Maaloula

Syria War Diary: Order Returns To Western Cities, Civilians Recount Horrors Of “Rebel” Rule

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After reconciling with the Syrian government, former militants clear debris as they rebuild their homes, and their lives, in al-Waer, Homs. (Photo: Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

In revisiting Madaya and al-Waer after their reclamation by the Syrian army, it soon became clear from Bartlett’s conversations with residents, just how distorted the reporting of corporate media about their fate under “rebel” control had been.

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Adjacent to a munitions factory used by armed groups in Madaya, I found packaging of an ICRC-supported food parcel, a remnant of repeated aid convoys sent into the town. As in eastern Aleppo, in Madaya armed extremists hoarded food and medicines.

Owing to the presence of Ahrar al-Sham, al-Nusra and other groups, from around mid-2015 Madaya was under Syrian military siege. As noted in Part One of this series, siege is a common tactic of wars past, and one that the United States employed in Iraq (for example, the more than four-year siege of Sadr City).

The military sieges came with offers of amnesty to those armed Syrian men who hadn’t committed bloodshed, or safe passage to another area of Syria for those who refused reconciliation, including the non-Syrian extremists. During the siege, the Syrian government did continue to send in aid to Madaya, and continued to also approve the provision of aid from the ICRC, UN and other bodies, including in October 2015.

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In December 2015, the ICRC was back in Madaya for the evacuation of injured or ill.

In his January 2016 statement, Syria’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari, confirmed this October 2015 aid delivery, and noted:

“On December 27th, we asked the resident coordinator to send immediately convoys of humanitarian assistance again to Madaya, and to Kafraya and al-Foua. The UN did not send. … Huge humanitarian assistance and medical assistance was distributed inside Madaya, October, December and now (January).

The main problem is that the armed terrorist groups steal the convoys and trucks, and they deviate them to their own warehouses and storage. And then they resell it to civilians at prohibitive prices that the civilians cannot afford it.”

Overnight in January 2016, Western and Gulf media, in chorus, started campaigning that the Syrian state was starving civilians in Madaya.

The family of Marianna Mazeh, a south Lebanon girl, have expressed anger that her photo was circulated on sites claiming she was a starving child from Madaya in Syria.

The family of Marianna Mazeh, a south Lebanon girl, have expressed anger that her photo was circulated on sites claiming she was a starving child from Madaya in Syria.

The same media made scant to no remarks about the terrorists occupying the hillside town. Some reports used photographs of emaciated people not from Madaya, nor even from Syria — including a pretty Lebanese girl whose parents objected to the media’s exploitation of their daughter — in support of the “starvation” claims.

Watch | ‘Fact Check on Madaya’

Those behind the sudden media upheaval included none other than Saudi terrorist Abdullah Muhaysini, known for his support to al-Qaeda and recruiting of new terrorists. In early January 2016 he also called for the annihilation of Foua and Kafraya.

A cached article noted that Muhaysini had “appealed to the media to highlight the disaster in the region.” Another article, in Arabic, cited Muhaysini as using the hashtagged phrase “Madaya is Hungry”.

When, in mid-january 2016, Syrian reporters and RT reporter Murad Gazdiev entered Madaya with another shipment of aid, residents spoke of the starvation caused by the terrorist occupiers, as residents of eastern Aleppo and al-Waer later would: The terrorists stole the food aid and sold it at prices too obscenely inflated for civilians to afford.

Watch | Inside Besieged Madaya: ‘Militants sold us 1 kg of rice for $250’

 

On the ground in Madaya, June 2017

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Life on the streets as I entered Madaya on June 13, 2017. (Photo: Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

There was normal life on the streets of Madaya when I visited last June. Small grocery stores and other shops were open, residents and children filled bottles at the central water fountain. A sense of calm prevailed, with Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda two-months departed.

Entering a small shop selling clothing, I was welcomed and offered apricots from a pail on the counter. The Madaya-Zabadani region is known for its rich agriculture and tasty fruits. It is also an area to which people from Damascus and environs would retreat in the summer, to picnic on farmland or to eat at one of the restaurants along the road leading to the towns.

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According to Madaya’s mayor (mukthar, in Arabic), the main armed factions that had been present were the terrorist groups of Ahrar al-Sham, al-Nusra and the FSA. The shop owners also maintained that ISIS terrorists had been present in Madaya.

I asked if they had seen ISIS themselves. Their reply: “ISIS killed a civilian outside the shop.” As it turned out, when the man was shot, residents were protesting the presence of ISIS in the town.

I asked whether people had protested the presence of other militants. “Yes,” they said, “there were protests against the armed groups, and in support of the government, asking the government to come to Madaya. ISIS killed three protesters and another seven were injured.” Indeed, I had seen a video of Madaya residents marching in support of the Syrian president and against the armed factions.

To my question whether Western media was right, that the Syrian government had starved them, the four men answered ‘no’ in unison, talking over one another to make their point.

“It was not the government that starved us, it was the armed groups,” a middle-aged man said.

“The government provided us in Madaya with supplies that would have been enough for 20 years,” a younger man exaggerated, making the point there was ample food in the town. “We received aid convoys, but the armed groups would steal the supplies and monopolize them.”

He said he had sold his car in order to buy overpriced food from Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda: “They sold us a kilogram of rice for 100,000 Syrian pounds.”

At current exchange rates, this came to around US$200.

An older man nicknamed Abu Sharif said repeatedly that militants had hoarded food and extorted civilians, and added:

“After the Syrian army entered, they found 50 storage units of food, also medicine. They are still uncovering storages.” According to this man, the militants also stole jewelry from women, and forced them to dress fully covered. “They called us ‘kuffars’ and said we weren’t real Muslims.”

The mukthar maintained: “The siege from the Syrian army had the effect that the terrorists started surrendering themselves at Syrian army posts.” Indeed, SANA reported in June 2015 that 11 armed men had turned themselves in and — even prior to the siege, in August 2014 — over 250 militants had joined the reconciliation process:

“The siege was on the militants, if they hadn’t been here, there would have been no siege. There’s no siege now, everything is open.”

Prisons, civilian shields, and a bomb factory

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Crude graffiti bearing the symbols of Ahrar al-Sham, the dominant Islamist rebel group that once occupied Madaya, in an area of modern apartments and villas. (Photo: Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

With the mayor, two villagers, and my driver/translator, we drove from the town hub and along winding roads leading to an area of attractive apartment homes at the edge of the town.

Stopping the car en route, the mayor pointed at a small school, one of six in the town. A few stories high, its walls had been blown out, presumably by Syrian army shelling. “It’s an elementary school. The militants occupied it and took it as a stronghold and fired from it,” he said, saying that terrorists had occupied all of the town’s schools.

In his investigations, Aleppo journalist Khaled Iskef highlighted why armed groups had occupied schools. According to a former fighter for the Shami Front whom Iskef interviewed, “Terrorists use schools because the infrastructure is solid and they have cellars to use for munitions storage and prisons.”

Watch | Khaled Iskef’s report highlights armed rebels occupying schools

Madaya never had a hospital, only a small clinic, which the locals said terrorists had closed to the public. The regional hospital for the area is in nearby Zabadani. Yet, by November 2016, reports on Madaya’s nonexistent hospital includedd this headline from the Qatar-funded Middle East Eye: “As Madaya’s last hospital closes…”

This is the same ‘last hospital’ theme that abounded in propaganda around Aleppo.

The town did have a small medical clinic, though. In the media spin around Madaya, purportedly heroic non-MDs were treating the citizens of Madaya, including one dentist and one veterinarian.

According to the mayor and other men I spoke with, though, only terrorists and their families were treated or given access to medicines. Given that this accusation was later widely heard from civilians in liberated areas of Aleppo, and given that the terrorists in question were al-Qaeda and Ahrar al-Sham (which the U.S. Congress lists as a terrorist group in its own documents), it is highly unlikely that the Madaya people who alleged this were not telling the truth.

Madaya’s mayor said he knew the two “hero doctors.” Of the dentist, the mayor said he benefited from helping the militants. “He could get whatever he want[ed] from them, like food and medicine, and he became famous in the media.”

The video on this hero doctor was Netherlands-produced (a country which supports the ‘opposition’), and featured a Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) board member. SAMS purports to be a “nonpolitical, nonprofit, professional and medical relief organization,” but supports al-Qaeda-occupied areas in Syria. Their own website notes meetings with the State Department, Homeland Security, and other establishment policymakers, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry — all deeply involved in the U.S. war on Syria.

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The Mayor of Madaya, standing near buildings once occupied by “moderate rebels” who sniped and fired mortars on the road below. (Photo: Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

In addition to occupying schools, “moderate rebels” occupied apartment buildings and the luxurious villas, turning some into prisons. Standing next one apartment, the men told me that it and buildings across the road were used by the occupiers to bomb and snipe the Madaya-Zabadani road below:

“The civilians living below were like human shields for the terrorists. The army couldn’t shoot at the terrorists easily because they’d risk hitting the civilians.”

civilian homes below sniper and firing point

I asked how life was in Madaya before 2011. “Madaya was a tourist’s paradise,” the mayor replied, smiling, eyes closed, remembering. “People who came from outside of Syria would come to Madaya,” to enjoy the environment of natural beauty.

Further on among the hillside dwellings, we stood near an apartment that had been occupied, one floor turned into a prison to hold locals until their fates (including execution) were decided in terrorists’ Sharia trials.

Nestled behind the apartment, out of view, was a factory where terrorists manufactured mortars and rockets.

Above that factory, one of the food storage caches was found after militants had left Madaya. The mayor said, “Last time the army found a storage with more than 400 cartons of food.” Syrian authorities filled five trucks with medicine hoarded by the armed groups, he said.

Walking gingerly over rubble, not yet cleared by engineers of any unexploded ordinance, we reached the bomb workshop, a single ground-level room. Equipment and materials for manufacturing explosives still lay scattered.

Watch | Hidden factory where mortars and rockets were manufactured by terrorists

Down the lane, another villa had also been used as a headquarters and prison until it was hit by Syrian army shelling, forcing the “rebels” to relocate. Another mass food storage was found in a neighboring building, the mayor said.

Entering the relocated prison through a hole blown into the wall, I walked past a room containing a cooking stove and refrigerator, both booby-trapped by terrorists to kill whoever tried to move them. I had learned of this tactic in 2014 in the old city of Homs.

Watch |Visit to the relocated prison

“They left booby-trapped explosives in the houses, all over, even behind paintings on the wall,” I was told. Similarly, in Maaloula in June 2016, I was told: “They rigged houses so that when someone opened the door, an electrical trigger with a small charge would detonate and explode a gas canister.”

Two rooms, metal doors welded onto the entrances, had been used as cells. In the middle of another room, a metal bed frame with a piece of cloth tethered at one end. “They interrogated and tortured people here,” a former FSA militant said. An unwilling participant, he said he was forced by other militants to join, and that he was among the first to take the government-offered amnesty when peace was restored to Madaya in May 2017.

In neighboring Buqayn, Ahrar al-Sham transformed the municipality building into a prison, fortified with sandbagging and bricks. The dank cells were sealed with the same solid metal doors.

A soft-spoken employee of the municipality, limping as he walked, came over to tell me how he was shot at close range. Leaning on a crutch with prayer beads wrapped around the handle, he explained his injury. Recounting that terrorists had shot at the truck he and three others were in, he said, “the driver was killed and we were all injured. … We were subject to shooting many times.”

Watch | Municipal employee describes being shot by terrorists as part of intimidation campaign

The reason for the attacks? To intimidate them from returning to work at the municipality. Three surgeries later, still needing another, the man said his wounded leg is now seven centimeters shorter than his good leg.

Below and beyond the village, in a sitting room away from the June sun, a farmer-turned-soldier, still wearing his military uniform, spoke of why he took up arms in support of the Syrian army:

Life was good here, we were living well. When things turned violent in the area, I and other men from the area volunteered to support the Syrian army.”

He and others warned Madaya locals not to fall for the political game that originated from America, Israel, Turkey and others, he said — also pointing out that sectarianism was never a way for most Syrians, that it came from Saudi Arabia and other outside forces:

If you came and visited our home, slept in our home, we never asked what religion you were.”

As I left, he insisted on giving me bags filled with cherries and other fruits grown on his land.

 

Al-Waer at peace

Scenes from the outskirts of al-Waer, December 2015. Photos: Eva Bartlett

 

To the west of Homs lies the suburb of al-Waer. In December 2015, when a truce was holding, I had stood at a Syrian army checkpoint on the western outskirts of al-Waer, speaking with residents as they crossed back into the district with food from outside and bags of bread from the industrial-sized bakery to the side of the road.

Trucks loaded with eggs, meat and medicines waited to enter the district. Zakariya Sha’ar, a doctor bringing medicine, mentioned the presence of non-Syrian militants, including Saudis, Tunisians, and Chechens, among others.

As I stood on the road, less than 100 meters from the checkpoint of the militants, I was cautioned to step back: “It’s not safe, at any moment they could do anything, break the ceasefire.”

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Tariq, a Palestinian resident of al-Waer (the district of Homs which is almost cleansed of the terrorists infesting it), born in 1957, is originally from Akka. Of his life in Syria, he (like every other Palestinian friend or person I’ve met in Syria) told me: “The Syrian government treats me as well as a Syrian.” (More photos here)

Inside the bakery, I saw locals producing the bread that would go into al-Waer. I was told the wheat was provided by the Syrian government.

Watch | Footage inside the al-Waer Bread Factory, Homs

Syrian Minister Ali Haidar told me that armed groups had gathered in al-Waer due to its large population, around 300,000 people:

They [the armed groups] entered al-Waer, closed it off, and turned it into a zone to fight the government. The large number of civilians made the government unable to start a direct battle against the militants. Therefore, we remained around the neighborhood.”

According to Haidar, the Ministry started attempts at broaching reconciliation at the end of 2013, and reached an agreement at the beginning of 2014:

However, the large number of the militant groups in al-Waer, the internal disputes among them—and most importantly the control of al-Nusra over other militant groups—hindered the project after we had begun.”

The reconciliation effort began anew early 2016 but, again due to the presence of al-Qaeda, was delayed for a year — hampered by “external directives, mainly Qatari, to leaders of militant groups to hinder the project,” Haidar said, “[in order] to cause problems outside al-Waer.”

When from March to May 2017 the evacuations did finally occur, no UN personnel were involved, Haidar said, only the Syrian Red Crescent, Russian military police, and Syrian security personnel. As with evacuations elsewhere in Syria, militants left with light arms.

According to a detailed breakdown (provided to me at the Ministry of Reconciliation) of the 11 evacuations from March 18 to May 21, the final tally of militants who departed from al-Waer was 4,937, with a further 750 who chose to reconcile and stay in the district. Of the departed militants and their families, Minister Haidar maintained that at least 70 percent were not from al-Waer but from other areas of Homs and elsewhere.

“Immediately,” Minister Haidar told me, “we started the plan to return the locals to al-Waer.” As of June, there was a plan for the return of 50,000 people to al-Waer over the next couple of months.

Visiting secured al-Waer

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Riding in a local taxi along the broad streets of al-Waer, the driver had spoken glowingly about the area’s infrastructure. (Photo: Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

In a local taxi, I approached the district with a journalist from Homs. Driving along smooth boulevards, Hayat and the driver took turns telling me about al-Waer, nicknamed “New Homs.” It was known for the green spaces and parks, the good infrastructure, she said — and impeccable infrastructure, the driver interrupted, saying “life was so good here.”

As the taxi entered al-Waer, a housing complex came into view, and apartment buildings further along, all studded with gunfire and holes from shelling. The car paused in front of a building where a boy of perhaps 12 years shoveled rubble from in front of his home. The buildings to the left of him were blackened from shelling.

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A boy, about 12 years-old, clears rubble from outside of a home in al-Waer. Many homes targeted like this had been used as headquarters by the militants occupying the district. (Photo: Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

Some minutes later, we passed an empty lot with shells of buses pocked with gunfire.

Further along, another bus, windows blown out, was parked across a road formerly leading to a Syrian army checkpoint. Walking along the streets, Hayat pointed to an intact multi-story apartment building, and another with shelled upper-level rooms.

“This building had civilians. That building had militants,” she said, indicating that buildings not used by militants were not targeted.

This is a difference many journalists willfully overlook, choosing instead to speak of physical destruction in general terms, ignoring and negating the presence of terrorists — whether high up in sniping and shelling vantage points, or bunkered safely below ground, as I saw in Bani Zeid, Aleppo last year — and the efforts made to confine destruction to these targets.

A green bus filled with passengers passed by, characteristic of those used in the evacuations in eastern Aleppo. They were also used in al-Waer, along with other buses, for the evacuation process. Today, as in Aleppo, the buses are back to city services. There was some life on the streets otherwise: an older man bicycled down one lane, and a child crossed the other in the distance.

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Graffiti remnants of the west’s “moderates” in al-Waer.

In one small shop, a young clerk was reluctant to talk about life under terrorist rule, as was his father. Possibly the family supported the militants.

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A small shop with shelves no longer empty after militants left and the military siege was subsequently lifted. (Photo: Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

Another shop, unfurnished save for a faded plastic poster of a horse and another of a mother and child, was stocked with items that had been long-absent for most people. Sugar, flour, detergents, eggs, a variety of cigarettes, an array of chocolate bars and cookies, and bags of potato chips, instant noodles, and other non-perishable food items filled the shelves.

The shop owner said they had suffered from hunger. “The armed groups wouldn’t give us anything at all,” he said. “The opportunists, you mean,” remarked an older man, a friend, who had walked in. The latter continued: “One kilogram of salt reached 8,000 Syrian pounds (US $16), one bag of bread 3,000 pounds (US $6).”

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I asked about the bakery I had seen in 2015, and whether bread in fact regularly entered the district. “Yes,” said the second man, “it did,” but the militants would sell it at the inflated prices he had mentioned.

A man selling cigarettes on a street corner, his makeshift table stacked with cigarette cartons, said he hadn’t left al-Waer during the presence of the militants — it was and is his home.

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“Life was very, very bad. There was no food, they used to take the food for themselves,” he said of the armed groups, continuing with the same complaints as the others I’d spoken with: “They would sell it to us with a price they decided,” he said, citing similar exorbitant prices for flour, sugar, and basics.

A father of six children, he worried about their future after so many years of war. We parted with his last words:

But now the army is here, they are doing good, hopefully everything will return back to how it was.”

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After reconciling with the Syrian government, former militants clear debris as they rebuild their homes, and their lives. (Photo: Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

Further on in the district, three men worked clearing rubble from around a home badly damaged on the ground level. They waved and greeted us as our taxi stopped, but went silent and refused to speak when noticing my camera. A level up, a woman’s face peered out a small hole in the wall, then her hand reached out and gestured to come upstairs.

She was one of the many who left al-Waer, departing in 2013 and renting elsewhere in Homs. She said her life prior to 2011 was wonderful, and was strongly optimistic for the future:

“People are coming back home. Although many houses are destroyed, they are inhabited. If they are destroyed, we’ll rebuild them. What matters is that we’ve got rid of those bastards,” she said of the militants dubbed “moderate rebels” by western media and politicians.

The men below, it turned out, had been militants, but took amnesty and reconciled with the state, and are returning to their lives.

This was hard for me to process: living in the same building is a family evidently patriotic—the woman’s brother is in the Syrian army and she herself praised both the army and government—and the very former militants the family fled from, men who took up guns against both the government and in many cases civilians.

I asked if she knew her neighbors well. “Of course,” she answered. “But some people were brainwashed by others about ‘bad people, oppressing people.’ So, there were guys who joined those bastards,” she said of the militants.

As we spoke, one of the men came into the room. We shifted the conversation to casual talk about her family. After he left the room, she explained quietly that he was keeping an eye on her, what she might be saying to me. I was again struck by the strangeness of the situation, and when he had left, asked her if she wasn’t afraid to be living above the men.

“The state is here, we aren’t afraid. They’ve provided everything for us, are helping us, mash’allah,” she replied.

I stopped on the stairs leading from her apartment, listening to the call to prayer coming from the nearby mosque, watching as life trickled along the streets of the badly damaged district.

Watch | Pausing to listen to the call to prayer from nearby mosque

Epilogue

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The outside of a villa used by rebels as a tunnel entrance. The idyllic mountain view was marred only by the signs of battle: an empty swimming pool lightly littered with rubble, and a villa beyond, roof and walls blown out by shelling. (Photo: Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

When at the Ministry of Reconciliation later, waiting for my meeting with the Minister, I saw many women and some men also waiting to talk with someone at the Ministry, about their loved ones, militants who had left another restored district, Qudsaya, for Idlib in October 2016. The militants wanted to come home.

The minister’s office also told me at the time that 72 families had already returned to more-recently secured al-Waer, from Jarabulus.

On July 11, Syrian state media, SANA, reported: “Fourteen buses carrying about 150 families, including 630 persons from the residents of al-Waer neighborhood, have arrived in Homs city coming from Jarabulus.” The report noted that this was the fifth group of families returning from Jarabulus or Idlib, and that many more families were scheduled to return.

 

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INTERVIEW WITH EVA KARENE BARTLETT: ‘Syrian people realize that the war on Syria is not about Assad’

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Mar 31, 2017, Global CIR, (translated version)

We had the honor to interview Eva Karene Bartlett. She is well known independent writer and rights activist with extensive experience in Syria and in the Gaza Strip, where she lived a cumulative three years (from late 2008 to early 2013). She documented the 2008/9 and 2012 Israeli war crimes and attacks on Gaza while riding in ambulances and reporting from hospitals.

Since April 2014, she has visited Syria 6 times, including two months in summer 2016 and once month in Oct/Nov 2016. Her early visits included interviewing residents of the Old City of Homs, which had just been secured from militants, and visiting historic Maaloula after the Aramaic village had been liberated of militants. In December 2015, Eva returned to old Homs to find life returning, small shops opened, some of the damaged historic churches holding worship anew, and citizens preparing to celebrate Christmas once again.

On her 5th visit in June-August 2016, she went twice to Aleppo, also visiting Palmyra, Masyaf, Jableh, Tartous, and Barzeh district of Damascus, as well as returning again to Maaloula and Latakia. On her sixth visit to Syria, in October and November, she visited Aleppo twice more, as well as areas around Damascus. The testimonies Eva gathered in Aleppo starkly contrasted narratives corporate media had been asserting. Many of her published Syria writings, videos, photos can be found at this link.

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Tear-gassed after de-arresting resident of Bil’in village, occupied Palestine, August 2007

GLOBAL CIR: You come from Canada, a country which is in relation to the US a symbol peacefulness and regulated country. What was the decisive influence for you to begin with the social activism and independent journalism in the most turbulent and bloodiest part of the world,  the Middle East?

-Actually, while Canada is portrayed as a benevolent and peaceful country, not many people realize the extent to which Canada has: supported the Zionists’ ethnic cleansing of Palestinians while also turning a blind eye to the murder of Palestinians; taken part in the NATO alliance war on Syria; sold weapons to the despotic Saudi regime (latest deal: US$11 billion), including anti-tank cannons and combat vehicles with machine guns; and ethnically-cleansed and slaughtered the indigenous people.

With regard to Canada’s role in the war on Syria, it includes imposing criminal and crippling sanctions on Syria; supporting and funding (millions of dollars) the so-called armed ‘opposition’ in Syria and their propagandists; closing Syrian embassies in Canada; demonizing the legitimate Syrian government and Syrian army; and legitimizing the illegitimate, Saudi-backed, so-called ‘Syrian National Council’.

Growing up in Canada, I was completely ignorant to world politics. In my late twenties I started to become aware of some of the most basic continuing atrocities, like the Zionist colonization of Palestine, and was moved to learn more first-hand. I did so as a solidarity activist and volunteer in occupied Palestine, seeing over a period of six years some of the worst crimes by Zionist soldiers and colonists against Palestinian civilians, including children.

When the criminal war on Syria physically began in early 2011, I was equally ignorant about that country, and was at that time living in the Gaza Strip. However, very quickly I became suspicious of what corporate media was alleging was happening in Syria, and began researching via independent sources, ultimately going to the country to see for myself.

I used to think that Palestine was one of the most difficult issues to talk about, with so much media distortion and whitewashing in the favour of Israel. However, I now believe that getting the truth out on Syria is one of the most difficult things to do, as nearly all in the Western world, as well as the Gulf states and all corporate media, have conspired to lie about events in Syria and about the will of the Syrian people.

Canadian state and corporate media is as guilty of war propaganda as American, British, and Gulf media. Canada’s politicians and corporate media have Syrian blood on their hands.
CONTINUE READING

Those Who Transmit Syrian Voices Are Russian Propagandists? Monitors of ‘Fake News’ Negate Syrian Suffering

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*In the old city of Homs, June 2014, speaking with Zeinat and Aymen al-Akhras who endured years of hell under the rule of militant factions. In May 2014, an agreement saw the reportedly 1,200 militants bussed out of Homs (as recently happened in Aleppo), bringing peace to the neighbourhoods they’d occupied and terrorized. Excerpt from my article on this visit and interviewing residents of the old city of Homs: “I dropped to 34 kilos. Aymen told me to weigh myself. I got on the scale and said, ‘What’s 34 kilos?’. A ten-year-old weighs more than that! And Aymen was 43 kilos. For a man, 43 kilos…”
“We were twelve siblings with eight houses in the area, and the family house. We all had stores of food.”
“Thirty-eight times they came to steal our food. The first couple of times, they knocked on the door, after that they just entered with guns. The last things they took were our dried peas, our cracked wheat, our olives, finally our za’atar (wild thyme). We started to eat grass and whatever greens we could find in February, 2014, and that’s all we had till Homs was liberated,”–Zeinat al-Akhras. Read: Liberated Homs Residents Challenge Notion of “Revolution”

Russian Propagandists?

Since it is a theme that those who report differently than the MSM war propaganda on Syria must therefore work for either/both Syria or Russia, I’ll address that in this brief post, drawing on some interviews and related material, since I continue to be incredibly busy.

Some excerpts from: ‘If I write in line with Russian media, it’s because we both tell the truth’ – Eva Bartlett to RT, 17 Dec, 2016, RT

Some people have taken issue with the things I said because I was basically criticizing much of the corporate media reporting on Syria, and instead of actually digesting what I said and criticizing the details of what I said, people have gone to the usual tactic of trying to smear who I am and imply that I am an agent of either or both Syria and Russia,” Bartlett said, adding that it’s been openly implied she is on the payroll of the Syrian and Russian governments. The fact that she is an active contributor to RT’s op-edge section has also been jumped all over.

The fact that I do contribute to the RT op-edge section apparently, in some people’s eyes, makes me compromised. I began contributing to the RT op-edge section when I lived in Gaza, and this was not an issue for people who then appreciated my writing,” she stated.

What I am writing, and what I’m reporting, and who I am citing are Syrian civilians whom I’ve encountered in Syria.

“If people do not wish to hear the voices of Syrian civilians and if they want to maintain their narrative which is in line with the NATO narrative – which is in line with destabilizing Syria and vilifying the government of Syria and ignoring the overwhelming wishes of the people of Syria – then they do this by accusing me of spreading propaganda,” the journalist stressed.

The fact that my writing is in line with the Syrian people… in some respect aligns with Russian media reports, does not mean that I’m reporting Russian propaganda, and it does not mean that what Russian media is reporting is propaganda. It happened to be that I report the truth as I see it on the ground, and some Russian media happen to report the truth as they see it on the ground.

“Why do we not see these accusations when a BBC journalist goes to Syria and reports what I often believe to be not the full story? Why are they not accused of working for the State of England? Why are Al Jazeera journalists not accused of working for Qatar?”

My Related Comments:

*Please note, I do not have ‘my own blog’ on RT, as written in the RT overview of an interview I gave to the site (and as also alleged by a factually-challenged ‘fact check’ by Channel 4 News, the debunking of which will be out soon). In fact, the RT disclaimer at the bottom of Op-Edge contributions is clear: “The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.” How did the fact checkers at Channel 4 miss that?

CONTINUE READING

Overcoming Savagery and Treachery, Maaloula’s Heroic Defenders Fight for the Future

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© Eva Bartlett

Oct 18, 2016, Strategic Culture Foundation, (republished at SOTT.net)

-Eva Bartlett

Since 2013, September has for the historic village of Maaloula been a month of tragic anniversaries. Crimes and atrocities committed by Western, Gulf, Turkish and Zionist-backed terrorists there in September alone include murders, maimings, kidnappings, and the beginning of what would be the vast destruction and looting of Maaloula’s rich and unique ancient heritage.

On September 4, 2013, a Jordanian suicide-bomber exploded his truck at the Syrian army checkpoint at the arched gate outside the village. This was immediately followed by attacks on Syrian soldiers nearby, mainly by al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) terrorists—including Chechens, Uighurs, Turkestanis, Libyans, and Saudis, as well as locals.


Gate at the outskirts of Maaloula, where on September 4, 2013, al-Nusra and other terrorists carried out a series of coordinated attacks on Syrian soldiers, the start of the battle for Maaloula. © Eva Bartlett

On September 7, 2013, terrorists point-blank assassinated three unarmed Maaloula men after they refused to convert to Islam, critically injuring one of the men’s sisters.

On September 13, 2013, a group of roughly twenty Syrians, including a Maaloula local, climbed the mountains above the town in an attempt to observe the never-interrupted, nearly 1,700 year old, annual traditions of the Festival of the Holy Cross. Terrorists attacked the men, killing roughly half of them and abducting the others (1).

Although since March 2013 al-Nusra and FSA, among other terrorist factions, had occupied areas of the cliffs above and beyond the over 4,000 year old village, the September 4th attack began what would be an eight month battle by Maaloula’s defence forces, the Syrian Arab Army, and Hezbollah to liberate the village from terrorists who bombed, burned, looted, and in any way possible attempted to destroy the heritage of Maaloula.

According to Maaloula local defence soldiers, between September 4, 2013 and April 14, 2014, at least 200 soldiers of the Syrian army were killed in the battles to liberate Maaloula, including at least four who were savagely beheaded in the initial terrorist attacks. Their honourable sacrifices will not be forgotten.

The less-recognized heroes in Maaloula’s fight against terrorism were those villagers who defied terrorists’ commands or with arms resisted them, and continue to do so now.

In July 2016, I returned to Maaloula to see how life had improved since April 2014, and to hear the accounts of Maaloula’s heroic defenders and of a woman left for dead.

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Devastation…and Inspiration: Recalling Liberated Ma’loula

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**As the Syrian Arab Army and allies continue to fight western-sponsored terrorism in Syria, it is important to recall the victory of places like Ma’loula, whose local defenders, and the SAA, faced the west’s **absolutely** non-“moderates” for 8 months before victory. 

By Eva Bartlett

[re-published at Crescent International, Uprooted Palestinians]

As Syrian and allied Resistance forces fight NATO’s death squads in the outskirts of Damascus, Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, I re-visit the story of the formerly-terrorized ancient village of Ma’loula, which I visited in June 2014, two months after it had been liberated. Although no longer beset by terrorism, the story of Ma’loula is very much a current story, a case study of the senseless destruction, looting, and killing by Western-sponsored terrorists throughout Syria.

When I visited in June 2014, a calm prevailed. One seemingly random observation that stood out was the sound of peeping birds, which just months earlier would have been lost in the tumult of terrorist bombings and gunfire. There was the expected destruction from battles waged by and on the terrorists. There was further—clearly-intentional—destruction meted out systematically by the al-Qaeda death squads—particularly on Christian, cultural, and heritage sites.

In Ma’loula, terrorists likewise took great apparent pleasure in destroying and desecrating Christian relics, to the extent of gauging out the eyes from icons and mosaics and shooting down the large clifftop Jesus and Mary statues which had overlooked the village. They likewise burned, robbed and vandalized churches and homes.

Russia Today correspondent Maria Finoshina has reported numerous times from Ma’loula, visiting the village prior to its devastation, during its occupation, and post-liberation. Video footage from a pre-destruction visit shows children singing in Aramaic inside the then-intact and lovely church in St. Thekla convent.

In April 2014, during an Easter celebration at a Bab Touma (Thomas Gate) district restaurant in Damascus’ Old City, I met a stunning young woman, Diala. During a pause in the pro-Syria and pro-President al-Assad songs blasting all evening, she’d stood up and beautifully sung in a cappella. As it happened, she was from Ma’loula; many of Ma’loula’s displaced residents have temporarily re-settled in the Bab Touma district.

We spoke briefly, curtailed by the raging party. Her words echoed reports on Ma’loula. “We were living happily, no one bothered us, but when the terrorists came, they destroyed, slaughtered, kidnapped, and stole. They destroyed the holy churches, stole icons…” CONTINUE READING