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Entries in Ghaith Abdul-Ahad (11)


Syria 1st-Hand: How to Start an Insurgent Battalion (Abdul-Ahad)

Formation of the Al Hasan bin Ali Battalion in Hama last week

For decades, the dictatorship in Syria worked to stamp the people into submission: every pulpit, every media outlet, every schoolbook sent out the same message, that people should be subservient to the ruler. In Syria (as in a different way in Iraq, Egypt and the rest), those in authority – from the president to the policeman, from the top party apparatchik to the lowliest government functionary – exercised power over every aspect of people’s lives. You spent your life trying to avoid being humiliated --- let alone detained and tortured or disappeared – by those in authority while somehow also sucking up to them, bribing them, begging them to give you what you needed: a telephone line, a passport, a university place for your son. So when these systems of control collapsed, something exploded inside people, a sense of individualism long suppressed. Why would I succumb to your authority as a commander when I can be my own commander and fight my own insurgency? Many of the battalions dotted across the Syrian countryside consist only of a man with a connection to a financier, along with a few of his cousins and clansmen. They become itinerant fighting groups, moving from one battle to another, desperate for more funds and a fight and all the spoils that follow.

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Syria 1st-Hand: Why Insurgents Are Fighting Each Other in Aleppo (Abdul-Ahad)

Destroyed Storefront in AleppoIt wasn't the government that killed the Syrian rebel commander Abu Jameel. It was the fight for his loot. The motive for his murder lay in a great warehouse in Aleppo which his unit had captured a week before. The building had been full of rolled steel, which was seized by the fighters as spoils of war.

But squabbling developed over who would take the greater share of the loot and a feud developed between commanders. Threats and counter-threats ensued over the following days.

Abu Jameel survived one assassination attempt when his car was fired on. A few days later his enemies attacked again, and this time they were successful. His bullet-riddled body was found, handcuffed, in an alley in the town of al-Bab.

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Syria 1st-Hand: The Insurgents' PR Quest for Ammunition in Aleppo (Abdul-Ahad)

Insurgent with empty ammunition boxes in Aleppo (Photo: Iskandar Kat/AFP/Getty)

The rebel plan for the assault on Aleppo had been simple, Abu Mohamed said. They were told by the leadership that if they took the fight to the heart of the city, the supply lines would flow. But three weeks after the rebels entered the town, the ammunition for a front stretching from the Saif al-Dawla boulevard in the north to the Salah al-Din neighbourhood in the south-west had dwindled to 600 bullets and six RPG rockets. The lines were close to collapse.

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Syria Video Documentary: "The Heart of the Battle" (PBS Frontline)

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad travels inside the insurgency in Aleppo for PBS Frontline in this two-part documentary, "The Battle for Syria" and "The Regime Responds":

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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Bombings, Kidnappings, Iranian Drones, A Captured MANPAD....

1910 GMT: Syria. Contrary to popular opinion, there is still plenty of fighting in the Salleh el Dine district of Aleppo:

The battle lines have not changed very much in recent days. In places like Saleh el Dine, the FSA is not making an effort to establish permanent control, as they were last week, but because of this they are still able to enter the district, conduct ambush or "hit and run" style attacks, and prevent further Assad military incursions.

Also, despite all the violence in the city, primarily characterized by intense bombing and shelling campaigns, the majority of the city is still in partial or total FSA control, and there are almost no areas where the regime has been able to effectively send in tanks.

1850 GMT: Syria. The LCC has now raised their death toll to 197. At least 60 of those deaths were reported in Qatana (map), where 60-65 bodies have reportedly been found, some of them burning, in the local landfill. A low-quality video claims to show some of the bodies.

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Syria Snapshot: The "Jihadists" in the Fight in the Northeast (Abdul-Ahad)

Claimed footage of insurgents in Deir Ez Zor, 2 July 2012

As they stood outside the commandeered government building in the town of Mohassen, it was hard to distinguish Abu Khuder's men from any other brigade in the Syrian civil war, in their combat fatigues, T-shirts and beards.

But these were not average members of the Free Syrian Army. Abu Khuder and his men fight for al-Qaida. They call themselves the ghuraba'a, or "strangers", after a famous jihadi poem celebrating Osama bin Laden's time with his followers in the Afghan mountains, and they are one of a number of jihadi organisations establishing a foothold in the east of the country now that the conflict in Syria has stretched well into its second bloody year.

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Syria 1st-Hand: The Opposition's Quest for Arms and Ammunition (Abdul-Ahad)

The route across the Syrian border was marked by a single shining piece of string. It stretched from the road on the Turkish side for a few hundred metres to the steel and razor-wire fence that ran along the boundary.

The smugglers followed it silently and quickly, jumping from one stone to another in the moonlight. Each man carried a thick, plastic-wrapped load on his back. The plastic bundles rattled and clinked as they ran along.

Beyond the fence the shadows of men and animals moved. "Do you have money?" asked a Turkish voice.

"Next shipment," the Syrian replied.

A man with a scarf wrapped around his face held the coils of barbed wire flat while the cargo was passed across and loaded on to the backs of the waiting mules. Then the men hurried the animals away from the border and up into the mountains of northern Syria.

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Syria 1st-Hand: Awaiting the Regime's Tanks in Binnish (Abdul-Ahad)

Anti-regime demonstration in Binnish, 25 November

Twice the army had come to Binnish. On the first occasion they arrested more than 70 people, demonstrators, old and young. The lucky ones were released after two months. Some are still missing. On the second occasion the people fought back, with hunting rifles, old guns, stones even. When the security forces withdrew there were 21 dead: 11 demonstrators and 10 pro-regime fighters.

The people had won their liberty, temporarily at least. Buildings were covered with anti-regime slogans. "Binnish is free," reads graffiti scrawled with red paint on a whitewashed town wall. In the middle of the market square is a huge revolutionary flag in green and black and adorned with three red stars: it is the old Syrian flag, the one that predates the Assads.

But this freedom is precarious. The security forces are gathering once again at the town's margins.

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Libya 1st-Hand: A Journalist Returns to Visit His Prison and His Guards (Abdul-Ahad)

Photo: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad (The Guardian)What about torture?, I asked him. "Sometimes they would put the detainees in dog cages, just to scare them. It depended on the officer. Some would go out of their way to harm prisoners."

I was not beaten or tortured but I could hear the sounds of people getting beaten through the walls. The doctor had told me that the foreigners were treated differently. "Where they kept you the treatment was considered luxury compared to the guys who where kept in the back prison or the with the dogs. "The foreigners were not beaten but they beat and tortured the locals. They wouldn't beat the prisoners in front of me, but I did see officers walking with sticks made of palm tree reeds. But even without beating life was horrible, the dark, small dungeons, the fear, the sounds of the dogs. They terrorised the people in these dark cells. You lose your humanity, you lose your respect."

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Bahrain (and Beyond) LiveBlog: A New Phase of Conflict

2110 GMT: An update from Misurata, 210 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli....

Opposition fighters say they have repelled regime forces on the southern and western sides of the city, with a battle --- but "not a heavy one" --- continuing on the eastern side.

Libyan state television has appealed to the people of Misurata to support regime troops: "The armed forces are from you and for you. Avoid strife....This is a call for stability and security for everybody. Do not listen to provocation and avoid discord."

2000 GMT: Reuters summarises fierce fighting in Ajdabiya in east Libya, with "weary" government soldiers saying that they were meeting "renewed resistance" from the opposition.

"The fighting is fierce. His supply lines are stretched so he can't push on from Ajdabiya. We've got some surprises in store. We're going to fight on and we're going to win," said Mustafa Gheiriani, an opposition spokesman in Benghazi.

Reinforcements from Benghazi are said to be heading to Ajdabiya.

Witnesses describe a violent regime crackdown around the city.

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