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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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European Council crushes Theresa May’s soft Brexit dream (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 116.

Alex Christoforou

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UK Prime Minister Theresa May hoped that the European Council was ready to see things her way, in terms of proceeding with a soft Brexit, which was essentially no Brexit at all…at least not the hard Brexit that was voted on in a democratic referendum approximately two years ago.

Much to May’s surprise, European Council President Donald Tusk delivered a death blow verdict for May’s Brexit, noting that EU leaders are in full agreement that Chequers plan for Brexit “will not work” because “it risks undermining the single market.”

Without a miracle compromise springing up come during the October summit, the UK will drift into the March 29, 2019 deadline without a deal and out of the European Union…which was initially what was voted for way back in 2016, leaving everyone asking, what the hell was May doing wasting Britain’s time and resources for two years, so as to return back to the hard Brexit terms she was charged with carrying forward after the 2016 referendum?

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss what was a disastrous EU summit in Salzburg for UK PM Theresa May, in what looks to be the final nail in May’s tenure as UK Prime Minister, as a hard Brexit now seems all but certain.

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Via Zerohedge

Tusk was speaking at the end of an EU summit in Salzburg, where the leaders of the 27 remaining states in the bloc were discussing Brexit. He said that while there were “positive elements” in May’s Chequers plan, a deal that puts the single market at risk cannot be accepted.

“Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal, the suggested framework for economic co-operation will not work, not least because it is undermining the single market,” Tusk said. He also said that he could not “exclude” the possibility that the UK could exit the EU in March with no deal.

May has been urging her European counterparts to accept her controversial Chequers plan which has split both the Conservative party and the broader UK population after it was thrashed out back in July. However, despite the painfully-slow negotiation process, which appears to have made little headway with just a few months left, the UK is set to leave the EU on March 29 2019 – with or without an exit deal.

The main sticking point that has emerged, and left May and the EU at loggerheads, has been how to avoid new checks on the Irish border. May has claimed that her proposals were the “only serious, credible” way to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. She said during a press conference after the Salzburg meeting that she would not accept the EU’s “backstop” plan to avoid a Northern Ireland hard border. She said the UK would shortly be bringing forward its own proposals.

May also said that there was “a lot of hard work to be done,” adding that the UK was also preparing for the eventuality of having to leave the EU without a deal. Tusk, meanwhile, said that the upcoming October summit would be the “moment of truth” for reaching a deal, and that “if the conditions are there” another summit would be held in November to “formalize” it.

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Russia makes HUGE strides in drone technology

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The US and Israel are universally recognized leaders in the development and use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. Thousands of American and Israeli UAVs are operating across the world daily.

The US military has recently successfully tested an air-to-air missile to turn its MQ-9 Reaper drone into an effective long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance unmanned spy aircraft capable of air-to-surface as well as air-to-air missions. This is a major breakthrough. It’s not a secret that Russia has been lagging behind in UAV development. Now its seems to be going to change with tangible progress made to narrow the gap.

Very few nations boast drones capable of high-altitude long endurance (HALE) missions. Russia is to enter the club of the chosen. In late 2017, the Russian Defense Ministry awarded a HALE UAV contract to the Kazan-based Simonov design bureau.

This month, Russian Zvezda military news TV channel showed a video (below) of Altair (Altius) heavy drone prototype aircraft number “03”, going through its first flight test.

Propelled by two RED A03/V12 500hp high fuel efficiency diesel engines, each producing a capacity of 500 hp on takeoff, the 5-ton heavy vehicle with a wingspan of 28.5 meters boasts a maximum altitude of 12km and a range of 10,000km at a cruising speed of 150-250km/h.

Wingspan: about 30 meters. Maximum speed: up to 950 km/h. Flight endurance: 48 hours. Payload: two tons, which allows the creation of a strike version. The vehicle is able to autonomously take off and land or be guided by an operator from the ground.

The UAV can carry the usual range of optical and thermal sensors as well as synthetic-aperture ground-surveillance radar with the resolution of .1 meter at the range of 35km and 1 meter at the range of 125km. The communications equipment allows real-time data exchange.

Russia’s UAV program currently underway includes the development of a range of large, small, and mid-sized drones. The Orion-E medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV was unveiled at the MAKS 2017 air show. Its developer, Kronstadt Technologies, claims it could be modified for strike missions. The one-ton drone is going through testing now. The Orion-E is capable of automatic takeoff and landing.

It can fly continuously for 24 hours, carrying a surveillance payload of up to 200 kg to include a forward looking infra-red (FLIR) turret, synthetic aperture radar and high resolution cameras. The drone can reach a maximum altitude of 7,500 m. Its range is 250 km.

The Sukhoi design bureau is currently developing the Okhotnik (Hunter) strike drone with a range of about 3,500km. The drone made its maiden flight this year. In its current capacity, it has an anti-radar coating, and will store missiles and precision-guided bombs internally to avoid radar detection.

The Kazan-based Eniks Design Bureau is working on the small T-16 weaponized aerial vehicle able to carry 6 kg of payload.

The new Russian Korsar (Corsair) tactical surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will be upgraded to receive an electronic warfare system. Its operational range will be increased from 150km to 250km. The drone was revealed at Victory Day military parade along with the Korsar unmanned combat helicopter version.

The rotary wing drone lacks the speed and altitude of the fixed wing variant, but has a great advantage of being able to operate without landing strips and can be sea-based. Both drones can carry guided and unguided munitions. The fixed-wing version can be armed with Ataka 9M120 missiles.

The first Russian helicopter-type unmanned aerial vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells was presented at the Army-2018 international forum. With the horizontal cruising speed of the drone up to 60 kph, the unmanned chopper can stay in the air at least 2.5 hours to conduct reconnaissance operations. Its payload is up to 5 kg.

Last November, the Kalashnikov Concern reported that it would start production of heavy unmanned aerial vehicles capable of carrying up to several tons of cargo and operating for several days at a time without needing to recharge.

All in all, the Russian military operate 1,900 drones on a daily basis. The multi-purpose Orlan-10 with a range of 600km has become a working horse that no military operation, including combat actions in Syria, can be conducted without. Maj. Gen. Alexander Novikov,
the head of the Russian General Staff’s Office for UAV Development, Russian drones performed over 23,000 flights, lasting 140,000 hours in total.

Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027 puts the creation of armed UAVs at the top of priorities’ list. Looks like the effort begins to pay off. Russia is well on the way to become second to none in UAV capability.

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Via Strategic Culture

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Roman Catholic priest removed from parish for burning LGBT flag

Priest’s removal ordered by his bishop, alleging the priest was mentally ill.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News reported that a Roman Catholic priest was removed from his post in a Chicago neighborhood by his cardinal (bishop) and sent away for “pastoral support” for burning an LGBT “rainbow flag”, after reciting a prayer of exorcism.

The original newspiece, by Mitchell Armentrout of The Chicago Sun-Timeshas this to say:

The priest who ignited controversy last week by burning an LGBTQ-friendly flag on church grounds against the orders of Cardinal Blase Cupich has been removed from his Avondale parish.

Cupich sent two of his top deputies to Resurrection Catholic Church on Friday to notify the Rev. Paul Kalchik that he was being removed as pastor, according to two sources close to the priest.

In a letter to parishioners and staff released Saturday evening by the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cupich wrote that he has “become increasingly concerned about a number of issues at Resurrection Parish.

“It has become clear to me that Fr. Kalchik must take time away from the parish to receive pastoral support so his needs can be assessed,” Cupich wrote.

Kalchik could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to the sources, Kalchik and his elderly parents have received death threats since he defied Cupich on Sept. 14 by burning the banner, which featured a cross superimposed over a rainbow. There also have been threats of vandalism to the church, the sources said.

Kalchik told the Sun-Times during an interview in his office on Tuesday that at least one person had forced their way into the church at 3043 N. Francisco Ave. last weekend, leaving a door open but not causing any damage.

The 56-year-old priest first announced in a Sept. 2 church bulletin that he planned to burn the flag, after he found it in storage where it apparently sat for more than a decade.

Cupich, who has shared Pope Francis’ more welcoming attitude toward gays in the church, told Kalchik not to burn the flag, but the priest said he did it anyway “in a quiet way” during a closed ceremony with seven parishioners, featuring a prayer of exorcism over the torched banner.

The flag-burning drew the ire of LGBTQ-equality activists, including Ald. Deb Mell (33rd), who led a small demonstration across the street from the church on Wednesday, calling on Pope Francis and Cupich “to send this hateful bigot packing.”

Kalchik — who has said he was sexually abused by a neighbor as a child, and again by a priest when he began working for the church at 19 — previously said the sex-abuse crisis plaguing the church is “definitely a gay thing.”

“What have we done wrong other than destroy a piece of propaganda that was used to put out a message other than what the church is about?” Kalchik said Tuesday.

Cupich wrote that he removed Kalchik “out of concern for Fr. Kalchik’s welfare and that of the people of Resurrection Parish.

“I have a responsibility to be supportive of our priests when they have difficulties, but I also have a duty to ensure that those who serve our faithful are fully able to minister to them in the way the Church expects,” Cupich wrote.

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This brings up some interesting questions:

  • While no one is supposed to hate sinners, Christianity strongly calls its supporters to hate sin. This priest’s flag-burning is very-clearly an example of taking this teaching to heart.
  • What kind of message is the Cardinal sending people about the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church?
  • Father Paul Kalchik was abused twice, and once by a priest, and his acknowledgment of the sex-abuse cases as a “gay thing” is well known in church circles. The Roman Catholic prohibition on married priests, which itself is not in line with Apostolic teachings, has contributed to the growing network of “gay” seminaries within that Church. Why does Rome go on hiding this?
  • All this comes down to the biggest question: Who is Rome serving? Homosexuality and its cousins are serious sins and they cause enormous and frightful trauma to those so impacted. If the Roman Church cannot call the truth out for what it is, then, what are they doing?

Further information about this situation, described on the Fox News website notes that Cardinal Blase Cupich had cautioned Kalchik not to burn the flag, but he reportedly went ahead with it and recited a prayer of exorcism before doing so.

The Archdiocese released a letter saying that “Father Kalchik needs to take time away from the parish to receive pastoral support,” amid a swirl of allegations that Cupich had threatened – through his vicars – for Kalchik to be forcibly committed to St. Luke’s Institute for further evaluation and treatment.

Kalchik had first announced that this flag, which was found in storage, would be burned in a church bulletin in early September. He was immediately warned by the Archdiocese of Chicago not to move forward with such an act. However, Kalchik did go ahead – later telling a local NBC reporter that the did so “in a quiet way” and that the flag, which also had a cross adorned over it, “was cut into seven pieces, so it was burned over stages in the same fire pit that we used for the Easter vigil Mass.”

The rainbow flag, set alight by parishioners earlier this month, once hung in the back of the sanctuary. Kalchik had reportedly spoken out in recent months, and even written to Pope Francis, about his own trauma as a victim of a predatory Roman Catholic priest.

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