Greater Middle East
Human Rights Watch on Sept. 10 released a report, "Attacks on Ghouta: Analysis of Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria," examining what are said to actually be two suspected chemical attacks on the "opposition-controlled suburbs of Eastern and Western Ghouta, located 16 kilometers apart, in the early hours of August 21." The report relies on witness accounts of the rocket attacks, physical remnants of the rockets, and symptoms exhibited by the victims as documented by medical staff. "Rocket debris and symptoms of the victims from the August 21 attacks on Ghouta provide telltale evidence about the weapon systems used," said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at HRW and author of the report. "This evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government troops launched rockets carrying chemical warheads into the Damascus suburbs that terrible morning."
The ancient Syrian Christian village of Maaloula has changed hands at least three times in the past week of fighting between government forces and al-Qaeda franchise Nusra Front—and Syria's Christians are becoming propaganda fodder in an international war of perceptions. Nusra Front issued a video clip showing a commander urging his men not to harm Maaloula's historic churches and monasteries. The Assad regime countered with images of the rebels shooting in the air and at buildings in in the village, and of a church damaged by mortar fire, Haaretz reports. The village has already suffered civilian casualties from the fighting, and local youth have organized a self-defense militia. AFP, citing local residents, reports that rebels forced at least one person to convert to Islam at gunpoint and executed another when they held the village Sept. 10. "They arrived in our town at dawn...and shouted 'We are from the al-Nusra Front and have come to make lives miserable for the Crusaders," AFP quoted a resident who identified herself only as Marie.
By now we've all seen the ugly meme, at least if you've got a Facebook account. A uniformed serviceman holds a hand-written sign over his face reading "I didn't join the army to fight for al-Qaeda in Syria." (In case you've missed it, it is of course flaunted by the right-wing xenophobes at InfoWars.) Hopefully, we don't have to explain how this is a shameful betrayal of the secular civil resistance in Syria—it simply denies their existence, painting the entire opposition as al-Qaeda. And you certainly don't have to be pro-intervention to recognize this. A related ugly meme shows a face-palming Obama with the caption: "That awkward moment when you realize the only allies the US can muster for a Syria attack... are the terrorists who flew planes into your buildings twelve years ago."
Ahmet Ataka, a 22-year-old protester, died Sept. 10 two days after being wounded in a clash with police in Antakya (Antioch), provincial capital of Turkey's Hatay province. The march was called to show solidarity with students and local residents in Ankara protesting the construction of a road through the Middle Eastern Technical University (ODTÜ) campus, which would destroy a green area—a reprise to June's massive protests sparked by plans to bulldoze Gezi Park in Istanbul's Taksim Square. Authorities are maintianing that Ataka suffered a head injury when he fell from a building, and that police were not involved. Protesters contest this, and say he was hit in the head with a tear-gas cannister. (BIANet, Setp. 10: Doğan News Agency, Sept. 8)
New York area Syrians came out the afternoon of Sept. 7 for a Rally to Stop Assad's War on Syria at 40th Street and Seventh Ave., just south of Times Square. Some 100—including many women in hijabs, men beating on drums, and children with Syrian flags painted on their faces—marched in a circle behind police barricades, chanting with a level of passion rarely seen at political rallies: "ASSAD IS A TERRORIST; ASSAD IS A CRIMINAL; ASSAD OUT NOW; FREE, FREE SYRIA; END THE SYRIAN MASSACRE!" Placards read: "GLOBAL SILENCE IS THE CAUSE OF ATROCITIES IN SYRIA," "HANDS OFF SYRIANS: THE TERRORIST ASSAD IS KILLING US WITH CHEMICAL WEAPONS," and "INTERVENTION = CHEMICAL PROTECTION."
Syria's minority peoples are especially targeted by the jihadist rebels—and therefore generally wary of foreign intervention against the Bashar Assad regime. The Armenians, like other Syrian Christians, face growing attacks, with the US-based Armenian Weekly July 31 reporting a wave of abductions and slayings, including of children, by unnamed rebel factions. Zarmik Poghikian of Aleppo-based Armenian journal Gandzasar told Radio Free Europe Aug. 31: "The Armenian community is neutral, but it is concerned, because this possible strike will be delivered against the whole country and everyone without exception will suffer. Leaders of the Armenian community have urged people to remain cautious during these days and refrain from attempting to leave the city, but even if someone wanted to do so there is no opportunity anymore, as all roads are closed."
Jihadist forces of the Nusra Front launched an attack Sept. 4 on the ancient Christian village of Maaloula (Rif Dimashq governorate), which is on the UNESCO tentative list of world heritage sites. The assault began as a suicide bomber blew himself up at the army checkpoint at the village entrance, overwhelming the defenses. Nusra fighters briefly occupied the village, surrounding the church and mosque, before being driven out by reinforcements. Fighting is said to continue outside the village, with fears that the Nusra Front could establish footholds in the surrounding mountains and shell Maaloula from above. Maaloula, some 60 kilometers northeast of Damascus, is home to about 2,000 residents, mostly Aramaic-speaking Greek Catholics (Melikites). Aramaic is listed by UNESCO as a "definitely endangered" language.
We have noted how the "anti-war" forces are "fighting the last war" to such a degree that they can refer to the WMD charges against Syria as "false pretenses"—mere days after a chemical attack that may have killed over a thousand. We can't help but use quotation marks when the "anti-war" forces are covering up for monstrous war crimes. Yeah, this is a case of the proverbial boy who cried wolf—if Dubya hadn't lied a decade ago, Assad would not be getting such a free ride from the "anti-war" folks today (one hopes). But that doesn't let anyone off the hook: denial of the Ghouta attack still constitutes a shameful betrayal of human solidarity that completely delegitimizes any "anti-war" position. Diana Moukalled writing in the pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat Sept. 4 decries: "Iraq overshadowing Syria's cries for help"...