Tag: bashar al-assad

“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.

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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.

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

How the White Helmets Became International Heroes While Pushing U.S. Military Intervention and Regime Change in Syria

Created by Western governments and popularized by a top PR firm, Syria’s White Helmets are saving civilians while lobbying for airstrikes.

By Max Blumenthal / AlterNet

The following is Part 2 of a two part investigation into the forces cultivating Western public support for regime change in Syria. Read Part 1 on the Syria Campaign here.

It is rare for a short Netflix documentary to garner as much publicity or acclaim as The White Helmets has. Promoted as “the story of real-life heroes and impossible hope,” the film is named for the civil defense organization whose members have gained international acclaim for saving lives in rebel-held territory in the hellish war zones of eastern Aleppo and Idlib. The film’s tagline, “To save one life is to save all of humanity,” that is remarkably similar to that of Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust epic, Schindler’s List: “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”

The Netflix feature comes on the heels of a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for the White Helmets, an “alternative Nobel” award known as the Right Livelihood Award and endorsements from an assortment of celebrities. “The move [by the celebrities] draws attention to both the horror of the conflict and the growing willingness of well-known Americans to adopt it as a cause célèbre,” wrote Liam Stack of the New York Times.

Footage of the White Helmets saving civilians trapped in the rubble of buildings bombed by the Syrian government and its Russian ally has become ubiquitous in coverage of the crisis. An international symbol of courage under fire, the group has become a leading resource for journalists and human rights groups seeking information inside the war theater, from casualty figures to details on the kind of bombs that are falling.

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Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, The Fifty One Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, and The Management of Savagery, which will be published later this year by Verso. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie and the forthcoming Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded the Grayzone Project in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.

Inside the Syria Campaign, the Shadowy PR Firm Lobbying for Regime Change

Posing as a non-political solidarity organization, the Syria Campaign leverages local partners and media contacts to push the U.S. into toppling another Middle Eastern government.

By Max Blumenthal / AlterNet

In Part II: How the U.S.-funded White Helmets rescue civilians from Syrian and Russian bombs while lobbying for the U.S. military to step up its own bombing campaign.

On September 30, demonstrators gathered in city squares across the West for a “weekend of action” to “stop the bombs” raining down from Syrian government and Russian warplanes on rebel-held eastern Aleppo. Thousands joined the protests, holding signs that read “Topple Assad” and declaring, “Enough With Assad.” Few participants likely knew that the actions were organized under the auspices of an opposition-funded public relations company called the Syria Campaign.

By partnering with local groups like the Syrian civil defense workers popularly known as the White Helmets, and through a vast network of connections in media and centers of political influence, The Syria Campaign has played a crucial role in disseminating images and stories of the horrors visited this month on eastern Aleppo. The group is able to operate within the halls of power in Washington and has the power to mobilize thousands of demonstrators into the streets. Despite its outsized role in shaping how the West sees Syria’s civil war, which is now in its sixth year and entering one of its grisliest phases, this outfit remains virtually unknown to the general public.

The Syria Campaign presents itself as an impartial, non-political voice for ordinary Syrian citizens that is dedicated to civilian protection. “We see ourselves as a solidarity organization,” The Syria Campaign strategy director James Sadri told me. “We’re not being paid by anybody to pursue a particular line. We feel like we’ve done a really good job about finding out who the frontline activists, doctors, humanitarians are and trying to get their word out to the international community.”

Yet behind the lofty rhetoric about solidarity and the images of heroic rescuers rushing in to save lives is an agenda that aligns closely with the forces from Riyadh to Washington clamoring for regime change. Indeed, The Syria Campaign has been pushing for a no-fly zone in Syria that would require at least “70,000 American servicemen” to enforce, according to a Pentagon assessment, along with the destruction of government infrastructure and military installations. There is no record of a no-fly zone being imposed without regime change following —which seems to be exactly what The Syria Campaign and its partners want.

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The Grayzone Project is an online news website dedicated to original investigative journalism and opinion pieces, edited by award-winning journalist Max Blumenthal.