War is first and foremost a profitable racket


No tanks ... Dennis Kucinich

No tanks … Dennis Kucinich

Follow the money – as Hillary Clinton and the US foreign policy establishment prepare for war against Syria, former Congressman Dennis Kucinich says observers should apply the golden rule.

The former Ohio Representative said he spent 16 years at congressional hearings where “pedigreed experts” advocated for wars across the globe with circular thinking “devoid of depth, reality and truth.”

“I remember other hearings where the Pentagon was unable to reconcile over $US1 trillion in accounts, lost track of $12 billion in cash sent to Iraq and rigged a missile defence test.

“War is first and foremost a profitable racket,” he writes in The Nation.

He blames think tanks and their highly paid “experts” who, he says, are often beholden to external interests – including armaments manufacturers and defence contractors.

Kucinich lashed the drive to war on Syria as a classic example.

“The self-identified liberal Centre for American Progress (CAP) is now calling for Syria to be bombed, and estimates America’s current military adventures will be tidied up by 2025, a tardy twist on “mission accomplished,” he says.

CAP, according to media reports, Kucinich says, has received funding from war contractors Lockheed Martin and Boeing who make the bombers it wants to see “raining hellfire” on the people of Syria.

Kucinich won acknowledgement, and no little notoriety, for the rigour of independent research that helped convince 125  fellow Democrats to vote against Bush’s 2002 invasion of Iraq.

You can read Kucinich, and his urgent call for an effective anti-war movement, here http://www.thenation.com/article/why-is-the-foreign-policy-establishment-spoiling-for-more-war-look-at-their-donors/

Photo credit – Huffington Post

Ceasefire extended …

Meanwhile, in Syria the unilateral Russian missile strike ceasefire in eastern Aleppo has been extended into a 10th day.

Initially, the Russians and Syrians announced an 11-hour ceasefire to allow civilians, rebel fighters and the injured to leave the city’s opposition controlled east.

The ceasefire has been extended a number of times although the Russians, and various news outlets, report rebel fighters continue to block civilians from leaving the city, raising fears they will be used as human shields.

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov, gave the US and the rebel coalition, headed by Al Queada’s Syrian franchise, a serve over the issue in Moscow on Monday

“Our opponents must ensure appropriate behaviour by anti-government groups that, in particular, sabotaged the medical evacuation that was intended,” he told the Interfax news agency.

“Over the last few days, what was needed did not happen.

But not forever

Lebanon-based AMN is reporting Syrian air force planes are dropping leaflets over the city’s east warning jihadis and residents to flee the area.

It reports thousand of leaflets were dropped on Monday, featuring images of dead terrorists, with a warning that rebels should abandon the city or share their fate.

Anti-government forces have repeatedly refused to leave the city in a mirror image of what is transpiring over the border in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Rebel forces are dominated by terrorists, backed by Turkey and Qatar. The US claims it funds some other “moderate” rebels but the importance, indeed existence, of that faction, is increasingly being questioned by US analysts and independent media


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Moderates – what moderates?

Before the carnage ... Aleppo at night

Before the carnage … Aleppo at night

SOME US foreign policy analysts concede it is time for a “ruthless” look at whether CIA-backed fighters in Syria can be considered “moderate”, the Washington Post reports

A senior US official told the Post this week, the battlefield performance of CIA-trained fighters had not improved, and conceded “they’re increasingly dominated by extremists”.

The official, who the newspaper said spoke on condition of anonymity, was reacting to the Obama administration again stone-walling Plan B – a proposal backed by CIA boss John Brennan and Defence Secretary Ashton Carter to ramp up the scale and firepower of weapons the US is delivering to forces opposed to the Syrian Government.

The Post reported the plan had been returned to the too-hard basket during a meeting President Obama held with his national security team in Washington.

It is not the first time senior US officials have all-but conceded the the central argument advanced by Bashar al-Assad’s Government in Damascus – that it is engaged in a fight to the finish with jihadi terrorists.

Last September, the general charged with spending $US500m to train a “moderate” Syrian force, told a Senate armed services committee the CIA program could only put “a handful” of moderates into combat.

How many?

“We’re talking four or five,” General Lloyd Austin, commander of US Central Command, told incredulous committee members.

And, an under-reported factor in the failure of last month’s US-Russia brokered ceasefire was the inability, or unwillingness, of US-funded rebels to disentangle themselves from hardcore terrorists holding east Aleppo.

Jabhat al-Nusra is the Al-Quaeda franchise in Syria. Rebadged JFS, courtesy of a flurry of recent press releases, its fighters are far and away the dominant rebel group in the long-suffering city.

It was a central tenet of the ceasefire that so-called “moderate” rebels had to cut ties with the Al-Quaeda front. The idea, in theory at least, was that the US, Russia and Syria could then concentrate their efforts on defeating the acknowledged terrorists.

The problem, as had been widely predicted, was that US-aligned rebels were unable or unwilling to do this.

This fundamental failure, further strengthened the argument that, effectively, there are no “moderate” rebels operating in Syria. However, it appeared to be largely forgotten after US forces, with Australian and British support, attacked Syrian soldiers observing the ceasefire, sending at least 70 of them back to their families in body bags.

This is worth a look www.washingtonpost.com…

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Australia has Syrian blood on its hands!

Up till now Australia has been trying to keep a low profile in the Syrian conflict. We do what the US tells us to do but we stay out of the front lines as far as possible, presumably because the Australian government has close to zero support from its own people for involvement in another foreign war!

All this has now changed. On September 18th, US forces bombed Syrian army personnel at Deir ez-Zor, and they took Australian fighter jets into the fray with them! The blood-guilt for the death of these young Syrians lies as heavily upon this country now as it does upon those who dragged us into this hell! Perhaps that’s why the US did it – at least in part! Perhaps they needed to bloody their British and Australian allies in order to get them more committed to the process? They must know that the rest of us don’t want to be there!

Of course the US is saying that this is ‘not what they intended to do’. If you listen to the cynical speech of Samantha Power at the UN, she avoids using the word ‘mistake’, and she certainly makes no actual apology for the deaths of all these young Syrians.

Perhaps an apology would have been meaningless anyway. If someone enters your house uninvited and then starts shooting random members of your family, to stop shooting and say, “Oh, sorry! I thought you were someone else” doesn’t make it OK. Rather, it begs the question as to what these gun-toting killers were doing in your house in the first place!

If the US seriously wanted to apologise for this massacre, the first things they would do is get out of the country that they illegally invaded. Of course they are not going to do that, and they are not even going to apologise to the grieving families, but does Australia really have to be a part of all this?

I listen to the speeches of the two UN spokespersons – Samantha Power for the USA and Vitaly Churkin for Russia – and I realise how much my world has changed! I grew up in a world where the Russians were the bad guys who couldn’t be trusted, whereas Uncle Sam was that benign elder figure who might have been a bit quirky in his behaviour with us kids but who always had our backs.

Now I look back and understand what was going on. That old uncle was a peadophile, preying on us kids. He hasn’t changed his ways. He never will. We might not be able to stop him, but we can choose to stop playing with him!

Father Dave

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Mufti Hassoun speaks about his grief for Aleppo

On May 2nd, 2016, the Daily Mail published a damning article about Dr Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria, claiming that he had issued a fatwa calling for the ‘extermination’ of civilians in Aleppo. Of course there was no such fatwa, and the only quote from the Mufti that appears in the article is a call to take action against the criminals causing the violence in Aleppo.

Even so, this story spread worldwide and it quickly became common knowledge that Dr Hassoun had apparently called for the extermination of every man, woman and child in the city (and this despite the fact that he has family living in Aleppo)!

I thought I’d give Dr Hassoun a quick chance to respond to these allegations. Once he got started though, the Mufti’s passions got the better of him and he spoke at length of his great anguish for the city and for its people.

Father Dave

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Pope Francis calls for peace in Syria

“How can you believe in someone who caresses you with the right hand and strikes you with the left hand?”

These are the powerful and pointed words of one of the greatest spiritual leaders the church has seen in my lifetime. The pontiff didn’t name any specific countries but it’s hard to imagine any list of global hypocrites without Saudi Arabia at the top!

Let’s take the Pope’s words to heart and continue to work and pray for an end to Syria’s suffering.

Father Dave

The text that follows is extracted from a Vatican press release.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis (March 2013)

Vatican City, 5 July 2016

“Today I want to speak to you about something that saddens my heart a lot: the war in Syria, now in its fifth year. It is a situation of unspeakable suffering that the Syrian people are victims of, forced to survive under bombs or to find escape routes to other countries or areas of Syria that are less war-torn: to leave their own home, everything… I also think about the Christian communities, which I give my full support to for the discrimination they have to bear.

So I want to turn to all the faithful and those that are committed, with Caritas, to the construction of a more just society. While the people suffer, incredible quantities of money are being spent to supply weapons to fighters. And some of the countries supplying these arms are also among those that talk of peace. How can you believe in someone who caresses you with the right hand and strikes you with the left hand?

I encourage all, adults and young people, to live the Holy Year of Mercy enthusiastically to overcome indifference and proclaim with strength that peace in Syria is possible! Peace in Syria is possible!

For this, we are called to embody this Word of God: ‘I know the plans that I have for you’, declares the Lord. ‘They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope’. (Jeremiah, 29,11)

The invitation is to pray for peace in Syria and for its people at prayer vigils, at awareness-raising initiatives in groups, parishes and in communities, to spread the message of peace, a message of unity and hope.

Works of peace then follow prayer. I invite you to call on those who are involved in peace negotiations to take these agreements seriously and to make every effort to facilitate access to humanitarian aid.

Everyone has to recognise that there is no military solution for Syria, but only a political solution. The international community must therefore support the peace talks heading towards the construction of a government of national unity.

Let’s join forces, at all levels, to ensure that peace in beloved Syria is possible. Now that really will be a great example of mercy and love lived for the good of all the international community!

May the Lord bless you and may Mary Most Holy protect you.

Thank you”.

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An Australian in Syria – Luke Waters reports for SBS World News

I’m chuffed to see what my mate, Luke Waters, has produced here for SBS World News.  I was with Luke in Beirut back in April 2013. We were all prepared for the bus ride to Damascus when his employers pulled him out – apparently considering entry into Syria just too dangerous at the time. It was a great shame to leave him behind on what turned out to be a fabulous and fascinating journey. Almost three years later Luke finally made it into Syria. I think you’ll agree though that his reports were worth waiting for!

Luke’s reports were broadcast over six nights on SBS World News. All six reports are combined in this video. If you’d like to watch any of the segments individually, they can be broken up as follows:

  1. Reporting from the front-line in Jobar
  2. Exploring Damascus (4:02)
  3. Meeting the families of the martyrs (8:08)
  4. Refuges of the internally displaced (11:39)
  5. Aid workers in Madaya (16:02)
  6. Syrian children rediscover music (19:00)

Luke also did an interview about his trip to Syria with Steve Price on 2GB. You can hear that interview here.

love Syria

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Syria has won the war! (almost)

Boxers for Peace in Lattakia (Syria) 2015

Boxers for Peace in Lattakia (Syria) 2015

Traditional wisdom tells us that we shouldn’t count our chickens before they hatch. Even so, it is hard to resist celebrating the most recent developments in the war on Syria. Thanks to a bit of help from mother Russia, it seems that we are on the verge of victory, and the winner is … Syria!

I appreciate that this statement may seem nonsensical to those who see the death and destruction in Syria as being the result of a civil war but I just can’t take such commentary seriously any more! I think of the young Syrian soldiers I’ve spoken to, many of whom have never seen a Syrian on the other side of the firing line! No, while there certainly have been Syrians involved, this has been a foreign-led and foreign-funded insurgency from the very beginning. To quote the late, great Father Franz Van der Lugt – the aging Catholic priest of Homs who was shot in the head by rebels in April 2014 (only a week before I arrived in Homs myself): “I have seen from the beginning armed protesters in those demonstrations … they were the first to fire on the police. Very often the violence of the security forces comes in response to the brutal violence of the armed insurgents”

Of course this is not the story we in the West have swallowed. In truth, our capacity for gullibility never ceases to astonish me. The most recent example of our astounding levels of credulity has been the way we all bought into the current Syrian refugee crisis. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a crisis, of course, but I am astonished at how few people have asked why the Western world has all of a sudden been swamped with a wave of refugees when the war has been raging for five long years. Why did all these poor people wait until now to seek our shores?

I think it is impossible for a thinking person not to realise that there is more going on in this war than is contained in the narrative we have been fed, most especially the lie that all of the violence can be traced back to one man – Syria’s evil dictator who is personally responsible for every death and every displaced person! The truth is far more complex – an intricate web of political power plays with the US and Israel and their Gulf-state affiliates vying with Iran and its allies for economic control of the region.

I have given a more detailed analysis of that elsewhere. Let it suffice here to say that America’s recent move – to start bombing Syria on the pretext of destroying ISIS – was a final attempt to initiate a change of government in Syria that they could then have justified on the basis of dealing with the worldwide refugee crisis at its supposed source.

But Putin called Obama’s bluff – ‘Do you guys want to get rid of ISIS? Good, we’ll help you!’ – and all of a sudden Russian troops and armaments started to appear in Syria! Moreover, early indications are that the Russians are deadly serious about getting rid of ISIS, unlike the US who, after a year of bombing campaigns, only seems to have succeeded in pushing the jihadists further into Syria!

And so a predictable (and predictably ludicrous) shriek of horror and surprise arises from the Western alliance “what is Russia doing in Syria. We don’t trust Russia!”. We’ve had a joint statement from the governments of France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Kingdom and USA expressing “ deep concern with regard to the Russian military build-up in Syria”.  Even the Australian Federal Justice Minister, Michael Keenan, has got in on the act, saying that “The problem is their motives are just not trustworthy”!

What is there that is difficult to understand about Russia’s involvement? Russia has a naval base at Tartous in Syria. It’s Russia’s only military foothold in the region and in the entire Mediterranean. Russia also has economic ties with Syria. It’s in Russia’s own self-interest to have Syria on its feet just as it’s in the self-interest of the US and its Gulf State allies to have Syria on its knees. The big picture is not hard to understand.

I guess we get confused because we somehow believe that the only reason the West is involved in Syria is because we care so much about the Syrian people and want to free them from tyranny and spread democracy, etc., just as we did so successfully in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya – three countries that continue to burn uncontrollably thanks to our ‘humanitarian intervention’. And I guess we really believed that all the Western efforts at establishing a ‘no fly zone’ in Syria were with a view to damaging ISIS, even though ISIS has no air force (meaning that it would only affect the Syrian air force).

You don’t need to be a genius to see what’s going on here! The average high-school student should have no trouble putting the pieces together. Russia has just as much self-interest at stake in this war as all the other players. I’m just thankful that Russia’s self-interest aligns with the preservation of the Syrian people. There is though one significant difference between the Russian and US military involvement – namely, Russia’s actions are entirely in compliance with International Law whereas the US and its allies are flouting the law!

The legal position is perfectly clear. Syria has a recognised government, that of President Assad, represented at the United Nations. That government is legally entitled to call on Russian military assistance. Russian military action against ISIS is therefore entirely legal. By contrast, US, French and Australian military action has neither the sanction of the Syrian government nor the sanction of the United Nations. It is therefore plainly illegal!

And if there had been any lack of transparency to the Emperor’s latest set of new clothes, that surely must have evaporated completely with the publication of Julian Assange’s latest book, ‘The Wikileaks Files’. In the chapter on Syria, Assange publishes a 2006 cable from US Ambassador to Syria, William Roebuck, that discusses a plan for the overthrow of the Assad government.

The plan was to use a number of different factors to create paranoia within the Syrian government and so push it to overreact, while simultaneously fostering tensions between Shiites and Sunnis. This blueprint for the so-called ‘civil war’ had been developed five years before it was actually put it into play, and the whole drama might gone according to plan had not Putin intruded – a man who obviously hadn’t read the script!

And so for the first time ISIS is on the run! Jihadists are pouring back into Iraq and Jordan and looking for exits from the battlefield wherever they can find them, while the Syrian Arab Army liberates long-lost villages from the rule of Sharia law. Meanwhile the Western alliance bumbles in protest, claiming that Russia is targeting not ISIS but ‘moderate rebels’ – members of the elusive ‘Free Syrian Army’ who, as one commentator put it, are really now nothing but a brandname without a product.

So what happens next? There is a real possibility that the war will be over by Christmas!  As I’ve said repeatedly, the foreign insurgency will only last as long as its financiers from Qatar and Saudi Arabia consider the war to be a good investment! If Russia continues to do real damage to the ISIS infrastructure there will come a point (and it may come very soon) when those pouring in money will decide to cut their losses and turn off the flow of cash. If this happens, ISIS, like a B52 suddenly running out of fuel, will crash to the ground like a lead weight!

Of course there is also a fear that Russia’s entry into Syria could mark the beginning of World War III, and there are eerie similarities between the current scenario and the lead-up periods to both the first and second world wars.  Alliances are forming, sabres are rattling, and both Obama and Netanyahu seem to be itching for a fight! But I don’t think the US is going to go to war over Syria. I don’t think it can afford to, and I don’t think Israel will go to war without US support.

What I’m expecting (and hoping) to see is both the US and Israel slink away from any direct show-down with Russia. They will bluster and carry on with plenty of aggressive rhetoric but it will all be for domestic audiences who still need to believe that their leaders are mighty men of valour and not simple fools! Meanwhile the Syrian people will get back on their feet and start to rebuild their country! What a wonderful Christmas present that would be! It would be God’s gift to the world with Vladimir Putin’s signature unmistakably on the card!

Father Dave Smith

Parish priest, social agitator, boxer, father of four. www.FatherDave.org…

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Archbishop calls on Sydney’s Anglicans to do whatever it takes to support Syrian refugees

It is encouraging indeed to see the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, put out a strong call to his flock to respond not only with prayers but with practical assistance and with hospitality to the anticipated influx of Syrian refugees. Equally encouraging is Dr Davies’ clear rejection of the proposal to favour the applications of Christian over Muslim asylum seekers.

In the following article that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald the Archbishop is careful to avoid criticising the Australian government for the decision to participate in US-led bombing missions within Syria, even though this is likely to increase the flow of refugees from the country. With the government’s decision though now open to review since the change in leadership, we may yet hope that Dr Davies will extend his influence here too and address the causes of this immense human tragedy as well as the symptoms.

Father Dave

Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies

Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies

source: www.smh.com…

Open the door widely to Syrian refugees

A little boy, drowned at sea and washed up on a Turkish beach has shaken and galvanised a response from the nations of the Western world to the plight of Syria’s refugees. That it has taken so long for the sort of action that is being considered now is shameful. Nevertheless, the fact that our public discourse has turned so emphatically towards the need to make a real and lasting impact in the lives of those displaced by the Syrian conflict is very welcome and I applaud the government’s decision to expand the refugee program.

At times like this, we must all act within our spheres of influence to raise awareness, build understanding, and work to ensure that our own good intentions have real and practical expression.

Australian Christians feel a particular heartache at the fact that those we consider as family, our brothers and sisters in Christ, have been singled out for persecution in Syria and Northern Iraq. Nevertheless, we would be very reluctant to see an expanded refugee program that uses religion as a discriminating factor. This is antithetical to the love of God for all people and the unmerited and non-discriminatory grace and mercy that is at the heart of the Christian gospel.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is an incendiary critique of discrimination based on race, ethnicity and religion. Listening to the story for the first time, many would have been incensed that Jesus had used the word “good” to describe a despised Samaritan. Yet it never crosses the Samaritan’s mind in the story to ask about the religion or background of the man he finds beaten and dying on the side of the road. His response is immediate, generous and unquestioning.

As for who should or should not be included in an increased number of refugees from Syria, it makes no sense to be discriminatory. Some minority groups have been specifically and systematically targeted by Islamic State. These include, but are certainly not limited to Christians. There are also Yazidis, Druze and Mandeans targeted, along with Shiite Muslims. IS show little fear or favour and even Sunni Muslims who do not share their view of the world are just as likely to bear the brunt of their displeasure.

Our ability to show love and mercy and provide a warm welcome to anyone in distress, regardless of their faith, must serve as a counterpoint to the brutality of IS. Our response needs to be immediate, generous and unquestioning regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.

To this end, I have called upon Sydney Anglicans in parishes all across our diocese, not only to pray for these victims of persecution, but to step up and be prepared to do whatever is within their power to provide a warm and generous welcome, coupled with practical assistance, to ensure that those who come to find safety in Australia are afforded the best possible chance to make a new start and benefit as fully as possible from the peace, freedom and opportunity that far too often we take for granted.

I have asked our diocesan organisations – our schools, our retirement villages, our youth division and its college – to assist in any way they can with funds, goods in kind, educational support, personal support, language classes, and accommodation.

Anglicare has disaster recovery volunteers already trained to assist with the reception of those needing immediate assistance upon arrival. Anglicare’s hamper-packing and second-hand clothing warehouse is available to provide food and clothing. Our Youthworks ministry through its college and campsites is looking to offer medium-term accommodation for up to 150 refugees and short-term accommodation for up to another 250 refugees as well. I have already received offers of accommodation from across our parishes as well.

We are also looking to working as effectively as possible in a co-ordinated manner alongside other non-government organisations and government agencies.

You can read the full article here

You can donate to the Archbishop’s Syrian Refugee Crisis Appeal here

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Mairead Maguire appeals to UK government to talk to Syrian Government

Another prophetic all from dear Mairead:

meeting up with Mairead Maguire in Tehran

with Maired in Tehran in 2014


Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Maguire, today called upon the UK Government to move from military proposals, such as bombing in Syria, to humanitarian solutions in tackling one of the greatest tragedies of human suffering, to face Europe since the Second World War, i.e. the refugee crisis.  The arrival of thousands of refugees and migrants from middle east and African countries into Europe, many of whom have died on the journey, forces us to ask ‘how can they be helped immediately’,? Why are they fleeing their countries,? and how can the root cause of the problem be solved.?  Bombing of Syria, as proposed by the UK Prime Minister will only force more refugees to flee Syria taking extraordinary risks with their lives in order to find some security and safety from their war-torn lands.

Maguire said:  ‘The UK Government has a moral responsibility to the refugees fleeing in fear across Europe.  They are the victims of wars, invasions and occupations of their own countries.   Successive British Governments have spent billions on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, plus a covert intervention in Syria.   Such policies have resulted in the destruction of infrastructure across the Middle East and the growth of terrorism in the regions.   We need to oppose wars and the training by countries such as UK and USA and others,  of allegedly ‘moderate ‘rebels, who once trained are turning their guns on the civilians who oppose their brutality and violence.  They must stop the arms trade which is resulting in the arming of violent militants who are turning their arms against civilian populations.

The UK Government needs to implement an urgent and massive increase in relocation and resettlement of refugees that shares responsibility across the EU and reunite families.  Provide financial and technical support to countries on the frontline of the crisis such as Greece, Hungary, etc.

Enter into dialogue with the Syrian Government, and all Parties to the conflict, in order to find a solution to the refugee and overall Syrian Conflict.   Support citizen to citizen diplomacy within Syria, and all those working for peace and reconciliation in Syria and all Middle Eastern  countries, and lift the economic sanctions to improve the conditions within Syria and encourage citizens to stay and help re- build Syria.  Only when people feel safe and there is peace and stability in their own countries can we expect they will remain (and many return) to their homeland, as opposed to being stuck in refugee camps, for decades, such as the people of Sudan, Palestinians, etc.,

It is time to acknowledge, apologize and make reparation, for the damage done by UK USA and some Western Countries, Foreign Policies upon countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, and acknowledge there will not be a military or a paramilitary solution to these deep and increasingly dangerous conflicts.

A start in the right direction can be made by working with partners across EU and UN in applying Policies based on compassion and empathy for those whose lives have been devasted by misguided Policies of militarism, and war.

Mairead Maguire  Nobel Peace Laureate   www.peacepeople.com…

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Syrian crisis requires friendship, not aggression

The following article was officially co-authored by Professor Tim Anderson and myself (though it was largely Tim’s work with some tweaking from me). Tim and I were together in Syria for the latter part of July though we had come with slightly different agendas. He and his team were focused on visiting hospitals and humanitarian work. Jake Najjar and I were boxing with young people and working with the Sports Federation. Even so, together we all made a great team.

The surprising thing about this article is that none of the major papers we approached would publish it! It is hardly a radical piece and yet it seems that most mainline media are currently too scared to publish anything that departs from the government-endorsed narrative! That narrative insists that Syria is in its death throes and that we’ll be doing the Syrian people a favour if we start bombing ISIS for them and force a change of government while we’re at it! This is NOT the sort of help the Syrian people are looking for.

Father Dave

Tim Anderson and Father Dave with the Grand Mufti and friends

Tim Anderson and Father Dave and their teams meet with the Grand Mufti of Syria

Syrian crisis requires friendship, not aggression
by Father David Smith and Dr Tim Anderson

Our visit to war-torn Syria, last month, reinforced our belief that the Syrian people need our friendship and direct person-to-person contact, rather than any contribution to the further violence through participation in a ‘regime change’ operation.

We have visited Syria several times during the crisis, as guests of both government agencies and religious and higher education groups. We always pay our own way to Syria. Last month we were hosted by the Syrian Institute of Sport, allowing us to visit sports facilities and hundreds of young people in Damascus, Tartus and Latakia. We also contributed funds to hospitals and relief agencies in Damascus and Sweida and met with government and religious leaders.

We saw thousands of young people engaged in Syria’s very large sports facilities, including numerous disabled athletes who were participating in a Special Olympics. We visited art schools and saw a functioning and caring health system – despite the ‘rebel’ attacks on so many of Syria’s hospitals. We know that there are millions of Syrian children attending school and hundreds of thousands in their large (and mostly fee-free) universities. In short, despite the war, a functioning state ensures that everyday life goes on, though it can hardly be called ‘normal’. Every family is losing loved ones in this bloody conflict.

Army checkpoints are frequent and rigorous, with queues of Syrians showing remarkable patience. They know the military presence benefits everyone’s security. There is often a cordial exchange at the checkpoints; Syrians do not view the soldiers with fear; most have family members in the army or in one of the various army-linked militia. These are prominent in Sweida, Latakia, the Kurdish areas and Yarmouk, a southern suburb of Damascus which once housed 150,000 Palestinians.

The Palestinians from Yarmouk are now dispersed in various parts of Damascus, as with most other displaced people in and around the capital. We visited one group at a school on the outskirts of Yarmouk, distributing boxing equipment and soccer balls to the children, and passing on some much-needed cash to the families.  That ‘camp’, and the entire perimeter of Yarmouk, is controlled by the Syrian Army which only allows the Palestinian militia loyal to Syria to enter this zone, which still has elements of ISIS and Jabhat al Nusra, and whose population has shrunk to less than 10% its former size.

In the north, the Mayor of Latakia told us that the population of that province has shot up from 1.3 million to three million. Displaced people from Aleppo, Idlib and other northern areas affected by the incursions of Takfiri groups (sectarian terrorists streaming in from Turkey) are housed throughout the province. Only one percent of those people are housed in institutions such as Latakia’s large sports centre. Most are in free or cheap government housing, with family and friends, renting or in small businesses.

Unemployment, shortages and power blackouts plague the country. The ‘rebels’ regularly attack power plants. In the south, Sweida has been hosting 130,000 displaced families from the Daraa area, doubling the population of that province. Damascus holds the greater part of the 5 or 6 million internally displaced people, and the government and army organise their care.

Syrians tend to refer to all the armed groups as just Daesh (the Arabic acronym for ISIS) or ‘mercenaries’, making little distinction between their various brand names. All The Muslim Brotherhood backed groups (‘moderate rebels’), the Islamic Front, Jabhat al Nusra and Daesh all have the same sectarian ideology, seem to share the mostly US supplied weapons, and alternately cooperate and squabble amongst each. They all commit similar atrocities, often blaming them on the Syrian Army.

Despite the recent Islamist offensives in Idlib, Daraa and Palmyra, the security situation in most populated areas remains firmly in the hands of the Syrian Army. We were able to travel from Sweida in the south to Homs, Tartus and Latakia in the north, with only one small security-related detour. That was not possible 18 months ago.

Armed groups do have a presence in much of the country but, contrary to many western reports, probably control less than 10% of the populated areas. They are embedded in the northern parts of Aleppo and the eastern parts of Damascus, wreaking havoc by sniping, mortaring and car bombs, but generally gaining no new ground.

The fact that Syrian planes and artillery have not flattened these hold-out areas gives the lie to the claim that the Syrian Army carries out indiscriminate attacks. The war is being fought on the ground, building to building, and with many army casualties. We visited some of these soldiers in hospital, in 2013 and again last month. These are the victims the western media ignores.

Many Syrians we spoke to said they wished the government would flatten ghost towns like Jobar, Douma and North Aleppo, saying that the only civilians left there after two or three years are the families of and collaborators with the extremist groups.

After more than four years of foreign backed terrorism, often wrongly called ‘civil war’, it should be clear that overthrow of the Syrian government will not happen unless the US initiates some massive new escalation. We have to believe that a diplomatic solution is not only possible but far less costly.

Is it too much to hope that the Australian Government could take some independent steps to normalise relations, without waiting for Washington’s permission? Australia could re-establish normal diplomatic relations, abandon the war propaganda, drop the economic sanctions that only harm civilians who are already struggling, and normalise economic and social exchange.

Father David Smith is a Sydney-based Anglican Parish Priest. Dr Tim Anderson is a Senior lecturer in Political Economy at the University of Sydney.

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