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Sunday, February 26

"Human Rights Watch Cites Al Qaeda and Collaborators in Latest Syria Report"

By Tony Cartalucci
 NEO and Land Destroyer
February 26, 2017

 On the heels of Amnesty International's admittedly and entirely fabricated report regarding Syria's Saydnaya prison, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published its own baseless report on Syria -- this one regarding alleged chlorine bomb attacks in Aleppo during the city's liberation late last year.

Image: "Syria Civil Defense" [White Helmets], interviewed by Human Rights Watch, hoisting Al Qaeda's flag amid a gang of heavily armed terrorists.


In a post on HRW's website titled, "Syria: Coordinated Chemical Attacks on Aleppo," it claims:
Syrian government forces conducted coordinated chemical attacks in opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo during the final month of the battle for the city, Human Rights Watch said today.
However, when qualifying HRW's accusations, it admits:
Through phone and in-person interviews with witnesses and analysis of video footage, photographs, and posts on social media, Human Rights Watch documented government helicopters dropping chlorine in residential areas on at least eight occasions between November 17 and December 13, 2016. The attacks, some of which included multiple munitions, killed at least nine civilians, including four children, and injured around 200.
Watching the videos and viewing the photographs reveals that none of them actually link any of the alleged "chlorine attacks" to Syrian forces, or even to chlorine itself.

The body of evidence presented by HRW also reveals that the interviews they conducted with alleged "witnesses" included almost exclusively opposition forces. Among them were the US-UK funded White Helmets - referred to disingenuously as "Syria Civil Defense" in HRW's report - who served as designated terrorist organization Jabhat Al Nusra auxiliaries, often found on the battlefield shoulder-to-shoulder with armed militants.

United Arab Emirate-based Al Nusra propaganda platform "Orient News" was also cited, as were other notorious anti-government propaganda networks including the Aleppo Media Center.

Not only are these clearly compromised sources of information based on their admitted political alignments, but also because of their respective, systematic fabrications throughout the Syrian conflict. It is telling of HRW's systematic bias that it would base an entire report on compromised sources drawn from the opposition, but not even a single report based on government claims.

In reality, a truly reputable rights advocacy organization would only report what physical evidence was verified. Human Rights Watch has deliberately avoided doing so not only in Syria, but amid virtually ever conflict it involves itself in.

Citing Terrorists and Verified Liars

From conflating the number of civilians "trapped" in eastern Aleppo, to attempts to downplay or dismiss the role designated terrorist organizations played in the occupation of Aleppo, the groups and individuals cited by Human Rights have practiced deliberate deceit throughout the battle for Aleppo, and the Syrian conflict at large.

For Human Rights Watch - an allegedly world-renowned rights advocacy organization - to cite such sources indicates that this latest report, like Amnesty International's recently fabricated report, constitutes a politically-motivated attack hiding behind rights advocacy, not upholding it.

Considering the timing of Amnesty International, Human Rights, and also the Atlantic Council's reports, rolled out in a multi-organizational campaign attacking the Syrian government, the individual deceit of each organization transforms into collective and coordinated impropriety.

A final consideration in the wake of Human Rights Watch's latest, politically-motivated report is the fact that all actual evidence points to the opposition itself for being behind both the production and deployment of chlorine-based weapons.

TIME Magazine in an article titled, "Syria’s Civil War: The Mystery Behind a Deadly Chemical Attack," would admit:

In August rebel forces took Sabbagh’s factory by force, as part of a sweep that also netted them an electricity station and a military airport about 30 km from Aleppo. Sabbagh, who has since fled Aleppo for Beirut, says his factory is now occupied by Jabhat al-Nusra, a militant group with strong ties to al-Qaeda that has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S.
He knows this because his site manager has struck a deal with the rebels — they supply 200 L of fuel a day to keep the generator running so that the valves of his $25 million factory don’t freeze up. The factory isn’t operational anymore, but this way at least, says Sabbagh, it might be one day in the future. In the meantime, he has no idea what has happened, if anything, to the 400 or so steel barrels of chlorine gas he had stored in the compound. The yellow tanks, which hold one ton of gas each, are used for purifying municipal water supplies.
“No one can know for certain, but if it turns out chlorine gas was used in the attack, then the first possibility is that it was mine. There is no other factory in Syria that can make this gas, and now it is under opposition control,” he says.
[...]
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Applying the Bosnia Model to Syria. This is my nightmare.

We have seen how the Bosnian Model worked out for Bosnia. Now RAND decides this model would be peachy keen for Syria. Somebody tell me this is just a bad dream:

RAND Corporation's plan for dicing up Syria
February 26, 2017 - Fort Russ News -
- Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten, translated by Tom Winter -



US plan for the division of Syria may set off a new wave of refugees

The think tank of the Pentagon wants to divide Syria according to the model of Bosnia. The result would be ethnic cleansing and new, massive flood of immigrants.

The RAND Corporation, a leading US think tank close to the Pentagon, has published a report proposing a "Bosnian model" to resolve the Syrian conflict. 

"In this sense, as in Bosnia in the mid-1990s, peace will be facilitated by demographic changes on the ground, external approval for such changes, and exhaustion of the combat parties. Unlike in Bosnia, however, peace would not arise from a detailed formal agreement but from a set of local and international understandings. In order to achieve the various understandings, the cease-fire agreement between Russia, Turkey and Iran is a good starting point, but it is insufficient. Sustainable long-term agreements will be most effective if they involve the consent of other key stakeholders, including the US, its golf partners and other supporters of the opposition to Assad."

The RAND Corporation calls for a decentralization of the country in control zones. The area from the west coast to Deir Ezzor with the exclusion of Rakka is to be controlled by the government in Damascus and the Russians. The area liberated by Turkey under Operation Euphrates Shield and the province of Idlib would be under Turkish control. The southern area of Daraa, on the border with Israel, would also be controlled by an "opposition" not described in detail by the RAND Corporation. A large part of Northern Syria would be controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), consisting of Kurdish militia and led by the US.

It is particularly noteworthy that the RAND Corporation is proposing to place the ISIS strongholds and oil centers Rakka and Deir Ezzor under an "international administration." "We therefore recommend that the United States place the Rakka province, after its liberation, under an international transitional administration, creating a neutral territory that is not held by either the regime or the opposition until the final solution of the civil war." 

The area should be controlled by the UN, which in turn uses provincial councils. RAND Corporation, on the other hand, argues against sending a purely UN peacekeeping force to the international zone. Instead, the US and Russia would have to organize the deployment of a "coalition force," which is given a UN mandate. Such a solution would not only tolerate the US and Russia, but also Turkey and other regional US allies, which would not leave Rakka and Deir Ezzor either under the control of the ISIS terrorist militia or control by the Kurdish militia, according to RAND Corporation.

On the Syrian map, it is noticeable that the city of Manbij is placed in the Turkish zone in northern Syria. The Turkish army has not yet taken Manbij, and the Kurdish militants of the YPG are against the city being occupied by the Turks. However, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said at the beginning of the week that after the liberation of Al-Bab, Turkey would move to take Manbij.

Last year, Manbij was taken by the Kurdish militia. There are currently numerous associations of the Kurdish militia in Manbij, but the majority of the population is Arab and Turkmen.

The plans for the division of Syria are highly problematic: already in the Syrian war, massive ethnic cleansings have already taken place. These were carried out based on the planned petroleum pipelines. A territorial breakdown by ethnicity would greatly accelerate the trend towards expulsion. New escape movements would be the result. These would then come to Europe - which is desperately trying to shut itself off.

[END REPORT]

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Can France with Marine Le Pen as president save its embattled farmers?

India isn't the only place where farmers are committing suicide. "On average, one French farmer committed suicide every two days, according to France’s public health agency."

Oh for Pete's sake

Photo of President Hollande: MICHEL EULER/AFP

French farmers hope Marine Le Pen will free them from EU 'straitjacket'
By David Chazan
25 FEBRUARY 2017 • 6:00PM
The Telegraph

(PORDIC, BRITTANY) Bertrand Hourdel proudly pats one of his plump pigs, but the Brittany farmer is painfully aware that when he sells them, his profits, if any, will be slim.

He blames the European Union’s “straitjacket” of regulations and inaction by politicians from establishment parties for French farming’s deepest crisis since the Second World War.

Brittany’s verdant pastures and ancient stone farmhouses are a picture of bucolic bliss, but anger and desperation in France’s leading agricultural region, and other rural areas, are shifting the political winds in favour of Marine Le Pen’s anti-EU Front National.

“If France left the EU, I hope things would get better,” said Mr Hourdel as he watched pregnant sows bedding down on straw.

France remains the biggest beneficiary of EU farm aid, but more than a third of French farmers earned less than €4,200 (£3,560) last year, squeezed by falling food prices and cheaper imports from other member states.

Some recorded six-figure losses and many were driven into debt. More than 600 livestock farms went bankrupt — a record. On average, one farmer committed suicide every two days, according to France’s public health agency.

Given British resentment over the years at paying into the EU and a popular perception that French farmers were claiming aid and living high on the hog, there may be a certain irony that the French now feel cheated by east European member states.

“We pay a lot into the EU and they give little back,” Mr Hourdel said. “We’re paying for subsidies that go to eastern Europe, financing countries that are competing with us.”

It is true that France is now a net contributor to the EU. Mr Hourdel, who also grows crops on his 300-acre farm in Pordic, collects €40,000 a year in subsidies, but says his expenses are much higher. He would prefer to see EU aid replaced by a national system of quotas and subsidies, as Ms Le Pen proposes.

Mr Hourdel struggles to make repayments on €3 million in bank loans. “The bank manager phones me three times a week. In 1999 I was selling pork for the equivalent of €2 per kilo and now it’s down to €1.40. I have to pay five employees and I can’t get by without them. We all work flat out.”

Like many other farmers, Mr Hourdel, 53, used to vote for mainstream conservatives. Now he feels that Ms Le Pen is the only candidate standing in the presidential election this spring who is genuinely offering farmers a solution.

Imports of cheaper German pork and milk and Spanish fruit have badly hurt French farmers. Labour costs are higher in France, partly because of taxes and compulsory health and welfare contributions. Also, German abattoirs employ temporary workers from eastern Europe on east European pay rates.

Mr Hourdel welcomes Ms Le Pen’s proposal to restrict imports — impossible in the single market. “What I really want is an end to handouts and to be paid at a fair price for what I do, but that will never happen as things stand now,” he said.

Milk prices paid to farmers fell by about 20 per cent last year because output rose after the EU phased out production quotas in 2015. Beef prices dropped as unprofitable dairy cows were sold to abattoirs [slaughterhouses].

Pork and chicken prices collapsed after EU sanctions ended exports to Russia. Consequently, many farmers see little harm in Ms Le Pen’s pro-Moscow views.

“The EU has tied us up in a straitjacket of regulations so we can’t compete with other member states like Spain, where the same regulations don’t apply,” Mr Hourdel said. "The only candidate who’s talking about confronting this situation head-on, really changing it, is Marine Le Pen. ”

Talk like this alarms farmers’ leaders. Luc Smessaert, deputy head of France’s largest farmers’ union, the FNSEA, said: “Exiting the EU would be a catastrophe. It’s true that 2016 was a black year, the worst we’ve suffered since the war. Cereals, livestock, dairy and fruit were all affected, with bad weather and poor harvests adding to the misery, as well as bird flu forcing us to slaughter ducks, but the answer isn’t to quit the EU.”

However, Mr Smessaert acknowledges disparities between the rules applied in different member states and the need for reform.

“The EU should regulate less and harmonise the regulations in the different countries,” he said.

Farmers and rural voters could hold the key to the outcome of France’s presidential election. Ms Le Pen leads the polls for the first round of voting in April. She is still forecast to be defeated in the decisive second round, but she has been enouraged by Brexit and Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the United States, and no one is taking anything for granted.

François Hollande, the French president, met with a mixed reception at a major agricultural show on Saturday. “We’re dying,” a farmer told him. Mr Hollande, who was booed by many but cheered by some, said the event was “marked by deep sadness and the seriousness of the crises we are going through.”

All the presidential contenders are scheduled to visit the show in the next few days. François Fillon, the conservative candidate, promised “immediate measures to ensure that farmers can make a decent living”. In a message on his Facebook page, he said: “The distress of French farmers is heart-breaking.”

Jérôme Fourquet of the IFOP polling firm said: “Farmers feel increasingly left out and they are being tempted by the Front National. This is going to be a major election issue.”

Farmers make up only 8 per cent of voters including their families, retirees and workers in agriculture-dependent jobs, but rural communities overall total 20 to 25 per cent. It is roughly the same percentage as in the United States, where rural support helped Mr Trump win.

Mr Hourdel said: “Farmers have changed, and Marine Le Pen has moderated the Front National. Saying you’re going to vote for her isn’t the taboo it used to be.”

Agriculture has been notably absent from France’s election until now, but all the candidates will set out their stalls at the "Salon de l’Agriculture," the farm show that opened on Saturday. A huge political event in a nation still deeply attached to its rural roots, no candidate can afford to stay away.

[END REPORT]
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Ring of Fire solar eclipse going on right now, see it live on Sputnik

Really something. Stunning. Presently 26 minutes to the total eclipse, which will look like this:


Flickr:/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

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Sputnik's alarm about Bosnia-Herzegovina -- and Germany

A tiny picture-perfect country courts big trouble


"It's common knowledge that Vienna has become a place where Islamic fundamentalists, with some coming from Bosnia, gather."

"Islamist infrastructure has been in Bosnia for the last three decades"

In 2015 a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime showed Bosnia and Herzegovina was a key route for the trafficking of heroin and opium from Afghanistan to Western Europe, with receipts amounting to an approximate US$28 billion annually — one third bigger than the entire GDP of Afghanistan itself.

"According to the Bosnian Foreign Trade Chamber, the country's defense sector profits for 2016 were around 20 percent higher than 2015 ..."

The above quotes from Sputnik reports are part of a long line of statements featured by mainstream press from around the world in recent years, as governments have started to confront the corrosive effect of Saudi wealth mixed with Islam.

An example of the growing concern is Carlotta Gall's May 2016 report for The New York Times, How Kosovo Was Turned Into Fertile Ground for ISIS: Extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudis and others have transformed a once-tolerant Muslim society into a font of extremism and a pipeline for jihadists. 

She reports on a story that continues to become more common all around the world: 
Kosovo now finds itself, like the rest of Europe, fending off the threat of radical Islam. Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars — including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children — who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe.

They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.  
“They promoted political Islam,” said Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”
After two years of investigations, the police have charged 67 people, arrested 14 imams and shut down 19 Muslim organizations for acting against the Constitution, inciting hatred and recruiting for terrorism. The most recent sentences, which included a 10-year prison term, were handed down on Friday.
It is a stunning turnabout for a land of 1.8 million people that not long ago was among the most pro-American Muslim societies in the world. Americans were welcomed as liberators after leading months of NATO bombing in 1999 that spawned an independent Kosovo.
After the war, United Nations officials administered the territory and American forces helped keep the peace. The Saudis arrived, too, bringing millions of euros in aid to a poor and war-ravaged land.
But where the Americans saw a chance to create a new democracy, the Saudis saw a new land to spread Wahhabism.
“There is no evidence that any organization gave money directly to people to go to Syria,” Mr. Makolli said. “The issue is they supported thinkers who promote violence and jihad in the name of protecting Islam.”
Kosovo now has over 800 mosques, 240 of them built since the war and blamed for helping indoctrinate a new generation in Wahhabism. They are part of what moderate imams and officials here describe as a deliberate, long-term strategy by Saudi Arabia to reshape Islam in its image, not only in Kosovo but around the world.
Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2015 reveal a system of funding for mosques, Islamic centers and Saudi-trained clerics that spans Asia, Africa and Europe. In New Delhi alone, 140 Muslim preachers are listed as on the Saudi Consulate’s payroll.
All around Kosovo, families are grappling with the aftermath of years of proselytizing by Saudi-trained preachers. Some daughters refuse to shake hands with or talk to male relatives. Some sons have gone off to jihad. Religious vigilantes have threatened — or committed — violence against academics, journalists and politicians.
[...]
Yet in February 2015 The Telegraph was reporting that 50,000 Kosovars had fled the country within a period of two months -- most of them bound for Germany.  So now Germany has a big problem. 

And as recent reports at Sputnik underscore, BiH (Bosnia and Herzegovina) is not only suffering from massive unemployment and Islamist radicalization, it's also become a hub for 'black globalization' of all kinds -- illicit drugs and human organ smuggling, etc. as well as a weapons exporting -- that last somewhat mysterious given that it takes considerable money to manufacture arms for export. But somehow this dirt-poor country is managing to play with the big boys in the arms trade.  See the fourth Sputnik report below.   

1. 30% of Arab Immigrants in Bosnia Follow Ideology Made Notorious by Daesh [Islamic State]
12:36 - 26.02.2017 - Sputnik


Approximately 30 percent of those who moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Arab world, primarily the Gulf states, follow Wahhabism and Salafism, movements within Sunni Islam given a bad name by terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and Daesh, Brankica Ristic wrote for Sputnik Serbia.

"There is clearly nothing wrong with Arabs flocking to Bosnia. However, the issue is that approximately 30 percent of the newcomers follow Wahhabism and Salafism, primarily known because organizations like al-Qaeda and Daesh adhere to these movements," she said.

According to some estimates, more than 40,000 Arabs live in the capital of Sarajevo, Ristic added.

"The Ministry of Security is aware of these numbers. It has carried out investigations targeting real estate companies and other businesses established by the Arabs in Bosnia. As a result, 30 nationals from Arab countries were deported from Bosnia and forbidden to enter the Balkan nation due to their ties to Daesh and other radical groups," she detailed.


[...]

***
2. Why Bosnia May Become 'Ideal Refuge of Last Resort' For Daesh
11:44 - 03.02.2017 - Sputnik 

If Russia and the United States join their counterterrorism efforts and launch a comprehensive large-scale operation to tackle Daesh in the Middle East, the militants will most likely flee to the Balkans, primarily Bosnia and Herzegovina, experts told Sputnik Serbia.

Bosnia will become an "ideal refuge of last resort" for terrorists fleeing Iraq and Syria due to the existing infrastructure, an expert on terrorism Djevad Galijasevic asserted.

"Islamist infrastructure has been around in Bosnia for the last three decades. There are no obstacles preventing it from developing. Propaganda of [radical ideas] and financial assistance [to extremists] have continued unabated. One can buy any weapon in Bosnia. Some terrorists have their own banks," he detailed.



Milan Pasanski, president of the Forum for the Study of International Terrorism, shared these sentiments, saying that militants will most likely refrain from crossing the borders of the European Union since EU law enforcement and counterterrorism services have been on high alert. They will instead settle in the European periphery, primarily Kosovo, the Serbian region of Sandžak and Bosnia, he suggested.

The latest developments in Austria appear to confirm Pasanski's assessment.

Last week, imam Nedžad Balkan was arrested in the Austrian capital of Vienna. Galijasevic described him as the most radical, but not the most dangerous Islamic fundamentalist of Bosnian origin.

"Balkan is considered to be an expert in interpreting Islamic religious texts, particularly those on prophet Ibrahim. Balkan founded the İbrahim Milleti project. 
Several years ago the German police conducted a large-scale operation arresting Wahhabis affiliated with the project," the analyst said. 

"He is the most radical Islamist with ties to Bosnia and Herzegovina in Vienna, but he is not the most dangerous one. In this respect, hafiz Muhamed Fadil Porča, who represents the Dawa Salafia union, is more dangerous."

The analyst added that Nedžad Balkan is active beyond Vienna, conducting operations in the Austrian cities of Linz, Klagenfurt and Graz. He was also active in other countries, most notably Switzerland and Germany.

"By detaining Nedžad Balkan Austrian authorities have indicated that if a second wave of refugees comes, they will not turn the blind eye on the fact that terrorists could be among them. It's common knowledge that Vienna has become a place where Islamic fundamentalists, with some coming from Bosnia, gather," Pasanski said.

[END REPORT]


3. Several Thousand Wahhabis Present in BiH - Rep. Srpska's Interior Minister
13:40 - 23.12.2016 - Sputnik

BELGRADE (Sputnik) — The Wahhabi movement has spread all across Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in past 20 years, and currently there are several thousand of its supporters in the country, Interior Minister of Republica Srpska, the BiH autonomous Serb region, Dragan Lukac said on Friday.

The minister had an interview with the N1 television channel to discuss security situation in the wake of attacks in Berlin and Ankara. According to him, the analysis of the situation shows an increase in the number of terrorists.

"In BiH, there are several thousand of supporters of the Wahhabi and Salafi movements that were the source of the terrorist attacks in BiH and Europe. This, however, does not mean that all who practice Wahhabism are terrorists," Lukac said.

He said that in the wake of conflict in Syria and emergence of Daesh, which is outlawed in many countries including Russia, up to 350 people left BiH to join terrorists in the Middle East.

The minister added that some 50 BiH nationals have been killed in the conflict zones, and some 50, who returned home, are currently under investigation over terrorism links. 

[END REPORT]
 
4. Bosnia and Herzegovina's Economy Thrives Thanks to Arms, Drugs and Organs
20:49 - 17.02.2017
Sputnik

Bosnia and Herzegovina ranks 115th out of 191 in global GDP rankings, and at 44 percent, has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. However, its economy has been growing steadily in recent years - spurred officially by arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, and no doubt helped by illicit trafficking of drugs and human organs.

According to the Bosnian Foreign Trade Chamber, the country's defense sector profits for 2016 were around 20 percent higher than 2015, with the value of exports
amounting to 87.4 million euros (US$92,8m), up from 70 million euros (US$74,3m) the previous year. 

The biggest recipients of Bosnian weapons were Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the latter having been the primary importers in 2014 and 2015. Egypt spent 22.8 million euros (US$24,2m), Saudi Arabia 17.2 million euros (US$18,3m). Other major importers of Bosnian-produced arms, ammunition and military equipment in 2016 included Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Malaysia, Pakistan, Switzerland and Turkey, purchasing under five million euros' (US$5,3m) each.

Saudi Arabia is primarily putting the weapons to use in the Yemeni civil war, a conflict in which the Kingdom has repeatedly come under fire from human rights organizations and even the UN for purposely targeting civilians.

Moreover, a 2016 investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project found that thousands of Bosnian assault rifles, mortar shells, rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons, and heavy machine guns have poured into Syria since 2012. Arms manufacturers in the country have run at full capacity since then, with some factories so overburdened with requests that staff have taken on extra shifts, or have paused orders temporarily.

The investigation suggested at least some of these shipments could be illegal under international and national law; Bosnia and Herzegovina is a signatory to the UN's Arms Trade Treaty, and the EU's 2008 Common Position on arms exports, which requires countries to take into account eight criteria when assessing arms export applications, including whether the purchasing country respects international human rights, the preservation of "regional peace, security and stability" and the risk of diversion.

If such exports are illegal, it would be merely the latest indication of endemic corruption and criminal activity in the former Yugoslav republic. 

In 2015, a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report showed Bosnia and Herzegovina was a key route for the trafficking of heroin and opium from Afghanistan to Western Europe, with receipts amounting to an approximate US$28 billion annually — one third bigger than the entire GDP of Afghanistan itself.

[END REPORT]


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Best treatment for a broken heart

I think those women are professional dancers, not actual whirling dervishes, but this doesn't interfere with the point of the song

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The Devil Wears a White Helmet: Hollywood goes gaga for NATO propaganda

"The true source and real purpose of the White Helmets were exposed almost two years ago by investigative journalists."

Syrian War Propaganda at the Oscars
By Rick Sterling
February 24, 2017
Consortium News

The Netflix movie “The White Helmets” may win an Oscar in the “short documentary” category at the Academy Awards on Sunday. It would not be a surprise despite the fact that the group is a fraud and the movie is a contrived infomercial.

Awarding “The White Helmets” an Oscar would fit with the desire of Hollywood to appear supportive of “human rights,” even if that means supporting a propaganda operation to justify another bloody “regime change” war in the Middle East.

Much of what people think they know about the White Helmets is untrue. The group is not primarily Syrian; it was initiated by British military contractor James LeMesurier and has been heavily funded (about $100 million) by the U.S., U.K. and other governments. The White Helmets are not volunteers; they are paid, which is confirmed in a Al Jazeera video that shows some White Helmet “volunteers” talking about going on strike if they don’t get paid soon.

Still, most of the group’s heavy funding goes to marketing, which is run by “The Syria Campaign” based in New York. The manager is an Irish-American, Anna Nolan, who has never been to Syria. As an example of its deception, “The Syria Campaign” website features video showing children dancing and playing soccer implying they are part of the opposition demand for a “free and peaceful” Syria. But the video images are taken from a 2010 BBC documentary about education in Syria under the Baath government.

There is also something almost dated about the Academy selecting this infomercial as an Oscar finalist, let alone the possibility of giving it the award. It’s as if the Syrian propaganda narrative of “good” rebels vs. “bad” government was still viable. In the case of the White Helmets, they were literally made into “white hats” bravely resisting the government’s “black hats.”

Yet, we now know that the propaganda around the “noble” rebels holding out in east Aleppo – with the help of the White Helmets – was largely a lie. The rebels mostly fought under the command structure of Al Qaeda’s Nusra affiliate and its fellow jihadists in Ahrar al-Sham. A video shows White Helmet workers picking up the corpse of a civilian after execution by Nusra/Al Qaeda and celebrating the extremists’ battle wins.

Western “human rights” groups touted not only the White Helmets but the “moderate rebels” who we now know were largely a P.R. cover for the terrorists and jihadists, as well as an excuse for the U.S. and its allies to funnel in weapons that were then turned over to the extremists.

When eastern Aleppo was finally freed from the armed militants, it was discovered that the White Helmets headquarters were alongside the headquarters of Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. Civilians from east Aleppo reported that the White Helmets primarily rallied their “humanitarian” operations when the militants were attacked.

Soon after departing Aleppo in government-supplied buses, the White Helmets showed up in the mountains above Damascus where they allied with terrorist groups responsible for poisoning and then shutting off the water source for five million people in Damascus.

Neither Neutral Nor Independent

The White Helmets’s claim to be neutral and independent is another lie. They only work in areas controlled by the rebel groups, primarily Al Qaeda’s Nusra, and their leaders seek to bring in direct U.S. and NATO military intervention to assure a “regime change” in Syria although it likely would create a vacuum that the extremists would exploit to the further suffering of the Syrian people.

The film is as fraudulent as the group it tries to turn into heroes. The filmmakers never set foot in Syria. Their video footage takes place in southern Turkey where they show White Helmet trainees in a hotel and talking on cell phones. The footage from inside Syria is not from independent journalists but from the White Helmets themselves – and much of it looks contrived.

Khaled Khatib, the White Helmets’s photographer who sayshe filmed the footage inside Syria, reportedly received a U.S. visa and will attend the Oscars. Khatib tweeted the first video he took showing the White Helmets, with a girl who was totally buried being removed without injuries or wounds or even much dirt.

The original video has the logo of Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which was created by the Syrian Expatriates Organization. Their address on K Street in Washington DC suggests this is yet another Western-funded operation similar to the Iraqi National Congress that lobbied and lied on behalf of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In the past few days, with perfect timing for the upcoming Oscars, there was yet another “miracle” rescue, another girl buried but then removed and whisked away in record-breaking time – perfect for social media.

The momentum in support of the White Helmets infomercial raises a question about how this Oscar is awarded. Is it for journalistic authenticity or is it to conform with the political passions of the moment, which themselves are partly contrived by a well-funded propaganda campaign mounted by Western/Israeli/Gulf governments.

Investigative Reports

The true source and real purpose of the White Helmets were exposed almost two years ago by investigative journalists. Max Blumenthal has written a two-part detailed examination of the “shadowy PR firm” behind the White Helmets. And Jan Oberg has written an overview survey of the “pro” and “con” examinations in his work “Just How Gray are the White Helmets”.




More recently, Vanessa Beeley has documented the fact that the White Helmets pretends to be the Syrian Civil Defense when there is a real Syrian Civil Defense, which was begun in the 1950s and is a member of the International Civil Defense Organizations. The White Helmets group was launched as “Syria Civil Defense” in Turkey in 2013 before being re-branded as the “White Helmets” in 2014.

According to on-the-ground interviews in Aleppo, militants began supplying this operation by killing real Syrian rescue workers and stealing their equipment. Since then the White Helmets have been supplied by the West through Turkey with brand new ambulances and related rescue equipment.

Despite exposés about the group, the West’s mainstream media and some “alternative” outlets continue to uncritically promote the White Helmets myth and rely on the group as a source of news about Syria. In 2014-2015, the White Helmets became a rallying point for columnist Nicholas Krisof, the activist group Avaaz and others to campaign for all-out Western assault on the Syrian government and its military.

Perhaps ironically – given the Israeli government’s desire for a “regime change” in Syria – the Israeli mainstream TV program I24 presented both sides of the issue and titled the segment “White Helmets: Heroes or Hoax?” By contrast, the progressive program “DemocracyNow” in the United States has only broadcast a puff piecepromoting the “White Helmet” disinformation.

Whether or not the White Helmets snag the Academy Award, they surely deserve recognition for their skillful marketing and advertising. In 2016, the group received the Rights Livelihood Award and was seriously considered for a Nobel Peace Prize. The Oscar nomination for “The White Helmets” movie is just the latest success in the ongoing campaign of distortion and deception around Syria.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be reached at rsterling1@gmail.com

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Saturday, February 25

Live it Up

Live it Up, Parts 1 and 2, released September 7, 1974, by the Isley Brothers. Listening is still a great way to get through the day when you're down. 

There is a video at YouTube of an audience dance lineup at Soul Train dancing to the song. Crummy sound -- it might have been recorded straight from TV -- but the dancing, by nonprofessionals, is fab. I'll come across the video again and post it sometime.  

For now, try playing Live it Up while listening to the nightly news, the yammerings of politicians or your coworkers.  Or play it when you face an "I don't wanna do this" chore like removing gunk from the dishwasher or de-ticking the dog or plowing through 100 comments at Moon of Alabama about the latest Erdogan machinations in the Syrian war. 

Live it up!      

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Thursday, February 23

Pakistan under attack. Are TTP and Islamic State in cahoots there?

Another bombing in Pakistan on the 21st, at a courthouse, and one today at an upscale shopping mall. I want to go back over two of the recent bombings but first -- 

Eleven bloody days in Pakistan: a timeline
AFP via The News International
February 23 2017

ISLAMABAD: At least eight people were killed in a bomb blast in Lahore Thursday, the tenth attack to strike Pakistan in just under a fortnight, with the apparently coordinated wave pointing to resurgence in militant violence.


Here is a recap of the incidents which have killed 138 people over the past 11 days:

February 23

- At least eight people are killed and 30 injured after a blast rips through a building in an upscale shopping area of the eastern city of Lahore. No group has immediately claimed the attack.

February 21

- At least seven people are killed when multiple suicide bombers attack a court complex in northern Pakistan. The attack is claimed by the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or the Pakistani Taliban.

February 16

- At least 90 devotees are killed and hundreds wounded when a devastating bomb detonates in the popular Sufi shrine of Lal Shabaz Qalandar in Sehwan in southern Pakistan. The Islamic State group claims the attack.

- Gunmen on motorcycles kill four policemen and a civilian in the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan. The attack was claimed by the umbrella TTP.

- An improvised explosive device claimed by JuA hits an army convoy in the restive southwestern province of Balochistan, killing three soldiers and wounding two others.

February 15

- A suicide bomber rides a motorcycle into a van carrying judges in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing the van´s driver in an attack claimed by the umbrella TTP.

- Two suicide bombers launch an assault on a government compound in the Mohmand tribal region in the northwest, killing five people and wounding seven, with the attack claimed by JuA. Later, a fourth suicide bomber blows himself up as police surround him.

February 13

- Fourteen people are killed and 82 injured when a powerful bomb blast tears through Lahore. The attack, apparently targeting police, is claimed by JuA.

- Two members of the bomb disposal squad are killed while defusing a device in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan. No group claims responsibility for the bomb.

February 12

- A roadside bomb kills three paramilitary soldiers in a restive northwestern tribal area bordering Afghanistan.


[END REPORT]

"There is a well established substructure that now exists within the country that is populated by a range of groups under a generic TTP banner."

I didn't understand the statement from JA/TTP (below) that both the Charsadda and Sufi shrine attacks were part of "their" Ghazi operation. I thought the shrine attack was the work of Islamic State. Was JA/TTP saying they were working with Islamic State? From the last paragraph in the following editorial by the Express Tribune staff, it looks as if the answer is yes.   

The Charsadda Attack
The Express Tribune (Pakistan)
February 22, 2017

Attacks on a single target by multiple suicide bombers are relatively rare. Three attackers made a frontal assault on the Charsadda sessions courts through the main gates, firing as they came and throwing hand grenades in a determined attempt to storm the crowded building. The police and security forces fought back killing two of the attackers, the third died when his vest detonated. At least six people were killed in the attack and approximately 20 injured. These figures may be subject to revision. There can be no doubt that the first-tier response of those guarding the building saved many lives.

The attack was swiftly claimed by the Jamaatul Ahrar (JA) which is a branch of the TTP franchise, and demonstrates the breadth of operational spread that the JA has — from Sehwan in Sindh to Charsadda in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a 40-minute drive from the provincial capital of Peshawar. The JA said in a call to the media that the attack was a part of their Ghazi operation, as was the attack on the Lal Shahbaz Qalander shrine, and the JA is emerging as the most active current player in the terrorist constellation.

Laudable as the valiant efforts were of those on duty at the gates of the court, questions have to be asked yet again as to whether or not the attack constitutes an intelligence failure. 


The logistics behind the attack would have been complex in terms of weapons, explosives and other munitions — but not so complex as to be beyond the capacity of resourceful terrorists, who would have needed a place to eat and sleep prior to carrying out the attack. 

There is a well established substructure that now exists within the country that is populated by a range of groups under a generic TTP banner. Included within that population is Islamic State (IS), a reality long denied at a senior level of government. There is a gaping hole where there ought to be a plan, and it is not possible to arrest and detain a way out of the terror maze. Dial back the delusion before it is too late.


[END]

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Wednesday, February 22

De Mistura getting too tough on the High Negotiating Committee these days?


February 22, FARS:
TEHRAN (FNA)- Informed sources in the United Nations disclosed on Wednesday that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres intends to remove UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura from his post, Arab media said.
The Arabic language Al-Mayadeen tv channel reported that UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag will probably replace de Mistura, while it also named another nominee, former UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar, for the same post.
The channel added that appointment of a new envoy for Syria depends on the endorsement of both Damascus and Moscow, stressing that the issue may take time.
[...] 

Lebanon, eh? I wonder if Hariri was behind it, Hariri being a Saudi stooge. But if Nasrallah or Aoun were behind it the intra-Syrian talks should speed along like lightning with a Lebanese U.N. envoy for Syria. (Lebanon's President Aoun is pro-Assad, as is Hezbollah leader Nasrallah. The Lebanese Prime Minister, Hariri, is of course anti-Assad.)

Remember this? 

U.N. Envoy Signals That Riyadh Is Obstructing Syria Peace Talks
January 20, 2016
Foreign Policy

Saudi Arabia is sidelining the diplomat charged with ending the brutal Syrian civil war — and complicating the push toward a deal. 
In a barely veiled swipe at one of the Middle East’s leading powers, the United Nations’ special envoy for Syria accused Saudi Arabia of undermining his efforts to bring a broad slate of Syrian opposition groups to upcoming peace talks designed to end Syria’s brutal civil war.
In his confidential Jan. 18 briefing to the U.N. Security Council, which was obtained exclusively by Foreign Policy, Staffan de Mistura said Riyadh is complicating his efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict by trying to tightly control which opposition groups will be allowed to participate in the negotiations.
His comments came shortly after a slate of Saudi-backed Syrian opposition groups, organized under the banner of the Riyadh-based High Negotiations Committee (HNC), rebuffed his personal appeals to allow other groups to take part in the talks. De Mistura complained to the council that the Saudi-backed opposition coalition and its “sponsors insist on the primacy and exclusivity of their role as ‘THE’ opposition delegation.”
While de Mistura did not name Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is the main international sponsor of the HNC. The group, however, is backed by France, Turkey, and Qatar.
[...]
********

Russian military progress in Syria since Jan 1

Thank you, Russia. 

RUSSIAN SPECIAL FORCES PLAY CRUCIAL ROLE IN ELIMINATING TERRORIST TARGETS IN SYRIA
22 February 2017
SouthFront

The Russian Aerospace Forces have eliminated over 3,000 militants, including 26 commanders, in Syria since the start of 2017, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on February 22.
Russian aircraft carried out 5,682 airstrikes on terrorist targets, destroying 40 training camps, 475 command posts, 45 ammunition plants and 3,119 militants.
Shoigu ehmpasized that Russian Special Forces troops on the ground played a key role in the fight against terrorists.
“The Special Operations Forces of the Special Purpose Military Units have demonstrated their high efficiency. They played a key role in the elimination of terrorists and destroying critical enemy targets and adjusting our aircraft strikes,” Shoigu said.
[...] 

********

700 fighters in Damascus province make peace with government


This sort of thing happens so frequently that I rarely mention it anymore, but 700 at one clip is a good reminder. I note that a large number out of the 700 will be joining the military, which often happens during the settlement procedure. SANA also reports today: 1500 displaced persons return to Hama’s Helfaya, 45 persons fleeing ISIS in Raqqa arrive in the province.

700 people in Serghaya town in Damascus to have their legal status settled
22 February 2017
SANA

Damascus Countryside, SANA – Governor of Damascus Countryside Alaa Ibrahim inspected on Wednesday the services situation in Serghaya town and the implemented measures to settle the status of armed persons after the departure of terrorists from the town within the framework of continued local reconciliations in the western part of the province.

In a press statement during the visit, the Governor said the process of settling the legal status of about 700 persons from the town of Serghaya has been embarked on, noting that a large number of those persons will join the military service, while the others will return to their normal lives.

He said 180 terrorists with their families left the town for Idleb [Idlib] on Monday, stressing the need to speed up the process of emptying the town of arms and armed men.

He also directed the workshops to immediately start working to restore the basic services and providing fuel and basic materials to citizens.

The Governor called on locals in the Eastern Ghouta of Damascus, particularly in Douma city, to exert pressure on the militants who hold locals as hostages to leave the city.

Ibrahim pointed out that the reconciliation in al-Zabadani and Maddaya towns is linked to the situation of the terrorist-besieged towns of Kefraya and al-Fouaa in Idleb and will be solved soon, adding that the reconciliation process in Yalda and Beit Sahm is running smoothly.

He also referred to a reconciliation agreement that might be soon achieved in al-Qaboun neighborhood in Damascus in parallel to the operations of the Syrian Arab Army there.

[END REPORT]

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Tuesday, February 21

Syria Sitrep











ISIS retreats from eastern Raqqa as Kurdish forces seize 8 villages in blitz offensive
; Chris Tomson, AMN, 21 February: 

After capturing dozens of villages in eastern Raqqa over the past week, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) followed up on Tuesday by seizing another 8 villages from collapsing Islamic State forces.

Effectively, the predominately Kurdish SDF were able to impose full control over Budayan, Naflah, Mukhkhah, Bir Qurat, Tal Sha’er, Mastur, Kuwaytar, Qaryat Sukkar and an important pipeline facility in the region. 

These villages are located on the provincial border between Raqqa and Deir Ezzor; due to the unprecedented advances that occurred on two flanks this morning, ISIS fighters in the villages of Al-Qarah and Bir Abu Tutah may soon face encirclement. 

The SDF offensive is heavily supported by US-led coalition airstrikes and represents phase III of the Euphrates Wrath campaign that ultimately looks to expel the Islamic State from Raqqa city itself. 

More gains are underway as we speak while ISIS militants appear to be completely retreating from the region without offering much resistance.

FARS - Sitrep - provinces
12:00 - 2/21/17
Syria in Last 24 Hours: Army Repels Attacks on Gov't Positions in Damascus

TEHRAN (FNA)- Syrian army soldiers repelled terrorists' massive attack on their positions in Damascus after hours of clashes, inflicting major losses on them.

The ISIL terrorists' large-scale attack to capture the government forces' positions in Eastern Ghouta was fended off by the strong defense of the Syrian military men.

Meantime, the Syrian army and popular forces continued their military advances in other parts of Syria, including Deir Ezzur and Homs, over the past 24 hours.

Tens of terrorists were killed and dozens more were injured during the Syrian army's operations in Syria's key provinces.

Damascus

The Syrian army warded off an attack by the terrorist groups on government forces' military positions in Eastern Ghouta in Damascus province.

The Syrian army units beat back a group of terrorists who were trying to penetrate into Housh al-Zawahereh region in Eastern Ghouta, inflicting heavy losses on the militants.

Several terrorists were killed and wounded in clashes with the Syrian army.

Meantime, the Syrian air force targeted the terrorist groups' military positions in Douma in Damascus countryside, inflicting heavy losses on the terrorists.

Syrian government troops targeted the terrorists' moves and gathering centers in the Western countryside of Damascus, inflicting tens of casualties on the militants.

The Syrian army units heavily pounded the terrorists' positions in the Southern parts of Beit Saber village in Western Damascus. The attack killed at least 5 militants and destroyed their weapons and ammunition in al-Zahr al-Aswad hill.

Also, the Syrian soldiers fired missiles at al-Nusra Front's (recently renamed to Fatah al-Sham Front) gathering center near the road leading to Moqr al-Mayer village in Southeastern Damascus, killing and injuring over 38 terrorists in the region.

Earlier on Monday, the Syrian army issued a last ultimatum to the terrorists stationed in Eastern Damascus to leave al-Qaboun and Barzeh al-Balad districts, field sources said.

The sources referred to the Syrian army troops' attacks against al-Nusra (Fatah al-Sham) Front positions in al-Qaboun district, and said ground attacks have not yet started and only some al-Nusra gathering centers have been targeted.

Meantime, local sources reported that the National Peace Committee has distributed several copies of the peace agreement among the terrorists in Barzeh al-Balad and al-Qaboun districts to persuade them to accept the government's granted amnesty.

Meantime, the Syrian army units launched missile attacks on al-Nusra centers in al-Qaboun and Tishreen districts, killing 7 militants and wounding tens of others.

The attacks also demolished the al-Nusra Front's command room in the region.

Hama-Idlib

The Syrian army backed by the country's air force destroyed the gathering centers and movement of al-Nusra Front in Hama and Idlib provinces, inflicting heavy losses on the terrorists and destroying their military bases.

The Syrian air force targeted and destroyed al-Nusra Front's military base in the village of al-Tamaneh in Southern Idlib, killing the terrorist group's senior commander Abdel Razzaq al-Ashhab.

Meantime, the Syrian army heavily pounded the terrorists in the town of Kafr Zita in Northern Hama, killing a number of terrorists and destroying their military vehicles.

Deir Ezzur

The Syrian army and its allies are just 500 meters away from Harabash district near Deir Ezzur military airport which has been besieged by the ISIL terrorists for two months now, a military source said on Monday.

"The ISIL is not deployed in the region which separates the army from Harabash and Deir Ezzur airbase but it has control over the region by launching attacks from Sariya Junaid, Tal al-Muhandesin and the power plant," the source said.

He also said that the Russian fighter jets attacked a number of ISIL Toyota vehicles near Hamdan airport in the Southern parts of Bu Kamal city in Eastern Deir Ezzur, and added, "The common border between Syria and Iraq has also witnessed Russia's airstrikes on ISIL's Toyota vehicles stationed at the entrance of the Syrian territories in the Southern parts of Mayadeen city."

Homs

The Syrian army ambushed and killed a large group of the ISIL terrorists in Eastern Hama, preventing dispatch of aid to their comrades in the ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur) in Homs province.

The Syrian army forces clashed with the ISIL militants in Ithriya region after ambushing them and killed and wounded all the terrorists in the area.

They also seized three vehicles moving from Wadi al-Azib to al-Tanhaj village in the Eastern parts of Salamiyeh to send aid to the ISIL terrorists near Palmyra.

Meantime, the Syrian army units repelled militants' offensive in Ithriya and killed tens of them after heavy clashes. Several weapons belonging to the terrorists were also seized by the Syrian troops.

[END REPORT]

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