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ALEPPO: After Devastation, The Rehabilitation (Part One)

For the last five years, everyone has been talking about Aleppo. I can’t even count how many interviews we’ve conducted, or how many TV news segments I’ve watched and articles read – about the battles and sieges in this crucial theatre which has come to symbolise the long war on Syria.

Patrick Henningsen

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With all of that in mind, nothing could really prepare you for the sheer scale of the devastation visible throughout Syria’s second largest city.

Fortunately for us, the journey from Damascus to Aleppo is a lot safer than it was just a few months ago. Back in December 2016 before the liberation of Aleppo, travelers were forced to circle around the city heading northwest before turning south down the infamous Castello Road, down a perilous stretch of highway known as “Sniper Alley,” and even less affectionately as the ‘terrorists rat line’ running from Turkey into northern Syria. For a while, that was only way in, as Al Nusra Front and its affiliates took control of nearly every major artery heading into the city. Terrorists still control many of the main roads between Hama and Aleppo and some other roads between Aleppo and the coastal region of Latakia. This means that what would normally be a comfortable three to four hour drive from Damascus, is now an eight hour journey, which at times you might might take you as close as 10 km from ISIS-held territory while weaving  your way into Aleppo from the city’s eastern countryside.

While visiting the northern city of Aleppo, you quickly come realise that the war is still far from over. What the US and the UK still refer to as “moderate rebels” are still occupying parts of the West Aleppo countryside and are firing Grad Missiles and mortars into neighborhoods located on the outskirts of the city.

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From out rooftop in the morning, you could see smoke bellowing up in the distance on the outskirts of Aleppo’s city centre (Photo: Patrick [email protected])

Syrian and Russian airforce jets were buzzing over our heads while we were doing a walkthrough of the devastation in East Aleppo. I couldn’t determine whether or not that strike was a terrorist mortar or a retaliatory airstrike by Syrian or Russian forces. It was one of many we could hear and see during our visit.

After a long drive we eventually arrived downtown in the evening in West Aleppo. There, I had the great pleasure of finally meeting with French activist and humanitarian, Pierre Le Corf. I had interviewed him previously for the Sunday Wire radio program to talk about his experience and his work is running his own charity called We Are Superheroes, as well as his work with war-stricken families in the city. During the height of the fighting in 2016, he was supplying families living on the front line with essential supplies including first aid kits, as well as toys for children. Following the liberation of East Aleppo in December 2016, Pierre has continued delivering assistance to families, and by virtue of listening to them and being their for them, he’s also delivering some much-needed counseling for them. He is literally a one man band, operating in one of the most dangerous conflicts ever. His efforts have been nothing short of heroic.

Even though the immediate terror threat of shelling from the east has subsided, Le Corf made a point of reminding us that the threat of terrorism is still omnipresent in Aleppo. Sitting in a cafe in the bustling Azaziya district, he showed us where terrorist mortar strikes and ‘Hell Canon’ gas canister missile attacks had killed civilians on the side walk, only metres away from where we were sitting.

“I wish you could’ve been here 5 months ago, to see what it was like. One moment you’d be sitting here, drinking coffee and talking with people, and the next second people are dying on the pavement right over there. I can still see it, very clear in my mind. But unfortunately, it happened so often that a hour after the attack, people would just carry on with their daily business. It’s really incredible.”

Danger, Clear and Present 

Le Corf explained that although the bombardment of civilians has tailed-off in central Aleppo, other terrorist attacks are still ongoing in the city, including suicide bombs, and daily rocket attacks in other parts of the city.

“Still today, all the entrances to the city are bombed nearly everyday – rockets, gas canisters, mortars.”

Not surprisingly, this daily reality of terror reigning down on the civilian population has been completely blacked-out of all coverage from both Western and Gulf state media outlets – the same countries who continue to support what politicians and pundits still disingenuously refer to as “rebel opposition groups.”

“The people here have suffered a lot. Still, people keep dying from the rockets and bombs – it’s very difficult for the families (in Aleppo) because they still cannot yet escape from the war. They’ve been facing it from the start, and they keep facing it here. When you see kids dying, whether it’s 4 months ago, or just now, it’s the same. It’s exactly the same as before 4 months ago,” said Le Corf.

“Just inside the city centre, maybe they can forget a little bit about the war, but the people are still concerned.”

“The people are more tired. It’s like the war will never finish for them.”

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The last tree standing following severe damage near the front lines in Shaar, in East Aleppo (Photo: Patrick [email protected])

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Norwegian journalist Tommy Soltvedt talking to 21WIRE’s Vanessa Beeley amidst the rubble in Shaar, in East Aleppo (Photo: Patrick [email protected])

Despite the insistence by most western journalists and military industrial PR men like US Senator John McCain – that somehow The Battle of Aleppo was born out of ‘peaceful opposition’ protests in 2012. Everyone we spoke to -residents, Syrian Army personnel and media professionals all told us the same story: back in the summer of 2012 when the city of Aleppo was literally invaded on multiple fronts by militant extremists and mercenaries who were operating under various banners, starting with the western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), the al-Tawhid Brigade, who were soon followed by home-grown Arar al Sham, and the Saudi Arabia and Qatari-sponsored Al Nusra Front (al Qaeda in Syria), ISIS, the Levant Front and others.

It wasn’t long before terrorist brigades were embedded throughout east Aleppo and surrounding areas, and throughout the outskirts of the greater Aleppo city limits. Terrorists occupied government buildings, schools, and hospitals, and even the historic 12th century Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo which was tuned into a military command centre by Al Nusra.

From 2013, Al Nusra and ISIS occupied the Eye and Pediatric Hospital in Shaar, East Aleppo, which was quickly converted into a Sharia Court house and an underground prison. The site was run by the ‘Hayaa al-Sharia’ authority, known by extremists the Hayaa.

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A cursory tour of the ruined Eye Hospital turned up endless ISIS and Al Nusra paraphernalia (Photo: Patrick [email protected])

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Destroyed vehicles parked outside the Eye hospital (Photo: Patrick Henningsen @21WIRE)

Ghost City

The damage we saw in East Aleppo is practically indescribable, outside of comparisons to Stalingrad. For the most part, half the city resembles a dystopic ghost town, although signs of life are beginning to return to many of the devastated areas.

After walking through the neighborhood of Shaar, it’s easy to see where the frontline fighting had spilled into every single side streets and neighborhood. Makeshift barricades were erected by occupying militants on almost every street entrance.

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A blocked off alley way in Shaar, piled high with debris (Photo: Patrick [email protected]).

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East Aleppo barricade (Photo: Patrick [email protected])

According to our guide and a number of other residents we spoke to, the vast majority of the damage was inflicted by fighting on the ground – street by street, block by block – and not from the air. This is an important point because western media coverage attributed nearly all of the damage to air strikes by the Syrian Air Force, and from late 2015 by Russian jets. This was the script put forward by western media outlets throughout the conflict and became the entire pretext for western intervention and endless calls for a ‘No Fly Zone’ and ‘Safe Zones,’ calls which continue to this day. In actuality, extensive damage in the heavy fighting areas around Aleppo was the result of artillery, tank ordinances and heavy gun fire from both sides, and from terrorist gas canister ‘Hell Canons’, rockets and bombing.

Unlike the terrorist barrages which were fired randomly into civilian areas, Syrian air strikes were targeted, as were later Russian strikes. This fact is fairly self evident after touring the battle zone.

SM RTE IMG_4719Layramoun district was home to the infamous Brigade 16 of the Free Syrian Army (Photo: Patrick Henningsen @21WIRE)

Barrel Bombs vs Hell Cannons

In addition to the military front, information warfare is arguably an even bigger and more complex battle ground in this protracted conflict.

Egged-on by the mainstream media, the US and British political establishment figures quickly adopted the ‘Barrel Bomb’ talking point as the idiopathic rallying cry for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. This elaborate media mythology construct claims that the Syrian Army have been busy dropping barrel bombs from helicopters, intentionally targeting civilians, and especially schools and hospitals, or so the story went. This was repeated ad nauseam by caustic US hawks like Senator John McCain and Lindsey Graham, despite the fact that very few people had actually seen the barrel bombs in action. Based on the frequency of western barrel bomb reports, you’d think that these would have been filmed and analysed, but instead these reports remain mostly anecdotal. What’s most interesting here, and yet completely ignored by western mainstream media sources, is that the damage inflicted from terrorist Hell Cannon strikes appears to be identical to bromidic tales of the barrel bomb. Both are said to have been used often and indiscriminately, with both featuring a crude metal casing, packed with powerful explosives and shrapnel, designed to inflict maximum damage. Unlike the illusive barrel bombs, footage of the ‘rebel’ Hell Cannon in action is easy to find. Rebel-terrorists not only fired into government-held West Aleppo but also in contested and ‘rebel-held’ areas throughout the Battle of Aleppo. Knowing this, a responsible journalist might ask the pertinent question: how many of Aleppo’s alleged ‘barrel bomb’ attacks attributed to the ‘regime’ were actually Hell Cannon strikes made by the ‘rebel opposition’?

After 2012, gas canister Hell Cannons became the weapon of choice for terrorists, as they shelled residential areas all over Aleppo in a long-running campaign of terror. In total, upwards of 15,000 Aleppo residents have died since 2012 from terrorist ordinances, bombs and gas canister missiles. All of these victims have been documented by name, with details of their injuries, along with their family details collated by the Aleppo Medical Association. Contrast this with the fantastic claims by the US and British-funded ‘search and rescue NGO’ called the White Helmets, who claim in their official literature to have saved some 80,000 lives from the regime’s “barrel bomb” and air attacks since they were founded in late 2013. Unlike the Aleppo medical authorities, the White Helmets have yet to provided any actual details of these 80,000 persons, or their injuries. While the incredible claims of the White Helmets continue to garner praise and Oscar awards, the western media seem blind to the 15,000 residents left dead from terrorists strikes, including thousands of dead children. This is a good example of the intricate campaign of disinformation which has been waged against Syria by the west, and continues to this day.

McCain’s Army: Brigade 16

After surveying the Eastern districts, we drove through Kurdish-controlled Sheikh Maqsood area in the city’s northern sector, before heading into the Layramoun district which used to be the textile manufacturing hub of Aleppo. Layramoun became the main base of operations for Brigade 16, who are also credited for inventing the Hell Cannon gas canister bomb delivery system.

It is in Layramoun that the infamous ‘Brigade 16’ set-up a Hell Cannon assembly line in one of the occupied textile factory buildings.

As it happened, Senator John McCain travelled to northern Syria in May 2013 where he met with leaders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other ‘rebel’ operatives, some of which were later identified as persons with known links to terrorist groups and criminal gangs. One of these was a member of the infamous Brigade 16, commonly known as the “16th Infantry Division” (Arabic: الفرقة 16 مشاة‎‎) of the FSA, known to responsible for a number of criminal enterprises including robbery, kidnapping, extortion, and the mass looting of factories around Aleppo.

Walking into the factory, you can still see the Brigade 16 emblem prominently displayed on the post to the lefthand side of the building’s entrance.

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Brigade 16 commandeered factory in textile district to produce gas canister bombs (Photo: Patrick Henningsen @21WIRE) 

Driving into the the city from the east, we passed the Jibrin Refugee Centre where thousands of Aleppo displaced residents are still housed, along with newly arrived survivors of last week’s car bomb attack at Rashideen outside of Aleppo, where at least 126 people were killed. The buses were transporting residents who were being evacuated from the towns of Foua and Kefraya, both under terrorist siege for the last two years. The violent event was a stark reminder of just how vicious this war continues to be, and that the ones who suffer the most are not governments, but the poorest of the people. 

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(Photo: Patrick Henningsen @21WIRE) 

Also along the eastern entry highway, coming off the road which connects Aleppo to Raqqa, we also passed the Sheikh Najjar Industrial District. What you see is difficult to comprehend. Every single factory and industrial estate we passed was decimated. This is one of the most profound and yet completely under-reported aspects of the war which also gets no airtime whatsoever by ‘experts’ in the western circles.

Undoubtedly, Aleppo was one of the top manufacturing powerhouses of the Middle East, and the economic heart of Syria. Since 2012, that heart has been torn from the country by a systematic and targeted effort administered by multiple terrorist factions.

What’s more important to note, is how all of the estimated 1,500 that were trashed or converted to terrorist military facilities, had their contents completely looted by armed groups – piece by piece, machine by machine, before being taken north into Turkey.

The obvious object of this exercise, aside from the fencing value of the stolen goods, was to remove Syria’s ability to supply its own markets with product and make it dependent on imports from neighboring countries, including Turkey.

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Independent Parliamentarian Fares Shehabi MP from Aleppo (Photo: Patrick Henningsen @21WIRE)

The next day we met with Aleppo MP and Chairman of the Aleppo Chamber of Industry, Fares Shehabi. He explained the scale of the disaster left in the wake of the dismantling of Aleppo’s manufacturing sector by western and gulf state-backed terrorist groups, including looting carried out by Brigade 16.

“Brigade 16 of the Free Syrian Army used to occupy the industrial zone. They robbed 1000 factories – completely, they even took the copper from inside the walls. They began this in June 2012 and it was liberated 4 years later. They took everything to Turkey.”

After the liberation of Aleppo’s terrorist-held areas, Shehabi led a delegation to liberated areas in order to survey the damage.

“When we entered the day after liberation, I went with 200 industrialists and they saw their factories in rubble, looted completely. We saw the slogans, we saw a torture prison for pro-government people, we saw the ammunition factories, mortar factories. The guys who used to run this were Brigade 16 – they were the same ones hitting us with the gas canister (missiles), or Hell Cannons,” said Shehabi.

“Myself, I had three factories – a pharmaceutical factory, an olive oil factory, and a clothing factory. The clothing factory is still… for five years now – under Al Nusra control. The olive oil factory, ISIS took it and turned into a command center for two years. When we finally took it back, I turned it into a school for poor children. The pharmaceutical factory is in a hot zone, still.”

“ISIS even issued an official letter from their court to order the confiscation of my factory.”

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‘Official’ ISIS decree to confiscate factory under new Sharia legal domain (Photo: Fares Shehabi)

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Ransacked and looted: one of thousands of factories taken over or destroyed by terrorists groups in Aleppo (Photo: Fares Shehabi)

Still, Shehabi is amazed at how western media professionals and politicians are still referring to terrorist factions as the ‘rebel opposition,’ or ‘moderate rebels.’ He then proceeded to show us his collection of photos of numerous radical militant leaders posing in with various US officials. One after another, Shehabi delivered a damning indictment of western political leaders and their seemingly open affiliations with radical salafi terrorist commanders.

“Brigade 16 invented the Hell Canon (photo), and Brigade 16 were with John McCain as we can see in the picture. Look, this is (Colonel) Riyad al-Asad – the founder of the FSA, the most ‘moderate’ of them all, sitting here with the Taliban of Syria. Even the Taliban have a branch in Syria.”

“This is the Aleppo (FSA) commander with Robert Ford, and this is the same guy with ISIS.”

Despite the fact that all of these images have been freely available online, these associations still do not register with US media, carefully whitewashed under layers of carefully crafted anti-Syrian propaganda.

Shehabi also knocked back the western misconception about claims of how many actual civilian residents were in East Aleppo during the war, as opposed to imported foreign terrorist mercenaries.

“Remember when they (the western media) used to say, ‘we have 250,000 people living here in East Aleppo and their are no foreigners, they are all from East Aleppo.’ When they (the terrorists) conquered East Aleppo, there used to be 2 million in East Aleppo. This number dropped to 113K, because immediately after the occupation of East Aleppo 1 million people left. They came to this area and we still have half a million of those people living here (in West Aleppo).  The other half million went to the Alawite areas, the coastal areas (Latakia and Tartous). They did not say, ‘oh, these are Alawites, or these are Shi’ites.’ They went there immediately, and they are still living there. So the actual number in East Aleppo dropped to about 113,000.”

“During the evacuation that took place in Dec 2016 in the green buses, 20,000 was the total number of people who left East Aleppo to Idlib, from those who left – 15,000 were not from Aleppo – they were a combination of people from Idlib, and many foreigners – Uzbekistan, Chechens, Saudis. Only 5,000 thousand went with them (to Idlib?), the rest are still here (in West Aleppo). Everyone is now involved – this conflict is now internationalized,” said Shehabi.

As the dust begins settling on Aleppo, it’s now widely understood by Syrians that Turkey has played the pivotal role since the conflict began in 2011 by facilitating terrorist forward operating bases inside of Turkey, as well the destruction of the Syrian economy. After Syria’s manufacturing sector had been gutted and taken north into Turkey, it’s safe to say there is no love lost between Syrians and the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

On this, Shehabi remarked, “We call him ‘The Thief of Aleppo’, Erdogan. For the past 6 years he wanted to establish a parliamentary system in Syria. He said the presidential system in Syria is no good and that we need a parliamentary system in Syria. Why? So that the Muslim Brotherhood can reach power. Ok, so you want us the change to a parliamentary system – while you want a presidential dictatorship in Turkey?”

Culture Targeted

Aside from manufacturing and merchant sectors, another area which has disappeared is tourism, estimated to have comprised roughly 14% of Syria’s economy before the war. The country boasts an unrivaled collection of historical sites which predate both Christian and Islamic civilizations, although Syria Christian and Islamic sites are some of the most highly regarded in the world.

Veteran tour guide Mohammad Al Khousi explained to us how the conflict has affected him personally, as well as his industry, and how this aspect of the crisis cuts much deeper than the issue of tourism.

“As a guide, I was sometimes in Aleppo three days per week, so Aleppo was like a second home for me. Before the war, I was last in Aleppo in 2009. I was back in 2013 briefly, but when I finally returned to Aleppo in 2016 – it was the saddest day of my life. Honestly, I was crying. When I left Aleppo before, I had great memories. They destroyed my business, as well as all of the other guides I know. They (the terrorists) destroyed shops, and all their incomes. They burned the Old Souks, they burned the gold market, they burned the soap market, they burned the textile markets. Look how many people lost their businesses; as a guide, a shopkeeper, all the drivers, the travel agencies – some of them died, some of them handicapped, some lost their parents, or lost their kids. It’s really very sad, it’s a tragedy.”

“I did an interview on Danish TV, it was a 3 hour recorded interview, and I couldn’t hold it anymore, I started crying. I wasn’t crying because I lost my home, I was crying for Palmyra and Aleppo,” said Al Khousi.

Like so many others we spoke to, Al Khousi believes that Syria’s historic sites have been targeted intentionally, and strategically.

“It started in Lebanon, continued to Iraq, continued to Palestine, then to Syria, and also Yemen. Yemen is the source of civilization to Saudi and to the Arab peninsula. Why? It seems that someone wants to destroy our culture – our civilization.”

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After heavy fighting, the Old Citadel remains in tact (Photo: Patrick Henningsen @21WIRE)

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A view looking down from the steps of Aleppo’s 13th century Old Citadel, at what is left of the site where the Ritz Carlton Hotel once stood (Photo: Patrick Henningsen @21WIRE)

Before the war, the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Aleppo was arguably one of the most impressive boutique hotels in the world with a position and view which was second to none. The stately home turned hotel was part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In May 2014, terrorist fighters tunneled under the hotel, before detonating explosives which completely destroyed the building.

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Dr Bouthaina Shaaban (Photo: Patrick Henningsen @21WIRE)

The bombed-out property look on a whole new meaning after a later conversation we had with Dr Bouthaina Shaaban, Syria’s chief political and media adviser to the President, who recalled a harrowing tale of her last encounter with the Turkish leader Erdogan right before the war began in 2011:

“I remember… just before the war on Syria started, when President Erdogan came to Aleppo to visit President Assad, and we were having dinner in what was in the Carlton Hotel but now it’s totally demolished, and it was overlooking the castle (Old Citadel). The view was truly amazing. I was sitting next to Erdogan and he was looking at the castle and said to President Assad, ‘Is there any other place in the world, where you can sit in such a modern place and sit and look at such an so old historic place.’ I remember that, and I remember his tone, but I never imagined he would be so resentful and that he would like to destroy as place he doesn’t have, and something he can’t have and can’t claim.”

Any remaining doubt that the takedown of Aleppo, and Syria, was planned well in advance – was long gone by by the end of this visit.

Submitted by Patrick Henningsen courtesy of 21st Century Wire 

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Saudi Arabia’s version of events: Jamal Khashoggi died during a fist fight (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 5.

Alex Christoforou

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The BBC examines the stunning Saudi admission that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered from three angles:

What is Saudi Arabia’s version of events?

The kingdom says a fight broke out between Mr Khashoggi, who had fallen out of favour with the Saudi government, and people who met him in the consulate – ending with his death.

It says investigations are under way, and so far 18 Saudi nationals have been arrested.

Unnamed officials speaking to Reuters news agency and the New York Times say the Saudis did not know the whereabouts of the body after it was handed to a “local collaborator” to dispose of.

In addition to the arrests, two senior officials have been sacked over the affair – deputy intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, senior aide to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

The Saudi authorities have yet to give evidence to support this version of events.

Observers are questioning whether Saudi Arabia’s Western allies will find their account of a “botched rendition” convincing – and whether it will persuade them not to take punitive action against them.

US President Donald Trump said what had happened was “unacceptable” but that the arrests were an important “first step”. The UK Foreign Office said it was considering its next steps after hearing the report.

What did Turkey say?

“Turkey will reveal whatever had happened,” said Omer Celik of Turkey’s ruling AKP party, according to Anadolu news agency.

“Nobody should ever doubt about it. We are not accusing anyone in advance but we don’t accept anything to remain covered [up].”

Publicly Turkey has so far stopped short of blaming Saudi Arabia for the killing.

Turkish investigators, however, say they have audio and video evidence which shows Mr Khashoggi was killed by a team of Saudi agents inside the consulate and dismembered. Reports in Turkish media this week gave gruesome details of what are said to be his final minutes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Saudi King Salman on Friday evening, and the two agreed to continue co-operating in the investigation.

How have Saudi’s Western allies reacted?

President Trump praised the kingdom for acting quickly and said the official explanation was “credible”, despite many US lawmakers expressing disbelief over the Saudi account.

Mr Trump stressed the importance of Saudi Arabia as a counterbalance to Iran in the Middle East, and pushed back against the need for sanctions against the country in light of the new information, talking about the effect of such a move on the US economy.

Earlier this week he warned of “very severe” consequences if Saudi Arabia was proved to have killed the journalist.

A number of US lawmakers, including a Republican highly critical of the Saudis, Senator Lindsey Graham, said they were sceptical about the report on the journalist’s death.

The UK Foreign Office described it as “a terrible act” and said the people behind the killing “must be held to account”.

RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a quick look at Saudi Arabia’s admission to killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a fist fight inside the Istanbul consulate…a story that the Trump White House has so far accepted, but many US Congressmen and mainstream media pundits outright reject.

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Meanwhile Reuters floated this story on turmoil inside the Saudi Kingdom as a trial balloon to see if anyone has the might to challenge a very unstable crown prince, by appealing to the frail King and his western allies.

Since he acceded to the throne in January 2015, the king has given MbS, his favorite son, increasing authority to run Saudi Arabia. But the king’s latest intervention reflects growing disquiet among some members of the royal court about MbS’s fitness to govern, the five sources said.

MbS, 33, has implemented a series of high-profile social and economic reforms since his father’s accession, including ending a ban on women driving and opening cinemas in the conservative kingdom.

But he has also marginalized senior members of the royal family and consolidated control over Saudi’s security and intelligence agencies.

His reforms have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, a purge of top royals and businessmen on corruption charges, and a costly war in Yemen.

Khashoggi’s disappearance has further tarnished the crown prince’s reputation, deepening questions among Western allies and some Saudis about his leadership.

“Even if he is his favorite son, the king needs to have a comprehensive view for his survival and the survival of the royal family,” said a fourth Saudi source with links to the royal court.

“In the end it will snowball on all of them.”

Saudi officials did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

MISCALCULATION

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied any role in Khashoggi’s disappearance. But the sources familiar with the royal court said the reaction from the United States, an ally for decades, had contributed to the king’s intervention.

“When the situation got out of control and there was an uproar in the United States, MbS informed his father that there was a problem and that they have to face it,” another source with knowledge of the royal court said.

The crown prince and his aides had initially thought the crisis would pass but they “miscalculated its repercussions”, this source said.

Turkish officials have made clear they believe Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, and two Turkish sources have told Reuters police have audio recordings to back up that assertion.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican close to President Donald Trump, on Tuesday accused MbS of ordering Khashoggi’s murder and called him a “wrecking ball” who is jeopardizing relations with the United States. He did not say what evidence he was basing the allegation on.

Trump said on Thursday he presumed Khashoggi was dead but that he still wanted to get to the bottom of what exactly happened. Asked what would be the consequences for Saudi Arabia, Trump said: “Well, it’ll have to be very severe. I mean, it’s bad, bad stuff. But we’ll see what happens.”

Trump has previously said “rogue killers” may have been responsible and has ruled out cancelling arms deals worth tens of billions of dollars. On Tuesday, Trump said he had spoken with MbS and that the crown prince told him he did not know what had happened in the consulate where Khashoggi went missing.

The case poses a dilemma for the United States, as well as Britain and other Western nations. Saudi Arabia is the world’s top oil exporter, spends lavishly on Western arms and is an ally in efforts to contain the influence of Iran.

But in a sign of the damage, a succession of international banking and business chiefs, including IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, JP Morgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon and Ford Chairman Bill Ford, have pulled out of a high-profile investment conference in Saudi Arabia this month.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday also abandoned plans to attend, as did Britain’s trade minister and the French and Dutch finance ministers, putting the event in question.

Saudi officials have said they plan to move forward with the conference, scheduled for Oct. 23-25, despite the wave of cancellations.

Neither JP Morgan nor Ford would elaborate on the reasons for the decision not to attend and did not comment on whether concerns about the disappearance of Khashoggi were a factor.

Lagarde had previously said she was “horrified” by media reports about Khashoggi’s disappearance. An IMF spokesperson did not give a reason for her deferring her trip to the Middle East.

TAKING CONTROL

Before the king’s intervention, Saudi authorities had been striking a defiant tone, threatening on Sunday to retaliate with greater action against the U.S. and others if sanctions are imposed over Khashoggi’s disappearance. A Saudi-owned media outlet warned the result would be disruption in Saudi oil production and a sharp rise in world oil prices.

“Reaction and threats to the possible sanctions of the last 24 hours were still (coming) from the crown prince,” the businessman close to royal circles said on Monday. “The king is now holding the file personally … and the tone is very different.”

The king has spoken directly with Erdogan and Trump in recent days. Both the king and his son met U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he visited Riyadh on Tuesday.

King Salman, 82, spent decades as part of the inner circle of the Al Saud dynasty, which long ruled by consensus. In four decades as governor of Riyadh, he earned a reputation as a royal enforcer who punished princes who were out of line.

Whether he is willing or able to resume that role in this crisis remains unclear, palace insiders say. One source with links to the royal court said the king was “captivated” by MbS and ultimately would protect him.

Still, there is precedent for the king’s intervention.

He stepped in this year to shelve the planned listing of national oil company Saudi Aramco, the brainchild of MbS and a cornerstone of his economic reforms, three sources with ties to government insiders told Reuters in August. Saudi officials have said the government remains committed to the plans.

And when MbS gave the impression last year that Riyadh endorsed the Trump administration’s still nebulous Middle East peace plan, including U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the king made a public correction, reaffirming Riyadh’s commitment to the Arab and Muslim identity of the city.

Despite these rare instances of pushback, several of the sources close to the royal family said that King Salman had grown increasingly detached from decisions taken by MbS.

“He has been living in an artificially-created bubble,” said one of the sources. Lately, though, the king’s advisers have grown frustrated and begun warning him of the risks of leaving the crown prince’s power unchecked.

“The people around him are starting to tell him to wake up to what’s happening,” the source said.

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Kiev ‘Patriarch’ prepares to seize Moscow properties in Ukraine

Although Constantinople besought the Kiev church to stop property seizures, they were ignored and used, or perhaps, complicit.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The attack on the Eastern Orthodox Church, brought about by the US State Department and its proxies in Constantinople and Ukraine, is continuing. On October 20, 2018, the illegitimate “Kyiv (Kiev) Patriarchate”, led by Filaret Denisenko who is calling himself “Patriarch Filaret”, had a synodal meeting in which it changed the commemoration title of the leader of the church to include the Kyiv Caves and Pochaev Lavras.

This is a problem because Metropolitan Onuphry of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which is canonically accepted and acts as a very autonomous church under the Moscow Patriarchate has these places under his pastoral care.

This move takes place only one week after Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople unilaterally (and illegally) lifted the excommunications, depositions (removal from priestly ranks as punishment) and anathemas against Filaret and Makary that were imposed on them by the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate.

These two censures are very serious matters in the Orthodox Church. Excommunication means that the person or church so considered cannot receive Holy Communion or any of the other Mysteries (called Sacraments in the West) in a neighboring local Orthodox Church. Anathema is even more serious, for this happens when a cleric disregards his excommunication and deposition (removal from the priesthood), and acts as a priest or a bishop anyway.

Filaret Denisenko received all these censures in 1992, and Patriarch Bartholomew accepted this decision at the time, as stated in a letter he sent to Moscow shortly after the censures. However, three years later, Patriarch Bartholomew received a group of Ukrainian autocephalist bishops called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, who had been in communion with Filaret’s group. While this move may have been motivated by the factor of Bartholomew’s almost total isolation within Istanbul, Turkey, it is nonetheless non-canonical.

This year’s moves have far exceeded previous ones, though, and now the possibility for a real clash that could cost lives is raised. With Filaret’s “church” – really an agglomeration of Ukrainian ultranationalists and Neo-Nazis in the mix, plus millions of no doubt innocent Ukrainian faithful who are deluded about the problems of their church, challenging an existing arrangement regarding Ukraine and Russia’s two most holy sites, the results are not likely to be good at all.

Here is the report about today’s developments, reprinted in part from OrthoChristian.com:

Meeting today in Kiev, the Synod of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” (KP) has officially changed the title of its primate, “Patriarch” Philaret, to include the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras under his jurisdiction.

The primate’s new official title, as given on the site of the KP, is “His Holiness and Beatitude (name), Archbishop and Metropolitan of Kiev—Mother of the cities of Rus’, and Galicia, Patriarch of All Rus’-Ukraine, Svyaschenno-Archimandrite of the Holy Dormition Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras.”

…Thus, the KP Synod is declaring that “Patriarch” Philaret has jurisdiction over the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras, although they are canonically under the omophorion of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, the primate of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Philaret and his followers and nationalistic radicals have continually proclaimed that they will take the Lavras for themselves.

This claim to the ancient and venerable monasteries comes after the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate announced that it had removed the anathema placed upon Philaret by the Russian Orthodox Church and had restored him to his hierarchical office. Philaret was a metropolitan of the canonical Church, becoming patriarch in his schismatic organization.

Representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have clarified that they consider Philaret to be the “former Metropolitan of Kiev,” but he and his organization continue to consider him an active patriarch, with jurisdiction in Ukraine.

Constantinople’s statement also appealed to all in Ukraine to “avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties,” which the Synod of the KP ignored in today’s decision.

The KP primate’s abbreviated title will be, “His Holiness (name), Patriarch of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine,” and the acceptable form for relations with other Local Churches is “His Beatitude Archbishop (name), Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine.”

The Russian Orthodox Church broke eucharistic communion and all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over this matter earlier this week. Of the fourteen local Orthodox Churches recognized the world over, twelve have expressed the viewpoint that Constantinople’s move was in violation of the canons of the Holy Orthodox Church. Only one local Church supported Constantinople wholeheartedly, and all jurisdictions except Constantinople have appealed for an interOrthodox Synod to address and solve the Ukrainian matter in a legitimate manner.

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Claims of Khashoggi death by fistfight expose Saudi brutality

The brutality of both state claims and unproven allegations in Khashoggi’s death raise serious questions about American alliances.

Seraphim Hanisch

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On October 2, 2018, Muslim Brotherhood member and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey, never to be seen or heard from again.

This chilling report has been answered with some horrifying and grisly stories about what happened – that he was dismembered while still alive, that his body parts were dissolved completely in acid, leaving nothing left.

Now after two weeks, the Saudi official word on what happened came out: He died in an unexpected fistfight in the embassy.

Really. That is the Saudi’s explanation. A fistfight. In an embassy. With 18 people detained as suspects in the investigation.

And apparently the Saudi government expects the world to accept this explanation and just let it go.

This situation has just exposed the true nature of this “ally” of the United States. Even Rush Limbaugh, a staunch supporter of all conservative positions in America, has spoken from time to time about the amazing disconnect in American foreign policy with regards to Saudi Arabia. He continued that on his radio programs on both October 18th and 19th, 2018, as shown in this excerpted transcript, with emphasis added:

I’m simplifying this, folks, but generally that’s what happens. So, by the same token, you could say that this militant terrorist Islam that we’ve known since 9/11 and maybe 10, 15 years prior, that has been sponsored by Saudi Arabia, by the Saudi royal family. It’s why so many people have been upset with so many American presidents being buddy-buddy with the king, whoever he happens to be. The Saudis always fund former presidents’ libraries. I mean, the Saudis had a good thing going. They had relationships with every president, former president and so forth.

And while they were selling us oil, sometimes. Cooperative or uncooperative, depending on the time, with price. But during all of that, they were the primary thrust for Wahhabi Islam. Now, here comes MbS (Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia), and he wants to just reform the hell out of the country, get rid of Wahhabism, bring in petrodollars competitors such as Hollywood and Silicon Valley and basically bring Saudi Arabia into the twenty-first century instead of the seventh. And there’s some people that don’t want that to happen.

And from the 19th:

Wahhabi Islam is where the really radical clerics and Imams are who are welcoming anybody they can into their mosques and just literally converting them into suicide bombers, terrorists, and what have you, under the auspices of Islam. And the Saudi royal family stood by and let it all happen. Whether they were instrumental in advocating it, don’t know, but Saudi-funded charities all over the world promoted Wahhabism.

And that’s when I went back to Mr. Buckley and said, “I don’t see how the Saudi royal family, the Saudi government can be separated from these 19 hijackers.”

Now in the rest of these transcripts, which are very interesting, Rush explains that Khashoggi was a Muslim Brotherhood member, and as such, stood opposed to MbS’ reform plans and actions. However the brutality of the alleged murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the official “State version” account of his death are almost equally brutal. Death by fists? How is it that the United States considers such people allies?

President Trump is on record as saying that this explanation by the Saudi government is “credible.” However, this statement alone is out of context, so we bring you the entire statement:

This is not to be misunderstood as a Trump endorsement of belief. He points out that this is a first step, and that in his view it is a good one, but that is all.

Still, these events throw the real nature of the Saudi kingdom into sharp relief. They are the number one customer for US military equipment, now considered allies against Iran. In the complicated field of Middle East relations, the president’s caution is probably very wise for the moment. However, this is a nation which produced most of the 9/11 hijackers, which is said to be the last voice in what Islam is, and so promotes a very violent interpretation of an already violent faith.

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The news and information media got a great lesson in following something like “due process” with this matter, and while the President is doing that, this situation still invites some strong speculation. Allies that simultaneously seek an allied nation’s destruction do not seem like allies much at all. And embassies are usually held to be very safe places for people, not places where they meet their death in any way at all, let alone the cruel means alleged and later claimed.

This event may actually be very damaging to the Saudi Crown Prince’s effort to bring his nation out of Wahhabism and into some more kind interpretation of Islam, and indeed the West’s assessment of Khashoggi has taken to calling him a “teddy bear” when he is a Muslim Brotherhood member. Former US President Obama supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and these people were so violent, killing Christians and destroying homes and businesses, that the Muslim Brotherhood’s uprising was followed by a second uprising from the more reasonable people in Egypt (which Obama promptly dropped).

If reports are to be believed, Mohammed bin Salman wants to end Wahhabism. It would seem to logically make sense that his agencies were involved in what happened to Kashoggi, who is a known critic of bin Salman. But if it really is true that the Saudi royals were not involved, then whoever it was certainly succeeded in stopping bin Salman’s efforts to modernize his country, at least for now.

 

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