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People in eastern Aleppo slam Jihadis and Turkey

Turkish journalist tours recaptured areas of eastern Aleppo. Reports criticisms of Jihadi groups and Turkey. Says nothing of criticism by local people of Syrian government or Russia.

Alexander Mercouris

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One of the major complaints I have made concerning the reporting of the fighting in Aleppo is that no Western journalists were there, and that they were reporting uncritically information obtained at second and third hand from Jihadi sources opposed to the Syrian government.

Patrick Cockburn, the Middle East correspondent of the Independent and a vastly better informed journalist about the conflicts in the Middle East than almost anyone else who writes in the West about the conflicts, has made the same point.

Cockburn provided on 2nd December 2016 a careful explanation of why eastern Aleppo was out of reach of journalists, and of the journalistic dangers in accepting uncritically information coming from there

[T]he jihadis holding power in east Aleppo were able to exclude Western journalists, who would be abducted and very likely killed if they went there, and replace them as news sources with highly partisan “local activists” who cannot escape being under jihadi control.

The foreign media has allowed – through naivety or self-interest – people who could only operate with the permission of al-Qaeda-type groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham to dominate the news agenda.

The precedent set in Aleppo means that participants in any future conflict will have an interest in deterring foreign journalists who might report objectively. By kidnapping and killing them, it is easy to create a vacuum of information that is in great demand and will, in future, be supplied by informants sympathetic to or at the mercy of the very same people (in this case the jihadi rulers of east Aleppo) who have kept out the foreign journalists. Killing or abducting the latter turns out to have been a smart move by the jihadis because it enabled them to establish substantial control of news reaching the outside world. This is bad news for any independent journalist entering their territory and threatening their monopoly of information.

This can be compared with my comment, made on 21st November 2016 (ie. before Patrick Cockburn made his), which specifically addressed the numerous reports in the Western media about the intentional bombing of hospitals in east Aleppo

There are no Western journalists in Jihadi controlled eastern Aleppo and scarcely anywhere else in Syria. The Western journalists that are in Syria largely stick to the government controlled areas. Very occasionally the odd Western journalist travels into Jihadi controlled areas, but it is a long time since any have visited eastern Aleppo, in fact – they have not done so since it came under siege…..

That is not of course surprising. Though the Western powers and the Western media pretend otherwise, there is no doubt that the dominant forces in the Jihadi controlled areas of Syria are ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Both are militantly anti-Western and any Western journalist travelling in the areas that they control would be at serious risk. If only for that reason few of them do so, though in truth the days when Western media agencies employed large numbers of special correspondents and on-the-spot reporters are long passed.

What that means in practical terms is that reports that come out of the Jihadi controlled areas of Syria – including eastern Aleppo – and which appear in the Western media, are reports made at second hand. Western reporters do not tour the sites of the allegedly bombed hospitals. Rather the Western media is simply passing on reports from eye witnesses or alleged eye witnesses of the attacks, and reporting them as true. The same applies to Western governments, including the US government.

There was once a time when the Western media was careful to say that it was unable to confirm the stories it was reporting itself, and that it was relying on local sources in reporting the news it was publishing. This at least provided consumers of news with a health warning, if the news came from one side or another in an armed conflict.

For quite some time now, the Western media has also stopped doing this. The result is that it requires a very high degree of attention on the part of the Western media listener or reader to know that the source of a story is not the media itself. Inevitably the number of people who are able or willing to give that amount of attention is very small.

What this means in the Syrian case is that all the reports of the attacks on the hospitals are provided by persons who to a greater or lesser extent operate under Jihadi control.  In northeast Syria that essentially means Al-Qaeda contol.

This does not in itself mean that bombing of hospitals never takes place.  However, what it does mean is that the scope for Al-Qaeda to manipulate the stories is boundless.  In any war situation, the risk of accepting unconfirmed accounts of events by one party to the conflict is great. When the party in question is Al-Qaeda – a violent internationally proscribed terrorist organisation – the risk of doing so is even greater.

East Aleppo has now been under the control of the Syrian army for several weeks, making it possible for Western journalists finally to go there to see whether they can corroborate some of the claims of atrocities that they previously published.

I would add that it was always possible during the recent fighting for them to go to government controlled western Aleppo, which would have at least brought them close to the actual fighting.  In the event only a tiny minority – notably the exceptional Eva Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley – did so.  Eva Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley are however ignored by the Western media because they are considered to be sympathetic to the Syrian government.  That this has meant that the Western media has preferred instead to rely on sources controlled by Al-Qaeda seems to have concerned few of them.

In the event, though Aleppo – both east and west – is now safe for journalists, the flood of journalists there that might have been expected has entirely failed to happen.  The only well-known journalist I know who has actually visited eastern Aleppo since its recapture by the Syrian government is the Turkish journalist Fehim Taştekin, whose recent report can be found on Al-Monitor.

Taştekin’s report makes very interesting reading.  He confirms widespread devastation.  He also speaks of initial support in eastern Aleppo for the Jihadis when they first came there

In this neighborhood, a conservative lifestyle prevails. You see many women with Islamic garb. Shaar, Bab al-Hadid and Bab al-Nairab were former strongholds of the Muslim Brotherhood. The government may wish to blame foreign fighters and their external financial patrons for the uprising, but it can’t dismiss the societal base of the rebellion. The Muslim Brotherhood rebellion that was crushed in 1982 with incredible loss of life was repeated with the participation of new generations. The leading cause of the uprising was the poverty in the city’s slums, which grew with migration from the rural areas.  It wasn’t all that hard to obtain the loyalty of poor people who needed the money coming from the Gulf countries to mini-emirates set up by Islamist organizations.

However it is striking that every single person Taştekin seems to have interviewed in eastern Aleppo – or at least those for whom he gives names – made clear their disillusionment and hostility to the Jihadis, as well as their intense anger towards Turkey, which was the Jihadis’ most important supporter

Umm Khatice, a woman in Bustan al-Qasr, said her family never left their house and lived in misery for five years, suffering from hunger. “We were the starving ones, not the armed groups. Those thugs confiscated relief supplies, distributed them to their supporters or sold them. Many people had no choice but to join them to survive,” she said.

An elderly couple in Bustan al-Qasr invited us into their house. The woman said when the armed men came to their neighborhood, she and her husband had to move to the Aleppo University dormitory, where they lived for five years.

Now they have returned to what is left. “They removed the doors of my house,” the husband said. “I made a door of chip wood and used cardboard to cover the windows. We have no water, electricity or heating.” I asked how could they live like this. The old woman said, “We have our home. It is enough.”

In Shaar, many buildings were leveled by air bombings. All streets were hit. Work to remove the rubble is slowly starting.

I encountered deep anger against Turkey. When people heard we were Turks, their attitudes hardened. The question we heard most was, “Why did Turkey did this to us?”

We also toured the Jibrin Industrial Zone, where people evacuated from eastern Aleppo were settled. Russians were distributing food. There were a few men in the camp, but not young ones. People do not want to talk of their life under armed groups. They might have relatives still there or with the groups. They told us that people joined armed groups for monthly salaries of $50-$100. Two middle-aged men told us they were working at a Sheikh Najjar leather products factory. They said armed groups dismantled the factory and sold it in Turkey. Another man said they experienced hunger and thirst under the blockade, but those who agreed to join the armed groups managed well. We were also told how armed groups did not allow civilians to leave the area under government blockade, and even fired on those who wanted to leave.

(bold italics added)

Of course it is possible that there are people in eastern Aleppo who were either afraid to speak out against the Syrian government or wary of doing so on the record.  However if so then Taştekin gives no hint of this.  On the contrary as the words in his report which I have highlighted show, it is the Jihadi groups rather than the Syrian government that people still seem to fear.

Taştekin also seems to have heard claims that most of the devastation was caused by the Jihadis, though he is careful to say that the Syrian government used heavy weapons in the city and is therefore at least partly responsible for the destruction there, and though it is important to say that his witnesses for these claims seem to be either Syrian officials or Syrian government supporters.

I slowly walked through side streets, with their once-magnificent structures now mostly in ruins. I spoke with Aleppo resident Abu Ahmed, who said, “I didn’t abandon my house. I had no money; I couldn’t leave. Armed groups occupied these parts. They are the ones guilty of destruction. They were supported by Turkey. They ruined us.”

He confirmed, though, that the army had used heavy weapons.

So, who was responsible for the destruction? Abu Zaid, another resident, said, “First of all, the armed groups. If they hadn’t come, nothing would have happened here. We had heavy clashes. The army used heavy weapons. No barrel bombs were used here.”………

Who was responsible for all this wanton destruction, I asked researcher Kemal Al Cafa.

“The army did not use barrel bombs and planes against the Old City,” he replied. “At the beginning, armed groups exploded bombs in tunnels to capture the area. That caused much damage. They used 500 kilograms [1,100 pounds] of explosives to blow up the Carlton Hotel. We had 13 such major explosions. Rebels used ‘weapons of hell’ against the army. Their targets were all in historic locations.”

I was terribly shaken by what I saw in Aleppo. It became meaningless to ask who was responsible and why.

A single journalist visiting eastern Aleppo cannot by himself either confirm or refute all the various claims that have been made about what happened there.  However at least Taştekin has actually gone there and spoken to people there.

Isn’t it time that the BBC, CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, the London Times, the Financial Times and Le Monde did the same and sent their own people there?  Or are they afraid of what they might see and hear if they go there?

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Photos of swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:


To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

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It’s Back to the Iran-Contra Days Under Trump

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Wayne Madsen, via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Showing that he is adopting the neoconservative playbook every day he remains in office, Donald Trump handed the neocons a major win when he appointed Iran-contra scandal felon Elliott Abrams as his special envoy on Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information on the secret sale of US weapons for cash to help illegally supply weapons to the Nicaraguan right-wing contras, who were battling against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Abrams would have headed to a federal prison, but President George H. W. Bush, an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal, issued pardons to Abrams and his five fellow conspirators – former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former Central Intelligence Agency officials Alan Fiers, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, and Clair George – on Christmas Eve 1991, during the final weeks of Bush’s lame duck administration.

Abrams escaped being charged with more serious crimes by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh because he cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors. Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for cooperating federal witnesses, would have normally called Abrams a “rat,” a gangster term meaning informant. The man who helped engineer the pardons for Abrams and his five convicted friends was none other than Bush’s Attorney General, William Barr, who has just been sworn in as Trump’s Attorney General. Trump, who is always decrying the presence of the “deep state” that thwarts his very move, has become the chief guardian of that entity.

During a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, newly-minted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, reminded her colleagues and the world about the sordid background of Abrams.

Omar zeroed in on Abrams’s criminal history:

“Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful.”

Abrams, as is the nature of neocons, refused to respond to Omar and cited her comments as “personal attacks.”

Abrams’s and his fellow criminals’ use of mercenaries and “death squads” to conduct secret wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s has made a re-entrance under Trump. Abrams was brought on board by neocons like National Security Adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to oversee a US military build-up in Colombia, said to be 5000 US troops, to support Venezuelan paramilitary and military efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Abrams and Bolton are also believed to have retained the services of another unindicted conspirator in the Iran-contra affair, Michael Ledeen, a colleague of the disgraced and convicted former Trump National Security Adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Ledeen and Flynn co-authored a book titled, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies.” The book contains nothing more than the standard neocon tripe one might expect from the likes of Ledeen.

An official investigation of the Iran-contra scandal by the late Republican Senator John Tower of Texas concluded that Abrams’s and Ledeen’s friend, Iranian-Jewish middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-time Mossad asset and well-known prevaricator, was extremely instrumental in establishing the back-channel arms deals with Iran. Ghorbanifar has long been on the CIA “burn list” as an untrustworthy charlatan, along with others in the Middle East of similar sketchy credentials, including the Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, Syria’s Farid “Frank” Ghadry, and Lebanon’s Samir “Sami” Geagea. These individuals, however, were warmly embraced by neocons like Abrams and his associates.

Abrams, whose links with Israeli intelligence has always been a point of consternation with US counter-intelligence officials, is part of an old cabal of right-wing anti-Soviet Democrats who coalesced around Senator Henry Jackson in the 1970s. Along with Abrams, this group of war hawks included Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later, this group would have its fingerprints on major US foreign policy debacles, ranging from Nicaragua and Grenada to Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya. Later, in December 2000, these neocons managed to convince president-elect George W. Bush of the need to “democratize” the Middle East. That policy would later bring not democracy but disaster to the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela. They have old scores to settle with Nicaraguan President Ortega. The initiation of “regime change” operations in Nicaragua, supported by the CIA and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, have been ongoing for more than a year.

The Trump administration has already achieved a regime change victory of sorts in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, who was expelled from the formerly-ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party and joined the right-wing GANA party, was recently elected president of El Salvador. Bukele has quickly re-aligned his country’s policies with those of the Trump administration. Bukele has referred to President Maduro of Venezuela as a “dictator.” He has also criticized the former FMLN government’s recognition of China and severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how a sycophant like Bukele will politically survive as Trump continues to call hapless asylum-seeking migrants from his country, who seek residency in the United States, “rapists, gang monsters, murderers, and drug smugglers.”

Another country heading for a US-installed “banana republic” dictator is Haiti. President Jovenal Moise has seen rioting in the streets of Port-au-Prince as the US State Department removed all “non-essential” personnel from the country. Moise, whose country has received $2 billion in oil relief from Venezuela, to help offset rising fuel prices, has continued to support the Maduro government. However, at the US-run and neo-colonial artifice, the Organization of American States (OAS), Moise’s envoys have been under tremendous pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and recognize the US puppet Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president. Moise’s refusal to do so resulted in armed gangs hitting the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding Moise’s resignation. It is the same neocon “regime change” playbook being used in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

There will be similar attempts to replace pro-Maduro governments in his remaining allies in the region. These include Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Abrams was also brought in as an adviser on Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration. The carnage of Iraq is a stark testament to his record. In 2005, it was reported that two key Bush White House officials – Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams – gave a “wink and a nod” for the assassinations by Israeli-paid operatives of three key Lebanese political figures seeking a rapprochement with Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – Member of Parliament Elie Hobeika, former Lebanese Communist Party chief George Hawi, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In 2008, a United Nations panel headed by former Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare later concluded Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” and not by either Syrian and Lebanese intelligence or Lebanese Hezbollah as proffered by Abrams and his friends in Washington.

Representative Omar was spot on in questioning why Abrams, whose name is as disgraced as his two fellow conspirators – Oliver North and John Poindexter – whose criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, is working for the Trump administration on Venezuela. The answer is that the neocons, who can sense, like raptors, Trump’s political weakness, have filled the vacuum left by top-level vacancies in the administration.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

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Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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