The Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus came under bombardment Jan. 16 by the Bashar Assad regime's improvised TNT-filled "barrel-bombs," dropped by helicopter, resulting in the death of at least five residents. The attack destroyed one apartment block and severely damaged others, and it is feared that more casualties may still be beneath the rubble. The strike apparently targeted a section of the camp controlled by the Omari Battalion, aligned with the Free Syrian Army. The battalion's commander Ismail Abu Hani al-Omari said that militants in the village of Yalda west of Yarmouk brought down the helicopter with a missile after it struck the camp. (Oximity, Jan. 18; Ma'an New Agency, Jan. 17)
Syrian rebels on Jan. 3 launched an offensive against the Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), attacking the Qaedist strongholds at several locations in the governorates of Aleppo and Idlib. The offensive included forces from the both the nominally secular Free Syrian Army and the new Islamic Front alliance. The Islamic Front apparently launched the offensive after one of its commanders, Hussein al-Suleiman of the Ahrar al-Sham militia, was tortured to death by ISIS militants. He was reportedly detained after he went to meet with an ISIS delegation in an effort to settle a dispute that arose in the village of Maskaneh in rural Aleppo. A gruesome photograph of Suleiman's disfigured body has circulated widely on social media, spakring outrage against ISIS. (Daily Star, Lebanon, Jan. 4; Daily Star, Jan. 3)
A massacre at Adra, outside Damascus, is being attributed to the Nusra Front, which on Dec. 16 may have killed over 100 civilians after seizing the town, targetting Alawites, Druze, and Christians. Some civilians were reportedly "saved" by regime army troops, who stormed houses where they were being held. These claims are aggressively plied by the official media in countries that back the Assad regime (Russia Today, Voice of Russia, Tehran Times, Xinhua) and the "alternative" media in countries that oppose the Assad regime (Antiwar.com, Intifada Palestine—which is, very significantly, not based in Palestine, where Assad is actually very unpopular). The anti-Assad Linux Beach blog is skeptical about the claims, noting that the presumably more objective BBC News account put the death toll at 10, not the 100 attributed elsewhere to anonymous regime sources. Linux Beach also engages in the cyber-sleuth routine to argue that some photos supposedly taken by the jihadists of bodies they'd mutilated were actually recycled from other, unrelated atrocities (a trick the Assad-supporters are always accusing the mainstream media of). Linux Beach more astutely points out that the Adra claims come just as "the death toll from a 10-day Syrian regime air offensive on Aleppo rebels passed 400," in the words of AFP. Most have been killed by the regime's improvised "barrel-bombs," seemingly designed to win the maximum number of civilian casualties. ("Aleppo rebels" actually means rebel-held areas of the city; we may assume a high proportion of non-combatant deaths.) A Google News search for "Aleppo" brings up such mainstream US sources as the Washington Post, LA Times and CNN. Pretty predictable, eh?
Congressman Keith Ellison, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, and Kristin Stoneking of peace group Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) are among a group of US leaders and activists who on Dec. 20 launched a "rolling hunger strike" in solidarity with Syrian civil resistance figure Qusai Zakarya. That day was the 25th in Zakarya's hunger strike to protest the siege of over 30 towns in Syria. From the besieged Damascus suburb of Moadamiya, Zakarya proclaimed, "I want to live free before I die," noting that Syrians are dying daily of malnutrition because military blockades have prevented food and medicine from coming into their areas—with approximately one million people now affected.
The United Nations' Palestine refugee agency UNRWA warned Dec. 20 that the lives of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk camp in Damascus are at risk due to the ongoing siege of the camp by Syrian regime forces. Commissioner general of UNRWA Filippo Grandi said that "humanitarian conditions in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk are worsening dramatically and that we are currently unable to help those trapped inside." He stressed that if the situation is not addressed soon, "it may be too late to save the lives of thousands of people including children."
Isn't it utterly absurd that there are some aghast at the suffering of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and utterly unconcerned with that in Yarmouk, the Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus now besieged by forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad... and vice versa...? A brutal winter storm in the region has exacerbated the suffering in both blockaded enclaves, and most Palestinians assuredly grasp the obvious symmetry. In some quarters, however, a sort of ideological blindness seems to prevail: Assad's apologists are of course outraged at the agony in Gaza, but find that in Yarmouk invisible. The US State Department, in turn, exploits Yarmouk for propaganda against Assad, while displaying no such concern for Gaza...
Elements of the US national security establishment have clearly got their money on Bashar Assad. Ex-CIA director Michael Hayden on Dec. 12 outlined three options for Syria's future at the annual Jamestown Foundation counter-terrorism confab: "Option three is Assad wins. And I must tell you at the moment, as ugly as it sounds, I'm kind of trending toward option three as the best out of three very, very ugly possible outcomes." Option one was ongoing conflict between radicalized sectarian facitons. Option two, which Hayden considered the most likely, was the "dissolution of Syria." (It isn't explained why this option ranks two if it's the most likely.) This, in turn, "means the end of Sykes-Picot... it sets in motion the dissolution of all the artificial states created after World War I." (AFP via Maan News Agency, Dec. 13)
Now here's a counterintuitive juxtaposition of news stories. The UN mission investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria stated that chemical agents may have been unleashed in five of seven cases investigated, occurring between March and August—not just the Aug. 21 attack at Ghouta. The other four cases that remain under investigation are named as Khan Assal, Jobar, Saraqeb and Ashrafiah Sahnaya. The mission unequivocally concluded that "chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic." (NPR, LAT, Dec. 12) Simultaneously, the US and UK suspended all "non-lethal aid" to the Syrian rebels. The cut-off came days after a newly formed "Islamic Front" seized a base and arms cache from the Free Syrian Army at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on Syria's northwestern border with Turkey. The Islamic Front recently brought together six rebel factions, and seems loosely allied with ISIS, heretofore the major jihadist army.