Three Prominent Members in Opposition Syrian Coalition Resign Suhair al-Atassi, George Sabra & Khaled Khoja have all stepped down

 After George Sabra, both Suhair al-Atassi,and Khalid Khoja announced their withdrawal from the National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian opposition.

26-04-2018: ‘…Atassi said she had decided to resign because “the current official track toward a political solution in Syria has become identical with the Russian track which rehabilitates the Assad regime and its war criminals and undermines a real, material political solution, and transfers it to a division of powers and the benefits of powers among forces, figures and countries.”

She added on Twitter that some official institutions of the revolution and opposition forces had lost “the challenge imposed on them by the international community, where they were put before the dilemma of submitting or disappearing, and some of them chose the priority of surviving and living with the illusion of achieving the possible and pursuing political realism.”

Sabra said that the reason for his resignation was that “the Coalition is no longer our coalition, which was loyal to the principles of the revolution and the aims of the people, because the working methods and measures adopted do not respect the documents and decisions and do not comply with the will of members and the independent Syrian national vision, and because of the contradictions between its members and constituencies … I announce my withdrawal from the Coalition and give up my membership in its general authority. Wishing you success.”

Khoja said in a statement: “I believe in the need for the independence of revolutionary decision making and the need to continue national work outside the coalition’s framework. I am in accordance with Mr. George Sabra and my colleague Suhair al-Atassi in the reasons upon which I am basing my decision to withdraw. I announce my withdrawal from my membership in the coalition and its general authority.”’

Suhair al-Atassi, George Sabra and Khaled Khoja have all stepped down

MESOP INTEL BACKGROUNDER : Spotlight on Global Jihad (April 18-25, 2018) – By The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center

ain events of the week

  • The main event of the week was the expansion of the Syrian regime’s control over the Damascus region. On April 19, 2018, the Syrian army and the forces supporting it launched a campaign to take over the southern neighborhoods of Damascus, which are under ISIS’s control. After a preliminary airstrike and artillery fire, the Syrian forces launched a ground attack whose center of gravity is apparently the northern part of the Yarmouk refugee camp. In addition, following the takeover of eastern Al-Ghouta, the Syrian army expanded its control (without any significant resistance) to the eastern Al-Qalamoun ridge northeast of Damascus. The Army of Islam (Jaysh Al-Islam), which was deployed in the area, preferred to evacuate to the north without a battle, handing over large quantities of weapons (including tanks) to the Syrian army.
The campaign to take over the southern suburbs of Damascus –  Overview

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS EXPERT SAMPLER : The Strategic Risks of Inaction on Syria’s Chemical Weapons

25 April 2018 – The continued existence of Syria’s chemical weapons program contributes to more than a tragic humanitarian situation; its uninhibited use and maintenance has strategic implications for the West and Israel. • Messaging—current civil war, and beyond: There is more to Syria’s continued use of chemical weapons than its tactical battlefield gains. It messages the brutality the regime is willing to direct at Syria’s Sunni majority, which makes up the bulk of rebel forces and holdout enclaves. It also spotlights Assad’s ability to act with impunity without the threat of the Western coalition crippling his war machine, which dissuades future rebellion.

  • Proliferation: Faced with limited military action seeking to degrade Syria’s stockpiles and logistical facilities, Assad has shown his intent to continue developing, storing and using these capabilities. Should Syria – backed by Iran and Russia – continue to harbor chemical weapons, it could become the staging ground for the proliferation of such weapons to Hezbollah and other militant groups in the future.
  • Deterrence: Syria and Iran have worked together on their chemical weapons programs to strengthen their position against Israel. While this move could be defensive in nature, it could include setting up the potential for a first-use chemical strike to neutralize Israeli military targets such as airbases and command and control centers prior to seizing the Golan Heights before Israeli forces could mobilize its reserves.

Read today’s brief, with expert commentary by: – David Shedd, former acting director, DIA /  – James Jeffrey, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Turkey /  Doug Wise, former deputy director, DIA /  Tony Badran, Research Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies   Read full text

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Featuring Chuck Freilich and James F. Jeffrey  – Policy Forum Report -April 24, 2018

Two former policymakers discuss whether the longtime allies can move beyond tactical responses to their strategic challenges in the region.

On April 18, Chuck Freilich and James Jeffrey addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Freilich is a senior fellow in the Belfer Center’s International Security Program and a former Israeli deputy national security advisor. Jeffrey is the Institute’s Philip Solondz Distinguished Fellow and a former deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks.

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Erdogan’s repressive policies are steadily driving out the educated and business classes needed to achieve his goal of transforming the country into a great power.

As Turkey gears up for snap elections on June 24, the country’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a problem: Turkish society is profoundly polarized. Despite his efforts to build a stable majority as the foundation of his right-wing regime, his policies of demonizing centrist and leftist groups mean that half of Turkey opposes him vehemently and seems determined not to accept him as leader. He won last year’s referendum granting him sweeping executive powers with just a 2 percent margin, even though resources devoted to his campaign far outweighed the resources devoted to the campaign opposing him. 

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : TOO OPTIMISTIC ? – Disgruntled Kurds emerge as potential kingmakers in Turkey’s polls

READ IN:    Türkçe  – Sibel Hurtas April 23, 2018 – AL MONITOR –  Article Summary – Kurdish frustration with Ankara’s shift from a policy that favored settlement with the Kurds to hard-line nationalism could sway the outcome of critical snap polls in June.

As Turkey braces for snap elections on June 24, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) risks losing the support of an important segment of its base — conservative Kurds — due to its sharp shift to hard-line nationalism. A major question now is how to lure the vote of the resentful Kurds, who are emerging as a key player in the elections.

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Trump starts indirect negotiations with Iran ahead of his summit with Kim


23 April 2018 – DEBKA FILES – The French president, the German Chancellor and the Iranian Foreign minister are present in the US this week, all bent on saving the 2015 nuclear accord. French President Emmanuel Macron begins a state visit to Washington Monday, April 23; German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due on Friday, while Iranian foreign minister Javad Mohammed Zarif is spending the week in New York. The two European leaders will try and persuade the US president not to quit the nuclear accord, while the Iranian foreign minister is already playing hard ball through the US media.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS TODAYS RELEVANT ANALYSIS : The Eurasian vector in Russian-Turkish relations – Timur Akhmetov analyzes the factors leading to increased Russian-Turkish cooperation.


Tel Aviv – The Moshe Dayan Center – 22 April 2018 –  With increased violence and instability in the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Turkish foreign policy has been a hot topic in international media and forums. Over the last two years, Turkey’s role in regional politics has come under increased scrutiny, especially in association with the activity of another resurgent power, Russia. Both Russia and Turkey, whose elites share so many similarities in perspective and their approach to the outside world, act united in their resolution to put their bilateral relations on a firm and strategically coherent foundation.

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Are Academics at UK Universities Pushing Pro-Assad Propaganda & Disinformation?

Chris York writes for HuffPostUK:

Academics at some of the UK’s top universities have been accused by parts of the Syrian community of pushing pro-Assad propaganda, peddling conspiracy theories, and whitewashing war crimes.The Working Group on Syria, Propaganda, and Media has been set up by a group of academics to examine the “role of both media and propaganda” and provide “reliable, informed and timely analysis for journalists, publics and policymakers”.Although in its infancy, the Working Group’s published material as well as public posts by its members have already drawn accusations of circulating Islamophobic tropes and willfully ignoring the depravity of the regime.

Two of the academics in particular, Professor Tim Hayward of Edinburgh University and Professor Piers Robinson of the University of Sheffield, promote the work of a fringe group of bloggers and activists who have been accused of spreading false information about the Syrian civil war, which is now in its eighth year.

As part of an ongoing series on propaganda and disinformation in the Syria conflict, HuffPost UK has analysed some of the material published by the academics, including an open letter to the Guardian newspaper. The survey reveals a number of problematic areas and false claims, and illuminates the murky world of online pro-regime activism the academics are promoting.

Denying The Chemical Attack in Douma

Piers Robinson appeared on Sky News last week to discuss the recent chemical attack in Douma, and claimed: “the Syrian Red Crescent (SRC) and the UN agency in Damascus are reporting that they’re not finding any evidence of a chemical attack”.

When asked by HuffPost UK to back up the claims, Robinson did not respond. The SRC statement to which the academic was referring was issued in January, and the identity of the “UN agency” is unclear – international inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were still en route to Douma when Robinson was speaking.

See also The Viral Disinformation that Douma’s Chemical Attack Victims Were Killed by “Dust”
Fog of Trolls: Pro-Assad Misinformation Over Douma Chemical Attacks
Russia’s Helpers — Disinformation and Conspiracy Trolling After Assad’s Latest Chemical Attacks

Leila Shami, a British Syrian and co-author of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, said:

[Pro-Assad activists see] what’s happening in Syria as a geo-political chess game, in which Assad is fighting an imaginary war against US imperialism instead of against his own people; those who wanted freedom, democracy and social justice.

In such an analysis, Syrians themselves are denied all agency and are merely pawns for outside powers – the white men who are capable of making history.

As the left whitewashes the regime of its crimes, it also works to slander any opposition to Assad as “head-chopping jihadis” using the worst kind of Orientalist and Islamophobic tropes and adopting whole-heartedly the “War on Terror” discourse.

[These people] often peddle in conspiracy theories in support of its claims.

In a statement Robinson, speaking on behalf of the group, said:

You can rest assured that our claims and discussions follow academic norms with respect to rigour and truth seeking and we strongly encourage your readers to follow our media appearances, publications and briefings as we believe they will play a vital role with respect to initiating open and honest public scrutiny with respect to the multiple wars we have experienced over the last 15 years.

Attacking the White Helmets

The insistence on framing the Syrian conflict through an anti-imperialist lens leads to a number of problematic areas in the Working Group’s statements which, when raised to the two academics in an email, were dismissed.

The points below were based on an open letter published by the Working Group in January, which states it is “seeking the truth about the White Helmets” and questions the legitimacy of the civil defense group as an “impartial humanitarian organisation”.

It appeared after The Guardian published a piece detailing the Russian-backed disinformation campaign to discredit the White Helmets, the Syrian search and rescue NGO who rescue people in the wake of airstrikes and bombings.Two of the five paragraphs of the open letter detail the funding sources of the White Helmets, information which is available publicly online.

It’s claimed that, because the White Helmets are funded through the UK Government’s £1bn Conflict, Stability, and Security Fund, they have a “potential dual use” as “first, as a means of supporting and lending credibility to opposition structures within Syria; second, as an apparently impartial organisation that can corroborate UK accusations against the Russian state”.

According to the CSSF’s 2016/17 annual report, the UK Government has also funded a range of other projects, including negotiating a deal between the FARC rebels and the Colombian government; helping to reduce cattle-raiding in South Sudan; and rehabilitating 20 Soviet-era irrigation projects in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

When it was noted that these are all detailed in the same 2016/17 report to which the Working Group links, they did not raise issue with any of these other projects despite being from the same funding source.

There has been controversy regarding the CSSF, as details of some of the projects it funds are secret and even senior MPs are not told what they are.

But the White Helmets, along with the projects listed above, are among those that are public and highlighted by the UK Government.

Ibrahim Olabi, founder of the Syrian Legal Development Programme which trains the White Helmets in international law, explained that this is how some of the biggest international NGOs are funded:

The ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross], the most impartial organisation that exists on planet Earth, is funded by states.

The funding per se isn’t a breach of independence because the largest humanitarian organisations are funded by taxpayer money channeled through states.

Relying on Pro-Assad Propagandists

The open letter also states:

n a context in which both the US and UK governments have been actively supporting attempts to overthrow the Syrian government for many years, this material casts doubt on the status of the White Helmets as an impartial humanitarian organisation. It is therefore essential that investigators such as Vanessa Beeley, who raise substantive questions about the White Helmets, are engaged with in a serious and intellectually honest fashion.

Vanessa Beeley is a British blogger who has written extensively about the White Helmets, which she describes as “al-Qaeda Civil Defence” and calls “legitimate targets” for military strikes – in direct contravention of international humanitarian law.

She is the daughter of the late British diplomat Sir Harold Beeley, and worked in various sales and management roles before turning to activism in 2012, writing about Gaza.

As well as attacking the White Helmets, she has also said she believes the attack of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was a staged operation, that al-Qaeda wasn’t behind the 9/11 attacks, and that NATO has “sleeper cells” living in suburban America who have infiltrated the anti-war movement. She has appeared onstage alongside holocaust deniers and has been interviewed for far-right German magazines.

Her reports on the ground from Syria are often produced under the supervision of Syrian MPs and the Syrian Arm. The official regime line, Assad is fighting and killing terrorists, is uncritically repeated and then promoted by members of the Working Group.

Pat Hilsman, a freelance journalist who reported from Syria from 2012 to 2015, said:

When they say ‘we’re on the ground’, what they actually mean is they’ve been escorted to government-held zones.

Their entire thing is to appeal to a low-information audience. They’ll say “we’re on the ground and no one’s ever heard of the White Helmets”, but then they’ll say “we’re on the ground, everyone who’s heard of the White Helmets say they’re thieves”.

The statements are completely contradictory, but so long as they’re negative and are arranged in this collage of lunacy it doesn’t matter to them.

Fares Shehabi, Syrian MP for Aleppo, is a particularly big fan.

Vanessa Beeley has also described meeting Bashar al-Assad as her “proudest moment”, and lauds his wife, Asma.


She has also secured the tacit backing of the Russian government: in May of last year Russia presented a document detailing allegations that the White Helmets were terrorists, consisting entirely of a presentation Beeley had given at a talk in London earlier in the year.

Despite this, the Working Group insists Beeley is a credible source on which to base upcoming research.

Beeley has refused to be interviewed on a number of occasions.

The “Real” Syrian Civil Defense

First, the “Syria Civil Defence”, the “official title” given to the White Helmets, is supported by US and UK funding. Here it is important to note that the real Syria Civil Defence already exists and is the only such agency recognised by the International Civil Defence Organisation (ICDO).

What the Working Group refers to here as the “real” Syria Civil Defence is an official force also referred to as “self-protection squads”.

They are part of the Syrian Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence, are trained by the Syrian Army, and operate only in government-held areas of Syria. They often act as a fire brigade and residents call 113 if they are needed.

There are no such forces in rebel-held areas.

James Le Mesurier, the founder of the NGO that trains the White Helmets, told HuffPost UK: ”[This idea] asks readers to somehow believe that following a bombing from the Government, that the Government would then send its fire brigade to these areas to rescue the civilians that they’ve just bombed – [a deception] which is exactly why the White Helmets were founded.”

The Anti-Imperialists

Robinson and Hayward have spoken at events alongside Beeley, sharing a stage with, amongst others:

*Eva Bartlett — a blogger who went on a regime-sponsored trip of North Korea and has since written that western media is conspiring to present the country as a “nest of iniquity and oppression” – despite thousands of testimonies of escapees

*Robert Stuart — a man who has suggested that the BBC faked the aftermath of an attack in Syria

*Peter Ford — a former UK ambassador to Syria who took over from Bashar al-Assad’s father-in-law as head of the British Syrian Society, after emails were published showing Ford had advised Assad how to counter videos appearing to show the Syrian regime torturing children

Together they form a small but incredibly vocal group of fringe anti-imperialist campaigners who deny or downplay atrocities committed by Assad despite the extensive evidence to the contrary, arguing the president is simply fighting terrorism.

Instead, they focus on crimes committed by opposition forces and extremists groups. The vast majority of civilian deaths in the conflict as well as the documented cases of major chemical attacks have been perpetrated by the Syrian regime, according to UN war crimes investigators and Human Rights Watch.

Hassan Akkad, a Syrian who was imprisoned and tortured by the regime in 2011 for the crime he describes as “the audacity to go on the streets and yell ‘freedom’”:

That argument that Assad is fighting terrorism – it’s bollocks. Assad was funnelling jihadists to Iraq to fight the Americans, it was Assad that pardoned terrorists who had leading positions in ISIS in 2012, it was Assad who colluded with ISIS who sold him oil.

They are blinded by anti-imperialism, and sadly the war in Iraq and what happened in Libya gives these people even more motives to voice their opinions on this matter as if Syria is Iraq.

Others say this anti-imperialism fringe infuriates the people it purports to be fighting for.

Robin Yassin-Kassab, a British Syrian and co-author of Burning Country, said:

It’s shocking – the very people in society you’d expect to be supporting the democratic struggle of the Syrian people are the ones slandering it in the most Islamophobic terms.

If a Zionist or an American official describes all Palestinian resistance to Israel as “they’re all jihadist terrorists”, left wing people are rightly outraged by that but they’re doing exactly the same thing in Syria.

Syrian writer, Yassin al-Haj Saleh, has written extensively on this topic:

Annexation is a fundamental aspect of imperialism, and the anti-imperialist activists who deny the autonomy of our struggle and supplement it to their pseudo-struggle are no different from imperialist powers. The two parties find common cause in the denial of our struggle, our political agency, and our right to self-representation.

Practically, they are telling us that they are the ones who can define which struggles are in the right; and that we are not worthy of either revolutions or the production of knowledge. But isn’t that a wonderful definition of imperialism?

Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett began their blogging careers in Gaza, writing about the plight of Palestinians under Israeli rule. They then appear to have made the transition to defending Assad, despite the regime brutally cracking down on Palestinian refugees in Syria and killing far more than have been slain by Israel since 2011 — with thousands more languishing in Syrian jails.

But for the bloggers, the element that connects Palestinians in Gaza and Assad is the belief both are fighting the forces of Western imperialism.

Joey Ayoub, a Lebanese/Palestinian activist, said:

It was a wake up call for many Palestinians in Palestine that these people weren’t actually on their side and they took advantage of them.

There’s an element of “white saviour-ism”. It’s completely selective, it’s an opportunistic way of seeing things. They know that most of their followers won’t look that deeply into checking things.

Dismissing Torture

The torture of civilian detainees by the Syrian regime is extensively documented.

Abdel-Samed, a business owner from rural Daraa, recalls just one of the thousands of cases, that of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib in 2011, whose death helped spark the Syrian revolution:

Later they returned the body of Hamza al-Khatib. He’s a cousin of mine and looks just like my son. He’d been tortured. They didn’t leave any spot on his body without cigarette burns. His body was full of stab marks and his neck was broken. They’d cut off his genitals.

I’ve heard that in some countries the Government only arrests the wanted person himself, not his brother or mother or sister. In Syria, the entire family and the entire neighbourhood is accused and targeted.

The biggest trove of evidence is the Caesar Photos — 28,000 photos of deaths in government custody that were smuggled out of Syria.

Hayward has questioned the validity of the reports in a piece entitled How We Were Misled About Syria: Amnesty International saying, “the evidence has not been credibly certified, and I for one do not expect it will be”.

Mounir, a Syrian man who can’t be identified due to security concerns, said: “Hayward simply has no idea of Assadland. He wilfully ignores the depravity of the regime.

Additionally, Assad’s assistance in the rendition and torture of detainees, such as Maher Arar, by the CIA in America’s War on Terror, is completely ignored – as is the regime’s role in 1991 as part of the US-led coalition in the first Gulf War.The fringe anti-imperialist narrative asserts that NGOs who have exposed and condemned torture, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, are all part of the wider conspiracy to promote regime change in Syria.

Vanessa Beeley has described Amnesty International as “pernicious liars and Empire’s little helpers” and Piers Robinson has written how NGOs engage in “propaganda activities” that contain “obfuscation and exaggeration”.

What is ignored is that these very same NGOs write extensively on abuses carried out by Israel and those that occur in Yemen, both causes championed by these activists.

The Silencing Of Syrians

Notably, there are no Syrians among this fringe group, and numerous Syrian individuals have said that they have been shut down or blocked on social media when they have tried to engage with them.

One such person, Maher Barotchi, lives in Sheffield and was forced out of Syria by the regime 30 years ago when he discovered he’d been blacklisted whilst studying in the UK.

It makes me angry to see people who are supposedly educated supporting Assad. You don’t expect people to have posts at universities and still…these people…their so-called principles are more important than the suffering and the human rights.

These so-called anti-imperialists, anything that’s anti-Western, even if it’s a mass murderer, they will defend them and find excuses for them.

How can you be an educated person living in the West, enjoying the freedom of speech which the countries you defend don’t have and don’t allow?

Last year at an event at which Beeley, Hayward, and Robinson were speaking, a Syrian protesting the talk was dragged outside for voicing her opinion and told by an unidentified man from the audience that “her people control the media”.

Asked who “her people” were, the man replied: “Of course, the Pentagon. Israel.”

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America’s Fling With the Kurds Could Cause Turkey and NATO to Split – Critics are alarmed by Ankara’s turn toward Russia and “who lost Turkey” talk is in the air.

By Mark PerryApril 16, 2018 – The American Conservative  – Earlier last week, before Donald Trump ordered airstrikes on Syrian chemical weapons facilities, a senior Pentagon official looked down at his coffee and shook his head. “Do you remember that thing our parents used to get us?” he asked. “You know, it was a cylinder and you turned it and all of the colors at the end changed.” He thought for a moment. “Oh yeah, a kaleidoscope” he said. “That’s what it was called.” He smiled and continued: “Well, that’s Syria.”

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