Syria Cultural Heritage Destroyed by the “State Sponsors of the ISIS”: Palmyra Rising from the Ashes

By Jeff Klein
Global Research, April 20, 2016
Mondoweiss
Region: Middle East & North Africa
Theme: 9/11 & ‘War on Terrorism’, Crimes against Humanity, US NATO War Agenda
In-depth Report: SYRIA: NATO’S NEXT WAR?

Daesh is on the retreat in Syria, which is very good news for the people of that beleaguered country and for the world. However, the Syrian tragedy is far from over and rebuilding the country, even under the best circumstances of an end to the war, will take many years.

Our little international delegation — we were two Americans, a Canadian, two Norwegians, a Palestinian from Jordan and another Palestinian from Lebanon — got to see the evidence for this first-hand, along with the horrific devastation left in the wake of the ISIS occupation of the world-famous ancient city of Palmyra and the neighboring Syrian town of Tadmor.

The tour was arranged and led by a Palestinian organization based in Australia that is very supportive of the Syrian government and it was facilitated by the Syrian Ministry of Tourism and other government agencies.

It took some very intense negotiations with the Syrian authorities to secure visas, especially for the Americans, who are understandably viewed with some suspicion given the very hostile policies toward Syria by the US government. Even more complicated efforts were necessary to get permission – from the Syrian security agencies, the Ministry of Defense and the Russian military mission in Syria – to visit Palmyra, which was only recaptured by the Syrian army on March 26. We were the very first group of international civilians to view the site and the aftermath of the battle that took place there.

Some members of our delegation: Khaled, a Palestinian from Jordan, whose family is originally from Kufr Saba (now Kfar Saba) in central 1948 Israel, is in the white shirt; the author is second from the right.

Image: Some members of our delegation: Khaled, a Palestinian from Jordan, whose family is originally from Kufr Saba (now Kfar Saba) in central 1948 Israel, is in the white shirt; the author is second from the right.

Even with permission, traveling to Palmyra was not easy. Because the direct route northeast from Damascus was not yet safe, it was necessary to travel first due north to Homs and then east across the desert along a road only recently cleared of armed rebels. Even exiting Damascus required a detour to the west in order to avoid a dangerous stretch of highway threatened by fighters in the rebel-controlled town of Douma, just north of the capital.

There were also frequent military checkpoints along the way, at each of which Qusay (everyone here is identified only by first name), our liaison with the government, had to negotiate passage and show various documents and permissions – along with our passports. The drive to Palmyra, which in peacetime would have taken maybe two hours on the direct route, took us six hours to complete.

Even in the tense security situation, though, at least one Syrian officer at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Damascus had not lost his sense of humor. When told that we were an international group on the way to visit Palmyra, his parting words after checking our documents was “Say hello to Zenobia!” He was referring to Zenobia, the famous queen of Palmyra who led a doomed revolt against the Roman Empire in the third century AD and has been adopted – quite ahistorically — as a kind of early freedom fighter and Syrian national heroine.

In Homs we picked up or military escort, Colonel Sameer, who packed a Makarev in a shoulder holster and carried a gym bag inside of which it wasn’t hard to make out the bulges of a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a bunch of grenades. Comforting.

With Colonel Sameer riding shotgun, it was relatively simple to negotiate the frequent military stations and roadblocks along the rest of the way to Palmyra. As we approached the city we observed increasing signs of war damage – bullet-pockmarked and partially destroyed buildings, down electrical transmission pylons, burned out vehicles – but nothing prepared us for the utter devastation of the town of Tadmor/Palmyra when we arrived.

The town of Tadmor/Palmyra when the delegation arrived.

Image: The town of Tadmor/Palmyra when the delegation arrived.

The place had suffered both from the Daesh occupation and even more so from the fighting to retake it. There was hardly an undamaged building to be seen and although the rubble blocking the streets had largely been cleared, there were many areas where only the skeletons of destroyed buildings remained. And the retreating Daesh fighters had left the town and the ruins riddled with mines and booby traps which took a huge effort, not yet completed, to disarm. Most of the inhabitants had fled the Tadmor/Palmyra when it was taken over by Daesh last summer.

When we visited last Sunday, the town was crowded with busloads of former residents collecting their personal possessions and household furnishings to take away on buses and trucks. Only in the previous few days, weeks after retaking the town and extensive de-mining, was it possible for any of them to return safely in order to retrieve some of their surviving belongings. But the town was still uninhabitable for civilians due to the severe damage and the lack of electricity or water.

The streets were guarded by soldiers and the somewhat more ragtag National Defense Forces militia fighters in various stage of partial uniform.

Tour guide “Tony” in front of the ruins of the Temple of Baal blown up by Daesh’ He’s holding a drawing of the temple as it used to appear.

Image: Tour guide “Tony” in front of the ruins of the Temple of Baal blown up by Daesh’ He’s holding a drawing of the temple as it used to appear.

The systematic vandalism and destruction by Daesh at the historic archaeological site of Palmyra has been widely reported, but viewing the damage was still a shock. Our cultural guide Antoine (“Tony”), who had led countless groups to visit the Palmyra, was brought to tears. Ya haram (“shameful”), he muttered repeatedly as we saw the remains of the formerly well-preserved monumental archway leading into the ancient city and the Temple of Baal which the Daesh fighters had blown up when they took the city last summer.

Only the remains of the theater had been left untouched, possibly as a monument to the brutal execution of 25 captive Syrian army prisoners that Daesh had carried out and filmed there.

We had to wait a while before entering the theater ourselves because there was a high-ranking group of Russian military officers visiting inside when we arrived. Accompanying them was a contingent of very steely-eyed special forces soldiers, despite the heat, in full battle gear – body armor, helmets, boots and gloved hands with fingers poised close to the triggers of their automatic weapons.

There is a contingent of Russian military engineers and technicians engaged in the ongoing effort to disarm mines and booby traps it the city and among the ruins, with a large camp just outside the town. Near the ruins is a former restaurant whose red sign announces, in Cyrillic and English, that it is the “Sappers Café.” While we toured the site, explosions could be heard at regular intervals nearby and we could see the smoke of detonated mines.

The streets were guarded by soldiers and the somewhat more ragtag National Defense Forces militia fighters in various stage of partial uniform.

Image: The streets were guarded by soldiers and the somewhat more ragtag National Defense Forces militia fighters in various stage of partial uniform.

When the officers and their guards exited the theater, our group leader Khaled, who like many Palestinians of his generation had received scholarships to study in the old Soviet Union (Leningrad, in his case), enthusiastically greeted the soldiers in fluent Russian, somewhat to their surprise. Colonel Sameer had earlier told us that we could photograph anything we wanted – except the publicity-shy Russians. Given the cordial chitchat with Khaled, I thought I might ask if I could take a picture. The Russian translator answered, to everyone’s amusement, with an emphatic monosyllable — NYET.

What does the future hold for Syria?

Nearly everyone we met – and they were by no means all uncritical supporters of the Assad regime – told us that they believed any hope required, first of all, the defeat of the armed rebels and an end to foreign intervention in their country. This was especially the sentiment of Christian and Druze religious representatives, along with ethnic minorities and secular people of any faith background, who together undoubtedly comprise a majority of the Syrian population.

Image: A Mahmoud Darwish quote

A Mahmoud Darwish quote

Regardless of the legitimate grievances at the root of the crisis which began in 2011, and even if the opposition may not all be “terrorists,” as the Assad regime charges, the armed rebels now overwhelmingly represent Sunni fundamentalists of various stripes, whose vision for Syria is a religiously exclusive Islamic state, not a secular democracy. This is true of the so-called “moderate” opposition which the US and its allies are arming and financing, not only the recognized extremists and foreign fighters in ISIS/Daesh and the Nusra front.

Amid the destruction and despair of the current situation in Syria, there are also signs of hope and resilience. In central Damascus the shops and restaurants are open, even if the hotels remain nearly empty. In the Old City Bab Touma neighborhood where we stayed – especially since the partial cease-fire agreement that was established earlier this year has minimized the rebel mortar and rocket attacks – the streets were crowded with students and shoppers, even if there were also military checkpoints along the major streets and at the gates to the town. There was a vibrant nightlife at many cafes and eating places, often with live music and diners who took to enthusiastic and spontaneous dancing and singing along to the musicians.

In the midst of the near total destruction in the old city of Homs, which was under rebel control and the scene of intense fighting until 2014, the historic Khaled Ibn Walid mosque, heavily damaged in the fighting, is now the site of a major restoration project. But a hundred thousand new housing units will also be required to replace what was destroyed.

In another part of the city, not far from where the courageous Dutch Jesuit Frank van der Lugt was murdered by the retreating rebels, the vandalized Syrian Orthodox Notre Dame de la Ceinture de Marie is also undergoing restoration. Across the street, one of the few re-opened shops is a café filled with young men and women – a circumstance unthinkable in zones under rebel control. On the wall is a statement of hope, along translation of some famous lines by the famous Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who is also revered by Syrians.

Jeff Klein, is a retired local union president, a long-time Palestine solidarity activist and a board member of Mass Peace Action. He has a blog: http://atmyangle.blogspot.com/
The original source of this article is Mondoweiss
Copyright © Jeff Klein, Mondoweiss, 2016

Live from Damascus: The Syrian Election Results

By Ken Stone
Global Research, April 18, 2016
21st Century Wire
Region: Middle East & North Africa
Theme: Media Disinformation, US NATO War Agenda
In-depth Report: SYRIA: NATO’S NEXT WAR?

160px-Logo_of_the_Baath_Party“Syria’s ruling Ba’ath Party and its allies have won the majority of the votes in the recent parliamentary elections in the country, official results show.

The Syrian electoral commission announced late Saturday that the National Unity coalition, comprising the ruling party and its allies, had won 200 of the 250 seats at the People’s Assembly (Majlis al-Sha’ab).” ~ Press TV

Tuesday’s Syrian election was a vote of confidence by the Syrian people in their government. 5,085,444 voters cast their ballots out of a possible 8,834,994 eligible voters.

The overall participation rate of 58% (virtually identical to Canada’s last federal election) exceeded the government’s expectations in most places but was low in others.

For example, it was over 80% in Homs but only 52% in Tartous. What might explain the uneven results is the history of the war. People who suffered the most from the war, for example in Homs, were probably more grateful for their liberation and more motivated to exercise their political rights than people in Tartous who saw no fighting at all (though they lost thousands upon thousands of sons and grandsons in the war).

Also significant was the fact that over 140,000 refugees returned across the Lebanese border in just one day in order to vote.

hall-vote Damascus

And the polling hours in Damascus, which suffered a lot from the fighting, had to be extended until 11 pm to accommodate all the voters.

There were even polling stations set up by the government in recently liberated Palmyra and Al-Qaryaten, though those polls were largely symbolic because the inhabitants of those towns have not yet been able to return to their homes due to widespread destruction, prior to liberation by the Syrian Arab Army.

The voter participation rate is key to this election, more important than the individual candidates who were elected.

Here’s why: you need to understand elections in a constitutionally-created state, in which one party dominates, in terms of a strike vote in a trade union.

It demonstrates continuing confidence in the leadership at a turning point in the struggle. A union would not be satisfied with a strike vote of 58%, going into a strike. And probably the Syrian government would have wished for a higher rate going into the negotiations at Geneva. But it knew from the start that holding the elections under the conditions of war and occupation was a gamble, because there are a lot of eligible voters living outside of Syria right now, living in places besieged by the terrorists, and who have died but not yet been accounted for.

Taking into account these factors, the participation rate would probably have been much higher.

Among our solidarity delegation, we have been pleased that the Syrian authorities did not try to inflate the figures to make the election results appear better than they actually were:

It reinforces our contention that the Syrian government is a credible force in the serious negotiations ahead.

As mentioned, the turning point for Syria is the current round of negotiations taking place right now in Geneva to find a lasting political solution to the crisis.

Today, the Syrian delegation took their seats with a mandate from the Syrian people, whereas the opposition delegation of head-choppers cobbled together at the last minute by the USA and Saudi Arabia have no mandate at all from the unfortunate Syrians who suffer under military occupation in “rebel-held” areas.

No elections were held there. Western governments, such as the USA, have dismissed the Syrian election out of hand, though the participation rate in the last US election was only 48%.

But that’s not to say there weren’t any interesting candidates elected. The sister of a Syrian soldier, Noor Al-Shogri, stood for election as an independent in parliament. Her brother, Yahya Al-Shoghri, was filmed as he was being executed by ISIS terrorists in 2014 in Raqqa. (If you can stomach the summary execution in cold blood of a prisoner of war, you will find the video brazenly posted by the terrorists on Youtube.)

The barbarians demanded that he say, as his dying words, “Long live the caliphate!” He famously refused and declared instead that “It will be erased!”

His last words then became a rallying cry in the national resistance against the foreign aggression. Noor Al-Shogri easily won her seat.

I met an independent candidate in the Old City of Damascus, Nora Arissian, a small Armenian woman with flaming red hair. She came up to me in the Greek Melkite Patriarch’s procession to the polling station and thanked me for Canada taking in 25000 Syrian refugees and then she pointedly added, “We want them all eventually to come home!”

She too won her seat.

The election results were delayed by a couple of days because the Syrian election commission was unsatisfied with the preparedness of eight polling stations in partially-occupied Aleppo. As I understand it, the elections in Aleppo had to be continued on the day following election day.

Some people have asked what is the role of Palestinian refugees in this election. The answer is that Palestinians, ethnically-cleansed in 1948 and after, do not vote in Syrian elections.

The political and social status of Palestinians in Syria is the highest of any Arab country but the Syrian government doesn’t grant them citizenship or let them vote because it doesn’t want to dilute their right under international law, reaffirmed by numerous resolutions of the United Nations, to return to their homes and farms in Palestine.

The fact that the Syrian government has been so adamant about this principle, is one of the main causes of the foreign aggression against the country (and in support of the State of Israel.) So the Syrian government pays a heavy price for its strong support of the Palestinian people.

In turn, the vast majority of Palestinian refugees in Syria strongly support their government, even though many have been made refugees a second time by the invasion into their neighbourhoods of the terrorist mercenaries from over 80 countries.

For example, a fierce struggle is taking place in Yarmouk right now just a few kilometres from where I write, among Isis, Al Nusra, and other terrorist gangs, over control of this former Palestinian neighbourhood/camp, which used to hold a quarter of a million people but is now a devastated ghost town with only a few thousand souls.

ISIS-Yarmouk

It bears repeating that these parliamentary elections were defiantly called by the Syrian government as “an exercise in national sovereignty.”

The point was to show the world, especially those western and Gulf states, who have waged the five-year long war of aggression against Syria, that Syrians are united in the belief that Syrians, and only Syrians, will decide the fate of Syria.

It appears that the gamble paid off.

Ken Stone is a veteran anti-war and peace activist.
The original source of this article is 21st Century Wire
Copyright © Ken Stone, 21st Century Wire, 2016

Posted by Ainhoa Aristizabal — Unruly Hearts editor

Hillary Clinton: “If I’m President, We Will Attack Iran… We would be Able to Totally Obliterate Them.”

 

 

 

In-depth Report: IRAN: THE NEXT WAR

 

Endless wars are certain no matter who succeeds Obama. Clinton’s finger on the nuclear trigger should terrify everyone. ~ Oliver Stone filmmaker

 

By Stephen Lederman

Note: This piece which is of extreme relevance to the US election campaign was originally published in July 2015.

On July 3, 2015, presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton addressed a hand-picked audience at a Dartmouth College campaign event. She lied calling Iran an “existential threat to Israel… I hope we are able to get a deal next week that puts a lid on (its) nuclear weapons program.”

Even if we do get such a deal, we will still have major problems from Iran. They are the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism.

They use proxies like Hezbollah to sow discord and create insurgencies to destabilize governments. They are taking more and more control of a number of nations in the region and they pose an existential threat to Israel.

We…have to turn our attention to working with our partners to try to reign in and prevent this continuing Iranian aggressiveness.

Fact: US and Israeli intelligence both say Iran’s nuclear program has no military component. No evidence whatever suggests Tehran wants one. Plenty indicates otherwise.

As a 2008 presidential aspirant, she addressed AIPAC’s annual convention saying:

The United States stands with Israel now and forever. We have shared interests….shared ideals….common values. I have a bedrock commitment to Israel’s security.

(O)ur two nations are fighting a shared threat” against Islamic extremism. I strongly support Israel’s right to self-defense (and) believe America should aid in that defense.

I am committed to making sure that Israel maintains a military edge to meet increasing threats. I am deeply concerned about the growing threat in Gaza (and) Hamas’ campaign of terror.

No such campaign exists. The only threats Israel faces are ones it invents.

Clinton repeated tired old lies saying Hamas’ charter “calls for the destruction of Israel. Iran threatens to destroy Israel.”

“I support calling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard what it is: a terrorist organization. It is imperative that we get both tough and smart about dealing with Iran before it is too late.”

She backs “massive retaliation” if Iran attacks Israel, saying at the time:

“I want the Iranians to know that if I’m president, we will attack Iran. In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”

She endorses using cluster bombs, toxic agents and nuclear weapons in US war theaters. She calls them deterrents that “keep the peace.” She was one of only six Democrat senators opposed to blocking deployment of untested missile defense systems – first-strike weapons entirely for offense.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

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