This page will be dedicated to news updates and reports of interest with particular attention given articles published originally in Arabic.
Some of these reports focus on events in areas of Syria controlled by Islamist militias. Images of the fighters in these areas and of crowds viewing the lashing of people shouldn’t determine our understanding of Syria. The Syria of the 21 century still exists.
Translated from BBC Arabic
BBC: “Syria: The Struggle for Justice”
BBC Arabic is broadcasting an exclusive investigative documentary titled ” Syria: the struggle for justice”, pertaining to what is happening on the ground in the provinces of Edleb and Halab. The producer of the documentary film, Mohammed Ali, has written of the production experience, (following are excerpts from the conversation):
At one of the front lines in the area of Wadi Al Dayf, east of Edleb, we were accompanied by ‘Abu Sawmar’ leader of one of the armed factions of the opposition, on rounds to see his fighters, who were enforcing a blockade on the army base in the valley (alwadi). Abu Sawmar was describing to his fighters the importance of following the plan and refraining from shooting even one bullet in an attempt to engage the soldiers of the national army thus indicating to them that the opposition has run out of military supplies.
I met Abu Sawmar during the month of August last year (2012) in the first days of the battle in Halab (Aleppo), after which he left the battle there and joined his friends on the battlefield in Edleb. I asked him what motivated him to negate the battle in Aleppo given it is still under fire of the national army despite the efforts he expended at the time and all the comrades in arms he lost, he answered: ” some of the Islamic factions tried to assassinate me!”.
Abu Sawmar’s decision to leave Aleppo after three assassination attempts came, as he relayed to me, to avoid conflict between opposition fighters which would benefit the regime in Damascus. Following several attempts to communicate with the Islamic factions, some of the members of which tried to assassinate him, the response constantly provided would be ” the shabeeha are trying to assassinate you”.
What befell Abu Sawmar during the previous seven months was nothing if not an indication of the predicted struggle between the factions of the opposition, yet none of the opposition fighters anticipated that this struggle would begin before the end of Asad’s leadership.
Islamic Flags and (Islamic) Legal Trials
In my last tour of northern Syria, everything was different. The black and white flags representing the Islamic factions dominated most areas, instead of the flag of the uprising coloured green, and the voice of political Islam overcame the scene, and to the Islamic fighters ultimate decision in how each area is run.
In the presence of the judge inside one of the legal (Islamic) trial (court) rooms in the town of Saraqeb, south of Edleb province, one of the fighters of the opposition was directed towards the Judge’s room, who was clad in the green turban of a sheikh and had a long beard. The judge began to question the accused about a case involving a car accident. A series of questions and debate between the judge and the accused, during which the accused became increasingly enraged when the judge asked for witnesses as he did not believe the relayed story: ” just for your knowledge, if I exit the door of this courtroom, I will not return, and I will not respond to any summons from any other court, and I will not recognise any of them”.
The judge responds to the accused: ” You reject the law of God!” Following which the judge recites a string of verses from the Qur’an which allude to the obedience of judges and guardians. The accused is silent and attempts to deflect this libel from himself by claiming that he believes in God and the Sunnah of his prophet, following which he exits the trial to await completion of witness-baring.
The (Islamic) law court is new to Syrian society, which is accustomed to civil trials from the time of independence from the French mandate, for who has established these legal courts and how are they constituted?
In every area I passed through in the north of Syria, the (Sharia) law courts replaced previously civilian courts, and the response is always the same from the waring factions on the ground: the nature of Islamic society is thus, so the Sharia courts is the most appropriate.
During the course of Baathist leadership of Syria, spanning half a century, all trials were civilian, as they were before Baathist leadership, for two decades after independence. The Sunni majority then did not choose Sharia courts or Sharia trials, has it decided to do so today?
Attempts to establish Sharia courts began at the end of last year, at the behest of Islamist preachers, however people did not respond to them and they ignored all the decisions that came out of them, leading to their gradual closure. Today, Sharia courts have returned supported with the “security brigade” which overseas enforcement of all court decisions.
The “security brigade” of Saraqeb is due to the alliance between all the brigades that exist in the town, which are dominated by Islamist factions: the Free of Damascus Movement, Jabhat al Nusra, Eagles of Damascus Brigade, in addition to Syrian Martyres Brigade and Saraqeb Revolutionary Front.
The leader of the security brigade in Saraqeb, Abu Qadama, states that the sharia court existed before he arrived, however the lack of an enforcement body contributed to its closure, and he is present today with the other members of the brigade to enforce security and to support the sharia court in the town.
The Sharia courts of the opposition
Abu Qadama is of Jordanian nationality, he belongs to Jabhat al Nusra, which is part of Alqaeda.-he was recruited at the begining of this year by the “princes” according to his description to run file pertaining to civilian life in Saraqeb city.
In his crowded office you find a collection of religious books, surrounded by translations, among them the book ” Guerrilla war” by Che Guevara…my eyes divert from the instrument in his hand to the expression on the wall warning against smoking: ( Said the messenger of God: no harm or harmfulness, thus smoking is prohibited).
An individual approaches Abu Qadama complaining about Abu Akrama who hit him in public, and Abu Akrama is yet another leader from another brigade in Jabhat al Nusra who spent ten years in Afghanistan and he serves with Abu Qadama in the Sharia court.
Abu Qadama listens to the youth, inquiring after the reason for the incident, to which witnesses attest that Abu Akrama was demanding that the youth stand in the waiting bay in front of the bread-maker, to which the youth responded: you are Jordanian and you have no authority over me!!
Abu Qadama informs the young man of his right where complaining about Abu Akrama as a result of the assault is concerned, indicating Abu Akrama’s right to discipline him as a result of the orders of the security brigade.
Abu Qadama insists that the people affirm Sharia rule, and that Jabhat al Nusra involved itself in civilian life due to the requests of the civilian population to intervene and run civilian life.
Rejection and frustration
Outside the Sharia court, one civilian stood frustrated by the lashings sanction, criticizing the sharia court that issues it, according to him, the sanction represents the degradation of human dignity, and he speaks to me of how he went to be reassured as to the state of his neighbour, who was lashed because he married his daughter off to another man while she was still in the ” legal interval” (the period of time during which divorced women must wait- without remarrying). The neighbour would not open the door to him because he felt awkward and humiliated after being lashed in public.
(For the video of the flogging of the man who was lashed go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQ7IR8wYeTA)
Samir beckons his friends around him asking them to act to appose sharia rule, questioning who gave legitimacy to foreigners to govern the country, given that they will leave eventually? He clarifies his reason for rejecting Sharia rule given that he is a Muslim, responding that Islam is his religion, however this country cannot be run in such a manner according to the perspective of one sect because society is like buildings; ” and when you strive to build your home you cannot do so by placing blocks atop one another, for you require a substance between them to make the structure firm and stable, this substance is the sects and ethnicities or what are referred to as minorities, you cannot build your country without them”.
New Slogans on the Walls
Samir continues with his objective, while I observe on the walls expressions opposing Sharia rule written by unknown persons: ” down with the Sharia Court of Saraqeb”, ” who appointed you our rulers?” and ” where were the Islamists when the Secularists started the uprising?”
Demonstrations, despite violent bombardments on the city, is not an available option even if they include individuals who do not seek the power of the armed, for the security brigade has declared a prohibition on demonstrating for the safety of people’s lives from constant bombardments on the city by government forces.
On the front line, some of the Islamic factions engaged in raids in conjunction with all the other factions simultaneously, action very rarely taking place, for scores to settle and control over areas could constitute the difference in any military action taken, and these factors are determined via numbers and tactics utilized by each of them.
I sat with fighters from the Saraqeb Revolutionary Front.As they were elaborating on the progress of their operations, Abu Dajana entered, and he is an American of Iraqi extraction who recently joined Jabhat al Nusra, a conversation ensued between them regarding their perspective on the future of the country should Asad go. Abu Dajana was disappointed to hear Sunni fighters talk about a parliamentary state and legitimate elections.
Abu Dajana believes in the Islamic Caliphate State as preached by the prophet Muhammad in the lands of al Shaam (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine) and his idea is that this is the moment for the establishment of the dream state. I asked him if he intends to return to his country if Asad falls, and he responded no.
On the day I sat with him for conversation regarding a disagreement which had occurred then between two factions affiliated to Alqaeda; The Islamic state in Syria and Iraq; and Jabhat al Nusra. He did not have a deep understanding of the roots of the problem, however he was content with what he had heard of declarations from the leaders of the two factions, and he pointed out that in the end, there are no differences between the mujahideen, and they await word from the head of Alqaeda Ayman Al Zawaheri.
The Fighters of Qusayr
While we were seated a fighter joined us, stating that he is of American nationality and calling himself Abu Yousef and he came to rest from the battlefield of Qusayr. I asked him about the plight of the battle there and he began disappointed with the nature of the fighters, speaking of them with annoyance and considering that God will not grant them victory if they continue removing themselves from religion.
Abu Yousef describes most of the fighters in Qusayr as belonging by majority to the Farouk Brigades who spend the day clashing with forces loyal to Asad, before returning in the evening to watch television and sing songs. He recalls them and becomes extremely enraged by their behaviour: ” when you return you do not feel as though you are in a war, but a party!”.
Abu Yousef continues that he left Qusayr after he became disillusioned as to the possibility of achieving anything with those fighters, and he awaits confirmation from two individual sources in Alqaeda so that he is able to join them.
As I was interviewing Abu Yousef, Abu Abraa suddenly appeared. He is an Algerian leading one of the factions of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, he lost his temper upon seeing the American fighter conducting a video interview with me, and he came to me and tried to confiscate my camera, a debate ensued between us and he accused me of interviewing one of his fighters without his permission. I recalled to him that the fighter stated himself to be from Jabhat al Nusra and not affiliated to any organization, other fighters intervened to solve the problem and the disagreement ended with the tape confiscated from me.
The fighter who said he is American was explaining that talking to the media is natural, for Abu Al Baraa disciplined him and promised him that he would son be punished. I asked the fighter if he accepts providing Abu Al Baraa with the tape, he looked to me and stated: ” As he wishes, the decision is his”.
The division between the two Alqaeda affiliated factions was clear in light of the declaration of the leader of ‘The Islamic State in Iraq’, Abu Bakr Al Baghdady that his organization will merge with Jabhat al Nusra under the title of ‘ the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria’, which the leader of Jabhat al Nusra, Abu Muhammad Al Jolani, rejected.. They were cautious should any clashes take place between them.
Abu Qadama spoke to me of the mujahideen of these two factions, continuing to fight, yet whoever is loyal to Baghdadi joined The Islamic State faction, and whomever is loyal to Jolani remained with Jabhat al Nusra; adding that all are awaiting word from the leader of Alqaeda Ayman Alzawaheri, who circulated an internal message citing Jolani and Baghdadi and stating both of them are in error in relation to the declaration.
Meanwhile, the picture appears vague in relation to the future of the struggle between the Syrian government and the armed opposition fighters. There remains a hidden struggle between the factions of the opposition in relation to the identity of the future state, and it is a struggle likely to explode in the coming days, especially given speculation around the west’s intention to arm particular factions of the opposition.
BBC English 2 July 2013
The boy killed for an off-hand remark about Muhammad – Sharia spreads in Syria
The murder of a boy accused of blasphemy has come to symbolise concerns about the power of Islamist radicals in Syria’s armed uprising. Paul Wood reports from Aleppo on how Sharia is spreading in rebel-held areas.
Mohammed Qataa’s mother wanders the streets of Aleppo looking into strangers’ faces as she tries to find her son’s killers.
She knows she would recognise them. She was looking right at them when, in front of a dumbstruck and terrified crowd, Mohammed was shot dead, accused of blasphemy.
She remembers Mohammed as a happy, dutiful son, well known and well-liked in the Shaar neighbourhood where the men of the family scrape a living with a coffee cart.
He was 14 years old, but with no schooling possible because of the war he was usually to be found on the busy main thoroughfare through Shaar, selling the thick, sweet coffee they prefer here.
One day last month, someone asked him for a free cup. “Not even if the Prophet himself returns,” he had replied, laughing. That remark was a death sentence. ….
Many people may note similarities between the conflict in Syria and that in Egypt which is developing. Below is a video of an interview of a 12 year old boy in Egypt who expresses his objections to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. The video has received over 1 million hits. It’s titled “The Next President” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeDm2PrNV1I
Internal Fighting between Jolani and Baghdadi Factions of Jabhat Al-Nusra in Deir Al-Zour
1/7/13 Dam Press
Violent clashes between Jolani and Baghdadi loyalists on the ground east of Deir Al Zour have resulted in a number of injuries and deaths among their ranks; these are old differences between the two factions, as special sources relate that Abu Ahmad Al Jolani challenged Baghdadi, saying ” we have no choice but to confront Baghdadi’s people or Zawahiri himself must deal with these individuals or the unexpected shall happen”. Jolani stated that the fighters of ” Al Nusra consider this land to be their land, and their country”.
Shtat Intelligence meanwhile reports that the gangs of ” Abu Ahmad Al Jolani” and ” Al Baghdadi” are killing each other; the tension is increasing between them to boiling point. The Jihadists in Syria are on the brink of all-out war against each other in light of the struggle between the two factions, since ” Baghdadi” announced Jabhat Al Nusra’s return to its affiliate ” The Islamic State of Iraq”, from which it had divided to send its manpower to Syria in the summer of 2011.
According to a report by Reuters” The disagreement among the Jihadists in Syria and the armed men of the Iraqi wing of Alqaeda is a precursor to war between them. Shtat Intelligence centre states that the clashes are taking place and today Monday 1/7 they commenced in Deir Al Zour.
Ahmad Al Jolani was leading Jabhat al Nusra, and he recently announced a merger with ” the Islamic State of Iraq Alqaeda Branch” under the title of ” The Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham”. The disparity between the factions increases with Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi’s (leader of the Islamic state in Iraq) determination to continue fighting as the leader of the united Jihadist brigade in Syria, which led to armed confrontation between the two factions in more than one location.
Reuters stipulated that a senior leader of the fighters in Damascus informed in relation to developments stated that “tensions are mounting and getting closer to boiling point, the two sides say they are in the right, they could clash soon and if this happens it would be terrible”.
It should be noted that the war on Syria for the past two years has attracted foreign fighters from many foreign countries, fighting alongside the two adversaries in the internal struggle. Baghdadi’s attempt to unite the two factions of Alqaeda in Iraq and Syria generated differences at a sensitive time, for the Syrian Army extends to close range of the armed men, realizing gradual victories via operations aimed at exhausting them.
We note here that in April of last year, Baghdadi announced the merging of the Islamic state of Iraq with Jabhat Al Nusra, and this unilateral action generated open, deep differences with the leadership of Jabhat Al Nusra, which resisted what it considered to be an attempt by Baghdadi to exert sole control over them. This while Zahrawi requested that Baghdadi freeze the merger in an attempt to solve the differences between the adversaries.
Baghdadi, however, rejected Zahrawi’s directives, this month stating that ” the Islamic State in Iraq and Shaam will remain as long as we have veins that pulsate or an eye that winks and we will not negate it”.
One of the leaders of Jabhat Al Nusra has stated that ” in rejecting the rule of sheikh Zahrawi , he (Baghdadi) is no longer a brother within Alqaeda”, adding that “the State (the Islamic State in Iraq and Bilaad Al Shaam) is illegitimate”.
A source close to the leader of Al Nusra, Abu Muhammad Al Jolani, stated that Baghdadi’s challenge ” has left us no choice but confrontation”. Despite the threat, it appears that the fighters of Al Nusra are not in a position which allows them to challenge Baghdadi’s forces and they are now dispersed and in need of unifying their ranks and finding allies among other Syrian fighters.
The leader of a very extreme Islamic faction in Edleb has stated that with the state the militia is currently in, Baghdadi’s men may be able to triumph over the fighters of Al Nusra, adding that ” this merger and the divisions have weakened Al Nusra, and it will be difficult for Jolani or any other individual to bring it to life at this point in time”.
Baghdadi and his forces, most of whom are foreign fighters, have forced Jolani and some of his men to hide and some of Al Nusra’s weapons have been confiscated, and many of Al Nusra’s fighters have chosen to return to their homes or joined other Islamic factions; or surrender themselves to Syrian authorities.
Sources close to Jolani have stated that given most of Baghdadi’s fighters are not Syrian, they will end up isolated, even among Jihadists, because they are accused of seeking to impose an Islamic agenda, this being a greater concern to them than overthrowing the Syrian state.
Weariness of Baghdadi’s agenda in Syria emerges by reason of the bloody nature of his organisation pertaining to the members of Al Qaeda, which contributes to the desertion of many members of Al Nusra, and this could encourage the armed men of other factions to join Al Nusra to confront Baghdadi in the north, possibly in the provinces of Aleppo (Halab) and Raqaa close to the border with Jordan. Islamic sources associated with Al Qaeda ideology have stipulated that Baghdadi’s attempt to merge the two wings of the organisation in Syria and Iraq does not contradict Zahrawi’s perspective, likened to a pyramid structure that could constitute the basis for a strong Islamic state. The objective of Al Qaeda is to train fighters and dispatch them to perpetrate attacks across the globe…
The Syrian people shall witness the coming phase; the bloody war between the armed men, the rebels, and those attracted, and the scores to settle are approaching.
Alakhbar Newspaper, Saturday 29th June 2013.
Syrian military sources have revealed to ‘alakhbar’ that “with every day that passes the Syrian army advances on all ignited fronts, the scenarios of foreign military intervention or the no-fly zone have fallen; we have surpassed circumstances of greater difficulty and they have not been able to act (upon such scenarios)”. The source reiterates a number of factors on the ground which make the army command (leadership) confident that more than sixty percent of the military crisis has come to a conclusion; particularly following the great demoralization affecting the armed opposition after their crushing defeat in Qusayr, and after the army altered many of its military tactics using its experience on the ground, alternating from defensive to offensive mode. The exchange in military tactics based on experience of the terrain has aimed to ” reduce loss of life in the ranks of offensive forces and increase it among those on the defensive, in addition to halting operations aimed at regaining areas that have no strategical importance for those that cut off supply lines and blockade the armed men; as well as the recapture of vital international routes and exorcising control over border areas, especially with Lebanon”.
The second factor is the plight of disintegration affecting the ranks of the armed opposition; and the ongoing war between “the ‘free army’ and ‘Jabhat al Nusra’, the latter working to destroy the ‘free army’, which is today in the worst state since its inception, to the benefit of Jubhat al Nusra and local factions which function as vagabond road hijackers, kidnappers and looters”. The source indicates that Syrian Security forces have commenced infiltration operations inside the waring factions of the armed opposition, and the results are beginning to emerge.
Another political source in Damascus has relayed that yet another factor which has contributed to changing the reality on the ground in Syria is political in nature. Today, accordingly, there is clearly American reluctance in light of and German bias towards the Russian stance on the crisis, and it seems that France has also slightly swayed enough to warrant public attention. The source adds that today “Saudi Arabia is the head of the bow in the aggression against Syria, as the transfer of power in Qatar to Prince Tamim, son of Hamad bin Khalifa, reflects a Qatari halt to the financial and military support of the opposition, in addition to the decline of Turkey’s role following the clear perspective taken by the Turkish Army at the expense of (Prime Minister Rajab Tayeb) Erdogan and the beginning of an end to the error of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, Tunis and Egypt. The Turkish Army has also taken new measures to secure the border with Syria and is seriously considering assisting Syrian refugees to return to their villages and homes”.
What of the American decision to arm the opposition? The source stipulates that the operation of arming is now old news, for “how did they (the armed opposition) for all this time were it not for the fact that they were being armed by the Arab (Gulf) and the West?”. A response to the subject is preceded by a wide smile. The Army has managed to confiscate a number of “concourse” missiles. In addition, Syrian Security Forces and Hezballah have purchased two such missiles, and we await Stinger missiles to say thank-you America”!. On the progress of military operations on the ground, Syrian military sources state that ” what the Syrian army is doing is defiant action; no army in the world is able to deploy inside its own country. The army had only one front extending to a length of seventy kilometers with occupied Palestine, today the army is deployed across an area spanning 185 thousand square kilometers”.