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 		 [Not so far back, those who opposed the Iraq War were smeared as
supporters of Saddam Hussein, a charge that honest anti-war activists
easily dismissed. Defending Syria from foreign aggression and
advocating the right of Syrians to choose their own future apparently
makes one an “Assad apologist"...] [https://portside.org/] 

 AMID MISSILES AND BOMBS IN DAMASCUS  
[https://portside.org/2018-05-14/amid-missiles-and-bombs-damascus] 

 

 Jeff Klein 
 April 27, 2018
Consortium News
[https://consortiumnews.com/2018/04/27/amid-missiles-and-bombs-in-damascus/]


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 _ Not so far back, those who opposed the Iraq War were smeared as
supporters of Saddam Hussein, a charge that honest anti-war activists
easily dismissed. Defending Syria from foreign aggression and
advocating the right of Syrians to choose their own future apparently
makes one an “Assad apologist"... _ 

 Living with bombs in Bab Touma,Damascus. , Jeff Klein 

 

A loud and persistent booming woke everyone up here in the early hours
of the morning on Saturday, April 14. To a visitor from Boston it
sounded like Fourth of July fireworks over the Charles River. But this
was Damascus and the thunder was from exploding missiles in the
long-awaited attack by Donald Trump and his British and French
allies. 

The bombardments started precisely at 4am local time and continued
for the better part of an hour. Only the timing was a surprise here,
as Trump had been threatening a reprisal attack for the alleged use by
the Syrian government of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta outside
Damascus the previous week.  

By all accounts, most Syrians were unfazed by the missile attack. 
There were videos [https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=bYxHVJQPt-s] of
Damascenes cheering from rooftops as air defense rockets were launched
over the city to intercept the US, French and British missiles. 

Trump’s tweet
[https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/4/14/17237788/trump-tweet-syria-mission-accomplished-bush] that
the attack had been “perfectly carried out” is likely an
overstatement. The Russian and Syrian militaries claim that the
majority of the incoming missiles were shot down or diverted
electronically from their targets, although this is impossible to
verify.  But it is being reported that two unexploded missiles were
handed over to the Russians for technical examination.

In any case, before and after photos of the alleged military/chemical
research center in Damascus show pretty thoroughgoing destruction. 
But the US attacks had been so fully telegraphed – there were claims
that the Russians were informed in advance of the targets – that the
buildings were empty and there were no reported fatalities.

Of course, if these Damascus targets had actually been chemical
weapons facilities as charged there would have been massive civilian
casualties from the fallout.  There were none.

A ‘FAKE’ CHEMICAL ATTACK

Syrians I spoke to here all derided the chemical attack charge as fake
news.  Nearly everyone else I met in the region, of varying political
views, shared the same opinion.  In fact it is hard for anyone to
fathom why the Syrian army would use chemical weapons when they were
on the verge of military victory in Ghouta.  To the question of _cui
bono?_(who benefits) it was hard to avoid the sense that only the
so-called rebels and the enemies of Syria could gain any advantage
from this alleged chemical attack—such as bringing in Western air
strikes.

It was an ironic time for an American to be in Syria.  Arriving on
Friday the 13th from Beirut with a group of international activists,
including Americans, Canadians, Brits, Irish, Germans, one Swiss and
one Dutch, we passed with some tension and delay at the
Syrian-Lebanese border. But ultimately we received our visas after
some intervention from the authorities in Damascus. 

Our hotel, Beit al Wali, is a beautifully restored Ottoman period
mansion in the Bab Touma quarter of the Old City. Syrians had invested
heavily in the tourist sector before the war in the expectation of
attracting badly needed hard currency, but of course these days there
are hardly any foreign visitors apart from a small number of
well-to-do Lebanese.

DEFENDING SECULAR SYRIA

Bab Touma is a traditionally Christian part of town, but there are
also many mosques here, in some cases directly neighboring churches of
the 12 Christian denominations said to exist in Syria. Orthodox
(Greek, Syrian and Catholic Melchite) are the majority, but there are
also Roman Catholic, Maronite, Armenian and even evangelical churches.
The restaurants in Bab Touma are frequented by mixed crowds of Muslims
and Christians, drinking beer or Arak and smoking shisha (water
pipes). Liquor stores and bars are commonplace here. 

The morning following the missile attack, after a mostly sleepless
night, we were led around the neighborhood by our Syrian translator
and guide. Abdul-Razzaq, who had worked in the tourist industry for 25
years, was knowledgeable and professional. 

Like many Syrians, Abdul-Razzaq readily acknowledged the need for
reforms in the country and is critical of high-level corruption. But
he also believes that winning the war is the immediate priority.  He
tells us “You don’t argue about what color to paint the walls
while your house is burning down.” He adds: “This is not a war of
Syrians, but an attack by the enemies of Syria.”  That was a very
common sentiment in Syria, but falls into the category of Syrian
voices which are rarely heard in the US. 

Our guide seemed to know everyone in the old city. He questioned
dozens of people we met on the streets and in the shops on their
response to Trump’s missile attack. My Arabic is good enough to
understand the questions and answers, so there was no question of
mistranslation.  Nor was there any sign of coerced response.

Most locals in Bab Touma were buoyed by the recent government
recapture of Eastern Ghouta, where the neighboring rebel-held town of
Jobar had been the source of daily rockets and mortars launched
against this part of the city.  We were shown many sites of these
attacks on the walls and roads of the area, including the locations
where people had been “martyred.” More than a hundred Damascus
civilians had been killed by these attacks in recent months – of
course little reported in the Western press – and the residents were
clearly relieved that their town was now safe. 

THE AMERICAN DONKEY

Compared to this, Trump’s missiles were a minor annoyance.  Nearly
everyone ridiculed the attack as a “show” from that American
“donkey.”  The atmosphere in the city was much more relaxed than
it had been when I visited two years ago, reflecting a string of
government military advances since then. 

Of course, the missile attack was also derided by many war
cheerleaders of both parties in Washington as “insufficient.”
Israel and rebel supporters inside and outside the country expressed
their disappointment. Sadly, the justification for the attack was also
given credence by many self-described US progressives. Anyone who
doubted the veracity of the supposed chemical attack in Duma, or whose
first priority was to oppose illegal attacks on Syria has been smeared
viciously.  

Pearson Sharp, a reporter for the right-wing libertarian One America
News Network and former Trump supporter was accused
[https://theintercept.com/2018/04/20/russia-sows-doubts-chemical-attack-syria-aided-pro-trump-cable-channel/],
in effect, of being a Russian agent by the progressive media for
his on-the-scene reporting
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=9&v=iD9C9koRmro] from
Duma; at the same time he was being relentlessly attacked by viewers
of his network for being disloyal to Trump.

The evening after the missile attack, hotel Beit al-Wali prepared a
festive dinner for us – it was the birthday of Mario, one of the
Germans among our group.  Present also was the British
journalist Vanessa Beeley
[https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqySDfPcmKYq6oUeC03y57A], who has
exposed much of the phony Western propaganda coming out of Syria –
and been vilified
[http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-43745629] for it – together
with some locals, including the very colorful Syrian comic who goes by
the name of “Treka.”  Treka
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cruaAIZBCwg] grew up in Nigeria
among the Syrian expat business community there, sports long dreads
and speaks in very colloquial but accented English. He defies all
stereotypes about Arabs and Syrians. Treka has posted many videos
critical of the MSM narrative abroad, and his latest, deriding the
claim of the government chemical attack in Ghouta, is here
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RH0g0Kx2dLE].  

ON THE ROAD BACK TO DAMASCUS

Returning to Damascus on Thursday April 19 after a visit to Aleppo, we
were met this time by the roar of jets over the city and the
continuous thunder of  bombs and artillery. The Syrian army  and
their Russian ally were attacking the neighborhoods and Palestinian
refugee camp of Yarmouk on the southern outskirts of the city.  It
was strange to be driving along roads in Damascus less than a
kilometer away from the bombing.  Few residents of the capital seemed
to pay any attention at all, the nonchalant routine of 7 years of war.

Yarmouk had been long held by elements of terrorist groups Daesh
(ISIS) and the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front (now known under the
name Jabhat Fateh al-Sham). Nearly all the original Palestinians had
long gone, becoming refugees for the second time elsewhere in Syria or
in Lebanon.  Some of them were fighting in Palestinian units
alongside the Syrian army.

After the recapture of Eastern Ghouta, this was an effort by the
government to clear out the last remaining opposition-held zone near
the capital. Reports are that the rebels have agreed to evacuate,
though as this is being written the air and artillery attacks are
continuing.

If Yarmouk is retaken in its entirety it will represent another major
military victory for the Syrian government and a key step toward
defeating the remains of the armed insurgency.  

In fact, the comprehensive military defeat of the rebels, now
overwhelmingly dominated by sectarian religious extremists, remains
the principle hope for peace and reconciliation within the country.
This was the fervent wish of nearly all the Syrians we spoke with —
in the government-held areas to be sure, but this now represents more
than 80% of the population.

The task of reconstruction will be immense.  As we drove back to
Damascus on Thursday we passed mile after mile of devastated landscape
just outside the capital in what had shortly before been territory
held by the armed insurgents in Eastern Ghouta. As in Aleppo,
rebuilding has already begun, but it will take an enormous amount of
resources to complete.  

By rights, the nations who have intervened to destroy Syria – the
US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel – should bear the cost of
reconstruction, but this this is unlikely to occur. These same
countries have not stopped their attacks on Syria, nor are there any
signs that the US is planning to give up its illegal occupation of the
east of the country. Nevertheless, justice demands a reckoning.

The reckoning should also include Leftists or progressives inside and
outside Syria who enthusiastically echo the MSM propaganda war and
even clamor for more attacks in the name of a “revolution” that
had ceased to be a plausible reality years ago. 

Not so far back, those who opposed the Iraq War were smeared as
supporters of Saddam Hussein, a charge that honest anti-war activists
easily dismissed. Today, defending Syria from foreign aggression and
advocating the right of Syrians to choose their own future apparently
makes one an “Assad apologist
[https://theintercept.com/2018/04/19/dear-bashar-al-assad-apologists-your-hero-is-a-war-criminal-even-if-he-didnt-gas-syrians/]”
in some Progressive circles. These same commentators seem to ignore
civilian casualties from the US-led aerial destruction of Mosul and
Raqqa, while rarely even mentioning the ongoing US and Turkish illegal
occupation of Syrian territory.

Syria has not been the proudest moment for the international Left.

_Jeff Klein is an anti-war activist who has written and spoken
frequently on the Middle East._

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