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Friday, October 14, 2016

Humiliating Aid Rejected by Whom?

Aleppo Convoy Attack: "Humiliating Aid" Rejected by Whom?
By Adam Larson (aka Caustic Logic) (as usual)
October 14, 2016 
(rough - last edits Oct. 27)

Establishing motive is crucial to solving any crime, including the deadly September 19 attack on a Red Crescent aid convoy near Aleppo (see A Closer Look On Syria research page). At least 20 and perhaps more than 30 were killed in a disputed attack that destroyed several trucks' worth of humanitarian aid. The options for what happened are basically:
  • a Russian or Syrian airstrike, as universally claimed in the West and with no clear proof, or 
  • a terrorist false-flag attack, as Russia and Syria allege.
The Russia-Syria motive, as accepted, is to deny some humanitarian aid, to kill, carry out their evil, and flaunt international law with no regard to consequences. This seems perfectly logical to the well-conditioned masses.

The terrorist motive would include the creation of the above impression, to invite those consequences on their smug war-criminal enemies. Further, as we'll see and strange as it sounds, attacking this aid convoy would complicate or halt a supposed US-Russia team effort on their favorite member group, Syria's branch of Al-Qaeda. Further, it seems they had other reasons already to hate the aid itself and those bringing it.This would give the opposition groups a double-motive for the attack.

The UN Aid-for-Surrender Conspiracy, as The Killers Likely Saw it
In a complicated way I don't completely follow, it seems this and other aid, chronically blocked for contested reasons, became linked to a complex web of implausible promises. Delivery of this aid was one of the prerequisites for a 7-day "cease-fire" (September 12 to 19, sundown to sundown). On the presumption Syria was blocking the aid and would welcome the reward, that was linked to a planned US-Russia partnership, a joint fight against Jabhat al-Nusra (ACLOS) now calling themselves Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (here JaN).

JaN has a slew of obvious and universally accepted war crimes to their credit (with a true number much higher and certainly constituting genocide and including countless massacres), and is still a US-designated terrorists group, despite their formally cutting al-Qaeda ties and changing their name. "Moderate" Islamist opposition fighters would finally be asked to disentangle from JaN so the US and Russia, and presumably Syrian forces and allies on the ground, could somehow all jointly attack both Islamic State (ISIS, Daesh) and JaN without hitting any of Washington's non-designated terrorist proxies. Those would supposedly observe a "Cessation Of Hostilities" (COH) and seek a "political solution" while allowing the fight against those everyone agrees are terrorists.

Alternately, JaN would be asked to leave Aleppo, and might even be escorted out with guns to regroup in a new battlefield of their choosing. Different plans were mentioned, but everyone at the UN seemed to agree they should go.

To anyone who's really followed the conflict, this is a ridiculously unlikely plan - or did I just misunderstand it? Who would want it:
  • Russia: this was apparently a Russian proposal accepted by everyone in Geneva on September 9.
  • Syria
  • The United States (on paper)
Who would not want it:
  • Jabhat Al-Nusra/JFS: their director of foreign media relations Mostafa Mahamed told BBC Newsnight JFS cannot withdraw from Aleppo, they've gotten themselves so deeply embedded among their human shields ("society") it was impossible to separate them, as painful to the civilians as it would be to them - JFS and all the other groups and all the citizens were in total love, must stay together and be protected together.
  • Most of their "moderate Islamist" allies: 21 armed groups - including Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam - declared at the start, on September 12 they  rejected the ceasefire, choosing to remain with JaN (The New Arab, Middle East Eye). If the al-Qaeda branch was attacked or forced to leave, they would lose their most powerful portion, and be left weaker and more prone to a government victory in reclaiming east Aleppo, if Damascus simply decided to break the COH.
  • The opposition's joint backers in the Gulf and Turkey, and even "humanitarian-minded Europe": British expert Michael Stephens told BBC Newsnight JaN "is seen as a Syrian movement. It’s seen as standing up for Syrians and fighting the regime… and so it makes no sense to peel away from them because actually what you’re doing is weakening your own position by doing that." (see analysis - notes how the 9/11 anniversary was marked by helping re-brand al-Qaeda and its occupation of Syria) 
  • The United States (in reality): Washington clearly leaped at the chance to reject the deal with Russia and to help preserve JaN's position in Aleppo, after the performance to suggest good faith. Also consider it was just two days before this was to go into effect the US had to "accidentally" attack Syrian forces in a well-known but tenuous position near Deir Ezzour, allowing an Islamic State advance. As a show of bad faith regarding the upcoming teamwork, it would do quite well, but they insist it was an accident they hoped to not keep repeating.
But publicly, up to September 19, the US insisted there could and should be a separation. But they had other conditions for tackling JaN, like that humanitarian aid supplied by the UN and others must be delivered first. The demand was leveled at the Syrian and Russian governments, as it was assumed the rebel side all wanted it.

However... because of how things were set up, the UN aid was seen as connected to this pipe dream of a US-Russia joint counter-terror force. If Al-Nusra or allies accepted it, there could be a new offensive against them. So there was a sentiment, at least, to reject it, and force the US to cancel its offered deal, on the premise that requirements weren't met.

Here is the relevant mindset demonstrated in a protest in East Aleppo, September 14: Bilal Abdul Kareem reported on a protest against UN aid to Aleppo, where they say there can be no cease-fire unless both sides agree, and they didn't agree. Abdul Kareem got an explanation, as shown at right, that they consider the aid "humiliating" because it's linked to the demand to separate fighters and divide their unity. It was part of a "conspiracy" by the "United Nations and its allies" to dilute the Jihad in Syria.

As the opposition's protest planners almost said in late 2012, as al-Nusra was listed a terrorist group, "we are all Jabhat al-Nusra." In the end the idea was voted down for obvious PR reasons, but I wanted to see it. Using a photo of a real protest in Homs saying "we are not terrorists" (that day's theme), I used Photoshop to have them spell out the rejected idea. (Note how they misspelled Nusra. Idiots. But it's a transliteration, so fair enough and sort of realistic.) Anyway, this is about what the protesters are saying now.

Motive in Review
On motive for the September 19 convoy attack, these points are crucial. As my friend Petri Krohn notes here at ACLOS, summarizing the case for rebel motive:
Rebels and their civilian supporters have blocked UN aid from reaching east Aleppo.
The ceasefire agreement comes with strings attached. If no aid is delivered, there can be no ceasefire. If there is no ceasefire, there is no need to separate al-Nusra from the "moderate" rebels.
Rebels have said they will end cooperation with UN aid agencies because the UN "supports the regime".
During the ceasefire the rebels merged their command structures. All may now be commanded by ex-Nusra.
The White Helmets, who were first seen on the site after the attack, could see the SARC (Syrian Arab Red Crescent) as a competitor operating on their "turf".
And again I'll cite b at Moon of Alabama:
A few days ago the "rebels" had accused the UN, which had goods on the convoy, of partisanship and said they would boycott it. "Rebels" in east Aleppo had demonstrated against UN provided help and said they would reject it. There was a general rejection of the ceasefire by the "rebels" and they were eager to push for a wider and bigger war against Syria and its allies. Al-Qaeda in Syria even made a video against the ceasefire. A part of the ceasefire deal is to commonly fight al-Qaeda. They naturally want the deal to end. The attack on the aid convoy seems to help their case.
So clearly, as he sums up, "The motive argument makes an attack by the "rebels" plausible and an attack by Syria and its allies implausible." We would have to accept that Russia and/or Syria wanted to destroy that batch of aid so badly they would obliterate the planned deal both had reason to favor. They would be doing al-Nusra, its Islamist allies, and their foreign backers a huge favor.

JaN Says "We Will Arrest the Driver?"
The most telling thing I've found is from an interview with a supposed JaN commander interviewed by German journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer and published September 26. There is some confused reflections of this seeming like a different interview, and controversy over its validity. Perhaps that's nothing, but I'm not sure yet, so for good measure I note this here (see ACLOS for sources and possibly analysis in time.)

The interviewee, face partly covered, calls himself "Abu al-Ezz," a mid-level commander of what he still calls Jabhat al-Nusra (and not Fateh al-Sham, as most others insist on saying). He  says all area rebels are one with Jabhat al-Nusra and should be called that, like they used to all say everyone is FSA. He says they are still backed by Turkey, and directly supported by the United States, not "properly" with air support, but with advisers and some direct deliveries of weapons.

These are dynamite revelations, if true, but what matters here is the attitude "Abu al-Ezz" ascribes to JaN regarding the cease-fire and related aid deliveries.
Todenhöfer: You do not want those 40 trucks with aid supplies to bring those into the eastern part of Aleppo?

"Abu Ezz": We have demands. As longs as the regime is positioned along Castello road, in al-Malah and in the northern areas we will not let those trucks pass. The regime must retreat from all areas in order for us to let the trucks pass. If a truck comes in despite that, we will arrest the driver.
I'm not sure what Al-Nusra's position is otherwise. They've denied this is a valid interview and wouldn't publicly say such a thing. At least, not after the events of September 19th! They have public relations and are lobbying for air support, and quite likely say the right things, like wanting to help their people, in light of the siege.

The 21 Islamist groups who rejected the cease-fire in solidarity with JaN were careful to say they "welcomed plans to deliver aid to besieged areas of the northern city of Aleppo and said they would help facilitate it," while criticizing "the "unjust agreement" between Washington and Moscow to target the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat Fatah al-Sham group." (AP) Lucky for them as we've seen, that "unjust agreement" never did go very far.

The Fateful Day
All agree the 7-day cease-fire held fairly well, considering. At the tail end of it, early on September 19, the aid convoy in question was loaded in government-held west Aleppo, and inspected to ensure it had no weapons or contraband items. They finally had all approvals and 31 trucks moved out only then, just hours before the calm was scheduled to possibly end. A statement from Jaish al-Mujiheddin (allies of Jabhat al-Nusra) claiming to represent the "Free Syrian Army," said they happily facilitated the convoy's delivery into rebel territory at 11:30 am.

The trucks were apparently stopped for a long time in Khan al-Assal, where a Russian drone passed over around 1:10 pm and filmed the convoy parked alongside the road. A rebel truck towing a large mortar passed them, driving west, out ahead. Where that mortar wound up and whether that matters are unclear. The convoy was moving again soon, with at least some trucks reaching the warehous near Urm al-Kubra and positioning to unload by about 1:30 pm, while others were still back in Kafr Naha at about the same time. (ACLOS)

Interestingly, JaN/JFS reportedly launched an offensive nearby the same day, apparently a few kilometers to the east: 
Earlier in the day, a spokesman for Russian forces based in Syria said that Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, ...had launched a large-scale assault on Syrian forces in the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo. ... preceded by massive artillery fire from tanks, multiple rocket launchers and mortars, targeting “governmental troop positions and residential areas on the southwestern edge of Aleppo.” Government forces, the spokesman said, “are conducting fierce defensive battles in order to prevent the groups of terrorists from breaking into the central part” of the city. (Washington Post)
Connection: unclear. But around that time, those 31 trucks of "humiliation" came rolling into turf reportedly controlled by Harakat Noureddin Al-Zenki, known JaN allies. These are the who in July, 2016 filmed themselves beheading a boy and boast of being "worse than ISIS," also blamed for a chemical weapons attack in early August, besides other atrocities like the ones the US believed adequate to stop arming the group in 2015.

"Abu Ezz" said if any driver brought in aid with government forces still guarding the road, they would be arrested. If there were many drivers, in a convoy he wanted to claim Russia had attacked ... they - again, meaning all fused rebel groups - would likely arrest and kill them and blame that worst version on Russia-Syria. What would al-Zenki in particular do? Presumably they would be smart enough not to behead these victims and film the process, and to keep it somewhat realistic. The bodies would mostly be burned badly, which helps obscure clues.

Another drone pass around 4 pm showed some 20 trucks at the site. (ACLOS) Some trucks (a reported 17) had unloaded and returned before sunset. But at least 12 remained, slowly unloading, when the convoy was attacked just minutes after darkness fell and the cease-fire ended. Later, an apparently planted bomb fragment was used to blame Russia, but the rebels knew instantly during the night-time attack that it was "Russian planes" that were "going to execute the airstrike," apparently "within our airspace." (Paveway IV).

The first news was that local Red Crescent director Omar Barakat was killed, and 10-12 unnamed aid workers. Many were injured, including 15 drivers. Later, it was said about 20 were killed, and then the Jaish al-Mujiheddin statement said 31 were killed - 12 aid workers and 19 "civilians," including "the drivers," with no mention of anyone just injured. Of the 12+ killed and 18 wounded in first reports, this could be a case where all injuries proved fatal - and the deaths were probably a lot quicker and more systematic than they make it sound. (see ACLOS)

Of about 31 drivers total, 18 had reportedly returned safely before the attack. But among those who remained at nightfall ... it's not spelled out nor certain, but it seems like perhaps there were no survivors, and thus no credible witnesses to the attack. The vaunted and heroic White Helmets were on site to blame the Russian-Syrian aircraft with the story we've heard. But it seems likely they managed to not save anyone here. They say it's because the attack was so intense and prolonged.

But consider this truck of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, its cab facing the warehouse being one of the less-damaged parts of the convoy. Yet it has a windshield smashed out, a side-mirror ton off, and the paper UNHCR sign torn off the grill. (Add October 27: new view shows this at bottom, with an even clearer example from the same scene dded above, with comment)

(for the bottom scene) This could be done by some shrapnel from the bomb/shell/rocket that detonated just behind the truck and to the right, that ricocheted  off the warehouse's facade. But that's more likely to deflect up than down, and there's no more than perhaps one mark from this in the metal. And another sign is partly torn from the driver's side wheel well in a way shrapnel couldn't likely do. (for the top scene scene, there seems little possible explanation at all) What Russian bomb could hate the UNHRC and its "humiliating aid" enough to rip its stamp away with disgust?

(bottom scene) The driver's door is flung open, with wet spots, possibly blood, immediately beneath that. The driver's side window is intact. Hmmm. Further, I'm not a car person, but is that the whole engine under that spacious hood, or is part of it missing? Another truck cab seems smashed apart but lacking an engine. Were rebel scavengers perhaps taking these for use in their improvised war machines? If so, it would probably be done before they shelled and torched the trucks to mimic a Syria-Russia airstrike.

Such a middling-scale crime would normally lead to some condemnations, prompt some Syrian army actions, and then be forgotten. But in the bizarre and frightening context it was jammed into, this little event might have huge repercussions. If so, clearly, these little details of the incident will warrant far more than the minor attention they've gotten.

The response was astonishingly uniform, strong, and clear across the entire spectrum of Western mainstream,  controlled discourse: a reflexive blaming of Russia with unknown or secret evidence, and cancelling the deal against JaN almost at minute one. This effectively protected the terrorist group's position in Aleppo as they, Saudi Arabia, etc. had demanded. But a State Department spokesman commented to say he would not dignify the obvious conclusion with a comment.

Then the US has taken every follow-up chance to blame Russia and/or the Syrian forces they're the bosses of for any unproven atrocity against rebel-held Aleppo (echoing the opposition claims by which over 400 civilians and ZERO rebel fighters were killed by government and Russian bombing in the last 12 days of September - ACLOS). This unacceptable brutality forced Washington to suspend all cooperation with Russia in Syria, start calling Russia's government a "regime" and speaking of war crimes trials for both Damascus and Moscow, readying to attack Syria directly and preparing for general war with Russia if needed, with assurances we would win at whatever level it got to.

As analyst Israel Shamir notes,
If the greatest poker game of all times will end by nuclear grand slam, and the survivors will review the causes of WWIII, they will die laughing. The Third World War had been fought to save al Qaeda. Yes, my dear readers! Uncle Sam invaded Afghanistan in order to punish al Qaeda, and now he started the World War to save al Qaeda. Positively a great ambivalent passionate love/hate relationship between the American gentleman and the Arab girl, from 9/11 to Aleppo.

For the future historians, the WWIII commenced with the US decision to terminate bilateral talks with Russia over Syria. Let the arms do the talking, they said. Here is an exclusive revelation:
The US decided to suspend talks after Russia called for withdrawal of al Qaeda (al Nusra Front etc.) fighters from Aleppo. This was the casus belli.
I'm not keen on such rhetoric of 1960's style nuclear WWIII scenarios ... (besides, I'd call it a nuclear escalation of the ongoing World War IV). But people are pushing on that lever now. The lever exists because Russia refuses to back down, against the regime-change-obsessed  US-led alliance demand to at least secure al-Nusra's position in Aleppo. If the nukes start flying, or whatever comes next anyway, it would be triggered largely by this apparent false-flag act of piracy and murder.

1 comment:

  1. February 25, 2017 Twenty-one-old cinematographer Khaled Khateeb

    – who was set to join White Helmets leader Raed Saleh
    at the Oscars, where The White Helmets is nominated in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category – was scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles on Saturday.

    However, the Department of Homeland Security blocked Khateeb from entering the United States, citing "derogatory information" about the cinematographer, the Associated Press reports, a vague term that could be applied to everything from terrorist threats to a passport irregularity.

    Ammar al-Selmo

    One of the two members of the Syrian civil defense unit the White Helmets that planned on attending the Oscars has been blocked from entering the U.S. OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP

    On Sept. 19, immediately after the attack on the aid convoy, the chief of the White Helmets organization in the Aleppo governorate, Ammar al-Selmo, presented a dramatic narrative of a Russian-Syrian air attack, but it was marked by obvious internal contradictions.

    Aleppo Convoy Attack
    "Abu al-Ezz,
    The interviewee, face partly covered, calls himself "Abu al-Ezz," a mid-level commander of what he still calls Jabhat al-Nusra

    Osama Abo-Ez
    Dr. Osama Abo-Ez is one of those who has remained in rebel-held Aleppo since 2011, despite the dangers. His wife and children have moved across the border into Turkey for their safety, and he is on a short visit there, but even though the city is now under siege, the surgeon says he plans to return to Syria within days.
    ..Attar and the SAMS team made it out of eastern Aleppo during a lull in the bombardment that has closed the city off, but the dedicated permanent staff at the hospital is still there, doing all they can to save lives as their supplies -- medication, food and even electricity -- run down.

    Aleppo: Where hospitals were turned into Sharia gaols


    April [2017]We saw the graffiti on the walls of the cells of the hapless victims held in this place of horrors. One read; ‘God help my children’. The once fully functioning hospital was used by the takfiris [Muslims who accuse other Muslims of apostasy] against the Syrian government and MSF went along for the ride.


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