Syria’s War Has Cost $327 Billion

Syria's

London- Moscow is in a hurry to discuss the file of Syria’s reconstruction as western and regional powers link their involvement in the reconstruction process to “finding a genius political solution” to the war-torn country.

According to the National Agenda for the Future of Syria (NAFS) initiated by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA) and which is run by Syrian and international experts, the cost of the Syrian war has reached $327.5 billion including $227 billion lost on unemployment and $100 billion on ruin.

According to NAFS, the level of destruction reached 30 percent in the residential sector, while it was near 18 percent in the industrial sector, 9 percent in the electricity and water sectors and 7 percent in the agricultural sector.

Those numbers do not involve the level of destruction in the two cities of Deir Ezzor and Raqqa.

Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister sent a letter to UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura to encourage him on launching “the humanitarian reconstruction” in Syria.

The file of rebuilding Syria was also brought up by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during his visit to Oman.

Observers expect that the issue of Syria’s reconstruction will be tackled during the meetings of the UN General Assembly in New York.

On the other hand, several western countries were still linking their contribution in the reconstruction process to achieving “a genius political solution” based on UNSC Resolution 2254.

Gareth Bayley, Britain’s special representative for Syria wrote on his twitter account on Wednesday that the “EU reconstruction aid to Syria will be achieved only when a genuine, comprehensive, and inclusive transition is firmly under way, and not before.”

For its part, Iran seeks to preserve its share in the reconstruction of Syria after signing with Damascus an agreement to repair parts of the country’s power grid.

According to SANA, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday during a visit by the regime’s electricity minister to Tehran, including building a power plant in the coastal province of Latakia with a capacity of 540 megawatts.

Book Review: A Grim Portrayal of Syria at War

DESTROYING A NATION
The Civil War in Syria
By: Nikolas Van Dam
Published by I.B. Tauris, London, 2017

The blurb of this new book on Syria presents the author, Nikolas Van Dam, as an experienced Dutch diplomat with a direct knowledge of the Middle East.

Having served as Holland’s Ambassador to Egypt, Turkey and Iraq, Van Dam also had a stint (in 2015-16) as his country’s Special Envoy for Syria. In that last assignment Van Dam monitored the situation from a base in neighboring Turkey.

Van Dam’s diplomatic background is clear throughout his book as he desperately tries, not always with success, to be fair to “all sides” which means taking no sides, while weaving arguments around the old cliché of “the only way out is through dialogue”.

Thus he is critical of Western democracies, which according to him, deceived the Syrian opposition by making promises to it, including military intervention, which they had no intention of delivering. He is especially critical of former US President Barack Obama who launched the mantra “Assad must go” and set “red line” which the Syrian despot ended up by crossing with impunity.

The first half of the book consists of a fast-paced narrative of Syrian history before the popular uprising started in the spring of 2011. The picture that emerges is that of a Syria in the throes of instability and frequent outburst of violence including sectarian conflict. Van Dam then juxtaposes that with Syria as it was reshaped under President Hafez al-Assad, who seized power in 1970, and his son and successor Bashar al-Assad.

“Under Hafez and Bashar, Syria experienced more internal security and stability than ever before since independence,” Van Dam asserts.

But isn’t Van Dam confusing terror with security and stagnation with stability?

Leaving aside the past six years that, according to Van Dam, have claimed almost half a million Syrian lives, the previous four decades of rule by the two Assads were anything but a model of security and stability. In all those years, Syria lived under Emergency Rules while thousands were imprisoned and or tortured and executed. The absence of genuine security and stability meant that the Ba’athist regime was unable to build the durable institutions of a modern state. That’s why Syrian society at large saw its creative energies stifled, something that none of the previous dictators, from Hosni a-Zaim onwards, had managed or, perhaps, even intended to do.

In other words, contrary to Van Dam’s assertion, the two Assads destroyed chances of Syria building the political, not to mention the ethical, infrastructure of genuine security and stability.

Van Dam tries to portray Syria as a society that had always been ridden by sectarian violence, and frequently refers to “the killing of Alawites” by Arab Sunni Muslims. However, the only example he cites is that of the mass murder of Alawite military cadets in Aleppo which took place during Hafez al-Assad’s rule. The biggest “mass killing” of that epoch was the week-long carnage of unarmed civilians by Assad’s troops in Hama in 1982 which, according to Van Dam, claimed up to 25,000 lives, almost all of them Arab Sunni Muslims.

Those familiar with Syrian history would know that while sectarianism did play a role in almost all events in that unhappy lands it was never the dominant factor.

What Syria experienced, and to some extent is experiencing today, is a war of sectarians not a sectarian war.

The fight today is not between Syrian Sunnis and Alawites and it would be wrong to see the Assad dictatorship as ruled by the Alawite community as such. The fight is between the mass of disenfranchised Syrians of all sects against a despotic regime determined to go to any length to preserve its hold on power, or as we increasingly note, the illusion of power. To that end the Assad regime has focused on dominating the coercive organs of power, the army, the police and at least 15 security organizations, with the appointments of individuals loyal to Assad rather than any particular sect or even the supposedly ruling Ba’ath Party. Van Dam cites estimates of the number of Alawite officers in the Syrian army at around 86 percent. However, the key in that was loyalty to the Assad clan rather than adherence to a religious sect the tenets of which are kept secret even from its followers.

Van Dam estimates support for the Assad regime at around 30 per cent of the Syrian population. This roughly coincides with the percentage of Alawite, Christian, Ismaili and Druze communities in that country. However, to translate the statistics of a census, and even then one based only on estimates, into facts of political support for a regime requires a giant leap of imagination. One might prefer the estimates offered by Sami Khiyami, one of Syria’s most experienced diplomats now in exile, whom Van Dam quotes as well. According to Khiyami the Assad regime and its armed opponents together enjoy the support of no more than 70 per cent of Syrians, the rest disliking, even hating both, for different reasons.

According to Van Dam, the demand advanced by the Syrian opposition and more than 100 countries that Assad must go was a big hurdle on the road to a negotiated end of the conflict. Instead, Van Dam argues, the opposition and its Arab and Western democratic backers ought to have demanded Assad’s cooperation in forging transition. Van Dam may not know this but this is precisely what was attempted in 2012-13 when a Track-II plan under which Assad would “step aside” rather than “step down” was advanced with European and, to some extent, American support. It failed because Assad refused its basic tenets while Obama, even believing that Assad would fall in any case, also withdrew US support.

One may wonder about the book’s title and sub-title. What is happening in Syria is not about “destroying a nation”, nor is Syria likely to be destroyed as a nation. In fact, one may argue that, once the dictatorship is brought down, Syria may emerge from its current ordeal stronger as a nation than ever. The theme of “destruction” is used by Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers as a prop in a campaign of psychological terror to cow the Syrian people into submission. The slogan “Either Assad or We Shall Burn the Country” is openly used by diehard pro-Assad thugs including the Shabbihah.

The description of the conflict in Syria as a “civil war” may also be problematic. From ancient times in Rome, say between Marius and Sula or Caesar and Pompey, the term civil war applied to armed contest over power between two local camps of roughly the same strength at the starting point. This is not the case in Syria where the conflict was initially one between unarmed demonstrations and heavily armed security machine controlled by Assad. The parallel conflict that later developed between anti-Assad armed groups and the remnants of the regime’s army did not morph into a civil war either if only because foreign elements, and powers, became heavily involved on both sides.

Van Dam cites estimates that put the current strength of what is left of Assad’s army at over 65,000. At the same time, General Qassem Soleimani, the man who leads Tehran’s “exporting the revolution” campaign, has just boasted that he has over 60,000 men in Syria, including “volunteers for martyrdom” from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. In other words almost half of those fighting to keep Assad safe in his last hideout in Damascus are not Syrians. At the same time, it is clear that without carpet-bombing by the Russian air force, Assad would have had no chance of making even a symbolic return to such places as Aleppo.

On the armed opposition side, too, foreign intervention is significant. According to Western estimates, more than 30,000 non-Syrians, many of them European passport-holders, are fighting on the side of ISIS, the various militant groups and even Kurdish armed bands in Syria. The financial, political and training support given by more than 50 countries to the Syrian opposition may be “too little, too late”, as Van Dam asserts, but it makes it difficult to underestimate the non-Syrian element of this tragic conflict.

In other words, the proxy aspect of this conflict, something that Van Dam acknowledges, vitiates its descriptions of a classical civil war.

Despite its obvious shortcomings, Van Dam’s book is a welcome contribution to the international debate on the Syrian crisis if only because it offers a glimpse into thinking in European diplomatic circles.

What some of us might find hard to accept is Van Dam’s deep pessimism as to the future of Syria.
He writes: “There is no good future for Syria with Bashar al-Assad in powers, but without al-Assad, future prospects (sic) for Syria do not look promising either.

However, regardless of what happens next the Assad terror machine has been broken and, even with Russian and Iranian support, cannot be restored to its previous strength.

If only for that, “future prospects” need not look so grim. Well. We shall see.

David Nott Trains Gaza Doctors to Deal with War Injuries

Gaza- British war surgeon David Nott was back in the Gaza Strip this week to share with local doctors specialist knowledge he has amassed from working in conflict and disaster zones over the past quarter-century.

An expert in using minimal equipment to treat patients in basic facilities, Nott returned three years after his previous visit during the 2014 Gaza war between Israel and Palestinian militants.

This time, hospitals in Gaza are again struggling to cope with a crisis: power cuts and medicine shortages stemming from a blockade.

In a hall at a beachfront restaurant this week, Nott instructed 36 Palestinian surgeons in special techniques to deal with injuries in a war zone.

“I was very impressed with the Gaza surgeons last time … but of course those experiences get less and less as time goes on and you have to then retrain the new surgeons how to deal with those injuries,” he told Reuters.

“That is the reason why I am here … to try and give the surgeons who work in Gaza as much of my knowledge and experiences as I have gained over the last 25 years.”

Nott is a co-founder of the David Nott Foundation, which is dedicated to furthering the principles and improving the standards and practice of humanitarian surgery.

A specialist in vascular surgery, he worked in hospitals in Syria in 2012, 2013 and 2014 to treat victims of its civil war. He has also practiced surgery in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Darfur, Iraq and other conflict areas.

Notts’ visit comes at a time when international reports have said that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is deteriorating “further and faster” than was forecast only a few years ago.

The head of the World Health Organization’s Palestinian territories, the West Bank and Gaza office, Dr Gerald Rockenschaub, has expressed concern over the deteriorating living and health conditions in the Gaza Strip.

He said it was unacceptable for patients not to be able to leave the territory in order to seek health services.

Israeli Major-General: Syrian War Delays Conflict with ‘Hezbollah’

Israel

Jerusalem- Israel would use all its strength from the start in any new war with the Lebanese “Hezbollah”, chief of the Israeli air force Major-General Amir Eshel said on Wednesday, sending a firm warning a decade after their last conflict.

He noted that the Syrian war is delaying the conflict with “Hezbollah”.

At the annual Herzliya security conference near Tel Aviv, Eshel said qualitative and quantitative improvements in the air force since the 2006 Lebanon war meant it could carry out in just two or three days the same number of bombings it mounted in those 34 days of fighting.

“If war breaks out in the north, we have to open with all our strength from the start,” he said, pointing to the likelihood of international pressure for a quick ceasefire before Israel can achieve all its strategic goals.

Israeli politicians and generals have spoken often of an intention to hit hard in Lebanon if war breaks out, in an apparent bid to deter Hezbollah. Eshel said in 2014 that another conflict could see Israeli attacks 15 times more devastating for Lebanon than in 2006.

But at the conference, Eshel noted that “many elements busy achieving their goals” in Syria’s civil war were interested in preventing any fresh hostilities in Lebanon, where Israel says Hezbollah has built up an arsenal of more than 100,000 rockets.

Since early in the six-year-old Syria war, Hezbollah’s energies have been focused on propping up regime president Bashar al-Assad in alliance with Iran and Russia, throwing thousands of its fighters into battle against Syrian rebels.

When will the War in Yemen End?

Yemen

Two years after the “Decisive Storm” in Yemen began due to the coup of the coalition of Houthis militias and Ali Abdullah Saleh groups, the question remains: When will the war be over in Yemen?

It is a legitimate, natural, and expected question. No one really wants war, let alone an on-going one. But, can we answer that question without a follow up about the possibility of ending the war without eliminating its causes?

Surely, it is impossible for the war to be suddenly over and while the reasons that caused it are still present. All things indicate that Houthi-Saleh militias are still a knot in Yemen’s attempt to achieve peace and get rid of this war.

With a militia which violated 150 ceasefire in Yemen and 30 over the Yemeni-Saudi border and which refuses any initiative since Kuwait talks, there is no solution than the continuation of the coalition operations until they accept a political solution.

It is clear that Houthi-Saleh militias only understand the logic of power even with all the negotiations, initiatives and treaties signed. Based on this, the political and military tracks are parallel. Any political operation needs both parties, something which is not available in the Yemeni crises.

There is one party that represents the legitimate Yemeni government which accepts initiatives and sits alone at the negotiation’s table. The legitimacy can’t find another party to negotiate with and in this case there is no other way than continuing with the military action until militias accept to find a political solution.

So, what is delaying a military resolution?

Houthis deploy their military posts and civil bases in populated areas in Sanaa and other major cities under their control, so it is only natural that military resolution is not achieved as quickly as expected. This exposes the difference between how states and militias deal with the issue.

Military operations conducted by the coalition are done according to strict rules to preserve the lives of civilians as much as possible. Surely, there are some mistakes which no one desires. Yet, and in rare cases, the coalition mistakenly struck civilians while targeting military locations, contrary to the militias that target Saudi border randomly, aiming to target civilians.

During the two years, militias randomly launched over forty thousand missiles, mortars, and other bombs on Saudi cities killing 375 civilians, shutting over 500 schools, and displacing over 17 thousand citizens from 24 villages.

Surely, some might refer to the incident at the Sanaa funeral house in October, which was done based on wrong information. Arab coalition issued a statement back then saying that it had sadly occurred and that a party wrongly passed information.

Earlier last week, an international coalition raid targeted civilians in Mosul which also occurred based on wrong information given by Iraqi troops, according to US Department of Defense.

But the matters were dealt with completely differently. Innocent people are the same whether in this case or that, and so is the military operation. Yet in the first situation, the incident was exaggeratedly used politically as if it was done deliberately, whereas the second was considered a natural military mistake that could happen during such operations.

Two years after the war in Yemen, coalition forces and Yemeni legitimacy are in control of over 80 percent of Yemeni territories. The coalition succeeded in establishing a Yemeni state from scratch with its own government and army, after years without any of that.

We are faced with a legitimate government and an eternal coalition in accordance with the references to reach a peaceful settlement, as opposed to a militia which prefers war to peace and resorts to power instead of negotiations.

As long as the insurgency is persistent and won’t resort to a peaceful solution, there is no way other than continuing the war until its reasons are eliminated.

Uprooted by War, Threatened by Boko Haram and Desperate to Go Home

Maiduguri, Nigeria — Dozens of drivers lined up in beat-up vehicles stuffed with mattresses, cooking pots and other belongings, clogging a road outside one of the most desperate and dangerous camps that serve as refuge from the war with Boko Haram.

All were waiting for the Nigerian military to escort them back to the farms and the villages they had fled during the yearslong rampage by the insurgents here in this northeast corner of the nation.

The military and the government have proclaimed that the countryside outside Maiduguri, the busy Borno State capital where Boko Haram was born, is mostly safe now. They’ve said it’s time for most of the nearly two million displaced people — many of them farmers and fishermen fighting to stave off hunger — to go home.

But the soldiers were guiding the throngs of people into a future that was no more certain, and potentially just as dangerous, as the past they had fled.

President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly declared the war with Boko Haram over. The military has chased the insurgents from hiding places in the forest. But the radical terrorist group is still waging deadly attacks across the countryside. And in some camps for displaced people, new arrivals fleeing the militants are moving in even as others are moving back home.

Caught in the middle are people like Idi Hassan and his wife, who were in the convoy with six of their young children in his truck bed. The Hassans had been living for two years in the squalid camp in Maiduguri, relying on food handouts and eager to get back to their farm north of here, where they hoped to make a living.

“The area has been liberated, and we’re going home,” Mr. Hassan said.

Yet insurgents still roam the northeast and frequently crisscross roads like the one that was taking Mr. Hassan and his family home. Just weeks ago, Boko Haram ambushed soldiers along this very highway, killing seven of them.

The narrow road is also the same one that Boko Haram used in January to ferry nine suicide bombers who set upon the same camp in Maiduguri that the Hassan family was leaving. Besides the bombers, two other people were killed in the attack, described by the authorities as the most coordinated of recent bombings.

Much of the world associates the militants with the kidnapping in April 2014 of more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, a small village in northeastern Nigeria. Many of them are still missing.

“Most people simplify this crisis into one hashtag: Bring Back Our Girls,” said Sean Hoy, Ireland’s ambassador to Nigeria, who was in Maiduguri recently with other diplomats to assess the humanitarian crisis. But the aftermath of the ravaging by Boko Haram is far more complicated.

Since the violence started here in 2009, nearly two million people in northeastern Nigeria have fled their homes in fear of Boko Haram, which has carried out a murderous spree against civilians and members of the military.

Many people fled rural areas to Maiduguri, which has doubled in size as displaced Nigerians have crowded into relatives’ homes or settled into crumbling buildings, bus stations, schoolyards and the thousands of ramshackle thatched huts that dot the edges of the city.

The Borno State government announced plans to close the camps in Maiduguri by the end of May, but said it would keep evaluating the situation. Now, one million uprooted people are making their way back home, according to the United Nations.

Outside the city, military commanders say, all but small pockets of the countryside are now safe.

“Ferocious attacks are a thing of the past,” said Maj. Gen. Leo Irabor, the Nigerian Army commander leading the operation against the militants. “We are only picking up the pieces.”

In late December, the military began reopening main highways that had been closed for years because of security worries. The state government has started rebuilding burned villages.

The military push has allowed aid workers to fan out into new parts of the countryside to help people ravaged by famine or famine like conditions. The United Nations has increased its efforts as well, working alongside the military and asking for $1 billion to help those affected by Boko Haram.

Yet the security situation is far from stable. Maiduguri, where soldiers chased out the militants years ago, has been a frequent suicide-bombing target, set upon even by girl bombers, one as young as 7. One bomber in a recent attack had a baby strapped to her back.

With the military on their trail, many Boko Haram fighters appear to have scattered throughout Borno State and its beige landscape dotted by tiny farming communities. The Nigerian Army orders residents to clear out as it hunts the militants, and unarmed civilians are sometimes killed in the battles.

In another area deemed safe by the military, insurgents gunned down 16 people gathering wood not far from their homes. When aid groups make some supply runs in helicopters across the safe areas, the pilots fly high enough to be out of missile range.

The New York Times

Over 320,000 People Dead in Syria War amid Rising Violence against Children

Syria’s war has killed just over 320,000 people since it erupted six years ago as violence against children in the war-ravaged country was “at its worst” in 2016, a monitor and the UN’s children’s agency said Monday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had recorded the deaths of 321,358 people since the conflict broke out in March 2011 with protests against the head of the regime, Bashar al-Assad.

The toll represented an increase of about 9,000 since December, when regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey brokered a nationwide cessation of hostilities.

“There have been fewer people dying in the three months since the ceasefire was put into place,” said Observatory Rami Abdel Rahman.

“The deaths haven’t stopped, but they have been slower in the past few months,” he said as the Syrian conflict nears its seventh year.

The new toll included more than 96,000 civilians, among them over 17,400 children and nearly 11,000 women.
According to UNICEF, cases of children being killed, maimed, or recruited into armed groups were the “highest on record” last year.

“The depth of suffering is unprecedented. Millions of children in Syria come under attack on a daily basis, their lives turned upside down,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s regional director.

“Each and every child is scarred for life with horrific consequences on their health, well-being, and future,” he said from the central Syrian city of Homs.

UNICEF recorded the violent deaths of at least 652 children last year, a 20 percent increase from 2015, and more than 250 of the victims were killed inside or near a school.

At least 850 children were recruited to fight in the conflict, including as executioners or suicide bombers — more than double the 2015 number.

UNICEF said that 2.3 million Syrian children are living as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq.
Another 280,000 still live under siege across Syria, with no access to food or medicine, it said.

To cope with increasingly difficult living conditions, families inside Syria and in host nations have been forced to push their children into early marriages or child labor just to survive.

“There is so much more we can and should do to turn the tide for Syria’s children,” said Cappelaere.

Terrorist Attacks in Kabul…Violence, Endless War

Kabul

KABUL — Behroz Haidary was a skilled surgeon, army captain, environmental activist and father of three. On Wednesday, he was making rounds at Kabul’s main military hospital when he was shot dead by gunmen who had infiltrated the facility, disguised as medics. It was his 37th birthday. The attack, claimed by ISIS, left at least 49 people dead and 70 wounded.

Abdul Qadir, 23, was a laborer from a poor neighborhood, with a part-time job as a government vaccinator. On March 1, he was giving polio drops to a girl outdoors when a suicide bomber rammed a nearby police station. The blast hurled Qadir into a ditch, and his charred body was found hours later. He was one of 23 people who died that day in twin attacks claimed by the Taliban.

Haidary and Qadir were among the most recent victims of the urban terror war in Afghanistan, a series of bombings and gun attacks that officials fear will intensify this year, with insurgents gaining territory and civilian deaths reaching a record 3,500 nationwide in 2016. In Kabul alone, such attacks have killed thousands in the past decade — and nearly 100 this month.

But most of the 16-year war has been fought in far-flung rural provinces, and most civilian victims as well as security forces die there. Often there are few witnesses and no detailed news coverage, so the deaths remain a remote abstraction.

When a convoy carrying supplies to snowbound villages was ambushed last month in Jowzjan province, leaving six aid workers dead, their names and faces remained unknown to the public. The same was true when a policeman fatally shot 11 of his sleeping fellow officers at a desert checkpoint in Helmand province two weeks ago.

But when terrorist violence invades the capital, the impact is more immediate; destruction and death zoom into public view. Television crews quickly reach bombing and shootout scenes. People post constant queries and reactions on social media — a mix of worry, relief, anger about the endless war and frustration about the government’s inability to protect the public.

“We are supposed to thank the president for going to visit people in the hospital and condemning a savage act,” one resident wrote Thursday on Facebook. “But saying sorry and condemning are not enough. Why can’t they do more to prevent it?”

On Thursday, the Ministry of Defense said the military hospital had been sealed shut while investigators try to discover how the attackers entered the hospital after blowing up the main gate. On Wednesday, security officials said they had driven an ambulance into the compound.

Officials also said they were trying to confirm whether ISIS was behind the attack, as its news outlet claimed. The Taliban issued a statement saying it had not been involved, but the group sometimes denies attacks that kill many civilians.

A posting on Facebook showed five masked men posing with assault rifles in front of a sign in Arabic naming them as “our sacrificers” in the “killing and maiming of mercenaries” at the military hospital. There was no way to tell where and when the photo was taken.

When the victims of such fatal attacks are well-known figures, their losses can resonate across social media and Afghan society. On Thursday, the news of Haidary’s death sparked an outpouring of condolences on social media, and photos of him with his children and colleagues circulated online.

He was buried at the hillside Deh Kapaik cemetery, below a monument to Marshal Mohammad Fahim, the late anti-Soviet militia leader and defense minister, with whom his family had military and ethnic ties. A portrait of Haidary in his army uniform rested among the flowers on his grave. Mourners in military garb raised occasional shouts of “Allah is great.”

In contrast, the death of Qadir one week earlier was virtually unnoticed in public and mourned quietly by relatives and neighbors.

Washington Post

Deaf Syrians Learn the Language of War

Damascus- At an NGO in Damascus, two young deaf Syrians, Bisher and Ryad, are working to create special sign language characters so thousands of Syrians like them can talk about the war that has ravaged their country for the past six years.

They have created a way to sign both the English word for ISIS but also the acronym used for it in Arabic: Daesh.

Twice raising the little finger represents “I” and placing a thumb on the index finger and the middle finger makes an “S” to signify ISIS, explains 26-year-old biomedical engineer Wisal al-Ahdab, deputy head of the EEMAA association in the capital’s Midan district.

To indicate the “government”, two fingers are placed on the palm, recalling the two stars on Syria’s national flag.
But three fingers means the rebels, whose flag has an extra star. And two hands placed over the eyes signifies a kidnapping.

“We had to invent words that didn’t exist in the vocabulary of the deaf in Syria so they can exchange information and express their feelings about the violence,” says Ahdab.

Once the new signs have been finalized and agreed on, video footage of them is taken and posted on Facebook so others who are similarly disabled can access and discuss them.

Officially, there are some 20,000 deaf people in Syria, but EEMAA chairman Ali Ekriem, a computer engineer, says the real number is five times that.

The 35-year-old told Agence France Presse such people suffer double, living through a war without being able to make themselves understood.

The horror of incomprehension and ensuing realization can be both dangerous and heart-breaking, says 21-year-old Ryad Hommos, who is helping to create the new signs.

While he and his family were fleeing fighting in their neighborhood aboard a truck, sniper fire cut down his mother, uncle, aunt, three cousins, a brother and their baby sister.

But Hommos couldn’t hear the shots ring out, and “because I wasn’t expecting it, I didn’t understand what was happening at first”, he says.

“I saw my mother slump down and then my cousins fell. It was only when I saw my little sister’s head explode that I finally realized we were under fire.”

Another brother was later killed by shelling as he played football in the street.

Hommos now works in a cable factory, but remains haunted by the horror of what he has seen and dreams of going abroad.

Even navigating war-ravaged Syria on a day-to-day basis can be risky — like being stopped at one of the capital’s many checkpoints.

“You have to make yourself understood using gestures, and often those in charge at roadblocks think we’re mocking them,” says Ekriem.

“Before, most deaf people avoided putting their disability on their ID cards, but now everyone does it to show at checkpoints.”

Ekreim’s 32-year-old sister Bisher knows well the danger of misunderstandings.

While returning to her home in Damascus in 2011, she found herself stuck between anti-regime demonstrators and members of the security services planning to disperse them.

She tried to escape down an alleyway in the Midan neighborhood, “but no one could help me because I could not communicate and the situation started to get worse”.

By some miracle, Bisher explained her situation to a passerby and was taken to safety, but she is now so traumatized by the experience that she no longer dares to venture outside.

At home, her windowpanes rattle from bombardment outside as she recounts her experience.

The Ekreim family sought refuge in Lebanon for two years, coming back to what they say is a different Damascus.

“The war blew everything apart,” Bisher says sadly, describing the waves of emigration and saying even her friends had become “aggressive” towards one another.

“I hope one day we’ll meet again, and that the deaf can find a shared language once more.”

A World of Fear and Hatred

From the security meetings in Bonn, Munich and Baku, to the French and German elections, following Britain’s Brexit vote and Trump’s election, the world looks worried, anxious and different. Is it a crisis of priorities, or a problem of concepts? Are we still capable of coming up with a new definition for ‘coexistence’ in the age of brute populism?

Is it possible for bigots and extremists who hate even their compatriots and seek to repatriate immigrants to their countries, to live in peace and harmony with peoples whose fathers and grandfathers fought against theirs a few decades ago?!

Whatever connects the “racists” of France to those of Germany when one remembers that behind the two peoples stand the animosities of two world wars and reciprocated claims of “occupied territories” in Alsace, Lorraine and Saarland?

Weren’t these animosities only buried by wise and great visionaries like Konrad Adenauer, Charles De Gaulle, and Robert Schumann who looked for unifying interests, which eventually, led to the idea of a United Europe?

What brings together English right wing ‘isolationists’, who used to describe the Labour Party – with disdain – as ‘the Party of the Scots and Welsh’ and the extremist Flemish and Walloons of Belgium?

What principles unite the ‘zealots’ among the Catholics and Protestants separated through the ages by rivers of blood like those of St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in France and the ‘Irish Troubles’?

Then, how can one explain the ‘morality’ or ‘logic’ of Arab, Kurdish, Indian or Chinese immigrants; and Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Sikh immigrants in Western Europe, who oppose newcomers from the white Christian Eastern European countries, such as Poland, Hungary and Rumania?

How is it possible that immigrants and descendants of immigrants become enemies of immigration? What is the excuse for former victims of racism and extremism in their forefathers’ homelands practice racism and extremism against others, just because they arrived in their new home earlier, enjoyed its milk and honey, and then shut out the late comers?

This is the immoral and unstable world we live in today. This is the world some of whose leaders are trying to halt its slide into a massive ‘world war’.

Still, the democratically-elected world leaders, throughout their debates and actions, are only dealing with symptoms rather than treating root causes.

Everybody is chattering about freedom, and yet has reservations about its most significant product … globalization. Everybody is looking at the issue of security, but turns a blind eye to hotbeds of injustice, nests of deprivation and swamps of ignorance that threaten peace and security of societies across the globe.

At the Munich Security Conference 2017, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said: “We should be careful that this fight (against terror) does not become a front against Islam and Muslims…” This has also been the position of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

However, correct and honorable as these positions may be, they mean little in the light of what we see and hear during election campaigns currently underway in the West. They carry no weight when opinion polls – time and time again – show that the more a candidate incites hatred and adopts isolationist and racist stances the higher he scores with the electorate.

Furthermore, they do not amount to anything, when we see before us maneuvers, conspiracies and crimes of religious and ethnic nature like those being committed from Myanmar, to the Americas, across the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

Indeed, many of these maneuvers, conspiracies and crimes that include ethnic and religious-sectarian ‘cleansing’, are ongoing with international sponsorship or collusion, sometimes at the highest levels.
America elected Donald Trump in November’s presidential race based on a clear and candid electoral platform. At the moment three delicate and dangerous elections are scheduled in the Netherlands, France and Germany.

If the Dutch elections are viewed by some as carrying less weight than what might happen in France and Germany, the advances made by the extreme Right have become ever more worrisome for various reasons; among which are its deep hatred to immigrant (especially Muslims) in a country with a sizable Muslim community, from which actually, comes the Speaker of the Dutch Parliament.

Thus, how the ‘racists’ fare in the Netherlands is worth observing since ‘racism’ is not a political ‘taboo’ any more, even in the greatest constitutional western democracies.

No doubt, the French elections are crucially important for the French – including immigrant communities – as well as Europe and the whole World. What seems obvious so far is that the extremist ‘National Front’ is no more a political aberration, but is now rather a major player within the political establishment.

In addition to the success of Jean-Marie Le Pen with reaching the final round in the 2002 presidential race, the alt-right now enjoys significant support and influence. This fact is further proven by the stunning victory scored by ex-Premier Francois Fillon at the Republican Party primaries at the expense of two ‘heavy-weights’: ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-Premier Alain Juppé.

Fillon, came from behind to win big because he took the most conservative positions, indeed, taking in the process many leaves from the book of ‘National Front’—as the dangerous isolationist trend is dragged from the fringes into the mainstream.

In Germany, the ‘Alternative for Germany’, another extremist anti-immigrant party, is worth monitoring too. It would be interesting to see how it would channel what its ‘soulmates’ in the Netherlands and France achieve–particularly with what has become of the issue of immigrants and refugees has become.

All this takes place based on the background of the Syrian Crisis and its tragic consequences– a very sensitive issue for Europe, which has become a natural destination for refugees escaping the horrors of Syria, as well the whole Middle East and North Africa.

Well, here we reach another dimension to the rise of racism, particularly, in Europe. It is Moscow’s position.

Moscow’s strong backing of Donald Trump in the US presidential race is well-established. In Europe, more and more reports are emerging about active Russian support being provided to extremist and racist blocs, including Marine Le Pen the current leader of France’s ‘Front National’ and its presidential candidate. Interestingly, this backing actually coincides with Moscow’s continuous sponsorship of a policy of systematic ‘displacement’ in Syria.

Where is Moscow’s interest in all this?

Logically, the Kremlin seems to be sowing the seeds of devastating civil strife inside great western powers. It is also reasonable to belief that it views this strategy as the perfect revenge against the West which had brought down the Soviet Union and temporarily, at least, checked the Russian ‘imperialist’ advances towards the Old World’s warm waters.