British Museum ‘guarding’ illegal Syrian artefact; items looted by JAN return to Maaloula from Lebanon

The BBC have reported today that the British Museum is presently ‘guarding’ a precious artefact stolen from Syria, ‘in the hope of returning it when the country is stable’. I suppose it must be assumed that ‘stable’, is code for ‘when Assad is overthrown’. Director Neil MacGregor told The Times:

“We are playing a significant part in holding objects that have been illegally exported. We did that in Afghanistan and are now returning them. We are holding an object we know was illegally removed from Syria and one day it will go back.

The question of whether we should help with the conservation and preservation of another country’s heritage is serious. There is a significant international agreement, the Hague Convention about the protection of cultural property in war zones. Only one country in the security council hasn’t ratified it, the UK..”

The British Museum would not reveal which artefact they have in their possession, or how it came to be in its possession. Was it smuggled into the UK? Did the museum purchase it? It would be interesting to know what the item is, as this would give away what location it was taken from and who controls that territory. Clearly they do not want that information to be made public.

There are stolen items up for sale in Turkey,  and I know that al Nusra and its affiliates looted churches in Maaloula which then turned up in Lebanon. Citizens in Maaloula have so far managed to recover more than 100 artefacts from Lebanon, following fifteen months of work and negotiations. Many of the items came back sabotaged, and were all together in poor condition compared with before they were taken. Maaloula is holding an event to showcase the recovered pieces on June 13th, with the artefacts to be displayed at the historical yard of the old church. The group will then release a short film clip documenting the event.

Items taken from churches in Maaloula, Syria by JAN & its affiliates
(found in Lebanon)

Brass Plates Jesus Bronze Statue of Maaloula Jesus Statue Lower Section Jesus Statue Mid Section Jesus Statue Robe Lower left Section Maaloula Baptism Brass Tub Maaloula bell 1 Maaloula Bell 2 Maaloula Bell 3 Maaloula Bells 0 Maaloula Books Maaloula Brass Objects 1 Maaloula Brass Objects Maaloula scouts Trumpets Maaloula scouts' Tuba Silver Large plate , ribbons,Golden vestphotos courtesy of Dr Declan Hayes

To return to the British Museum, one must ask whether they have contacted Syrian authorities to discuss their ‘find’, and why they can’t just return the object now? I might try inquiring about some of these issues, although I doubt they will feel inclined to reply.

British Museum ‘guarding’ object looted from Syria

Watch: Charlie Rose 60 min interview with President Bashar al-Assad

Assad certainly has Erdogan down to a tee.

Charlie Rose:
President Erdogan is–

President Assad:
Is a Muslim Brotherhood fanatic. And he’s somebody who’s suffering from political megalomania. And that he thinks that he is becoming the sultan of the new era of the 21st century.

Victory for the Syrian ‘Revolutionaries’ in Idlib

Syrian rebels have been celebrating, having a few days ago captured the city of Idlib after days of intense fighting – causing the government’s forces to withdraw completely in the face of collapse.

A statue of Syrian national hero Ibrahim Hanano.

A statue of Syrian national hero Ibrahim Hanano.

Hanano fought for Syrian independence and was imprisoned by the French.

Hanano fought for Syrian independence and was imprisoned by the French.

His statue was pulled down and destroyed when the militants took the city.

His statue was pulled down and destroyed when the militants took the city.

The operation was undertaken by the “Fattah Army” coalition of rebel groups, which included al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate,  the al-Nusra Front. Other factions within the Fattah Army umbrella included  Ajnad al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa, Jaish al-Sunna, Liwa al-Haqq,  and Faynad al-Sham. I can’t say I know much about any of these groups apart from al-Nusra, but having just Googled them, I see they’re all Islamist groups.

A source from within the Syrian military alleges that both Turkey and Jordan helped the militants capture the city, accusing both of planning the operation and supplying the insurgents with advanced communication apparatus. This information is likely to be accurate, as it was recently reported in some Arab media that Turkey was now directly helping the rebels. In February, the Turkish military violated Syrian sovereignty by leading an army convoy into northern Syria to evacuate a historic tomb, and the soldiers who were guarding it. However despite the media stating in their reporting of this incident that ISIS had earlier threatened to destroy the tomb, there had actually been no negative interactions between the two groups, and ISIS and Turkish soldiers had lived side-by-side peacefully for months. In fact Turkey has also allowed ISIS to use its territory to stage attacks, including on Kobane, and there is currently a black flag flying atop a Turkish village along the Turkish-Syrian border. Thus it is most likely that at least Turkey helped with the taking of Idlib.

The al-Nusra Front declared their conquest by tweeting: “Thanks be to God, the city of Idlib has been liberated,” in response to their new victory.

The head of the Free Syrian Army – General Salim Idriss – also seemed to endorse the outcome of Fattah Army’s campaign, as can be seen below.

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In a later tweet he then stated that the Nusra Front are only “al-Qaeda affiliated”, and must “defect,” in order to become good little moderates like himself.

Due to the source of amusement and ridicule these comments were to Syria supporters – with Idriss having previously aligned himself and the FSA with the goals of a liberal democracy – the Western-backed opposition, the Syrian National Coalition, ended up releasing a statement announcing that the Twitter account was a hoax, and that Idriss does not use social media in an official capacity. The Idriss account now states that it’s a parody profile.

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However it is interesting that the SNC or the “Secretary of Defense in the interim Syrian government” felt the need to distance  Idriss from al-Nusra and “extremism and terrorism,” when they themselves hailed the taking of the city, saying that it was an “important victory on the road to the full liberation of Syrian soil from the Assad regime and its allies.” They also made fresh pleas for more assistance from the West.

The statement is also a bit odd because many high-figures within the FSA have openly collaborated with ISIS and al-Nusra, and have been filmed doing so and talking about it. The SNC and their US, British, French and Gulf backers don’t really care about who’s “moderate,” they’re happy for anyone – no matter how ideologically insane – to get the job of removing the Assad government done. All this stuff about moderates is just PR for the domestic audiences.

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As for these supposed 5000 “moderates” that the US are going to be sending into Syria each year…anyone who is willing to take up arms against both ISIS and the Syrian Arab Army five years into a civil war has to be a complete nut-job. I’m also pretty sure that whoever’s doing the vetting process isn’t being too strict. Currently it seems like they (the US army) is having trouble finding recruits, having a total of 300 men at last count. However let’s face it, these guys probably aren’t going to fight ISIS at all. Just as the FSA told Theo Padnos – the American journalist who was kidnapped and handed over to al-Nusra by the FSA – they lied to the Americans about working and sharing weapons with al-Nusra, there’s nothing to stop this new group doing the same.

What does need to be said about these fresh recruits is that they could be a Trojan horse for the West to directly wage war on the Syrian government. The Obama administration is currently thinking up legislation that will protect these forces should they come under attack from the SAA, and this may include some US forces working alongside the ‘rebels’. It could also possibly include even more US soldiers being sent in as a result of such an attack. This all seems like laying a trap for Assad, as it essentially means America’s mercenaries are free to attack the Syrian army, but if they attack in retaliation, this will allow the US and its allies to intervene. And obviously, if these guys are causing bloody havoc in their country, the SAA will need to do something about it.

To return to Idlib…

It seems that some ‘revolutionaries’ are no longer satisfied with the way things are now being run there. For example:

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Isn’t this to be expected from a city taken over by Islamists? In the government half of Aleppo, nightclubs have started to reopen every night, and there are always people to be found there at 3am. On the rebel-held half of the city, restaurants and cafes are split into male only and family sections – just like in Saudi Arabia. I suspect things are about to get a lot worse in Idlib.

The video below was posted on May 30th:

(It shows Islamists engaging in Takbeers before being interrupted by SAA warplanes overhead, and is quite amusing – in fact it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of guys!)

I assume the barrel bombs have just begun to fall on Idlib.

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Idlib after government bombing

Taken on 3rd April 2015.

Taken on 3rd April 2015.

Scrapping the South Stream: A Win for Obama and Merkel?

turkey-russia-east-pipeline-eu.si

This week President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would no longer be building its South Stream natural gas pipeline. The scrapping of the pipeline was hailed as a victory for the EU and America, who have been at odds with Russia over its annexation of Crimea and the Ukrainian civil war since March. The South Stream was planned to bypass Ukraine, instead travelling through Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Austria. Following Putin’s cancellation, an alternative route through Turkey is in the process of being devised. The BBC have framed this announcement as positive news for those who are now missing out:

Russia’s critics have long argued that, parallel to nuclear expansion, gas pipelines constitute “the long fingers of the Kremlin”, opening the way for political as well as economic influence. So this decision is a dramatic change of direction.

“It may be a bluff,” said Martin Vladimirov, an energy specialist at the Centre for the Study of Democracy in Sofia, “to pressurise the Bulgarian, Serbian, Hungarian and Austrian governments to unite behind accelerating the project, and make a better case for it to the European Commission”.

However, he favours a second explanation, that South Stream is “simply too big a burden” amid the difficult financial situation facing Russia’s state-owned giant Gazprom.

However, the article then goes on to state that the loss has come as a setback to these nations, particularly Hungary and Serbia, both of whom are among Russia’s strongest allies in Europe.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that his country would have to find alternative gas supplies, as a result of the Russian decision.

But in Ukraine the response to President Putin’s announcement was one of relief.

“The cancellation of South Stream was made for economic reasons, disguised behind a political explanation,” said Andrii Tiurin of Ukrainian nuclear company Energoatom.

“Why spend so much money creating alternative routes to supply the same gas? At a time of low and falling oil prices, why spend so much on a project which is unnecessary for Europe?”

The project may have been deemed unnecessary by Ukraine and others in Washington’s sphere of influence, but this was certainly not the case with Bulgaria, who was set to benefit from the jobs it would create. Putin has since proposed that Bulgaria request compensation for loss of profit from the European Commission. He also made clear that Russia would refocus its gaze to the East:

The pipeline, along with the North Stream pipeline that carries gas to Germany through the Baltic Sea, was meant to bypass Ukraine. Mikhail Krutikhin, a Russian energy analyst, said: “From the beginning this was a political project, and the goal was to punish Ukraine and cut it off from gas flows. It was never economical to spend so much on this pipeline.”

However, Moscow will boost gas supplies to Turkey and Putin said that instead of South Stream, a new hub could be built on the Turkish-Greek border to supply Europe with gas. He also issued a thinly veiled threat to Europe, hinting that since concluding a massive, long-term gas deal with China earlier this year, the European market was no longer that important for Russia, after a year during which the Kremlin has been targeted by western capitals for its role in Ukraine.

“We will re-concentrate our energy resources on other regions of the world,” said Putin. “We will work with other markets and Europe will not receive this gas, at least not from Russia.

“We think this is against Europe’s economic interests and is causing damage to our cooperation.”

The Guardian claims this maneuver is a “threat”; in reality it is a truthful assessment of the current relations between Russia and Europe. Today the US Congress passed a resolution condemning Russia. In addition to calling for an assessment of the “readiness of US and NATO armed forces”, the resolution:

Calls on Ukraine, the European Union (EU), and other European countries to support energy diversification initiatives to reduce the Russian Federation’s ability to use energy supplies as a means of applying political and economic pressure on other countries.

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With this in mind, Russia’s cancellation of the South Stream is in fact one step ahead of Washington’s aims.

Now we get to the interesting part.

As already mentioned, the gas pipeline will now be diverted through Turkey; this was confirmed during a trip by Putin to meet Erdogan in Ankara on Monday. The two leaders also announced that Russia will build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, as well as a new goal to increase their two-way volume of trade from £21bn to £64bn by 2020. This strengthening of economic ties follow a string of announcements regarding cooperation between Russia and Asia, such as two large gas deals with China,  plans to build several nuclear power stations for Iran, and the future reconstruction of post-war Syria.

It is here that Washington’s plan to isolate Russia falls apart. Mike Whitney states:

The wars in Ukraine and Syria are not really separate conflicts at all. They’re both part of the same global resource war the US has been prosecuting for the last decade and a half. The US plans to cut off the flow of Russian gas and replace it with gas from Qatar which will flow through Syria and onto the EU market after Assad is toppled.

Here’s what’s going on: Syria’s troubles began shortly after it announced that it was going to be part of an “Islamic pipeline” that would transfer natural gas from the South Pars gas field off the coast of Iran across Iraq and Syria, eventually connecting to Greece and the lucrative EU market. According to author Dmitri Minin:

“A gas pipeline from Iran would be highly profitable for Syria. Europe would gain from it as well, but clearly someone in the West didn’t like it. The West’s gas-supplying allies in the Persian Gulf weren’t happy with it either, nor was would-be no. 1 gas transporter Turkey, as it would then be out of the game.” (The Geopolitics of Gas and the Syrian Crisis: Syrian “Opposition” Armed to Thwart Construction of Iran-Iraq-Syria Gas Pipeline, Dmitri Minin, Global Research)

Two months after Assad signed the deal with Iraq and Iran, the rebellion broke out in Syria. That’s quite a coincidence, don’t you think? Funny how frequently those kinds of things happen when foreign leaders don’t march to Washington’s tune.

With Russia’s announcement to reroute its gas through Turkey, the US has been undermined on two fronts: both on Ukraine/Europe and on Syria. Already hampering Obama’s attempts to topple President Assad, the Turkey deal may provide Putin with some additional leverage. It currently seems that the State Department has no strategy when it comes to either conflicts, but is merely bumbling along, reacting to problems as they emerge. Even if Erdogan continues to insist that ‘Assad must go’, Putin’s visit has certainly schooled Obama in terms of diplomacy – highlighting that heads of state can overcome disagreements and find compromises in other areas. This stands in stark contrast to Obama’s disinterested manner – unwilling to so much as talk to those he can’t see eye to eye with.

What is clear is that rather than isolating Russia, the West’s current posturing has actually strengthened its relations with the East – particularly China. As is already evident, if Europe continues to put Washington’s interests before its own, this will only inflict damage on itself in the long-run.

Was Russia’s South Stream too big a ‘burden’ to bear?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-30289412

Putin blames EU as Russia abandons plans for South Stream gas pipeline
http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/dec/01/russia-blames-eu-as-it-abandons-plans-for-south-stream-gas-pipeline

H.Res.758 – Strongly condemning the actions of the Russian Federation, under President Vladimir Putin, which has carried out a policy of aggression against neighboring countries aimed at political and economic domination.
https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-resolution/758

Defending Dollar Imperialism
http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/12/01/defending-dollar-imperialism/

German Media Reveals ISIS Supply Routes

Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) have released a report containing concrete evidence that supplies for the Islamic State are entering Syria via its Turkish border. Hundreds of trucks containing billions of dollars worth of supplies such as food, weapons, and cement are allowed to pass freely through checkpoints. One driver tells DW that his vehicle is bound for Raqqa – ISIS’s self-appointed capital. Militants are also allowed to cross the border freely, while the Turkish army has used tear gas, water cannon, and even shot dead Turkish Kurds attempting to make their way to Kobani.

Much of the British public has been shocked by the clear display of cooperation between Ankara and ISIS, saying that they should be chucked out of NATO. However NATO teamed up with Islamic militants in its war on Libya in 2011, so Turkey’s attitude is not that different – both the wars on Syria and Libya were fought to remove secular dictators. The ‘coalition’ to fight ISIS had already proved itself to be an utter farce, as the Americans and their Arab ‘partner nations’ have refused to include any of the actors who are actually on the ground fighting the jihadists: the Syrian Arab Army, Hezbollah, and Iran’s Quds Force, preferring instead to ally themselves with all those complicit in the creation of ISIS.

Their campaign to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy’ ISIS has so far failed to do the group any damage, and the US State Department actually released a statement a few days ago condemning the Syrian Air Force’s own strikes on ISIS. This does have to make you wonder what the Americans are trying to achieve here. Other rebel groups are complaining that the US has secretly allied itself with Assad, but with training camps currently being hosted in Qatar and Turkey, and another one planned to operate in Saudi Arabia, it looks like regime change for Syria is still on the menu.