Author: rania-khalek

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist living in Beirut, Lebanon. She is the co-host of the Unauthorized Disclosure podcast.

“We Don’t Want To Lose Anymore”: Inside the Complex Peace Process That Helped Syrians Find an End to the Fighting

In war torn areas across Syria, a series of reconciliation deals overseen by the secret fixer of Damascus, Khaled al Ahmad, has given residents a respite from the bloodshed.

By Rania Khalek

This is part 2 of a two part series on the reconciliation process in Syria. You can read part 1 here.  

BEIRUT, LEBANON – Since the Syrian government’s reconquest of its southernmost regions, only two zones remain outside its control. Turkey still occupies parts of Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo in the northwest of the country, relying on proxy militias including the Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, which has changed its name several times. Meanwhile, the US and its allied Kurdish militias occupy the northeast. Khaled al Ahmad, Assad’s secret emissary introduced in part 1 of this series, seems to have played a key role in influencing the final outcome in the latter region.

According to American officials, a series of meetings al Ahmad convened with Kurdish leadership in Moscow last year convinced the Kurds to adopt a more conciliatory posture towards Damascus. American officials who had been working with the Kurds had also pushed them towards pragmatism, urging them to reach their own agreement with the Syrian government to avoid the fate of the rebels of southern Syria, who were abandoned by their foreign sponsors ahead of their defeat in June 2018.

When Trump announced in March 2018 that he wanted to withdraw from Syria “very soon“, it became clear to Kurdish negotiators that they needed to plan for the day after. The Americans told them to see the statement the US issued to the southern rebels, which bluntly informed them that “you’re on your own,” as a message to the Kurds as well.

Continue reading ““We Don’t Want To Lose Anymore”: Inside the Complex Peace Process That Helped Syrians Find an End to the Fighting”

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist living in Beirut, Lebanon. She is the co-host of the Unauthorized Disclosure podcast.

Meet the Mystery Fixer Who Negotiated Syria Out of Seven Years of War

How a nearly unknown businessman named Khaled al Ahmad became Damascus’ secret liaison to the West and quietly dealt Syria’s grinding war to a close. 

By Rania Khalek

This is part one of a two part series on the reconciliation process in Syria.  

BEIRUT, LEBANON – After seven years of grinding war, the Syrian government has achieved victory. According to current and former international officials and diplomats as well as UN officials, credit or blame for the Syrian government’s recent victories in East Ghouta and then in the south — along with the tacit acceptance these sweeping military successes received — can be placed on one man.

He is Khaled al Ahmad, a Syrian government emissary and businessman who masterminded the Syrian government’s reconciliation strategy. Al Ahmad is the secret diplomat who has exerted exceptional tolls of energy building bridges with the enemies of Damascus. Despite his central role in bringing one of the worst conflicts since World War Two to an end, he remains almost totally unknown in international media and has scarcely been discussed even among expert Syria observers.

Bashar al Assad’s victory was made clear by the middle of July of this year, when multiple Israeli outlets confirmed that Israel’s government was cooperating with Russia to facilitate the return of Syrian forces and UN observers to the pre-2011 border with the occupied Golan Heights. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself stated that he had no objection to Assad’s rule while his defense minister even allowed for the possibility of diplomatic relations between the two countries. These statements were met with embarrassed silence by the Syrian government and its allies like the Lebanese political party and militia, Hezbollah, but they marked a striking shift in Israeli policy.

With Russian support, Syrian armed forces initiated a march to the southern borders of Jordan and Israel this July. The operation turned out to be a cakewalk. This success followed the recapture of East Ghouta and northern Homs, themselves relatively easy taken compared to the grinding battles of previous years. The reassertion of Syrian government authority over the south has as its final target the reopening of the Naseeb border crossing with Jordan and full restoration of the pre-2011 situation in the south. The US has not objected, and in fact, has even sent a message to its former anti-Assad proxies in Syria informing them that they were on their own. Israel and Jordan, for their part, made it clear they had no objections either, as long the operation was strictly Syrian, with no visible Iranian or Shia militia role in the battles.

The battles in this phase were limited and not as brutal as they have sometimes been elsewhere. Many towns or rebel groups were not involved in the fighting and others quickly agreed to deals. This may have surprised some observers unfamiliar with the events that took place on the ground in 2015 and 2016, when tens of deals were struck secretly with rebel groups in the south. These deals helped thwart the 2015 Southern Storm operation launched by rebels when one of the main factions called Ababil Horan betrayed its allies. It was through this process that al Ahmad laid the foundation for the end of Syria’s war.

Continue reading “Meet the Mystery Fixer Who Negotiated Syria Out of Seven Years of War”

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist living in Beirut, Lebanon. She is the co-host of the Unauthorized Disclosure podcast.

Genocide in Iraq: When Local Sunni Became ISIS and Slaughtered Their Yazidi Neighbors

When ISIS came to butcher the Yazidis of Iraq, they simply went next door.

By Rania Khalek / AlterNet

This is the third in a series of articles on the plight of Yazidis in Iraq. Read the first and second installments.

On August 3, 2014, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, orchestrated a pre-planned and systematic campaign of genocide against the Yazidis in northwest Iraq, driving hundreds of thousands of them from their ancestral homeland in Sinjar. Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking people who practice a pre-Islamic religion that ISIS ideologues equate with devil worship. All across Sinjar, wherever Yazidis were captured, the Sunni extremists forcibly converted or killed the men and enslaved the women and children.

The onslaught sent tens of thousands of Yazidis fleeing to Sinjar mountain, where they were trapped for days in the punishing Iraqi summer heat. The dusty and rugged mountainous terrain was their refuge, but for some it became a tomb. Hundreds, especially children and the elderly, died of thirst and hunger.

According to Yazidi survivors I spoke to in Baghdad, Sinjar, Erbil and Dohuk, the 2014 assault was carried out not by strangers, but by their Sunni friends and neighbors, by people they trusted and considered family. While much has been documented about the horrors ISIS inflicted on Yazidis, there has been little examination of how their genocide was made possible by the cooperation and collaboration of their Sunni neighbors and its consequences on communal relations going forward. Yazidis are strongly distrustful of Sunnis. They fear and loathe them and never want to live in a place where they are outnumbered by Sunnis again.

Continue reading “Genocide in Iraq: When Local Sunni Became ISIS and Slaughtered Their Yazidi Neighbors”

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist living in Beirut, Lebanon. She is the co-host of the Unauthorized Disclosure podcast.

How a Free Syrian Army Unit Uncovered the Rebels’ Israeli Connection and Switched Sides

Before the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel group the Golan Brigade was targeted for destruction by Israel and Al Qaeda, it was allied with them.

By Rania Khalek / AlterNet

QUNEITRA, SYRIA – Ahmad Kaboul has big shoes to fill. Earlier this summer, his childhood friend and commanding officer of the Golan Brigade, Majed Hamoud, was killed by Jabhat Al Nusra, Syria’s al Qaeda affiliate, which now goes by the name Hayat Tahrir Al Sham.

Founded as one of the dizzying array of fighting units in Syria’s six-year civil war, the genesis of the Golan Brigade was one of the most remarkable. The brigade was established in 2014 by Syrian fighters who had defected from the Free Syrian Army rebel group after they made a shocking discovery: their unit had been coordinating with the Israelis.

After switching sides to support the Syrian government, they witnessed the Israeli military providing direct air cover for attacks launched against them by Al Qaeda. The Israelis even tried to kill Majed on several occasions before Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, Nusra, finally did him in.

This July, I met veterans of the Golan Brigade and heard their stories. They painted a picture of the war that stood almost entirely at odds with the dominant narrative of the conflict spun out in Western mainstream media. And this is perhaps why they have received so little attention.

Continue reading “How a Free Syrian Army Unit Uncovered the Rebels’ Israeli Connection and Switched Sides”

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist living in Beirut, Lebanon. She is the co-host of the Unauthorized Disclosure podcast.

British Gov-Funded Outlet Offered Journalist $17,000 a Month to Produce Propaganda for Syrian Rebels

Emails reveal that the Revolutionary Forces of Syria (RFS) media office, a popular source for the mainstream Western press, is a UK-backed propaganda outlet that offered reporters huge sums of money.

By Rania Khalek / AlterNet

The Revolutionary Forces of Syria (RFS) media office, a major Syrian opposition media outfit and frequent source of information for Western media, is funded by the British government and is managed by Westerners operating out of Turkey, according to emails provided to AlterNet by a Middle East reporter RFS tried to recruit.

The outlet stirred controversy this November when it released a video at the height of the Mannequin Challenge, a pop culture craze in which people compete for how long they can freeze in place on video. The RFS video depicted a staged rescue by the White Helmets, the Western-funded rescue group that operates exclusively in rebel-held territory. RFS quickly removed the video and issued an apology out of apparent concern that the staged rescue could raise questions about the authenticity of other videos by the White Helmets.

Over the summer, the Middle East reporter, who asked not to be named, was contacted by an American acquaintance and former colleague about working for RFS.

“I’m currently in Istanbul, working on a media project for the HMG [the British government],” wrote the acquaintance in an email time-stamped June 23. “We’re working on media surrounding the Syrian conflict, as one of their three partners.” The email included links to RFS Media’s English website and SMO Media, an Arabic website that covers the Southern Front, a Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) group.

Continue reading “British Gov-Funded Outlet Offered Journalist $17,000 a Month to Produce Propaganda for Syrian Rebels”

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist living in Beirut, Lebanon. She is the co-host of the Unauthorized Disclosure podcast.