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Middle East Press ( 4 May 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Bitter Memories of War: New Age Islam's Selection, 05 May 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

05 May 2016

 The Bitter Memories of War

By Diana Moukalled

 Aleppo Is the Key to Peace in Syria

 By Maria Dubovikova

For Almost A Decade, Gaza Stripped Of Bare Necessities

By Yossi Mekelberg

 The Regional Dimensions of Destroying Aleppo

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

 Why the Syria Ceasefire Will Not Hold

By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


The Bitter Memories Of War

By Diana Moukalled

4 May 2016

Is 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.

I recall 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.

Before we 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.

Reviving the memory of war does not prevent it from happening again. Syria teaches us this lesson every day

History Repeating

Armenians 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.

Remembering 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.

However, 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.



Aleppo Is the Key to Peace in Syria

By Maria Dubovikova

5 May 2016

The 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 sustainable ceasefire.

The 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.

Ceasefire 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 became untenable.

Aleppo 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.

The 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 compliance.

The agreement reached on Wednesday between the US and Russia on extending Syria truce to Aleppo should have been implemented before violence broke out.

Taking Responsibility

Russian 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.

But it 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.

Russia does 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 story.

Russian patronage of Assad has given him a sense of impunity and confidence that Moscow will support him whatever he does

To prevent 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.

The 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.

Bringing an 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.

Moscow must 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 be lost.



For Almost a Decade, Gaza Stripped Of Bare Necessities

By Yossi Mekelberg

5 May 2016

For nearly 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 of violence.

In the 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.

It is 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.

Regrettably, 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

Two recent 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.

The 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.

Nonetheless, 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.

Viable Economy?

Yet, the 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.

One could 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 measures.

The 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 Israel.



The Regional Dimensions of Destroying Aleppo

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed

4 May 2016

The 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.

However, 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.

Iran joined 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.

Russian and 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 neighbourhoods.

The silence of the region’s governments over this annihilation will make them pay a higher price later when Iran repeats its crimes

Assad does 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.

Action Needed

Cities have 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 anti-aircraft weapons.

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 crimes.

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 established.



Why the Syria Ceasefire Will Not Hold

By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

4 May 2016

The last 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 collapse.

There are 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.

Russia can 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.

Secondly, 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.

The fragmented nature of the “opposition” means that there is a diffusion of responsibility and accountability, which makes meaningful dialogue very difficult

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.

Thirdly, 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.

Rebel Cooperation

Most rebel 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 cannot.

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.

Lastly, 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 city.

Elsewhere, 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.

After all 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.