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Turkish journalist reports from Aleppo; finds Syrians oppose Jihadism, support Assad, grateful to Hezbollah and Russia

Turkish journalist Fehim Taştekin in second report from Aleppo casts further doubts about Western claims about the Syrian war.

Alexander Mercouris

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The Turkish journalist Fehim Taştekin has provided Al Monitor with a highly interesting follow up to his previous report on the situation Aleppo, which cast doubt on some of the claims the Western media made during the fighting there.

As I have said previously, Taştekin is the only mainstream media journalist of a NATO country I know of to have visited Aleppo since the end of the fighting there apart from the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen.  However in contrast to Jeremy Bowen’s bland and disappointing report, Taştekin’s reports are informative and interesting.

Based on interviews Taştekin straightforwardly contradicts Western claims that the Syrian conflict is a religious civil war pitting President Assad’s Alawite regime against Syria’s Sunni majority

Contrary to persistent popular analysis from abroad, the country is not divided. Despite sectarian campaigns and clashes by jihadis financed with money they received from the Gulf, Syrians did not split along sectarian lines. There was no sectarian divide between the Syrian army and the people, as some said. When you carefully observe the internal dynamics, you can see it was not a war between Alawites and Sunnis or Christians and Muslims.

Only in Homs, when the clashes began, did systematic attacks by Sunnis against Alawites, Shiites and Christians trigger a sectarian divide, but that was short-lived.

Aleppo is the best example that this was not a sectarian war. At least six Sunni religious notables were killed in Aleppo because they rejected an armed uprising. Sunni religious figures were constantly under threat for not joining the war. The most annoying question you can ask soldiers on the Aleppo front is whether they are Sunni or Alawite. Nothing angers Syrians as much as this question.

Though I have never visited Syria my numerous interactions with various Syrians over several decades tend to bear this out.  I wrote about this back in February 2016.  Here is what I said

The reality of Syria [……] is of a society that prior to the war had successfully avoided the sectarian divisions that disfigured politics in neighbouring Lebanon, and where the prevailing ideology not just of the state but also of the great majority of the people was founded not on religion but on Arab nationalism.

People in Syria identified themselves first and foremost as Arabs and Syrians, not as Sunnis, Shias, Alawites, Christians or Druze.

My own experience in dealing with many Syrians is that the fact the country’s leader – whether Hafez Al-Assad or his son Bashar – was from an Alawite family was always of much more interest to outsiders than it was to Syrians themselves. In the case of Hafez Al-Assad his undoubted intelligence, and his success in defending Syrian and Arab interests by standing up to the US and Israel, earned him a grudging respect even from those Syrians who deplored his regime for its arbitrariness and corruption……

This is not to say that there has not always been in Syria a minority of people who are hardline sectarian Sunni religious fundamentalists. Whilst it is impossible to say what proportion of the population before the start of the war held these views, the best estimates I heard from people who know the country is that they were less than a tenth of the total population, and that they were concentrated disproportionately in a small number of provincial cities such as Hama, Idlib and Homs.

At this point it is necessary to say that the common view that religious sectarianism in places like Syria is a rural peasant phenomenon is wrong. Most rural Sunnis in Syria and elsewhere are devout. However extreme Sunni religious sectarianism of the sort that spawns violent jihadism is – as shown by numerous studies of the background of violent jihadis – overwhelmingly an urban phenomenon.

Note Taştekin’s comment that

Only in Homs, when the clashes began, did systematic attacks by Sunnis against Alawites, Shiites and Christians trigger a sectarian divide, but that was short-lived.

Which corresponds exactly with what I had previously told by my Syrian informants that “hardline sectarian Sunni religious fundamentalists” account for

less than a tenth of the total population, and that they [are] concentrated disproportionately in a small number of provincial cities such as Hama, Idlib and Homs

(bold italics added)

I would add the “hardline sectarian Sunni religious fundamentalists” my Syrian informants spoke about before the war were supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.  By comparison with today’s Wahhabi Jihadists who are waging war against the Syrian government they might even be judged ‘moderates’.

Taştekin also reports something else: that over the course of the war President Bashar Al-Assad’s stature and authority has massively increased, as Syrians have rallied behind the strong leadership he has given.  Interestingly this extends to the numerous critics of the regime he leads

As far as I could see, Assad is more popular today than before. Of course, this popularity doesn’t cover his entire regime.

According to bureaucrats, politicians and citizens Al-Monitor spoke with in Aleppo and Damascus, the system is mired in bribery and corruption and cannot survive for long. People will want to see some of the ruling officials punished. The country has paid an extraordinary price for the war and will not tolerate those profiting from cronyism, nepotism, corruption and abuse.

An Aleppo University professor who requested anonymity spoke of the war’s influence on politics.

“I oppose the regime, but I have to admit Assad managed the crisis well. At the moment, we have no alternative to him. If there were an election today, he would get more than 70% of the vote. Of course, my criticism of the regime hasn’t changed. People put their criticisms on the back burner temporarily because they realized the country was about to disintegrate. It wasn’t the right time to settle scores with the regime. But when the war is finally finished, people will want drastic changes. The government is aware of this mood and is trying to change some things. Be assured, nothing will be the same as before,” he said.

An academic who joined our discussion said, “Many heads will roll. [There is] no other way.”

As the regime has been given some period of grace by its opponents, there is no serious debate on Assad’s presidency and his legitimacy. What we have is the foreign-supported opposition holding Assad responsible for the bloodshed, and then those identified as legitimate internal opposition seeing Assad as the guarantor of the country’s integrity.

This exactly corresponds with my own impression, which I recently gave in a panel discussion for Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear.  In it I said that I had got the impression that President Assad’s stature and support had hugely increased during the war, and that any hopes or fears he would be gone when the war was over as a consequence of a peace settlement are profoundly wrong.

Lastly, Taştekin reports respect and gratitude towards Russia and Hezbollah, but considerable suspicion of Syria’s other ally Iran

Nobody challenges the role Russia will play. But it is not the same for Iran, the other major ally. It’s not hard to detect resentment among the people and even government officials of Iran’s interventionist attitude. Many Syrians even prefer an alliance with Russia because they believe Moscow is not interfering in their domestic affairs. Moreover, Al-Monitor was told that Iranians’ overbearing, superior attitude especially annoys the Syrian army.

A veteran Syrian journalist told me Iran’s assistance won’t result in Iranian influence on Syrian politics. “You have to understand the political structure in Syria. Syria’s alliances don’t allow [for] influence on the country. Assad is balancing Iran with Russians and vice versa. If Iran presses too hard, he cites Russian reservations. If Russia presses too hard, Assad then refers to Iranian objections.”

Curiously, Syrians’ unease with Iranians doesn’t apply to Iran-supported, Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which hails from the same cultural basin as Syrians. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is no less prestigious in Syria than Assad. In Damascus, Homs and elsewhere — even in Aleppo, with its prominent Sunni identity — you will see Nasrallah posters all over, and there is widespread affection for him among Christians.

In the government offices I visited, all I saw were joint photos of Nasrallah and Assad. Some shops even have Nasrallah’s portrait painted on the shutters. Street vendors sell lapel pins, cigarette lighters and wallets with photos of Assad and Nasrallah. I didn’t see a single photograph of Iranian leaders. You see Iranians on the front lines but not in city centers. In short, people distinguish between Hezbollah and Iran.

Though Taştekin does not report the fact, it is possible that some of the resentment towards Iran is due to a fairly general belief – not just in Syria but also in Russia – that last year Iran did less than it promised, sending poorly trained Shiite militias from Iraq rather than the properly trained Iranian ground troops both the Syrians and the Russians had been expecting.  However the greater part of the reason is surely the one that Taştekin says: Russia intervened in Syria in order to save the country from being overrun by Jihadi terrorists, whereas for Iran Syria is a pawn in its greater geopolitical play, which is directed at the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.  It is not surprising if some Syrians resent this.

Altogether Taştekin’s two reports from Aleppo are models of how proper reporting should be done.  They give a clear picture of the state of opinion in Aleppo and Syria.  That his reports are not being given wide coverage is a reflection of how unpopular the image he gives of the mood in Syria is with some people in the West.

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Tape recorded evidence of Clinton-Ukraine meddling in US election surfaces (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a look at new evidence to surface from Ukraine that exposes a plot by the US Embassy in Kiev and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) to leak Paul Manafort’s corrupt dealings in the country, all for the benefit of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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Via Zerohedge


Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko has launched an investigation into the head of the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau for allegedly attempting to help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump during the 2016 US election by releasing damaging information about a “black ledger” of illegal business dealings by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The Hill’s John Solomon, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko

“Today we will launch a criminal investigation about this and we will give legal assessment of this information,” Lutsenko said last week, according to The Hill

Lutsenko is probing a claim from a member of the Ukrainian parliament that the director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), Artem Sytnyk, attempted to the benefit of the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

A State Department spokesman told Hill.TV that officials aware of news reports regarding Sytnyk. –The Hill

“According to the member of parliament of Ukraine, he got the court decision that the NABU official conducted an illegal intrusion into the American election campaign,” said Lutsenko, speaking with The Hill’s John Solomon about the anti-corruption bureau chief, Artem Sytnyk.

“It means that we think Mr. Sytnyk, the NABU director, officially talked about criminal investigation with Mr. [Paul] Manafort, and at the same time, Mr. Sytnyk stressed that in such a way, he wanted to assist the campaign of Ms. Clinton,” Lutsenko continued.

Solomon asked Lutsenko about reports that a member of Ukraine’s parliament obtained a tape of the current head of the NABU saying that he was attempting to help Clinton win the 2016 presidential election, as well as connections that helped release the black-ledger files that exposed Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort‘s wrongdoing in Ukraine.

“This member of parliament even attached the audio tape where several men, one of which had a voice similar to the voice of Mr. Sytnyk, discussed the matter.” –The Hill

What The Hill doesn’t mention is that Sytnyk released Manafort’s Black Book with Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko – discussed in great length by former Breitbart investigator Lee Stranahan, who has been closely monitoring this case.

Serhiy Leshchenko

T]he main spokesman for these accusations was Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian politician and journalist who works closely with both top Hillary Clinton donors George Soros and Victor Pinchuk, as well as to the US Embassy in Kyiv.

James Comey should be asked about this source that Leshchenko would not identify. Was the source someone connected to US government, either the State Department or the Department of Justice?

The New York Times should also explain why they didn’t mention that Leshchenko had direct connections to two of Hillary Clinton biggest financial backers. Victor Pinchuk, the largest donor to the Clinton Foundation at a staggering $8.6 million also happened to have paid for Leshchenko’s expenses to go to international conferences. George Soros, whose also founded the International Renaissance Foundationthat worked closely with Hillary Clinton’s State Department in Ukraine, also contributed at least $8 million to Hillary affiliated super PACs in the 2016 campaign cycle. –Lee Stranahan via Medium

Meanwhile, according to former Fusion GPS contractor Nellie Ohr, Leshchenko was a source for opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which commissioned the infamous Trump-Russia dossier.

Nellie Ohr, a former contractor for the Washington, D.C.-based Fusion GPS, testified on Oct. 19 that Serhiy Leshchenko, a former investigative journalist turned Ukrainian lawmaker, was a source for Fusion GPS during the 2016 campaign.

“I recall … they were mentioning someone named Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian,” Ohr said when asked who Fusion GPS’s sources were, according to portions of Ohr’s testimony confirmed by The Daily Caller News Foundation. –Daily Caller

Also absent from The Hill report is the fact that Leshchenko was convicted in December by a Kiev court of interfering in the 2016 US election.

A Kyiv court said that a Ukrainian lawmaker and a top anticorruption official’s decision in 2016 to publish documents linked to President Donald Trump’s then-campaign chairman amounted to interference in the U.S. presidential election.

The December 11 finding came in response to a complaint filed by another Ukrainian lawmaker, who alleged that Serhiy Leshchenko and Artem Sytnyk illegally released the documents in August 2016, showing payments by a Ukrainian political party to Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

The documents, excerpts from a secret ledger of payments by the Party of Regions, led to Manafort being fired by Trump’s election campaign.

The Kyiv court said that the documents published by Leshchenko and Sytnyk were part of an ongoing pretrial investigation in Ukraine into the operations of the pro-Russian Party of Regions. The party’s head had been President Viktor Yanukovych until he fled the country amid mass protests two years earlier.

-RadioFreeEurope/Radio Liberty (funded by the US govt.).

So while Lutsenko – Solomon’s guest and Ukrainian Prosecutor is currently going after Artem Sytnyk, it should be noted that Leshchenko was already found to have meddled in the 2016 US election.

Watch:

Meanwhile, you can also check out Stranahan’s take on Leshchenko being left out of the loop.

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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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Via RT


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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