Islam Edit Bureau
05 May 2016
Bitter Memories of War
Is the Key to Peace in Syria
Almost A Decade, Gaza Stripped Of Bare Necessities
Regional Dimensions of Destroying Aleppo
the Syria Ceasefire Will Not Hold
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Bitter Memories Of War
4 May 2016
forgetting better at resolving conflicts than an active collective memory?
American author David Rieff raises this question in his book In Praise of
Forgetting. He says the modern world has developed a pathological obsession
with memories, and it is time to give forgetting a chance. Rieff discusses
conflicts that the West has overcome, such as World War II, the Bosnian war and
the Irish civil war.
this as the debate over the 101st anniversary of the Armenian genocide surfaced
in Lebanon this week. This debate has been accompanied by media and political
controversy for a century now. Some are keen to attack efforts to commemorate
this anniversary, and have launched social-media campaigns to consider the
genocide a matter of historical controversy.
discuss remembering and forgetting, we need to address the issue of moral
double-standards. We cannot but ask why this genocide is still a source of
international, ethnic and sectarian tensions. The mass murder committed by the
Ottomans during World War I is a matter of historical fact, yet to this day it
is still questioned by Turks, and by Arabs and Muslims who are enthusiastic
about the Ottoman Empire.
the memory of war does not prevent it from happening again. Syria teaches us
this lesson every day
insist on remembering the genocide - as is their right - to ensure it never
happens again. However, has this not happened to other peoples since? What
lessons can we draw when massacres continue to be committed?
If we have
not been fair to the Armenians after 100 years, do we really expect the world
to be fair to the victims of current massacres? The Syrian regime’s shelling of
Aleppo, which has become routine, continues to massacre civilians, and no one
has acted to help them.
is a moral duty toward victims and truth. We believe that reviving a painful tragedy
may contribute to not repeating it. This is legitimate and sometimes necessary,
especially when denial dominates.
reviving the memory of war does not prevent it from happening again. Syria
teaches us this lesson every day. Keeping the memory alive can turn the past
into a source of hatred, especially when facts are painful. This further
complicates our current reality.
5 May 2016
ceasefire in Syria that was brokered by Washington and Moscow made a diplomatic
settlement of the conflict possible, but not guaranteed, for the first time
since the bloodshed began in 2011. Negotiations can only make progress with a
cessation of hostilities took effect on Feb. 27, after which a transition
period appeared to be more achievable than ever, despite the differences
between the negotiating sides being enormous.
violations did not initially threaten the peace process. Real concerns began
with rumours that the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were going to
launch an offensive on Aleppo. But since the clashes in the area became
regular, causing dozens of death every day, the entire negotiation process
crisis represents a major failure of both Russian and American diplomacy. They
failed to develop proper mechanism to ensure compliance with the ceasefire at
the right time and could not react to the challenges in a proper manner.
establishment of the US-Russia Monitoring Centre for Syria announced by
Russia’s Foreign Minister Serguey Lavrov, after his meeting with the UN Special
Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura on Tuesday, is an important step, but it was
taken too late, and it is still unclear how it will function and ensure
agreement reached on Wednesday between the US and Russia on extending Syria
truce to Aleppo should have been implemented before violence broke out.
patronage of Assad has given him a sense of impunity and confidence that Moscow
will support him whatever he does. However, it is very unlikely that the
bloodshed in Aleppo is happening with Russia’s tacit consent, given its efforts
and role in the peace process.
should be admitted that Russia is really too soft with the regime in Damascus
and does not use all the leverages of influence it has. However, claims of
Russian bombing of Aleppo are false, and are part of a media war by those
hostile to Moscow.
not use barrel bombs, which are reportedly being dropped on the city. It only
uses high-precision weapons. Thus, responsibility for what happens on ground
lies entirely on ground forces, and not just on Assad’s. US Secretary of State
John Kerry condemned the missile attack on a hospital in Aleppo on Tuesday that
he said appeared to have been carried out from rebel-held territory. Kerry’s
revelations do not whiten the ruling regime at all, but put some justice in the
patronage of Assad has given him a sense of impunity and confidence that Moscow
will support him whatever he does
further speculation, Russia has withdrawn, from its air military base Hmeymim,
all the bombers Su-25. Its military presence in Syria has become really very
modest and aimed exclusively at the fighting of ISIS and an-Nusra.
limitation of military presence contributes to the balance of forces on the
ground, on the negotiations process and on the long and complex process of
trust-building. Acute distrust between the warring parties is a primary cause
of ceasefire violations but such violations in Aleppo can have particularly
far-reaching and dangerous consequences for Syria and the region.
end to the violence in Aleppo is vital and international players must impose
permanent ceasefire and prevent any violations. Temporary truces will not save
lives of civilians, but most likely just delay their deaths. The 48 hour truce
confirmed by Syrian military is nothing in terms of the scale of the tragedy
and the threat of escalation could further dampen the peace process.
use all its leverage on the Assad regime, which needs to stop feeling that it
can safely hide behind Russia. Russia should give a clear message that
Damascus’ no-holds barred action will not be tolerated anymore.
The key to
peace in Syria is a tough, respected and regulated nationwide ceasefire and
excluding terrorists and extremist groups. Significant steps taken by
international players, albeit late, give hope that this key to peace will not
Almost a Decade, Gaza Stripped Of Bare Necessities
a decade the people of Gaza have lived in increasingly inhuman conditions
caused by Israeli and Egyptian blockades, outbursts of war with Israel, and by
a Hamas government with little regard for human rights. Nearly two million
people, two-thirds of them refugees, are in desperate need of breaking the
chains of the political equivalent of solitary confinement and a vicious cycle
aftermath of the 2014 war with Israel, that claimed more than 2100 Palestinians
lives and sowed destruction across this tiny strip, more than $3.5 billion were
pledged by donor countries from within the region and from the wider
international community –a third of this money is yet to be paid. Yet, the main
obstacle to any change of fortune in Gaza is the punitive access policy, which
prevents movement of people, goods and capital in and out of this tiny and
isolated piece of territory.
ironic that senior Israeli political and security leaders became the proponents
of easing the pressure off Gaza. Notwithstanding their constant uncompromising
and menacing language, there is a growing recognition among them that
inflicting unremittent misery on the Gazan population is counterproductive to
Israeli interests. Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon was quoted, for instance, as
saying that it was not in Israel’s interest for the people in Gaza to live
without dignity. He acknowledged that they paid a heavy price, but now it is in
Israel’s self-interest to allow them to revive their economy.
there is still a massive gap between the views expressed above, of the need to
bring normality to the lives of the people in Gaza, and the translation of this
into facts on the ground. The recognition that when despair instead of hope
takes hold of a society, the only outcome is radicalisation and perpetual
conflict has not resulted in a profound change in Israeli policies.
As is the
case of the general attitude toward the Palestinians, the Israeli government’s
policy toward Gaza is incoherent and lacks sophistication and complexity
reports by the Israeli human rights NGO, Gisha (Access), highlight with
surgical precision that Israeli policies, despite some improvements, still
strangle Gaza’s economy and badly harm its civil society. The organisation,
whose goal for more than a decade has been the protection of Palestinians’
freedom of movement, especially Gaza residents, rightly contends that the
changes are mainly symbolic.
prohibitions set by Israel on movement of people and goods range from
incomprehensible to inexcusable and sheer arbitrary. Preventing visits of
ailing family members or receiving of medical treatment is inhumane. Barring
Gazan marathon runners from participating in a competition in Bethlehem, or
children from attending a music camp in the West Bank is pathetic, and no
security excuse can justify it.
To be sure,
there was a significant increase in 2015 of travel permission for people and
trade in and out of Gaza through the Erez and Kerem Shalom Crossings, in
comparison to the two previous years. However, this is almost insignificant
considering the real need for the reconstruction and development of the place.
The more pertinent benchmark would the pre 2000 Second Intifada figures. In
2015, a monthly average of less than 15,000 exits by Palestinians was recorded,
more than double than that of 2014.
this was still unacceptably low in comparison to the 500,000 exits 16 years
ago. To make things worse, this relatively modest increase is far from
compensating for the ongoing closure of the Rafah Crossing by Egypt. The same
is true for goods, especially those that are regarded as having a
‘dual-use’—that is those that can be used for both civilian and military
purposes. These items include construction materials, chemicals, wood panels,
uninterrupted power supply components, and batteries, to name a few.
Admittedly, some of these items can be, and are, used in building tunnels or
weapons and ammunition.
long list of materials that are prohibited from entering the Strip, or only
allowed in limited quantities, are devastating to the development of a viable
Gazan economy and the reconstruction of the many thousands of buildings
destroyed or badly damaged in the last round of war with Israel, including
hospitals and schools. The very modest increase in construction materials
entering the Gaza Strip is a drop in the ocean. The barriers on exporting the
already limited output of agriculture, furniture and textile goods from Gaza to
the West Bank or Israel leaves the economy stagnated.
sympathize with Israeli concerns of enabling the Hamas’ military wing to get
its hands on material that might pose a threat to the country’s security.
However, this should not result in putting harsh restrictions on those who need
the supplies for non-belligerent purposes. A more refined and limited list of
dual-use goods, which are transparent, paired with a more efficient process,
allowing these items to be utilized for civilian needs is urgently required. As
it stands now, Israeli access policies for Gaza smack of punitive rather than self-defence
draconian restrictions on movement, imposed by Israel on civil society
organizations, including women, humanitarian, cultural, development and human
rights, are nothing short of absurd, ruthless and counterproductive. Preventing
these organizations from flourishing, by restricting them from travelling to
workshops, courses or meetings with experts, Israel suffocates the buds of the
very elements of society which might bring about more pluralistic and liberal
change—the very type of society that Israel persistently claims is lacking and
needed in Gaza.
As is the
case of the general attitude toward the Palestinians, the Israeli government’s
policy toward Gaza is incoherent and lacks sophistication and complexity. It is
more concerned with appeasing the right wing voices that are one-trick ponies,
who think that force, occupation and depriving Palestinians of civil and
political rights will guarantee their security. It leaves the people of Gaza to
pay the price and with it also any prospect of peace and reconciliation with
humanitarian tragedy in Aleppo has gotten so bad it is indescribable, and
represents the peak of Syria’s ordeal. Not defying the aggressors will give
them carte blanche to do whatever they want in the region, and to destroy
whatever is left of Syria and commit more crimes. Aleppo will increase the
hostile appetite of Iran and its allies.
they will not achieve their aim of restoring the authority of Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo or other cities. The Assad regime has spoken of
“liberating” Aleppo since last year, when Russian forces entered Syria and
participated in the war alongside Iran and the regime. The situation is still
the same despite Moscow’s claim that it withdrew most of its forces, which
turned out to be untrue.
the fighting in Syria two years before Russia, and like the latter it has not
succeeded. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) expanded its
capabilities by forming an alliance of extremist religious militias, including
the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Iraqi League of the Righteous, Afghans and others.
That also failed, as did the Assad regime in achieving its aims ever since
confrontations began with Syrian citizens in 2011.
Syrian regime warplanes have complete air supremacy because the Syrian
opposition has been deprived of surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft
weapons. The Russian and Syrian air forces have only succeeded in destroying
cities in an unprecedented manner since World War II. However, this has not
achieved any significant results except for capturing some of Aleppo’s
of the region’s governments over this annihilation will make them pay a higher
price later when Iran repeats its crimes
not dare leave his castle in Damascus, as part of the capital’s countryside is
still held by the opposition after the IRGC and Hezbollah failed to seize it.
The results of the Russian-Iranian intervention are insignificant.
This is the
case even if we take into consideration efforts to cut Turkish funding and
decrease foreign support to the opposition, UN silence over these armies’
crimes against civilians, and the U.S.-led alliance coordinating with the
Syrian regime against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and allowing
Assad’s forces to take over liberated areas.
been destroyed, people displaced and more than 300,000 murdered, but the Syrian
regime’s authority has not been restored. The forces of Iran, Russia and the
regime will continue their annihilation, murder and displacement if regional
powers do not act and support the Syrian opposition by supplying it with
We do not
expect direct military intervention by any country in the region. The United
Nations will not do anything, and US President Barack Obama will not alter his
negligent stance. The silence of the region’s governments over this
annihilation will make them pay a higher price later when Iran repeats its
I fear we
will see this soon in Iraq, as Iran feels that no one is defying it in Syria.
Tehran is destroying the political system in Baghdad for the purpose of fully
controlling it, and will most probably push its forces or militias to take
control. The crisis will expand if a front that resists the Iranian camp is not
Syria Ceasefire Will Not Hold
couple of months have seen a significant amount of reduction of fighting in
Syria, on the back of the Russian-sponsored “ceasefire”. And with it, a
significant decrease in the influx of Syrian migrants into Europe. But the
“ceasefire” has not meant a complete cessation of hostilities, as per the usual
definition. And this week, despite US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts
and intense shuttle diplomacy, the peace deal is teetering on the verge of
four main reasons for this. Firstly, Russia reserves the right to attack any
“terrorist group”. But what Russia is defining as “terrorist group” is not
nearly the same as what the US and the West would. It is not just ISIS,
al-Nusra and other officially designated groups. Russia designates as
“terrorist group” anyone who it wants to designate as a terrorist group,
basically, anyone who is not sworn to the regime of President Assad, or
possibly the Kurds.
therefore attack anyone under the pretext of attacking ISIS. And as we speak
they continue to bomb Aleppo to bits. Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov
has only just gotten around to “hoping” that the ceasefire can be extended to
the city, which, let us not forget, is not in fact an ISIS target.
there are now thousands of small militias and groupings who are no longer
immediately concerned with overthrowing Assad or defeating ISIS, but which, out
of the chaos of the conflict, have established lucrative rackets for their
members from smuggling, extortion and other similar activities. To them, any
ceasefire poses a double threat.
fragmented nature of the “opposition” means that there is a diffusion of
responsibility and accountability, which makes meaningful dialogue very
On the one
hand, they will no longer be able to cover their activities behind a pretence
of legitimate political fighting, and their activities will be targeted both by
other fighting actors and by their local populations as the organized crime
they really are.
And on the
other, after all they would have been involved in during the fighting; it is
hardly likely that the gang members will be safe. They will have many enemies
with many scores to settle. Ironically, for most of the people caught up in
this situation, they will only be safe so long as the fighting continues. So we
can expect them to continue fighting and do their best to undermine any
attempts at ceasefire by the larger, political actors.
the fragmented nature of the “opposition” means that there is a diffusion of
responsibility and accountability, which makes meaningful dialogue between the
Assad side and the “opposition” very difficult, as we have already seen during
the current attempt at a ceasefire.
groups cooperate with each other to such an extent that it is very difficult to
know where one groups ends (e.g. al-Nusra) and another begins. For the Russians
and Assad’s troops, lines are all blurred as to who can be attacked and who
But on the
“opposition” side also, lines are blurred on who is bound by the ceasefire, and
“safe” from Russian bombardment, and who is going to be targeted anyway and not
bound by the “ceasefire”. In between these gaps in demarcation, individuals and
groups will continue to settle scores, run rackets, carry out attacks without
ever being sure what this means for the ceasefire and what the consequences of
their actions will be for themselves as well.
Russia and Assad have much less reason to compromise with the “opposition” and
the West. The dynamics on the ground are changing rapidly and they have the
momentum to impose their political vision on ending the conflict on other
parties. Aleppo is still resisting. But only just. It has almost been bombed
completely into submission, and there is hardly anything left standing in the
the situation is similar. Russia and Assad feel they are now in the position to
bomb every opposition group outside of ISIS into submission. So unless the
‘opposition’ concedes on Assad’s terms, which they will not, Russia and Assad
will continue to bludgeon them until they are completely broken.
this, the fears that the “opposition” had about the original ceasefire plan
have been borne out: the plan was put forward simply to give Russia the cover
it needed to consolidate its position. And that is exactly what Russia has
done. The rebels now are in a position where they have little option but to
concede. But they will not. And so, the tragedy will continue for a while yet.