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Behind AFP’s Syria coverage

Christian Chaise

Friday 16 March 2018
Nicosia — Every day, dozens of photos taken by stringers in Syria land at the photo editing desk in Nicosia, AFP’s headquarters for the Middle East and North Africa. Sometimes, we get hundreds. Like on March 13, when we got 350. It’s been like this for years.
On March 15, the Syrian conflict entered its eighth year. Since the beginning, AFP has been one of the very few international outlets to maintain constant on-the-ground coverage. To pull this off, we have a network of stringers that we built over the course of several years. This is probably unequalled among major foreign media outlets.

See full article and photos here


Rest in Peace Stephen Hawking

Rest in Peace Stephen Hawking, one of humanity’s brightest stars. In 2014 he wrote these words about Syria. They ring exactly true four years later. Read his beautiful opinion piece here:

The Permutations of Assadism   

Posted on

The history of the past century is littered with episodes of anthropogenic evil: Armenia, the Holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur. In their aftermaths, reverberated the collective riposte of “never again.” Only to be followed by Syria, awaiting its eventual transcription into modernity’s catalog of barbarism.
Seven years in the making, the internecine conflict has mutated into nothing short of a global catastrophe: culminating in the worst humanitarian tragedy of the postwar period, spawning a refugee crisis of unparalleled proportions, and fermenting a belligerent sectarianism where ‘disaster Islamism’ wound up thriving. As the world looked on in horror and outrage, it simultaneously resigned itself to the conclusion that the Syrian byzantine precluded any objective extrapolation; that it is far too “complicated” to acquire neutral information is invoked with almost chronic exhortation.
A sub-thread to this sophism of withdrawal is a rancid Assadist discourse that has colonized debate in radical circles…

the rest of the article here

The Guardian view on Putin in Syria: victory and desolation

Vladimir Putin went on a victory lap of Syria and the Middle East this week, intent on showcasing his ability to secure the upper hand against the US in the region. On a surprise visit to a Russian airbase on the Syrian coast, he demonstratively embraced the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose hold on power Russia’s military intervention has all but saved. “Friends, the motherland is waiting for you,” Mr Putin told a detachment of Russian soldiers. “You are coming back home with victory.”

Meanwhile, in eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus where Russia had announced earlier this year that a ceasefire would take hold, children living under siege are starving. Despite the “de-escalation” deal, Syrian government forces continue to pound the area, backed by Iranian and Russian allies in an attempt to score a decisive victory. These two scenes spoke volumes about Russia’s calculus, and about the realities it has helped create on the ground. That the Russian president has now announced a substantial troop withdrawal must be taken with a barrel of salt. Similar pledges have been made before and remain unfulfilled. On Tuesday a Kremlin spokesperson said Russia would retain a sizable force in Syria to fight “terrorists”. Russia’s definition of “terrorism” in Syria is like that of the Assad regime, which equates it to political opposition.

Mr Putin is keen to speak of victory. In Moscow he has announced that he will run for re-election next year. Bringing back some of the Russian forces – who are reportedly deployed alongside thousands of Kremlin-connected private contractors – can only be good for his political prospects. Russian casualties in Syria are a closely guarded secret, as are the financial costs of the operation. In geopolitical terms Mr Putin’s war in Syria has been a profitable investment for the Kremlin. He has capitalised on western strategic disarray and America’s reluctance to get drawn deeper into the conflict, an instinct that predated the volatile Donald Trump. After Syria, Mr Putin travelled on to Cairo, where he met Egypt’s president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, demonstrating Russia’s new clout in a country that since the 1970s has had privileged ties with the US. There is now talk of Russian military aircraft being able to use Egyptian bases.

It is no small irony that Mr Putin has claimed victory over Islamic State: the bluster does little to hide the fact that his forces focused much more on targeting the anti-Assad opposition than they did the jihadi insurgency. The retaking of Raqqa was not a Russian accomplishment, but the result of a Kurdish-Arab ground offensive, supported by US-led coalition airstrikes.
None of this has prevented Russia from claiming the diplomatic high ground. By changing the balance of forces and catching the west off guard when he sent forces in 2015, Mr Putin has built up his leverage. Whether he can deliver a peace plan is, however, a different question. The signs are that the Russian president would prefer to sideline, if not entirely obstruct, UN-sponsored talks in Geneva. It helps that these discussions have been convened in the hope, rather than the expectation, of peace. He has explored other formats, alongside Iran and Turkey, but these are complex partners. Iranian-controlled forces have grown more dominant in Syria than Mr Putin perhaps initially anticipated. It is also true that UN resources will be needed when – and if – Syria’s reconstruction is one day contemplated.

Geopolitical power games have not ended in Syria, nor has the fighting. In eastern Ghouta, according to the UN, 137 children, including babies, are in urgent need of medical evacuation. By propping up a dictator who starves and massacres his own population, Mr Putin surely owns the desolation in Syria, as much as he controls military bases. Russia has returned to the Middle East, but its responsibilities in the bloodbath are equally on display.


The New Rules of the Syrian Conflict

The project is about simplifying the meaning of the conflict in Syria and drawing small icons to refer to some issues in the daily life of Syrian families and Syrian people.
The purpose of choosing those simple elements (electricity source, light, food, movement, transportation and so on) was to draw attention to the fact that war has changed everything in our routines and daily lives and has made it harder in all those aspects

Work as part of Urbegony – Architects Without Borders.Syria group

Click on image to view full project

Families are smaller, some of their members don’t live anymore. There is no family that doesn’t feel the bitterness of losing one of their members because a bomb of a shutting or mabye drawning in the sea trying to escape the war

Assad’s Militias Turn to Schoolchildren to Fill Manpower Void

Mar 29th, 2017 by Alsouria Net (opposition website)

Opposition outlet claims loyalist paramilitary groups are routinely exploiting Syrians’ needs for a stable income by recruiting children into their ranks for up to $200 a month, with many of them being sent to battlefronts without proper training

Conscripted from schools or places of work to fight in the ranks of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, children walk through areas of Damascus and its countryside in full military gear, only to end up dead or stationed on battlefronts to await their fate.

Amid a dire economic climate and widespread financial stress for many families, celebrations for the conscription of schoolchildren under 18 years old have become a normal affair, as the regime exploits people’s need for an income against a backdrop of skyrocketing prices.

Damascus and its countryside have seen the conscription of children from the ages of 13 to 17 in various areas. One such area is Adra al-Amaliyeh, close to the city of Douma in the Damascus countryside, where a number of secondary and preparatory schools have witnessed the presence of recruiters from the Baath Brigades militia, while a party was held for about 40 children signing up to fight with the loyalist Fifth Corps, according to what sources told Alsouria Net, requesting anonymity out of fear for their safety.

The sources said there were no regulations for recruiting children, whereby the Baath Brigades accepted any child to fight in its ranks in exchange for $200 a month. Other incentives include the recording of their attendance in school and securing opportunities to succeed in academic courses.

In the Rukneddine area in the capital Damascus, children appear in their military gear alongside the National Defense Forces group and a number of other Shiite militias. Many of the children enter into fighting without having taken training courses to prepare them for the battle, increasing the likelihood of them being fatally wounded during clashes.

Among the children who told their stories to Alsouria Net was the child Shihab, 16, who lives in the Kashkool area near Jaramana and fights alongside the NDF militia for 35,000 Syrian pounds ($160) a month. He told his relatives that he had left school because his family was unable to secure a living and that he benefits from the salary he receives and from looting, which regime forces carry out in the areas they enter.
Although the most recent constitution, authored by the Assad regime in 2012, includes compulsory schooling for all children, it seems ensuring the education of those who drop out of school is not considered a priority in the areas under regime control.

The NDF militia, the popular committees and the Baath Brigades are the most prominent parties into which children are conscripted for the benefit of the Assad regime — something the regime has repeatedly denied. From time to time loyalist pages on social media will publish images of bases for conscripting children, while the NDF militia in the Hama countryside has previously published images of children who were receiving training, some of them wearing military uniform, overseen by fighters from the regime forces.

This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

UAE refuge is ‘something special’, say Syrians who fled civil war

One-page article

Having fled Syria’s civil war, about 120,000 Syrians have found a sanctuary in the UAE between 2011 and last year. Six of them tell of their yearning for their country’s peaceful past and their wish for a better life

Six years ago on March 15, fighting erupted in Syria that would change the face of the country forever.

In 2011, the regime of Bashar Al Assad clashed with anti-government forces in battles that would later involve ISIL, Al Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army, leaving cities in ruins.

Consequently, about 5 million Syrians fled to neighbouring countries in what has become the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.

More than 120,000 Syrians moved to the UAE and were given residency visas between 2011 and last year. That nearly doubled the Syrian population in the UAE to 240,000 as of last September.

Last summer, the Government said it would take in 15,000 refugees in the coming years.

The Syrian families that arrived here have found peace and employment. But most have lost their homes and are unable to return. Some have also struggled to find places for their children in schools and struggled with the costs of living. Here, six Syrians who fled tell their stories.


snailMohammed Taha, 29, hails from Aleppo. Alex Atack for The National

Homeless and in search of dignity

Name: Mohammed Taha

Age: 29

From: Aleppo

Profession: He was a butcher and a chef. He is currently jobless.

Lives: On Dubai’s streets and in mosques

“I left my country to escape serving in Bashar Al Assad’s army or any party involved in destroying my country and killing my people. All we saw was bloodshed and I was terrified.

“I was supposed to serve in the army as part of the compulsory military service, but I fled Syria in 2014 when the war became severe.

“Both the regime and the extremist rebels were bombing the country with all kinds of weapons.

“My family’s home in Aleppo was levelled, bombed into the ground – just like many buildings and homes.

“My brother and I left Syria in search of a new life. We were lucky to have escaped the war in our country but our plight continues.

“My brother went to Turkey and I came to Dubai.

“I was lucky enough to find a job in a restaurant serving

Arabic cuisine in Satwa, where I rented a bed space in an apartment.

“The two owners of the restaurant, a Syrian and a Palestinian, had a fight and decided to close the restaurant. My residency visa was consequently cancelled.

“Afterwards, I worked in another restaurant. The owner said he had to test my culinary skills for a month. I accepted and worked with an invalid residency visa. After the test period,the restaurant owner refused to renew my residency visa and gave me half of my salary. That meant that I could no longer stay in Satwa, so I looked elsewhere for a cheaper place.

“I moved to an apartment in Hor Al Anz and lived with some Asians. The bed space cost Dh400. I kept looking for a job. But with my bad luck, the owners of the restaurants I sought employment at asked me to work for a period of time. But after the period passed, they refused to renew my residency visa or give me my pay.

“Many of them said that ‘we don’t renew residency visas for Syrians’.

“I ran out of money and I have been on the streets since last June. I sleep now in mosques in Muraqqabat. Sometimes I sleep in parks, and I ask the restaurants nearby for food and water.

“I have been to charity organisations and people there told me that they only give money to families, women and the elderly.

“I don’t know what to do. I feel like people have stopped helping one another. I go out looking for work daily but I hear the same excuses.

“I only want to work for Dh2,000 or even Dh1,500 a month and get a residency visa. I came here to live with dignity.”

* Nawal Al Ramahi


snailNauran Al Chalati’s family members use Skype to communicate. Victor Besa for The National

A family separated by war finds togetherness online

Name: Nauran Al Chalati

Age: 27

From: Damascus

Profession: Formerly a student in Damascus, she is now a video editor at a production house in Dubai Media City.

Lives: In Dubai since 2013 with her eldest sister. Her brother and father remain in Damascus.

“Your home country is like your foundation. The moment you leave, especially in a panic, you lose equilibrium. This is exactly what happened to my family. We are all struggling, making our own little worlds far from one another.

“I don’t know when I will be able to have a meal with my siblings and my father that is cooked by my mother. It looks like a dream.

“I graduated from a private university in Damascus in 2013 at the age of 22. I was unable to start my career in Damascus because there was no job or security. Things were getting horrible and my mother realised that there was no future for her family in Syria. Since then, my family has been separated, living in different parts of the world.

“I moved to the UAE in April 2013 when my elder brother, who was working in Dubai at the time, sponsored a tourist visa. All of us, except one of my brothers, came here in 2013. My brother was not able to leave the country and did not want to leave my father alone.

“My family spends a few months together in Dubai. My father applied for jobs here but failed and had to return to Damascus. My mother decided to move to the United States as a refugee.

“She always believed that we would be in safe hands if we settled in the US. My brother in Dubai joined her after a few months. My sister and I still live in Dubai.

“But there are no more family dinners. We don’t celebrate festivals together. We can only see one another on Skype. This is the price my family has paid because of the conflict in Syria.

“I don’t believe that one day things will be OK in Syria. They won’t be, at least not in the near future. I want my family and I to be settled. I want to take my father and brother out of Damascus safely. A peaceful life is my dream but this peaceful life will not be in Syria.”

* Amna Ehtesham Khaishgi


snailArtist Mohannad Orabi says Dubai has made him more open in his approach to people of different nationalities and cultures. Christopher Pike / The National

Daughter eases portraits of sorrow

Name: Mohannad Orabi

Age: 39

From: Damascus

Profession: An artist in Syria, he now paints in a studio adjacent to Ayyam Gallery in Alserkal Avenue

Lives: In Dubai with his wife and daughter.

“There are emotions that you feel for the things you leave behind. Each day we hear news from my country. I have had bad experiences, I lost people close to me in this war.

“I had visited Dubai three or four times as a tourist, but making my decision to stay was a completely different experience.

“The first impression was that Dubai was a little bit difficult. The lifestyle in Dubai is completely different to those in Damascus and Cairo. I had lived in Cairo for a year and a half before moving to Dubai in 2014.

“It’s very difficult to be outside my country, but it’s difficult to go back to Syria.

“My daughter is happy at school, she has a lot of friends. It has been faster for her to become part of a community than for my wife and I.

“I have two brothers in Syria and we call one another every day. I still have friends in Syria. I try to connect my family there with my daughter. We send pictures and communicate on social media.

“I have learnt from my wife, who is a graphic designer. She was working in Damascus for five or six years, but in Dubai it’s difficult to find a job even though she speaks good English and Arabic. She keeps trying, goes for interviews and sends her resume.

“I left my house, my studio, my car and my paintings. My brother tries to visit my house to check on my belongings.

“I remember a painting I started to draw but didn’t finish. I hope that I will go back to Syria and complete my painting.

“I could feel the sadness in my previous paintings because of what I have left in Syria and what has happened in my country.

“Now there is a little hope in my paintings. This hope perhaps comes from my daughter when I see her smile and being happy.

“Maybe when I see my daughter, this is the image I want to see of my country.

“I know that after all these dark days that we have endured, there is light. It’s coming soon.

“In Dubai, there is a different effect because there is an emotional influence of the place you move into. Dubai is the capital city of art in the Middle East. But the most important thing in Dubai is that I don’t feel strange because there are people from different nationalities and cultures. It’s a global city, it’s made me more open. For me, it’s very important to respect differences between one another. That influences my work.

“I was at a workshop in a university in Egypt and brought my family with me for one or two months. It is now almost five years since I left Syria.”

* Ramola Talwar Badam


snailAsmaa Kftarou says non-discrimination between religions in Syria in the past is present in the UAE. Antonie Robertson / The National

Syria in their hearts, gratitude to UAE

Name: Asmaa Kftarou

Age: 44

From: Damascus

Profession: She was a civil servant at the ministry of religious affairs. She is currently unemployed

Lives: In Sharjah with her husband and five daughters.

“When I speak about Syria, despite the thousands of broken hearts, the unspeakable killings and the pain and suffering of millions who had no option but to flee in fear of their lives, I remain hopeful that the country will return to its former glory; that its soul is still intact; and that Syria will warmly embrace those people who are longing to return home.

“I’m from a well-known family in Damascus. My family come from a long line of Islamic educators and religious scholars in Damascus. My grandfather was the grand mufti for 41 years. He was known internationally and he spread Islam’s message of peace and love.

“Until 2010, I was working in the ministry of Islamic affairs in Damascus. I engaged in Islamic studies and taught Islam in schools in the capital. We had a stable and wonderful life in Syria.

“In 2011, when the killings started and after my husband, a member of parliament, barely escaped an assassination attempt, we had to leave Damascus out of fear for our daughters’ safety.

“Since then, I have been suffering deeply because I miss my family in Damascus and my country. To see what has happened to Syria saddens me to the core.

“We never once in Syria differentiated between different religions. We are all the sons and daughters of God and there was never anything but love between us. We’ve always tried to be accepting and good to people despite our differences. We tried to look beyond that to live together, and that’s how we had always lived in Syria.

“We found in the UAE a home that promotes peace and love between people, be they Syrian or Danish. There is a unity here that is truly special.

“Nevertheless, I haven’t found work here. I am still waiting to return home and begin to rebuild.

“It has been very difficult. We have five daughters, four of whom are studying. We need to support them.

“My husband has just finished his contract as an academic at Abu Dhabi University. They haven’t renewed it.

“My husband was of great importance in Damascus as a parliamentarian and a teacher. For him to be out of a stable job that befits his status is difficult.

“It’s been a struggle of course, but we’ll always hope for the best. As we all carry Syria in our hearts, we maintain our gratitude to the country that has provided us with a warm adopted home.”

* Naser Al Wasmi


snailRuba Musleh started a business here to make life better for herself and her family. Anna Nielsen for The National

Memories of a decent life … and a desire for stability

Name: Ruba Mousleh

Age: 33

From: Harasta

Profession: Currently an employee of Nokia in Dubai where she moved in 2012 after the company closed its office in Syria because of the rising instability. She now lives in the UAE with her brother and family.

“There were bombs going off in the area and access to my house was impossible when things started getting bad.

“Today, almost five years after the conflict erupted, no one is allowed to go to Harasta. We don’t even know what state our house is in.

“There was a lot of fighting between the Assad regime and the Free Syria Army. The situation was bad. There were bombings and fighting but people got used to it.

“I was lucky that I didn’t lose a family member. For those who lost their loved ones, they won’t ever be able to get used to it. I decided to leave because there’s no house to go back to. Our safety wasn’t guaranteed and I was given an opportunity to improve my life and my family’s.

“When I think about going back … I know that living there is extremely difficult. To find a job that can sustain you is close to impossible. Getting food, -water, and having a basic life are extremely difficult.

“Here it’s safe and we’re grateful, but it’s been difficult. I’ve tried to improve my life. I work and I’ve tried to get my family here. I was successful but I faced many complications. Also, I started a business, called Fruit Monsters, to try to make life better for my family and I.

“But my business is on its last legs and getting my parents to stay here is proving to be more difficult each month. We need to find a stable situation that can give us a feeling of permanent safety, not just a temporary solution.

“Life is difficult here. I pursued my master’s degree at Knowledge Village and it’s been two years since I tried to start a business. But the visa situation is difficult.

“Our life in Syria was very decent before the war. My parents were teachers and my brother a businessman. I had a job in an international company and we had our lives full of friends, social events, volunteering at NGOs, and it was safe.

“I don’t know how it is now. I don’t know if I can go back and deal with the level of danger, the corruption, the standard of living, which are definitely more difficult than when we left.

“When I think about going back, I don’t know what to do. I just want stability and safety for my family. I am beginning to lose hope.”

* Naser Al Wasmi


snailF. Saad has been taking photos free in hopes of finding work. Vidhyaa for The National

Hardship of life through the lens

Name: F. Saad

Age: 42

From: Damascus

Profession: She was a photographer who ran her own studio. She is now jobless

Lives: In Abu Dhabi with her husband and daughter. Her two older children are students in Germany.

“My country has been destroyed. Sometimes we think that even if the war were to stop now, it would take 20 years for Syria to be a country that anyone can live in.

“After the war you need years of construction and to heal the psychology of people who saw the bombings, the blood, the deaths.

“It’s not only about the bombings, the gangs or the arms. No, there is something deeper that has affected the people and children who were brought up seeing that during the past six years.

“My father, stepmother, sister and family are in Syria. I have a sister and brothers here in the UAE. So half my family is there and half here.

“We have an apartment in Syria with three bedrooms and a very big yard. I lived in an area that is now under government control.

“Three years ago, gangs entered the town and destroyed my photo studio and bombed some houses.

“We were there when the armed gangs entered. We stayed in shelters for two weeks with no food, nothing. And more than 100 people.

“I came here with my husband and three children. My daughter and son are in Germany for studies. I cannot go back to Syria and there is no way they will give us visas to go to Germany.

“We came to Abu Dhabi in 2014 in the middle of the school year and it was not easy to get my youngest daughter in school. She was only five, so she stayed at home until the next year.

“Life is peaceful and everybody respects each other.

“We live respectful lives here, but you need money for rent. School fees are a struggle, daily life is a struggle and that is because we don’t have jobs.

“We live with my sister-in-law and depend on her. Without her support, we couldn’t survive.

“She is the only one with a permanent job.

“In Syria we lived well because our jobs brought us good money. My husband was the owner and manager of a garage. He got residency here through a company, but it shut down last month. “I had my own studio and took photographs of events and weddings.

“Here, I have taken photographs for conferences but they have been mostly for free as I try to get connections for work.

“My husband and I are struggling to find any kind of jobs.

“If you are in my situation, you will not think about the future. You think about now.

“I’m feeling numb, the feeling you get when you completely stop being scared of anything.

“We are fragile inside. We are partially broken emotionally because we lost a lot of people we loved. We had to leave our country and have no jobs.”

* Ramola Talwar Badam

The Boy who started the Syrian War –

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