|The steady advances that the Syrian armed forces are making in their mopping-up operations are driving the reactionary forces into desperation – frequently expressed in the eruption of fratricidal strife within the camp of reaction itself, and in the cynical use of captive populations as human shields.
Thieves fall out
In early February, al-Qaeda expelled from its ranks the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), after it had tried to subordinate the rival al-Nusra gangsters to its authority and to secure a monopoly franchise on terror operations in Syria. Despite earlier efforts by al-Qaeda to reconcile the warring parties, ISIS continued to expand its operations, bringing in more foreign fighters and conducting itself with a degree of nihilistic and fascistic violence that gave pause to even some of the most hardened criminals in the terrorist camp.
ISIS members are said to have slaughtered at least 22 people, amongst whom at least 12 were themselves armed terrorists, after seizing the town of Jarablus in Aleppo province. Early in January, several gangs launched a joint offensive against ISIS, accusing it of atrocities against fellow anti-Assad forces. Under the hammer blows of the Syrian army, these debilitating internecine splits can only get worse as the rats turn on each other.
Yarmouk: rebels pressgang civilians as human shields
Painfully aware that what little public support these terror gangs ever enjoyed is leaking away rapidly, they are with sickening regularity now resorting to the tactic of seizing a town, preventing its population from escaping, then using the residents as human shields in an attempt to stop the restoration of order by the security forces.
For example, Adra, a town just outside Damascus, was seized in mid-December. Many fled, but the 5,000 who did not have ever since been under effective house arrest. The Syrian army, meanwhile, is camped outside the town, unwilling to storm it for fear of harming the innocents who will be caught in the crossfire.
The same cruel game is being played out on a much larger scale in Yarmouk, Syria’s largest Palestinian refugee camp (although, unlike in other Arab countries where Palestinians live, Yarmouk was actually a flourishing town), where 18,000 have been held captive by the terrorists now for over a year.
Efforts by the Damascus government, in coordination with the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and various Palestinian forces, have managed to get some food aid into the camp, but the delivery of supplies is being hampered by snipers with their guns trained on all who try to leave. The only people allowed out of the town are women and elderly men, on the basis that they have no option but to return in order to rejoin their families who remain trapped.
The Palestinian ambassador to Syria made it clear where the responsibility lies for this humanitarian disaster, telling RT that the Palestinians “are negotiating with the militants to convince them to go out. We tell them that this is of no importance and these are just people – they’ll not gain any strategic goal. We had three rounds of talks, but we failed. And I don’t think they’ll accept this – it’s clear.”
Anwar Raja, politburo member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (General Command) (PFLP-GC) explained that: “The Nusra Front and the takfiri groups are trading on the hunger of the people. They want to say to the world: ‘See: the people are hungry.’ It’s like the residents are kidnapped inside their own camp, inside their own home, and the militants are negotiating over them, negotiating their souls.
“They claim that the Syrian state is besieging Palestinians in the camp. They want to invert the image and the truth, saying that the Syrian government is part of the killing force, as they don’t do anything to protect the people. They want people to hate the regime.” (‘“We want to go out!”: 18,000 starving inside Syrian refugee camp’, 1 February 2014)
Needless to say, all wings of the imperialist media are only too happy to oblige in disseminating this falsehood, with the ‘liberal’-imperialist Guardian and ‘humanitarian’-‘NGO’ missionaries of Amnesty International marching proudly in the vanguard.
Syrian army liberates Yabroud
Meanwhile, the 13 Syrian and Lebanese Greek Orthodox nuns kidnapped from Syria’s historic christian town of Maaloula back in December have finally been released by their jihadi captors.
Their captivity lasted for over three months, during which time nobody could find out where they were, or indeed whether they were alive or dead. Asked what had prompted their liberation, Bishop Louka Khoury told the press, “What the Syrian army achieved in Yabroud facilitated this process.”
Yabroud is a strategically significant town 60km north of Damascus, which for long had been occupied by jihadis. Syrian soldiers, reportedly backed by Hizbollah, finally resolved the long siege and liberated the town on Sunday 16 March, following up this feat by retaking several nearby villages and by freeing the mediaeval fortress of Crac des Chevaliers from terrorist control the following Thursday.
The castle, a Unesco world heritage site, was built in the 12th century by crusaders – and the damage done to this and other irreplaceable sites of cultural and historical significance shows just how much the takfiri vandals really care about Syria. Indeed, the looting of historic monuments – jealously guarded and maintained by Syrians for centuries – has reached epic proportions in areas under the control of foreign fighters, and a roaring black-market trade in historical artefacts is boosting the coffers of these criminals.
In a recent joint statement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Unesco Director General Irina Bokova, and the joint UN-Arab League mediator on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said they have received “alarming reports” that Syrian historical sites have been purposely targeted during the three years of war.
“As the people of Syria continue to endure incalculable human suffering and loss, their country's rich tapestry of cultural heritage is being ripped to shreds,” the statement said.
“Archaeological sites are being systematically looted and the illicit trafficking of cultural objects has reached unprecedented levels.” (Quoted in ‘Syrian army reclaims legendary Crusader castle from rebels’, rt.com, 22 March 2014)
Now, however, the liberation of Yabroud has had the double advantage of breaking rebel supply lines and restoring the lifeline between Damascus and the Mediterranean. From the bishop’s cryptic remark, it also sounds as if some of the reactionaries are getting cold feet about being held to account for their crimes, preferring to release their hostages now rather than wait to be tracked down by the liberating forces.
Kerry: sabre-rattling recommences
Doubtless with US encouragement, the ‘rebel’ spokesmen attended Geneva II solely in order to filibuster and stonewall the talks into the ground – thereby dragging out the suffering of the Syrian people and sabotaging the attempted process kick-started by Russia back in 2012.
As Geneva II sickened and died, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov complained about the opposition’s attitude, noting that: “The only thing they want to talk about is the establishment of a transitional governing body. Only after that are they ready to discuss the urgent and most pressing problems, like terrorism ... I am very worried about the systematic attempts to disrupt the political settlement in Syria,” thereby “forcing the government to slam the door”.
With talks dead in the water, and every sign that Syria’s security forces are successfully pinning down the terrorist enemy, Washington is tentatively starting to flex its muscles again and mutter about opening a “southern front” – presumably to compensate for its failure to gain ground in the north and east and perhaps also to give the ostensibly ‘secular’ FSA a chance to claw back some of the thunder stolen by its more overtly jihad-minded rivals.
This cannot but recall Obama’s famous ‘last surge’, which was supposed to win the war in Afghanistan, and whose actual consequences proved to be quite the reverse.
The Guardian of 11 March breathlessly informed us that “a flurry of reports from Washington, Jerusalem, Amman and the Gulf suggests a major new clandestine effort is under way to open up a ‘southern front’ against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Central to the mooted plan is a renewed push to provide Syria’s badly divided and often ineffectual moderate, secular rebel groups with additional funding, upgraded weapons and intelligence support.” (‘Syria war: new push against Assad being planned’)
It seems that the forlorn hope of the new front is to push back Syrian forces in the south west, so opening the road to Damascus. This sounds less like a vote of confidence in the new front than a wail of despair about the toxic ‘old’ one in the north and east, where ISIS, al-Nusra and all the other head-bangers are exhausting themselves in internecine fury whilst irretrievably alienating the very people they speciously claim to ‘protect’.
If comprador sources are to be believed, Washington is continuing to pump money into the war effort, hoping against hope that, if the suffering of the Syrian people is dragged out long enough, something might turn up to imperialist advantage.
Contrary to the previous official US position, the Wall Street Journal reported that rebel commanders had struck a deal with US and Saudi intelligence agents in Jordan on 30 January for the supply of shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft weapons (of that type that previously created such havoc for the progressive government in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 90s).
Rebel sources are also boasting that Uncle Sam has supplied $3m worth of salaries for the Southern Front brigades. And the joke Free Syrian Army’s launch in February of a so-called ‘spring offensive’ in the south came on the back of news that Washington planned to splash out another $31.4m in weapons funding.
This sounds like a lot, but some estimates suggest that over $1bn has already been shelled out by the Gulf states since last year’s humiliating US recoil from a full-scale military invasion. On this evidence, it might appear that it is still the little gang of feudal sheikhdoms that is setting the pace, with mighty Washington obliged to put some dollars on the table just to stay in the game.
Be that as it may, persistent reports of a secret command centre in Jordan staffed by military officials from Britain, the US, Israel and the Gulf states – said to be propping up the drooping FSA with a ready supply of sniper rifles, mortars and heavy machine guns – coupled with reports of training facilities in northern Jordan, cannot be taken lightly. When imperialism becomes desperate, it also becomes reckless.
Victory to the Syrian army and people! Victory to Assad!