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Amnesty International silent on Al-Qaeda war crimes to criminalize Syrian government

Vanessa Beeley
Vanessa Beeley is an independent investigative journalist and photographer. She is associate editor at 21st Century Wire.
Amnesty International silent on Al-Qaeda war crimes to criminalize Syrian government
Amnesty International’s biased and misleading report ignores the suffering of communities under attack from Al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria’s Idlib.

Tensions are being ratcheted up in the north-westerly provinces of Idlib and Northern Hama and Western media prepares itself for the revival of the notorious “last doctor” meme.

In September 2018 Russian and Turkish negotiators agreed to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib which should have been completed by October 15, 2018. The reality is that the withdrawal of heavy weaponry has only been partially successful and the remaining armed groups dominated by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), effectively a rebrand of Al-Qaeda or Al-Nusra Front, have consistently violated the ceasefire and targeted cities, towns and villages on the borders of the so-called “safe zone.”

Think tanks and globalist organisations that serve to bolster NATO’s aggressive interventionist policy in Syria are advocating an increase of Turkey’s military footprint in Idlib, ostensibly to curtail the HTS expansionism, but, clearly, and perhaps foolishly relying upon Turkey’s NATO membership to offer them a compliant occupier in the northwest while the US coalition increases its own military presence in the vast band of Syrian territory east of the Euphrates – despite President Trump’s hollow withdrawal-of-US-troops rhetoric in December 2018.

In amongst all this geopolitical jockeying for position and supremacy, civilians in the region are suffering and few more so than those who live in the towns that border Idlib and areas of Northern Hama still under control of the armed groups and their HTS overlords. These are the Syrian people entirely ignored by NATO-aligned media and “human rights” groups that have sustained narratives that traditionally only criminalize one side in a complex and externally imposed eight-year war.

The most recent example of this extreme bias in favor of the US supremacist alliance is the Amnesty International report dated 28th March 2019 entitled “Syria: Government forces have bombed medical facilities, school and bakery in Idlib.” The title has unequivocally laid out the report’s intent, to criminalize the Syrian government. The report opens with Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International claiming:

The Syrian government continues to show utter disregard for the laws of war and the lives of civilians’ – Lynn Maalouf

The report covers “six recent attacks” in Idlib that Amnesty claim to be “verified.” The report provides no context during this “verification” process. No names of witnesses are provided, we are expected to accept the testimony of anonymous sources whose affiliations are not questioned. We are expected to rely upon the “evidence” provided by “verified open source information, social media photos and videos” which have been “corroborated” remotely by Amnesty’s recently established “Digital Verification Corps” (DVC) in Toronto, California, UK or South Africa. Despite this alleged verification process, none of these videos or photos are shown in the Amnesty report.

Amnesty claims to have interviewed witnesses themselves but does not provide the identity of the alleged Amnesty staff on the ground in an area infested by Al-Qaeda affiliates who are known to kidnap and endanger the lives of anyone that might question their motives. Were these witnesses interviewed via Skype by the DVC or were anonymous proxies instructed to conduct interviews in an area controlled by HTS? The report does not clarify.

What is familiar about this report are the claims of Syrian government aggression against “civilian” targets in an area occupied by hostile armed groups financed and armed by hostile NATO member states and their allies whose intent is to topple the Syrian government and impose a tyrannical sectarian regime in its place.

We have heard identical, sensationalist rhetoric during the Syrian Arab Army campaigns to cleanse East Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta of the same extremist occupiers that were then transported to Idlib as part of the Syrian/Russian amnesty and reconciliation deals.

This report criminally erases the atrocities committed by HTS and subordinate groups against the towns and villages clustered inside Syrian government secured territory on the borders with the last terrorist stronghold in Syria. The report misleads an unsuspecting public to believe the Syrian government is conducting unprovoked attacks against a civilian population. This is an outright lie.

So, let’s add some vital context to this biased and misrepresentative report. Amnesty mention attacks by the Syrian government on March 9 and 11, in Saraqeb and Talmans, southern Idlib. There are claims that hospitals and blood banks were the main targets, while in February bakeries and makeshift medical clinics had been hit.

Acclaimed journalist, Sharmine Narwani, had previously conducted an investigation into the systematic destruction of bakeries, flour mills and deliberate decimation of wheat production by Western-backed armed groups to increase pressure on the Syrian government and collectively punish the Syrian people that have resisted the Western-sponsored extremist bid to take over their country. According to Narwani, “the West's terrorists drove wheat production from 2.5 M tons per year to 100K.”

It is worth noting that several of the Amnesty testimonies come from members of the NATO-member-state financed and promoted White Helmets embedded with HTS in the region. It is also worth noting that a UK government draft document published in April 2017 demonstrates that the White Helmets are the most “routinely reliable source” for both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. So a biased source provides “reliable” and unverified corroboration of biased reports that serve the imperialist agenda.

What is not mentioned in the report is the reality that armed groups have systematically occupied hospitals, schools, and medical centers across all areas they have previously controlled in Syria, converting many of them into prisons, military centers and ammunition stores and factories.

What is also not mentioned are the daily attacks from these HTS enclaves against the Syrian Christian towns of Al Suqaylabiyah and Mhardeh and surrounding villages. In the weeks leading up to March 9, these attacks intensified. I visited the area on March 9 and was shown the destruction of civilian homes in Al Suqaylabiyah by one attack on March 7. The Amnesty report highlights the alleged displacement of civilians as a result of Syrian government attacks but does not mention the homelessness brought about by such attacks by HTS against the civilian populations of these towns.

Nabel Alabdalla, the commander of the Al Suqaylabiyah volunteer National Defence Forces told me that the extremists were using a new, more powerful C4 explosive in their Grad rockets as the damage was so extensive to entire neighborhoods in the town. The town’s monastery had also been targeted in these attacks, a monastery which doubles as a community center and school for the children of the town. Since the escalation of attacks by armed groups, the children have not been able to attend school as the risk of death or injury is too great. These children are disappeared by Amnesty, their schools don’t count.

After March 9, the merciless attacks against civilians and infrastructure in Mhardeh and Al Suqaylabiyah continued unabated. On March 16, terrorists targeted another residential area in Suqaylabiyah. Salma Boutros Khalil was seriously injured by shrapnel, her home was destroyed. Her daughter in law, Ayat Al-Mahmoud, a Palestinian originally from Damascus, was killed. Ayat was pregnant, her baby was due in one week. Salma’s grandson was also terribly injured by shrapnel and was rushed to Hama National hospital. Two other children were grievously wounded in this attack.

These attacks do not target military centers, they target only residential areas and civilians. They are, in many instances, war crimes, but according to Amnesty International, these attacks never happened.

On March 26, according to the Amnesty report, Syrian government forces fired rockets “at a school in Sheikh Idriss.” Again the context is non-existent. On March 23, a suspected chemical weapon attack was carried out by HTS against villages around 10km to the northwest of Al Suqaylabiyah – al-Rasif, al-Aziziyyeh, al-Khandaq, and al-Jayyid. The attack came in from the north, in fact close to Sheikh Idriss.

I was in Al Suqaylabiyah when this attack took place and I was able to visit the local hospital that received the 34 victims which included three children, one severely affected with respiratory problems. Victims complained of breathing difficulties, skin blisters, eye sensitivity, nausea and shock syndrome after the attack. One victim, Nawfal Tawbar, described the 1m high dense white smoke that enveloped the area after the mortars had exploded:

Without the Syrian government’s retaliatory measures, these extremist attacks would only increase. The attacks are motivated primarily by sectarian hatred against the Syrian Christian or Alawite communities or simply against those who remain loyal to their government. One of the recorded messages from the terrorist groups during this period demanded that Al Suqaylabiyah “release its Nusairi inhabitants” to the terrorists (for execution) to avoid their city being “burned.” Nusairi is the commonly used terrorist term for the Alawites.

In the Amnesty report, Maalouf makes the statement:

Deliberate attacks on civilians and on civilian objects, including hospitals and other medical facilities, and indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians are war crimes.

Maalouf fails entirely to identify or qualify the HTS-led attacks against civilians as war crimes which is an egregious negation of the suffering of entire communities in the region. The Amnesty report goes on to further shoot itself in the foot. I asked former UK Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford for a review of the report. Ford described the report as the “pseudo-findings on Syria by a Corps that has obviously taken up its place in the battle order of Western propagandists seeking to justify endless war on Syria.

Ford points out that the Amnesty report implicitly acknowledges that the areas targeted by the Syrian government are awash with Al-Qaeda (HTS) militants while their student so-called experts “cite the testimony of 'residents' that no HTS were present, indeed couldn't have been present because the areas were part of the demilitarized zone.” Ford punches a hole in this claim:

Amnesty, you have just shot yourself in the foot! Any truly independent observer would have been aware from multiple open sources, including US mainstream media, that the demilitarized zone has not in fact been rid of HTS fighters and their weapons. Far from it. Unacknowledged by Amnesty, the takfiris have been shelling civilians in villages on the government side. Any credibility which might have been attached to these reports goes straight out of the window with these crucial highly revealing errors and omissions.”

To further reinforce Ford’s point, the Amnesty report - which contradicts itself - ends with the foot-shooting statement:

Saraqeb is under the control of the Brigade of the Revolutionary Front of Saraqeb and Countryside, which comes under overall HTS control.

The following video, published on February 26 2019, shows these Amnesty-whitewashed “rebels” targeting  Abu Duhour, by their own admission – presumably targeting civilian refugees who have fled this brutal terrorist occupation via the Syrian/Russian established and protected humanitarian corridor to the perceived safety of Abu Duhour. Another inconvenient fact omitted by the Amnesty report.

Needless to say, colonial media in the West re-published the Amnesty report without correction or investigation – The Guardian, Middle East Eye and Jaish Al Islam-affiliate, Scott Lucas of EA Worldview, among the first to trumpet the distorted Amnesty headlines and content within the state-aligned-western-media sphere.

This is nothing less than protectionism for Al-Qaeda. This Amnesty report, verified by its student Corps in remote locations who identify war crimes that only serve to increase the real terrorist war crimes against real civilians in Syria, is a travesty. As Peter Ford said “Sorry, Amnesty, you are going to have to up your game. How about demilitarising yourself for a start?

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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