reports from round the region).
    Two related questions if I may:
    1. Did you find anything that led you to suppose there is any real world prospect of this not being a fight to the bitter end, whether that leads to "victory" of one side or the other or simply total fragmentation?
    2. Can the different Syrian communities ever find a way to live together again in the foreseeable future? Or was the Chechen jihadi commander in Aleppo quoted by Anthony Lloyd in the Times a few months back right: "Of course, it would be lovely when all this is over if the Syrians could live peacefully with one another. But with the nature of the fighting as it is now, that is very unlikely."
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      3
      @sjxt - 1) I didn't find anyone who believes in the prospect of a negotiated end to the fighting. Even the government appears to be paying no more than lip service to the idea.
      2) Syrian friends tell me that the country will never be the same again. But opposition supporters insist that theirs is not a sectarian struggle and blame the government for portraying it as such and trying to turn it into one.
    • lacilir
      2
      @IanBlack -

      But opposition supporters insist that theirs is not a sectarian struggle and blame the government for portraying it as such and trying to turn it into one.
      Who then expelled the Christians from Homs and al-Qusayr then ?
      “Christians must leave Qusayr within six days, ending Friday.”

      http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/world-news/detail/articolo/siria-syria-15868/
      The Syrian Orthodox Church, which represents over half of Syrian Christians, issued a statement saying revolutionary fighters had expelled some 50,000 Christians from the embattled city of Homs. That figure is estimated to account for about 90 percent of the Christian community there. Hundreds more — including women and children — were slaughtered, according to charitable organizations operating in the area.

      http://theorthodoxchurch.info/blog/news/2012/04/obama-backed-syrian-rebels-ethnic-cleansing-christians/
  • DoreenKhoury
    0
    Dear Ian,
    I have 3 questions:
    1. What can you tell us about what's going on in the Damascus suburbs (East Ghouta, for example)? Can you gauge the balance of power between the armed rebels and the regime?
    2. Are there any opposition activists left in Damascus? What kind of resistance to the regime, if any, is still going on?
    3. opposition local councils have been set up in some liberated areas (e.g. in Idlib). Are they having any impact on the ground? Or are the armed groups dominating civilian life?
    Thanks!
    Doreen

    IanBlack
    2
    @DoreenKhoury - Govt seems to have some limited success in the Ghouta area in recent days though it is not accessible and all that is visible from Damascus is the aftermath of shelling or air strikes. YouTube clips tell you more about what is going on.
  • Grillo
    1
    A couple of questions:
    Does the FSA *really* have widespread popular support amongst Syrians on the ground or did you get the sense that the majority support the government/not inclined one way or the other?
    Did you manage to speak to the pro-Govt side at all? If not, why?
    Many thanks!
  • cardigansinbound
    0
    Are there still ongoing street protests?
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      4
      @cardigansinbound - Occasional protests - flash demos are uploaded to YouTube. But there is very heavy security on streets. Many activists have gone abroad, are in prison or lying low,
    • plexply
      5
      @IanBlack -
      But there is very heavy security on streets
      With the current situation in Syria there's obviously going to be heavy security.
      Many activists have gone abroad, are in prison or lying low
      How do you know this?
  • NegativeCamber
    1
    Hi Ian,
    How was it working in Damascus in terms of freedom? Where you monitored or were your movements/communications restricted by the regime?
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      5
      @NegativeCamber - Very difficult to work there as a journalist. Ministry of Information very controlling; written permission and an officially approved escort required to do almost anything, Independent activity risky but still just about possible. Assume I was monitored.
    • lacilir
      3
      @IanBlack -
      An officially approved escort ?
      How come they didn't give Alex Thomson one ?
      3. Do they decide who you work with?
      No. We find our own people to work with in terms of local producer and driver. The drivers I have worked with have taken me into rebel-held areas on several occasions. The government knows reporters may go to these areas with a government visa and although I have done this on a number of occasions it has not made any difference to getting my visa both extended and renewed again upon re-application. I sense the government understands there are two basic sides to the war and journalists have the right to report from both.

      http://blogs.channel4.com/alex-thomsons-view/qa-foreign-journalists-operate-syria/4592
  • PaulLambert
    6
    On April 22nd, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon released this statement:
    'Expressing his deep concern at the ever-deteriorating situation in Syria, and its growing regional impact, the Secretary-General called for stemming the supply of arms to any side in the Syrian conflict. More arms would only mean more deaths and destruction'
    http://www.un.org/sg/offthecuff/index.asp?nid=2793
    This is a view that is apparently shared by the U.N. Commissioner for Human rights, and the E.U.'s Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. That more weapons will mean more death, destruction and suffering.
    In which case, why are Hague and Cameron apparently so keen to get the arms embargo on Syria lifted?
    And does this fact - them advocating a course of action that very senior figures within the 'international community' are saying will only exacerbate the suffering of Syrians - not call into serious question their claim to be primarily motivated by humanitarian considerations in their response to the conflict in Syria?
  • Guardian staff
    IanBlack
    2
    Good afternoon. Happy to answer questions but as there is a good deal of repetition and overlap between them please look at all answers to see if I have addressed the point you raise.
    Worth pointing out that I was in Damascus with a Syrian government visa. I met government officials and others who support the government.
    I was able to meet people who oppose Assad, but I did not meet anyone who openly identified as a member of the armed opposition.
  • PatriceLumumba
    2
    What is the opinion of the Sunnis living in Damascus? Are they loyal to Assad or waiting for a chance to join the opposition?
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      2
      @PatriceLumumba - Syrian friends of mine estimate 5%-10% loyalty to government plus a lot people who are hedging their bets. Sunnis are far less supportive than the Alawites especially the Damascus business elite.
    • plexply
      8
      @IanBlack -
      So you went to Damascus to tell us what your Syrian friends estimate. Who exactly are these friends of yours?
  • Guardian staff
    jameswalsh
    0
    A question from Eric Thomas on Google+:
    What's the situation with the chemical attack last month? Has any real leads come out of it? 
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      0
      @jameswalsh - The CW issue is stalemated, though suspicions are growing that such weapons have been used, possibly by both sides. But the Syrian government is unhappy with calls for a UN investigation, saying it fears "Iraqi-style fabrications."
      Obama said use of CW would be a "red line." But nervousness over allegations from Israeli intelligence suggests a reluctance to get involved unless weapons are used on a large scale internally or against another country.
  • Solidarnosc
    8
    Has there been a tendency in the western media to paint Assad in the conventional mould of ruthless tyrant, while playing down aspects of criminality and terror tactics on the part of the opposition?
  • Soul_Side
    2
    Hi! Did you meet ordinary citizens who were aware of EU intention to allow sale of Syrian Oil from opposition-occupied oilfields, if sanctioned by the opposition, but not from the Government? What sort of representative opinions do they express about this?
  • PaulLambert
    5
    In an answer above, Ian Black states that some within the opposition insist that 'their's is not a sectarian struggle'.
    While this is undoubtedly true for many activists, the U.N. CoI of Inquiry have documented how 'As battles between Government forces and anti-Government armed groups approach the end of their second year, the conflict has become overtly sectarian in nature' (p.3). The Commission said they received 'credible reports of anti-Government armed groups attacking Alawites and other pro-Government minority communities' (p.4), and that 'Syria’s Armenian Orthodox, other Christian, and Druze communities have sought protection by aligning themselves with the Government, with the consequence that they have come under attack from anti-Government armed groups' (p.5).
    This takes me on to my main question:
    While any claim that comes from the Syrian regime and Syrian state media is treated with scepticism, and rightly so, is there an opposite tendency on the part of Western corporate media to treat claims coming from the opposition and opposition media with an almost naive lack of scepticism?
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      3
      @PaulLambert - No doubt that the conflict has become more sectarian as the Assad regime has shrunk to its loyal Alawite core.
      .
      Interesting though, that the Christians I met in Damascus said that they had not been targeted as Christians. Noteworthy too that the Syrian Opposition Coalition strongly condemned the pledge of allegiance by Jabhat al-Nusra to al-Qaida. Ex NOC leader Moaz al-Khatib denounced jihadis as having non Syrian values.
    • lacilir
      3
      @IanBlack -
      Did you really speak to Christians ? I doubt it.
      NK: Do the militants target Orthodox Churches?
      BL: They kill people. They do not care about people, about human lives. And that's more important than churches and cathedrals, because if there are no people, there's no need for cathedrals. They do not care about having killed hundreds of our people, let alone destroying churches or mosques. Our churches have been attacked in all provinces. In Saidnaya the monastery was under fire, but, thank God, a miracle happened - the shell landed in the yard, breaking through the wall, but didn't explode. It broke in two, with all the gunpowder in one half of it. If not for this miracle, the shell would've killed 30 orphan girls. I've been there and saw everything. Everywhere - in Harasta, Arbin, Zabadani, Daraa, Aleppo, and around Damascus - our churches and our people have been attacked. They are suffering. Our cathedral in Raqqa has been severely damaged. These outlaws assault parishioners, kidnap and kill priests. Father Fadi Haddad from Qatana was kidnapped and killed when he attempted to rescue his people. They tortured him and killed him. The same happened in Hama. Currently we're trying to rescue the two priests that remain abducted.

      http://rt.com/op-edge/syria-church-luke-attack-868/
  • mojolojo
    0
    Hello,
    The Syrian opposition named Christian Syrian George Sabra as their interim chief after Khatib's resignation. Do you believe this will motivate Christians in Syria to join the uprising as they seem to be on the fence at the moment. In your opinion does this move by the opposition undermine the argument that Syria wishes to be a Islamic state?
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      0
      @mojolojo - Sabra is highly-regarded and the fact that he is a Christian does underline the non-sectarian nature of the mainstream Syrian Opposition Coalition. But there are members of other minorities in the opposition too - Michel Kilo for one and activists like the filmmaker Basil Shehadi, who was shot by sniper in Homs. It is also important to watch the position of the Muslim Brotherhood - maybe more than the Salafi or jihadi-type groups.
      I haven't met anyone who believes that a post Assad Syria will be an Islamic state.
    • Soul_Side
      2
      @IanBlack -
      I haven't met anyone who believes that a post Assad Syria will be an Islamic state.
      I expect those that do believe this are making their presence felt on the battlefields, or are otherwise making youtube videos, of which there are already hundreds or maybe thousands, featuring vast numbers of believers armed with mortars, RPGs, armoured and otherwise militarized vehicles, G2G missiles, heavy machine guns and tanks. This presumably will be a problem for the Damascenes who might prefer a non-Islamic state but who will be left extremely vulnerable to such a prospect in the absence of a military defence?
    • lacilir
      4
      @IanBlack -
      Sabra and kilo are highly regarded by whom exactly ?
      NK: Are there any Orthodox Christians in the Opposition?
      BL:There are two Christians in the National Council in Istanbul, but neither of them has the conscience or moral values of a Christian. One of them, Michel Kilo, has no idea what a church is. Same goes for George Sabra. These are the leaders of the militants who open fire in Christian neighbourhoods and kill priests.

      http://rt.com/op-edge/syria-church-luke-attack-868/
  • BrownMoses
    2
    What's been the reaction of the government and local people to the supply of Croatian arms to the opposition by Saudi Arabia? I note State TV still refers to them as Israeli weapons when they are featured as part of captured arms caches on State TV.
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      1
      @BrownMoses - Vice foreign minister Faisal Miqdad attacked "stupid Arabs" - primarily Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but also Jordan, playing an increasingly important role building up a new "southern front."
      Assad's recent warning to Jordan was fairly explicit. Syrian officials often try to implicate Israel because it is an easy and familiar target- eg Miqdad spoke of "Mossad agents" killed in the Deraa area but I've not seen any independent confirmation of that.
  • haywales
    0
    What is the situation with the Druze and the Orthodox minority in the Jebel Druze/Hauran area?
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      1
      @haywales - I'm told there are some signs of change in Jebel Druze. People also point to anti-Assad comments from Walid Jumblatt in Lebanon. But I have no first-hand knowledge of the area, which is not accessible to foreign journalists.
  • StElme
    0
    How do YOU see the situation in Syria 12 months from now?
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      1
      @StElme - Likely to be much worse, whatever happens. Virtually everyone I spoke to in Damascus certainly expects that. Many say that if Assad does fall the next stage will be even more violent.
  • HaveYouSeenThisMan
    0
    Did you meet any Islamic extremists?
    If so, do they have a clear idea of what they want Syria to become?
    • StElme
      2
      @HaveYouSeenThisMan - With all due respect, no need to ask Ian; we all know the answer to that one. Look at Egypt, Tunisia and Libya; who is in charge? Yes the same gentlefolk who wish to retreat to the dark ages...
    • HaveYouSeenThisMan
      0
      @StElme - are you the opinion the region is less democratic as a result of the Arab Spring?
  • BrownMoses
    0
    What's the reaction in Damascus to the changing situation south of Damascus in recent months? Is there a sense that the conflict has moved much closer to the capital?
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      1
      @BrownMoses - Conflict feels much closer. Damascus is effectively surrounded and parts of the city proper, such as Jobar, are under rebel control. The key front is in the Deraa area.
      These pieces give my sense of things:
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/19/damascus-din-of-war
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/14/syrian-crisis-damascus-sound-war-bombs
  • Emanuel Stoakes
    1
    In the event of a FSA outright victory, do you foresee tribulation for the country's ethnic and religious minorities?
  • Grillo
    0
    Did you get a sense as to how popular the FSA/rebel movement is amongst ordinary Syrians. Would you say that these groups have greater popular support than the government?
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      1
      @Grillo - Gauging support for rebels or government is the hardest question of all. In Damascus, where the war is now much more palpable, I sense a great weariness and a belief that Assad will not remain in power in the long term. Understandably there is enormous anxiety about the future, especially because the opposition is so divided and so many outside parties are involved.
  • ElvisInWales
    5
    Ian, Would it not be fair to say that in this conflict there are more Syrian born Sunni Muslims fighting FOR the regime than the FSA has Syrian born Sunni Muslims fighting for it? Simple question and given the size of the SAA and the fact that defections are nowhere near the scale as we saw in Libya for instance that the only sectarian angle comes from within the FSA itself.
    Simple question more Sunni Muslims fighting for and supporting the present regime than those fighting against it.
    Also would be nice to know how many peaceful opposition numbers are and how many do NOT want to see the likes of the FSA gaining any foothold inside Syria.
    TA.
  • plexply
    7
    Why does your paper refuse to publish anything relating to 'activists' being caught out lying, such as the Danny Abdul Dayem incident on CNN? Do you think such fabrication is not noteworthy when you constantly tell us how you have to rely on 'activists' for information?
  • Soul_Side
    0
    Having been to Damascus and seen the current state of security, are you now more, or less sympathetic to the view that sooner or later the armed rebellion will defeat the SAA?
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      1
      @Soul_Side - My impression, based on conversations with Syrians, is that Assad cannot survive in the long term even if that means just getting through until the end of his presidential term, as he would like, next year. I guess that armed rebellion and political pressures will continue to go in tandem, though international factors will be important. The SAA looks worn down by two years of war.
  • abijoubi
    0
    if u can compare the situation in north Syria to south , do you think in the near future Syria is going to be divided into two countrys one in the north and west with Islamic features and another in west and south as the rest of the regime ? and if so would the conflict last for another few years ??
  • Christian Brendon McCarthy
    1
    What end-game can you envisage ?
    • Guardian staff
      IanBlack
      1
      @Christian Brendon McCarthy - Continuing attrition, perhaps a sudden rebel breakthrough in the south followed by political pressure on Assad to go. Maybe an internal coup. Chaos afterwards - any or all of these.
  • Guardian staff
    IanBlack
    2
    Time's up! Hope I have answered at least the main points raised. Thanks for your questions and contributions.
  • Guardian staff
    jameswalsh
    0
    Thanks for everyone who took part - we've posted a selection of your questions (along with Ian's answers, of course) above the line. Comments will close here shortly, but you can head over to the MENA blog for the latest Syria discussion and updates.
  • JMiller_EA
    2
    Ian, have you had contact with opposition activists associated with the Local Coordination Committees of Syria or the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights? How credible do you find their reports? Are there particular kinds of reports that are typically reliable? Is their information that those groups are consistently ignoring or misrepresenting?
    Cheers.
  • rdevries
    0
    From a source within the orthodox church I came to know that foreign jihadists were behind the kidnap of Bishops in Aleppo. Can you let us know if this is the case? Also, I was told that numerous churches and many old Christian literature written in Syriac were burned down by FSA and other rebels in Aleppo. Apparently the Syrian government advised many of the church leaders to move to Lebanon to escape persecution. Can you let us know the situation of Christians in north Syria?
  • ahmadsy
    0
    Having been to the streets of Damascus, how is the daily life going in the City?
  • Prathish K
    0
    If Representatives/Leaders of Both Opposition & Ruling Assad Party are really care about the life of Each Syrians Why Rebels and Syrian Military is Taking arms ? Do syrians thinks that Real freedom will Come to Syria
  • TheGriefWell
    4
    What impact is aid from organisations such as the British Red Cross having out there?
    Thanks.
  • Pam Dalloul
    2
    I also want to ask about the Red Cross in Syria. As the equivalent is the Red Crescent in Syria , does the Assad regime decide who receives aid ? I have heard that aid is only given to pro regime areas by the Red Crescent , is this correct?
    • herogram
      4
      @Pam Dalloul - the Red Crescent in Syria, like all Red Cross and Red Crescent societies worldwide, is independent from the government of the country and operates by the principles of neutrality and impartiality.