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War Crimes of the Insurgents

The ‘Revolutionary’ Face of the Syrian Conflict

by NICOLA NASSER

Reports are abound by international organizations about the responsibility of the Syrian government for the human rights violations in the ongoing conflict in Syria, now in its fourth year, but the responsibility of the insurgents has been kept away from media spotlight for political reasons.

However, the horrible image of the “revolutionary” performance imposed itself on the media and public opinion to an extent that it has become impossible to black it out anymore.

Internationally last Thursday, for example, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said that Russia’s and China’s vetoes against a United Nations Security Council resolution to refer allegations of war crimes in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) “protect monstrous terrorist organizations operating in Syria … who are pursuing a fundamentalist assault on the Syrian people that knows no decency or humanity.”

Regionally on the same day, The Yemeni Coordination Committee for the Support of Syrian Revolution dissolved itself in protest against what it called in a statement “the diversion and transformation of the leaders of the revolution and opposition into terrorist gangs and groups.”

Since U.S. President Barak Obama imposed sanctions on April 29, 2011 on some Syrian officials reportedly accused of using violence against civilians, the U.S., European and regional sponsors of a “regime change” in the country have so far held the Syrian government as the only party accountable. The UN and western international human rights organizations followed suit.

Their blackout of the insurgents’ responsibility could not be avoided otherwise those sponsors would be held accountable as well and consequently could not continue their support to the insurgents with impunity, because without their support the insurgents would not have survived.

Their reluctance to arm the Syrian rebels with advanced weapons lest they fall into the hands of the terrorist organizations could not cover up their initial and ongoing arming and recruitment efforts, which empowered the militarization of the peaceful civilian protests with its most extreme Syrian and non-Syrian insurgents.

On last April 8, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was quoted as saying in a briefing to the UN Security Council that the actions of the forces of the Syrian government “far outweigh” the crimes by the “opposition” fighters.

Statistics Tell a Different Story

However, scrutiny of the statistics of the death toll and the facts of the humanitarian fallout of the conflict tell a different story. On this May 19, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said it had documented more than 162,000 deaths in the conflict until this May 17, more than 61 thousand of them were government troops, 42,701 rebels and more than 1600 foreign fighters; SOHR believes that both sides of the combat strongly tend to be very conservative about their human casualties. The rest were civilians many of whom were victims of suicide bombing and mortar shells fired by the rebels.

The breakdown of these figures show the government a victim rather than a culprit and indicate that the actions of the rebels “far outweigh” those of the government, contrary to Navi Pillay’s conclusion.

“Questioning the Syrian ‘Casualty List’” in the Lebanese Alakhbar on February 28, 2012, Sharmine Narwani documented that, “The very first incident of casualties from the Syrian regular army that I could verify dates to 10 April 2011, when gunmen shot up a bus of soldiers travelling through Banyas, in Tartous, killing nine,” i.e. few weeks after the first peaceful protests broke out in Syria, a fact which questions the now wrongfully accepted public knowledge that the government was the party who initiated the “violence.”

The communiqué issued by the eleven western and Arab foreign ministers of the core group of the so-called “Friends of Syria” after their meeting in London on this May 15 was the latest example of the political motives behind the blackout, which they have imposed for too long on the insurgents’ responsibility.

They called the upcoming presidential elections on next June 3 “illegitimate” and a “parody of democracy,” ignoring the fact that any power vacuum in Syria would only create the right environment for the collapse of the central government.

The inevitable result would be an exacerbation of the humanitarian crisis in the country, rendering their humanitarian rhetoric a parody of humanity.

Worse still, the eleven “Friends of Syria” had “agreed unanimously” to boost their support to what they described as “the moderate opposition National Coalition (SNC), its Supreme Military Council and associated moderate armed groups.”

What “moderates” did they refer to? On last September 25 the BBC quoted a recent study published by IHS Jane’s analyst Charles Lister, which concluded that, “the core of the Syrian insurgency is composed of Islamist groups of one kind or another.” “The armed opposition is all too much a part of the conflict,” Red Maistre wrote in The Northern Star four days later.

Three years and three months on, the “Friends of Syria” failed to bring the “regime” down. On the contrary, it has got the military upper hand, while the organizations which the U.S. and Saudi Arabia had listed as terrorists got the upper hand in the rebel-held areas.

Whatever military supplies the “moderate” rebels could get will only prolong the war, postpone any political settlement and perpetuate and exacerbate the worsening humanitarian crisis.

Civilian protesters, political opposition and “secular” armed rebels were hijacked, sidelined and finally dumped by the mainstream terrorists, whose backbone consists of “foreign fighters,” thus dooming any political solution for a long time to come and vindicating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s determination on last August 4 that, “No solution can be reached with terror except by striking it with an iron fist.”

As early as March 2012 Sara Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, had warned that, ““The Syrian government’s brutal tactics cannot justify abuses by armed opposition groups.”

Schools, universities, hospitals, health clinics, churches, mosques, religious monuments, power grids, railways, bridges, oil fields, historical sites, museum assets, police symbols of public safety and order and other infrastructure were targeted by the rebels with unprecedented level of destruction and civilian plight.

A survey, conducted by the Relief and Works Agency of UN’s Microfinance Programs and released early last April, said it would take 30 years for the Syrian economy to recover to its 2010 level.

According to the SOHR, the infighting among rebels has claimed more than five thousand casualties in 2014. The infighting over border crossings and oil fields displaced more than one hundred thousand civilians in north eastern Syria during the past month.

As a strategy, the rebels since the very beginning have been using Syrian civilians en masse as a bargaining chip and as human shields, a fact which the “Friends of Syria” have been keen to blackout.

On this May 12, rebels have agreed to free 1,500 families whom they had kidnapped and held hostages in Adra, a suburb of the capital Damascus, for the release of rebels jailed by the government. Two weeks ago they freed some one hundred infants, children and elderly men and women in exchange for evacuating the Old City of Homs unharmed.

On May 4, they cut off water supply to some three million civilians in Syria’s second largest city of Aleppo, a collective punishment reminiscent of a similar horrible practice by Israel in Beirut in 1982. Last month the rebels cut off the electricity supply. For less than two years now they have been bombarding the western side of the city, which is under government control, with mortar shells and turning the civilian life there into a nightmare of suicide and tunnel bombings from the eastern side, which they control.

Rule, Not Exception

These inhuman tactics are not the exception, but the norm and rule. Since the very beginning of their rebellion in March 2011, rebels stormed into Syrian city centers, where there was no official military presence, and used the civilian population as human shields against any retaliation by the government forces, thus unleashing what the United Nations described as the world’s largest refugee problem.

Civilians have paid the higher price. Syrians now hold the rebels responsible for their plight. Their sectarian public incubator has already turned against them in favour of restoring the missing safety, security and order by the government.

All factions of the rebels claim they are the representatives of the Muslim Sunni majority, but the overwhelming majority of some six million Syrians who are displaced internally are Sunnis, now hosted by non-Sunni compatriots in safe havens under government protection, let alone more than three million refugees who are also overwhelmingly Sunni Syrians and fled to neighbouring countries from the areas held by the rebels.

It’s a well-known fact now that creating a humanitarian crisis in Syria, whether real or fabricated, and holding the Syrian government responsible for it as a casus belli for foreign military intervention under the UN 2005 so-called “responsibility to protect” initiative was from the very beginning of the Syrian conflict the goal of the U.S.-led so-called “Friends of Syria’ coalition.

A second fact was the rush to militarize the Syrian civilian peaceful protests. When President al-Assad issued in 2011 the first of his six general amnesties, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went on record with a public appeal to armed rebels not to lay down their arms in response.

In March 2014 a commission of inquiry mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council, chaired by Paulo Pinheiro, for the first time accused the insurgents in Syria of “crimes against humanity” and “war crimes.”

On this May 14, Syrian Rev. Michael Rabaheih, from the Greek Orthodox Church, was quoted by The Washington Post as saying: “If this is freedom, we don’t need it.”

Rabaheih was one of some 80,000 Christians who returned to the Old City of Homs, which the opposition once proudly called “the capital of the revolution,” but which the rebels were forced to evacuate this month. He was seated next to the grave of the Dutch priest, Frans van der Lugt, who was assassinated by the rebels a few weeks earlier, not far from the gravely damaged historic Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque in the devastated neighbourhoods of Syria’s third largest city, where “little was left.”

Obviously, the “Friends of Syria” have failed to artificially create any credible alternative to the incumbent regime, which, however, did change indeed.

Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. An edited version of this article was first published by Middle East Eye. nassernicola@ymail.com