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“Moderate rebels” torch buses in Aleppo evacuating civilians

Demonstrating again their relentless sectarian agenda Al-Qaeda led Jihadis attack and burn buses tasked with evacuating Shiite fighters and civilians from besieged Shiite villages despite this putting the withdrawal of Jihadi fighters and civilians in Aleppo in jeopardy.

Alexander Mercouris

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Reports from Syria confirm that buses which were due to evacuate civilians and wounded Shiite militia fighters from two Shia provinces in Syria’s Idlib province have been attacked and burnt by the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis who are besieging these villages.

At Iran’s insistence the evacuation of civilians and wounded Shiite fighters from these villages was linked to the withdrawal of Jihadi fighters and civilians from eastern Aleppo.

The refusal of Al-Qaeda led Jihadis to allow the agreed evacuation from the two Shiite villages is as a result holding up the withdrawal of Jihadi fighters and civilians from eastern Aleppo.

This incident reveals a number of important truths about the Syrian conflict.

The first is that the Western media is actually reporting it.  The probable reason for that is that with the end of the fighting in Aleppo Western journalists are at last able to go there and to report on the spot.  Though most of them doubtless remain intensely hostile to the Syrian government, the mere fact that they are now engaged in some actual on the spot reporting means that the coverage has suddenly become fractionally more balanced and nuanced.

More importantly, this episode shows who is really responsible for the suffering of civilians in Aleppo, and who is intent on pursuing a murderous and fanatical sectarian agenda in Syria.

Though the Western media failed to report the fact, the Russians and the Syrian government have offered since the summer to allow the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis and the civilians in eastern Aleppo who want to leave to withdraw peacefully from eastern Aleppo.  The negotiations between the Russians and the US which were underway from June to early December were focused on that goal.  In early September the Kerry-Lavrov agreement appeared to provide for it.

Even after the Kerry-Lavrov agreement broke down the Russians unilaterally imposed on themselves a ‘humanitarian pause’ lasting several weeks in order to give the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis in eastern Aleppo and the civilians there the opportunity to leave.  ‘Humanitarian corridors’ were established monitored by the Russian military to enable them to do so.

These offers were unavailing, with the Western media reporting that the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo and the civilians were too frightened of reprisals by the Syrian authorities to leave.   The Russians and the Syrians by contrast reported that the civilians were being prevented from leaving by the Al-Qaeda led Jihadi fighters, who insisted on keeping them in eastern Aleppo so that they could act as human shields.

The events of the last 2 weeks have demonstrated conclusively that it was the Russians and the Syrians who were telling the truth.

As soon as Al-Qaeda’s control over eastern Aleppo weakened following the Syrian army’s offensive against the Jihadi pocket started at the end of November, tens of thousands of civilians fled eastern Aleppo to areas of the city under Syrian government control.

A fact that is not being widely reported is that far more civilians – around 100,000 – fled eastern Aleppo to the government controlled areas than are still in eastern Aleppo with the Jihadis.  The UN estimates their number to be 30-40,000, a fact which incidentally shows that the figure of 250,000 commonly reported during the siege for the civilian population of eastern Aleppo was indeed exaggerated, and that the true number was 140,000.

Once civilians did indeed begin to leave eastern Aleppo following the start of the government offensive, the more credible reports show that they were humanely treated, with the Russians and the Syrian authorities providing them with shelter and hot food, and with the Russians sending mobile hospitals to the city to treat them (one of these hospital was shelled by the Jihadis in an episode which the Western media and Western government disgracefully have never condemned).

After Jihadi fighters and civilians began to be evacuated from eastern Aleppo as a result of the Putin-Erdogan agreement, all the credible reports from the city once again confirm that when they are being evacuated they are being evacuated safely.

As for the atrocity stories that were receiving saturation coverage a week ago, it is striking how over the last few days they have almost entirely dried up – again almost certainly as a consequence of the belated presence of Western reporters and observers in the city.

By contrast the attack on the buses by the Al-Qaeda led Jihadi fighters trying to prevent the evacuation of civilians and wounded fighters from the two Shiite villages, highlights the utter ruthlessness and extreme sectarian attitudes of these fighters.  Quite simply, they are unwilling to let these Shiites go, even if by preventing them from leaving they are putting the safety of their Sunni co-religionists and their Jihadi comrades in Aleppo at risk.

The reality about the ‘Great Battle of Aleppo’ is that it should have been ended in September.  At that point the Jihadi offensive launched in August to break the siege of the Al-Qaeda controlled eastern districts had been defeated.  The Jihadis in eastern Aleppo were trapped, and with the Russian military engaged there was no realistic possibility of the siege being broken or of their escape.

In the light of this, all the fighting – and all the death and suffering – which has happened in Aleppo since September is the product of the refusal of the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis in eastern Aleppo and of their Western backers – which must include most of the Western media – to accept this reality.

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the need to preserve the propaganda narrative and the illusory objective of regime change in Syria in the end overrode concern for the people of Aleppo.

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‘I will take over as Brexit Party leader’: Nigel Farage back on the frontline

Nigel Farage says that if the UK takes part in European elections, he will lead his new Brexit Party.

RT

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Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has announced that he will lead his new Brexit Party into the European elections if UK MPs decide to delay Brexit beyond May 22.

Farage, who has ostensibly appointed himself leader, told various media, including the BBC and Sky News on Friday morning: “I will take over as leader of the Brexit Party and lead it into the European Elections.”

It comes after the Brexit Party’s leader, Catherine Blaiklock, quit over a series of alleged Islamophobic statements and retweets of far-right figures on social media.

It is not yet thought that Farage has officially been elected as leader, as the party does not, as yet, have a formal infrastructure to conduct such a vote.

The right-wing MEP vowed to put out a whole host of Brexit Party candidates if the UK participates in the upcoming EU elections in May, adding: “If we fight those elections, we will fight them on trust.”

On Thursday night, the EU agreed to PM May’s request for a delaying to Brexit beyond the March 29 deadline. Brussels announced two new exit dates depending on what happens next week in the UK parliament.

The UK will have to leave the bloc on April 12 unless British MPs agree to May’s Brexit deal. If the withdrawal agreement is passed by next week, EU leaders have agreed to grant an extension until May 22.

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Baltics cannot rely on Germany any more

The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it is supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership blunders.

The Duran

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Submitted by Adomas Abromaitis…

On March 29 Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will celebrate 15 years of becoming NATO member states. The way to the alliance membership was not simple for newly born independent countries. They have reached great success in fulfilling many of NATO demands: they have considerably increased their defence expenditures, renewed armaments and increased the number of military personnel.

In turn, they get used to rely on more powerful member states, their advice, help and even decision making. All these 15 years they felt more or less safe because of proclaimed European NATO allies’ capabilities.

Unfortunately, now it is high time to doubt. The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership’s blunders. Every member state does a bit. As for the Baltic states, they are particularly vulnerable, because they fully depend on other NATO member states in their defence. Thus, Germany, Canada and Britain are leading nations of the NATO battle group stationed in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia respectively.

But the state of national armed forces in Germany, for example, raises doubts and makes it impossible not only defend the Baltics against Russia, but Germany itself.

It turned out, that Germany itself remains dissatisfied with its combat readiness and minister of defence’s ability to perform her duties. Things are so bad, that the military’s annual readiness report would be kept classified for the first time for “security reasons.”

“Apparently the readiness of the Bundeswehr is so bad that the public should not be allowed to know about it,” said Tobias Lindner, a Greens member who serves on the budget and defense committees.

Inspector General Eberhard Zorn said (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-arms/germany-not-satisfied-with-readiness-of-submarines-some-aircraft-idUSKBN1QS1G7) the average readiness of the country’s nearly 10,000 weapons systems stood at about 70 percent in 2018, which meant Germany was able to fulfill its military obligations despite increasing responsibilities.

No overall comparison figure was available for 2017, but last year’s report revealed readiness rates of under 50 percent for specific weapons such as the aging CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters and the Tornado fighter jets.

Zorn said this year’s report was more comprehensive and included details on five main weapons systems used by the cyber command, and eight arms critical for NATO’s high readiness task force, which Germany heads this year.

“The overall view allows such concrete conclusions about the current readiness of the Bundeswehr that knowledge by unauthorized individuals would harm the security interests of the Federal Republic of Germany,” he wrote.

Critics are sure of incompetence of the Federal Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen. Though she has occupied the upper echelons of German politics for 14 years now — and shows no sign of success. This mother of seven, gynecologist by profession, by some miracle for a long time has been remaining in power, though has no trust even among German military elites. Despite numerous scandals she tries to manage the Armed Forces as a housewife does and, of course, the results are devastating for German military capabilities. The same statement could be easily apply for the Baltic States, which highly dependent on Germany in military sphere.

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Crimea: The Geopolitical Jewel Russia Continues to Polish

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence.

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Authored by Tom Luongo via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


With all that is happening in the world Crimea has taken a bit of a backseat recently. Yes, the US, EU and Canada just added more sanctions on Russia via the odious Magnitsky legislation but this is inconsequential.

There’s been a flurry of good news coming out of Crimea and the Black Sea recently that bears discussion. Let’s start with the most important. President Vladimir Putin was in Crimea earlier this week to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the peninsula’s reunification with Russia. There he also officially inaugurated two major upgrades to Crimea’s power grid.

Located in Simferopol and Sevastopol, two new power plants will produce 940 megawatts and secure Crimea’s energy needs for now and into the future.

Power has been Crimea’s Achilles’ heel since breaking off from Ukraine in 2014. It received almost 90% of its power from the mainland. In November 2015, the trunk lines into Crimea were sabotaged by Ukrainian nationalist radicals, encouraged by President Petro Poroshenko plunging it into darkness as winter took hold.

Does this sound familiar? A place that defies US edicts geopolitically is first hit with a full trade embargo, sanctions and threatened militarily by proxies before having its electricity shut off?

*Cough* Venezuela *Cough*

And there are reports that the US has game-planned a similar fate for Iran as well. For Crimea it was easy because of the single-point-of-failure, the trunks from the mainland. For Venezuela it was as well, with the Guri dam, which affected nearly 70 percent of the country.

So, Putin timing the fifth anniversary of reunification with the announcement of the plants moving to full operational status was yet another smooth bit of international political maneuvering.

A not-so-subtle poke in the eye of the Gang Who Can’t Sanction Straight in D.C. as well as lame duck Poroshenko. Elections are at the end of the month and this celebration by Russia and Crimea will not sit well with many Ukrainians, especially the diaspora here in the US which is virulently anti-Putin in my experience.

Secure and stable power generation is a hallmark of a first world territory. Without that economic growth and stability are impossible. This is why to first help stabilize the situation in Crimea after the blackout Russia brought in 400 MW of power across the Kerch Strait from Krasnodor.

Tying Crimea to the mainland via the Kerch Strait bridge was a masterstroke by Putin. The initial power lines were simply a necessity. For those that complain he isn’t doing enough to counter US and European aggression need only look at the Kerch Strait bridge.

Not only did the Russians not seek international approval given the nearly universal refusal to recognize Crimea as Russian they built the thing in a time frame that defies description.

Imagine if this had been an EU project. They would still be debating the initial engineering plans and the political effects on some protected minority.

Not only does it open up the Eastern Black Sea to trade via Crimea but it ends the use of the Sea of Azov as a potential staging ground for naval provocations as last fall’s incident proved. Ukraine is cut off from acting aggressively and cannot count on any help from the US and Europe.

Moreover, Crimea is now permanently Russia’s. And every bit of infrastructure Russia builds there ties the two further together and weakens any bonds Crimea had with Ukraine. The resultant growth and modernization will make its way, economically and culturally back into southern Ukraine and erode the hard border over time.

This is far more important than striking out and metaphorically punching Poroshenko in the mouth, that many of Putin’s detractors wish for.

Presidents change, after all. Patience and attrition is how you beat an aggressive, distant enemy like the US

To remind everyone just how insane the Trump White House has become on matters international, no less than Vice President Mike Pence lobbied Germany to provoke another naval incident at the Kerch Strait.

If there was ever an example of how little Trump’s gang of moldy neocons think of Europe it is this bit of news. In effect, Pence was saying, “We can’t start a war with Russia because it would go nuclear, but you can because Russia can’t live without your trade.”

This coming after the US unilaterally pulled out of the INF treaty and is now flying nuclear bombers to eastern Europe. The message is clear. If the EU doesn’t get with this open-ended belligerent program against Russia and China of John Bolton’s they will be the ones paying the price when chaos breaks out.

On the other side there is Putin; building bridges, pipelines, power plants and roads.

He’s making it clear what the future holds not only for Europe but the Middle East, central Asia and India. We will defend Crimea at all costs, develop it not only into a tourist destination but also a major trade hub as well.

You are more than welcome to join us. But, we don’t need you.

These power plants will raise Crimea’s power output well beyond its current needs, allowing first export of power as well as providing the foundation for future growth.

And as if it weren’t coordinated in any way, the Chinese, on the morning of Putin’s speech, announced that Crimea would be an excellent fit for investment projects attached to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

That’s according to the head of the association of Chinese compatriots on the peninsula, Ge Zhili. “Our organization is bolstering cooperation ties, exchanges and friendly contacts with the Crimean society,” he said at an event dedicated to the fifth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia, which was held in the Russian Embassy in Beijing on Monday.

It is also ready to contribute to the establishment of “reliable partner ties” and the explanation of legal details of business cooperation with Crimea, Ge Zhili said. “The Chinese society hopes for the development of friendly cooperation with Crimea; we are ready to overcome difficulties for fruitful results.”

Again this is a direct challenge to the US who has Crimea under strict sanctions in the West. China is happy now to move forward with integrating Crimea into its plans. It’s just another example of how Russia and China simply ignore Trump’s fulminations and move on.

I can’t wait until I get to write this article all over again, this time about North Korea, now that Bolton has thrown Russian and Chinese assistance in getting North Korea to the negotiating table back in their face by destroying the Hanoi talks.

This announcement is not to be underestimated given that Chinese Premier Xi Jinping is in Rome this week to open up relations with the new Italian government. Five Star Movement’s Leader Luigi Di Maio said he would welcome becoming a part of BRI, much to the consternation of Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as his coalition partner Lega Leader Matteo Salvini.

It’s already well known that Salvini is interested in ending sanctions on Crimea and re-opening trade with Russia. Italy is desperate for new markets and opportunities, currently stifled under the euro itself as well as Germany’s insistence on austerity hollowing out Italy’s economy and its future prospects.

These issues as well as energy security ones are coming to a head this year with Brexit, the European Parliamentary elections in May and the completion of the Nordstream 2 pipeline later this year.

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence. Salvini will lead a Euroskeptic revolt within the European Parliament in May. It may be big enough to finally defy Merkel and end EU sanctions on Russia over Crimea.

At that point the US will also have a choice, burn down the world economy with even more sanctions, tariffs and acts of war or accept the facts on the ground.

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