Wednesday 31 October 2012

U.S. set to revisit Syria with “Riad Seif plan”

Riad Seif after his shabiha beating and behind his desk

“Syrian opposition leaders of all stripes will convene in Qatar next week to form a new leadership body to subsume the opposition Syrian National Council,” according to Josh Rogin, who covers U.S. national security and foreign policy and writes Foreign Policy’s daily Web column The Cable.
Rogin, whose article you can read in full here, writes in part:
U.S officials are “frustrated with an SNC they say has failed to attract broad support, particularly from the Alawite and Kurdish minorities. The new council is an attempt to change that dynamic. Dozens of Syrian leaders will meet in the Qatari capital, Doha, on Nov. 3 and hope to announce the new council as the legitimate representative of all the major Syrian opposition factions on Nov. 7, one day after the U.S. presidential election.
“The Obama administration sees the new council as a potential interim government that could negotiate with both the international community and - down the line - perhaps also the Syrian regime. The SNC will have a minority stake in the new body, but some opposition leaders are still skeptical that the effort will succeed.
“The Qatar meeting will include dozens of opposition leaders from inside Syria, including from the provincial revolutionary councils, the local ‘coordination committees’ of activists, and select people from the newly established local administrative councils.
"We call it a proto-parliament. One could also think of it as a continental congress," a senior administration official told The Cable.
“U.S. officials and opposition leaders are calling the initiative the ‘Riad Seif plan,’ named after the former Syrian parliamentarian and dissident who was imprisoned after he signed the Damascus Declaration on respect for Syrians' human rights in 2005. He was released in 2011, beaten up by a Shabiha gang in October 2011, and finally allowed to leave Syria in June 2012.
“Seif is central to the formation of the new council and is seen as a figure with broad credibility with both the internal and external Syrian opposition.
“‘We have to get [the internal opposition] to bless the new political leadership structure they're setting up and not only do we have to get them to bless the structure, but they have to get the names on it," the official said, noting that the exact structure of the council will be determined in Qatar, not before.
“‘We need to be clear: This is what the Americans support, and if you want to work with us you are going to work with this plan and you're going to do this now,’ the official said. ‘We aren't going to waste time anymore. The situation is worsening. We need to do this now.’
“…The U.S. government will be represented at the Nov. 7 Qatar meeting by Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who has been dealing with various opposition groups and weighing in on the composition of the new council, a senior administration official said…”

From Manchester to Syria with love

The convoy as it prepared to leave Manchester to Syria yesterday
The first collaborative UK relief aid convoy left Manchester yesterday en route to Syria. A second is set to follow later in November.
The first convoy, which set off from Manchester yesterday, consists of:
  • Eight ambulances
  • Seven doctors who will run life-saving training programs in border areas and inside Syria
  • Medical supplies and equipment, including two dental chairs
  • Six highly skilled British physiotherapists
  • Three vans loaded with blankets and new winter clothes

Public donations for the two convoys were raised by nine relief organizations, namely: Syria Relief, Mosaic Initiative for Syria, Humanitarian Group for Syria, Human Care Foundation Worldwide, Lifeline Help, Khayr Charity Foundation, Libya Human Aid, Ummah Welfare Trust, and the Union des Organisations Syriennes de Secours Médicaux (UOSSM).
You can donate to make the next convoy possible. It’s not too late! Follow this link:

Monday 29 October 2012

Young Syrian female activist dies under torture

Fatima Khaled Saad

The opposition group Syrian Shuhada puts the number of females killed in the uprising at 3,349
Ms. Fatima Khaled Saad, the 22-year-old Syrian activist and citizen journalist snatched by President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces from her home in Latakia last June, is feared to have died under torture.
The Syrian League for the Defense of Human Rights believes she passed away last Tuesday, October 23, at a Damascus branch of the General Security Directorate.
The directorate is the regime’s most important civil intelligence service and plays a key role in quelling internal dissent.
Fatima, who was a qualified nurse, was known in Syrian revolution circles by her assumed name, “Farah el-Rayes.”
She lived in Latakia’s poverty-stricken and densely populated suburb of Qnainis, where she volunteered to offer first aid training to residents after the torching by regime forces of the community’s sole public clinic.
Security forces arrested Fatima, her father and her brother during a search of their home in Qnainis last June 28, seizing her digital camera, memory card and mobile phone.
Her father and brother were released a few hours later. But Fatima was held after images on her digital camera showed her with a group of friends holding the Syrian revolution flag and chanting against the regime.
The Syrian League for the Defense of Human Rights says Fatima was rushed to Latakia military hospital suffering from a liver injury after her lengthy interrogation at the Latakia branch of the General Security Directorate.
She was later transferred to the headquarters of the General Security Directorate in Damascus where she died after being subjected to considerable physical and psychological violence to reveal the names of other activists figuring on her camera.
The Syrian League for the Defense of Human Rights says Fatima’s death takes to 1,125 the “documented” number of Syrians killed under torture by security services since the start of the uprising in mid-March 2011.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Syrian people can only count on partisans for now

This tank captured by the FSA was festooned to mark Eid al-Adha

Saudi media celebrity Jamal Khashoggi was back home in time for Eid al-Adha after a trip to the United States via Turkey. The think piece he penned in Arabic for today’s edition of pan-Arab al-Hayat sums up his impressions from the journey:
As I made my way across the campus of Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, for last Monday’s face-off on foreign policy between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, I was struck by 2,500-3,000 media people credentialed to cover the event and the amount of cable laid to broadcast it.
Each of the two presidential candidates sought to convince U.S. voters he was better qualified to lead America over the next four years.
Beleaguered Syria was hoping to feature at that third and final debate.
The debate’s theme was foreign policy, but the two candidates ended sparring over economic policies.
Syria got its share with President Obama declaring he was “mobilizing the moderate forces inside Syria” and Romney professing Iran was backing Syria because “it’s their route to the sea.”
The debate left me downbeat.
How would Obama identify the “moderates” amongst the insurgents so he can mobilize them, or allow others to do so, if he were to win the November 6 vote?
Had Obama asked for my opinion, I would have said: All Syrian revolutionaries are moderates; so back them first and then exclude the ones who prove to be extremists.
Warning: Graphic footage in al-Qusayr Field Hospital
VICE commissioned renowned photojournalist and videographer Robert King to embed on the front lines with the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo. War-zone chaos ensued. In this episode, Assad forces hit Al Qusayr with a rocket attack while Robert is filming - it was targeted directly.

As regards Romney, Syrians would have to wait until he is inaugurated in January and familiarizes himself with the region’s map and its geopolitics before outlining his Syria roadmap.
Damn the deadly terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya in which the American ambassadors and three other Americans were killed.
The assailants harmed the Syrian people’s cause by making the attack a political football in the presidential campaign and turning U.S. public opinion against the Arab Spring.
Romney, for instance, seized on the outrage in Benghazi to speak of “a dramatic reversal in the kind of (Arab Spring) hopes we had for that region.”
A Turkish journalist also emphasized the weight of public opinion to me last week during my Istanbul stopover. We were both participating in a panel discussion behind closed doors on the situation in Syria.
The Turkish journalist said, “The Arabs want Turkey to do everything. But they have to help Prime Minister (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan galvanize Turkish public opinion, which doesn’t want a war. Turks are enjoying unprecedented prosperity. They fear losing it if the country slipped into armed conflict.”
The Turkish journalist went on, “What would help Erdogan win public opinion support for intervention, for example, is to see the Saudis and Qataris deploying squadrons of their warplanes to an airbase in southern Turkey. Such a move would send a clear signal to the Turkish public that their government is not in it on its own.”
The prevailing view in the panel discussion was that without U.S. cover, which could only come after November 6, Ankara wouldn’t go it alone and intervene militarily in Syria.
Turkey could create a no-fly zone (NFZ) over northern Syria. Effectively, the NFZ would prevent flights over the whole of Syria for geographical reasons. Safe havens in northwest Syria, which is already under rebel control, would follow automatically. They would accommodate hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Syrians.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) could then proceed to challenge airpower-starved regime forces all the way to Damascus. The regime has already lost the deterrence of its chemical weapons. These have reportedly been placed under full Russian control, with Russian assurances to Washington and its western partners. At the same time, a joint American-British rapid intervention task force was sent to Jordan to monitor the secured chemical weapons sites.
Once the regime’s airpower is “neutralized,” the insurgents would have no need for Stingers and other MANPADs. Instead, they would call for anti-tank missiles, which the Americans can approve at no cost to U.S. taxpayers since donators are at the ready.
Most Syria watchers concur that limited intervention can swiftly settle the battle for Syria and prevent the conflict from festering and becoming a fertile breeding ground for al-Qaeda. But they failed to sway the international community and Syria’s neighbors, who still prefer to wait and see the outcome of the U.S. election or maybe something else.
The best that can be done meantime is to appeal to brave partisans to help Syrians avoid living through another Feast of Sacrifice such as this one.
Omar Offendum, a Syrian-American hip-hop artist born in Saudi Arabia, raised in Washington DC and living in Los Angeles, release this single “#Syria” in March

Thursday 25 October 2012

Assad forces bury “Cradle of the King’s Daughter”

The "Cradle of the King's Daughter" in Bosra is now biting the dust

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces this week destroyed one more distinct monument at a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The monument -- known as a kalybe or open-air temple for the “Cradle of the King’s Daughter” -- is in Bosra ash-Sham, once an ancient city in southern Syria.
Bosra ash-Sham is 120 kilometers from Damascus and part of Deraa province. It counted a population of 19,683 in a 2004 census. The current figure is down to a few households.
Indiscriminate tank shelling and warplane bombing has also pulverized the “Cradle of the King’s Daughter” dating back some 1,800 years.
The human cost of Assad’s 19-month-old war on “terrorist gangs” has been staggering: at least 38,000 deaths (over 60 percent of them in the past five months), tens of thousands more maimed, detained or missing, over half-a-million refugees, and 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).
For several months now, the regime has been using mostly helicopters and warplanes to drop cluster bombs and barrels of TNT on homes, hospitals, pharmacies, schools, historic sites, medieval markets, museums, mosques, cars, bakeries and fuel queues in countless cities, towns and villages.
In late September, a vast and well-preserved labyrinth of shops, storehouses, schools and courtyards in Aleppo's ancient market were set on fire as government troops tried to dislodge insurgents from the center of Aleppo near the old city, another The old city, with the souk at its center, is the soul of Aleppo, one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities and Syria’s largest. (See “Cuba, Baghdad and turning Aleppo to rubble and ash”).
Two weeks later, Aleppo's Umayyad Mosque, considered one of the most stunning in the world, was also damaged in fighting for control of the city.
“The reports from Aleppo are deeply distressing,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “The human suffering caused by this situation is already extreme. That the fighting is now destroying cultural heritage that bears witness to the country’s millenary history -- valued and admired the world over -- makes it even more tragic.
“The Aleppo souks have been a thriving part of Syria’s economic and social life since the city’s beginnings. They stand as testimony to Aleppo’s importance as a cultural crossroads since the second millennium B.C…” 
The Ancient City of Aleppo was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1986, in recognition of its “rare and authentic Arab architectural styles” and its testimony to the city's cultural, social, and technological development from the Mamlouk period. It is one of six Syrian World Heritage Sites.
UNESCO listed the Ancient City of Bosra -- home to the “Cradle of the King’s Daughter” -- as a World Heritage site six years earlier, in 1980.
Bosra ash-Sham was the first Nabatean city in the 2nd century BC. It was renamed Nova Trajana Bostra under the Roman Empire.
The city flourished and became a major metropolis at the juncture of several trade routes, including the Roman road to the Red Sea.
The Sassanid Persians conquered Bosra in the early 7th century, then the Byzantines. The Rashidun army under Khalid ibn al-Walid (who is buried in Homs) captured the city in the Battle of Bosra (634).
Bosra played an important part in the early life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
According to Islamic tradition, when Muhammad was either nine or twelve years old, he met a Christian Nestorian monk named Bahira in Bosra during his travel with a Meccan caravan, accompanying his uncle Abu Talib ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib. When the caravan was passing by his hermitage, the monk invited the merchants to a meal. They accepted the invitation, leaving the boy to guard the camels. Bahira, however, insisted that everyone in the caravan should come to him. Then a miraculous incident indicated to the monk that Muhammad was destined to become a prophet.
According to legend, an unnamed monarch built the open-air temple with a cradle for his daughter around the second century after being told by a clairvoyant she would die before turning 18 from a poisonous scorpion sting. Once the cradle was built to protect her, slaves would carry food and everything else she needed up the columns. After a while, a deadly scorpion hiding in a bunch of grapes stung and killed her.
Assad shells and bombings have this week put the cradle six feet under. 

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Shocking UK bid to return activist to Damascus

Home Secretary Theresa May

Amnesty International has declared the attempt to remove a Syrian national to Damascus from the UK, deeply alarming.

In a letter to the Home Secretary Theresa May, Amnesty called on the UK government to desist from the forcible return of Syrian nationals given the significant deterioration in the political and human rights situation in recent months, and the continuing unpredictable nature of events on the ground.

The planned removal was due to take place on 21 October, but was prevented in the High Court, due in part to Amnesty’s intervention in the case. Amnesty provided information about the current human rights crisis in Syria and expressed grave concerns about conditions in the country and fears for the safety of the individual if returned.

As far as Amnesty is aware, no other EU countries are currently returning Syrian asylum seekers to Syria.

Amnesty told the court that people who oppose or are perceived to oppose the government are at risk of persecution or serious harm by the authorities if returned to Syria. Amnesty has evidence that such people are at real risk of arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment as well as unfair trials and that human rights and pro-democracy activists are at particular risk.

Jan Shaw, Amnesty International UK Refugee Program Director, said:

“Amnesty is deeply alarmed that the UK Border Agency demonstrated its intention to forcibly remove a Syrian national from the UK to Syria given the appalling human rights situation in the country. 

“The UK government has been instrumental in pressing the UN to take action to address the serious abuses being perpetrated in Syria and so it is astonishing that whilst actively acknowledging the scale of such abuses, it would seek to return someone. At best this might be a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, which is unacceptable.

“Had it not been for an eleventh hour intervention, the UK government could have blood on its hands over this case. It must now put an urgent ban on the forcible return of Syrian nationals.”

Amnesty believes a person who has sought, or is suspected of having sought, asylum abroad may also be at real risk of persecution or serious harm at this time. The act of leaving the country to seek asylum is likely to be viewed as a manifestation of opposition to the Syrian government. Syrians seeking political asylum abroad are likely to be perceived to be sympathetic to opposition to the Syrian authorities.  The UK Border Agency recognizes, via its Operational Guidance Note, that those who oppose or are perceived to oppose the government may be at risk on return to the country.

Jan Shaw said: “Countries across Europe and in the neighboring region have implemented a halt on removals to Syria. It is high time the UK followed suit.”

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Syrians “choke” after last U.S. presidential debate

Romney and Obama debating last night ( Photo from 
Two sets of insightful Arab messages on Twitter caught my eye after last night’s third and final U.S. presidential debate on foreign policy, in which Barack Obama and Mitt Romney tangled over Syria as well as the Arab Spring, Iran, Israel and China.
This first set of two was tweeted in Arabic by Saudi media celebrity Jamal Khashoggi (@JKhashoggi), who attended the debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida:
  1. "Neither of them (candidates) said something to assuage Syrians or make them feel he’d do something to end the killer regime."
  2. "Opinion outside the hall is that Obama beat Romney by a mile… But the choking in Syria stays."

The following second set of three was tweeted by The 47th (@THE_47th), who has predicted several Syria developments in the past:
  1. "The emphasis is always the word 'moderate'. It seems the U.S. does not like what it thinks are the alternatives to Assad."
  2. "When the topic is Israel, everyone is a black belt foreign policy ninja all of a sudden."
  3. "The winner today was clearly Twitter."

The debate at Lynn University between Democratic President Obama and his Republican challenger Romney was moderated by veteran CBS News presenter Bob Schieffer.
This transcript of the Syria part of the debate allows readers to form their own opinions of the two candidates positions’ on America's current and future Syria policy:
SCHIEFFER: Let me interject the second topic question in this segment about the Middle East and so on, and that is, you both mentioned -- alluded to this, and that is Syria.
The war in Syria has now spilled over into Lebanon. We have, what, more than 100 people that were killed there in a bomb. There were demonstrations there, eight people dead.
Mr. President, it's been more than a year since you saw -- you told Assad he had to go. Since then, 30,000 Syrians have died. We've had 300,000 refugees.
The war goes on. He's still there. Should we reassess our policy and see if we can find a better way to influence events there? Or is that even possible?
And you go first, sir.
OBAMA: What we've done is organize the international community, saying Assad has to go. We've mobilized sanctions against that government. We have made sure that they are isolated. We have provided humanitarian assistance and we are helping the opposition organize, and we're particularly interested in making sure that we're mobilizing the moderate forces inside of Syria.
But ultimately, Syrians are going to have to determine their own future. And so everything we're doing, we're doing in consultation with our partners in the region, including Israel which obviously has a huge interest in seeing what happens in Syria; coordinating with Turkey and other countries in the region that have a great interest in this.
This -- what we're seeing taking place in Syria is heartbreaking, and that's why we are going to do everything we can to make sure that we are helping the opposition. But we also have to recognize that, you know, for us to get more entangled militarily in Syria is a serious step, and we have to do so making absolutely certain that we know who we are helping; that we're not putting arms in the hands of folks who eventually could turn them against us or allies in the region.
And I am confident that Assad's days are numbered. But what we can't do is to simply suggest that, as Governor Romney at times has suggested, that giving heavy weapons, for example, to the Syrian opposition is a simple proposition that would lead us to be safer over the long term.
SCHIEFFER: Governor?
ROMNEY: Well, let's step back and talk about what's happening in Syria and how important it is. First of all, 30,000 people being killed by their government is a humanitarian disaster. Secondly, Syria is an opportunity for us because Syria plays an important role in the Middle East, particularly right now.
Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea. It's the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally, Israel. And so seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority for us. Number two, seeing a -- a replacement government being responsible people is critical for us. And finally, we don't want to have military involvement there. We don't want to get drawn into a military conflict.
And so the right course for us, is working through our partners and with our own resources, to identify responsible parties within Syria, organize them, bring them together in a -- in a form of -- if not government, a form of -- of -- of council that can take the lead in Syria. And then make sure they have the arms necessary to defend themselves. We do need to make sure that they don't have arms that get into the -- the wrong hands. Those arms could be used to hurt us down the road. We need to make sure as well that we coordinate this effort with our allies, and particularly with -- with Israel.
But the Saudis and the Qataris, and -- and the Turks are all very concerned about this. They're willing to work with us. We need to have a very effective leadership effort in Syria, making sure the insurgents there are armed and that the insurgents that become armed, are people who will be the responsible parties. Recognize -- I believe that Assad must go. I believe he will go. But I believe -- we want to make sure that we have the relationships of friendship with the people that take his place, steps that in the years to come we see Syria as a -- as a friend, and Syria as a responsible party in the Middle East.
This -- this is a critical opportunity for America. And what I'm afraid of is we've watched over the past year or so, first the president saying, well we'll let the U.N. deal with it. And Assad -- excuse me, Kofi Annan came in and said we're going to try to have a ceasefire. That didn't work. Then it went to the Russians and said, let's see if you can do something. We should be playing the leadership role there, not on the ground with military.
SCHIEFFER: All right.
ROMNEY: the leadership role.
OBAMA: We are playing the leadership role. We organized the Friends of Syria. We are mobilizing humanitarian support, and support for the opposition. And we are making sure that those we help are those who will be friends of ours in the long term and friends of our allies in the region over the long term. But going back to Libya -- because this is an example of how we make choices. When we went in to Libya, and we were able to immediately stop the massacre there, because of the unique circumstances and the coalition that we had helped to organize. We also had to make sure that Moammar Gadhafi didn't stay there.
And to the governor's credit, you supported us going into Libya and the coalition that we organized. But when it came time to making sure that Gadhafi did not stay in power, that he was captured, Governor, your suggestion was that this was mission creep, that this was mission muddle.
Imagine if we had pulled out at that point. You know, Moammar Gaddafi had more American blood on his hands than any individual other than Osama bin Laden. And so we were going to make sure that we finished the job. That's part of the reason why the Libyans stand with us.
But we did so in a careful, thoughtful way, making certain that we knew who we were dealing with, that those forces of moderation on the ground were ones that we could work with, and we have to take the same kind of steady, thoughtful leadership when it comes to Syria. That's exactly what we're doing.
SCHIEFFER: Governor, can I just ask you, would you go beyond what the administration would do, like for example, would you put in no-fly zones over Syria?
ROMNEY: I don't want to have our military involved in Syria. I don't think there is a necessity to put our military in Syria at this stage. I don't anticipate that in the future.
As I indicated, our objectives are to replace Assad and to have in place a new government, which is friendly to us, a responsible government, if possible. And I want to make sure they get armed and they have the arms necessary to defend themselves, but also to remove -- to remove Assad.
But I do not want to see a military involvement on the part of our -- of our troops.
ROMNEY: And this isn't -- this isn't going to be necessary.
We -- we have, with our partners in the region, we have sufficient resources to support those groups. But look, this has been going on for a year. This is a time -- this should have been a time for American leadership. We should have taken a leading role, not militarily, but a leading role organizationally, governmentally to bring together the parties, to find responsible parties.
As you hear from intelligence sources even today, the -- the insurgents are highly disparate. They haven't come together. They haven't formed a unity group, a council of some kind. That needs to happen. America can help that happen. And we need to make sure they have the arms they need to carry out the very important role, which is getting rid of Assad.
SCHIEFFER: Can we get a quick response, Mr. President, because I want to...
OBAMA: Well, I'll -- I'll be very quick. What you just heard Governor Romney said is he doesn't have different ideas. And that's because we're doing exactly what we should be doing to try to promote a moderate Syrian leadership and a -- an effective transition so that we get Assad out. That's the kind of leadership we've shown. That's the kind of leadership we'll continue to show.
You can read a full transcript of the final presidential debate here.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Assad drives Syria schoolchildren to caves

The male and female teachers with their pupils in the cave (see video below)

Caves in Syria have evolved.
Instead of being a natural underground space large enough for a human to enter, one such cave has turned into a crammed and naturally partitioned underground classroom for children aged six to nine.
If you don’t believe me, take a close look at the pictures above and watch the video below.
The pictures and video were filmed in the hills of the Jabal al-Zawiya area, some 40 kilometers southwest of the provincial capital Idlib.
President Bashar al-Assad’s armed forces killed about 200 people in those same hills on 19 and 20 December 2011, most of them army defectors trying to flee to Turkey from their base in Kan Safra.
For several months now, Assad’s regime has been using helicopters and warplanes to drop cluster bombs and barrels of TNT indiscriminately on homes, hospitals, pharmacies, schools, historic markets, museums, mosques, cars, bakeries and fuel queues in countless cities, towns and villages.
The human cost of Assad’s war on “terrorist gangs” since March last year has also been staggering: more than 30,000 deaths, about half-a-million refugees, and 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).
To safely educate the few remaining school-age children in Idlib province from Assad’s carpet-bombing, volunteer teachers took to the hills of Jabal al-Zawiya, where they are now organizing classes for them in caves.
Here is what the video camera recorded (in Arabic) in one of the caves:
The teacher asks:
Who can fill in the blank? 4 + 2 = ----?
Teacher after looking at raised hands:
Basheer, come forward.
Basheer gives the right answer:
Bravo, excellent. Give him (Basheer) a clap.
Interviewer asks teacher:
What drove you to hold classes in caves?
The reason? The violent and endless air bombardments and the campaign against the village of Kan Safra (in Jabal al-Zawiya). They (Assad warplanes) drop TNT barrels on homes, people and the streets. That’s why we are forced to hold classes in caverns and caves.
What problems are you facing in such field schools?
A picture is better than words. What can I say, I don’t know. There’s no light in here. Primitive equipment is lacking. There’s too much suffering at this level… But we’ve covered some ground. We are now holding classes for four primary grades in various caves. On average, we give one class lesson a day to each grade. Next to us here, for instance, a female colleague is giving a lesson to another grade. There are also classes being held in caves elsewhere.
In numbers, how many schoolchildren are you able to hold?
Attendance is good, but numbers? It varies. Most children have taken refuge in Turkey or other governorates. We’re teaching the remaining children in caves.
What equipment are you lacking?
Of course, the shortfall is huge. We’ve received some help and were able to tidy the cave and get some stationery and a blackboard. We sought some benches because the pupils are finding it a bit difficult like this.
Interviewer asks a pupil:
Tell me, why are you attending class in this cave?
Because they bombed our school.
What would you want the regime to do?
We look forward to Bashar’s exit so we can return to our school.
Interviewer asks a second pupil:
What do you ask of the regime?
Second pupil:
To leave us alone because it is killing us... It’s not allowing us to go to school. We’re now studying in caves.
And what do you wish to study when you grow up?
Second pupil:
I wish to become a doctor.

Western media would hasten to parrot, as they have been doing since mid-March 2011, “The authenticity of the video footage could not be independently confirmed.” But let me say for a change, “I can confirm the authenticity of the footage.”
I will leave it for Western and Russian media to continue counting the number of “bearded and turbaned jihadists, Muslim extremists, Salafists and Chechens” taking over Syria.