Sunday, August 31, 2014

Kidnapped Lebanese Soldier

This is the video of Ali Al-Hajj Hassan, one of the Lebanese soldiers kidnapped lately by ISIS (or the Islamic State).

Ali Al-Hajj Hassan also happens to be the brother of The Iman Foundation's Vice-Chairman and its President for the Middle East, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Hajj Hassan.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

SYRIA REPORT 84 - The Negotiators

As most members and associates of the NCF interested in the Syria issue will realise, two new negotiators have been appointed to handle the Syria issue following Lakhdar Brahimi’s resignation. They are the Italian-Swedish diplomat Steffan de Mistura and, as his deputy, the little known Egyptian diplomat, Ramzy Ezzeldine Ramzy. For this Syria report we felt it pertinent to include their biographies since, theoretically, they could have a significant influence on the resolution of the chaos extant in much of Syria at present.

Staffan de Mistura

UN Special Envoy for the Syria Crisis

Staffan de Mistura is an Italian-Swedish diplomat, born in Stockholm, 25 January 1947 who has more than forty years experience working with the UN and who has more recently held office in the Italian Monti cabinet. He has worked in South Sudan, Southern Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sarajevo and Kosovo has maintained close links with the US and with Brussels, where he is currently the President of the Board of Governors in the European Institute of Peace.
Steffan de Mistura speaks seven languages: Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Swedish and Colloquial Arabic.
He graduated from the University of Sapienzo in Rome with a doctorate in Political Science and has a post-graduate qualification in “Hot Negotiations, Development Economics - Crisis Management in Conflict Areas.”
During the early stages of his career, de Mistura focused on humanitarian agendas, working as a project officer for the World Food Programme delivering convoys of food aid to areas affected by internal conflict in South Sudan from 1971 to 1972. After fundraising for the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations in Rome from 1972 to 1974, he went on to become the Food and Agricultural Organisation’s Liaison Officer in New York from 1974 to 1976. De Mistura then became the Deputy Chief of Cabinet of Directors for the Food and Agricultural Organisation in Rome until 1985. After that he returned to Sudan where he remained until 1987 working with UNICEF to head a vaccination campaign which saw vaccination coverage rate rise from 32% to 71% and as the Director of Operations for the World Food Programme. 
in 1991 during the massive, and successful, UN-sanctioned humanitarian intervention in Iraq, he helped facilitate what's said to be the fastest refugee return in history.  He led the way when the UN took over after US-led coalition forces under Operation Provide Comfort (OPC) secured the area and provided substantial humanitarian assistance.  
In 1992, de Mistura became the Director of Public Affairs for UNICEF in Somalia.
During the latter half of the above period, de Mistura also played a role in several special assignments for the UN. These included the ‘San Bernardo’ operation which delivered food to during the Ethiopian famine, using both Warsaw Pact and NATO assets.
Staffan de Mistura was also involved in food aid operations in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Mujahidin conflict. De Mistura was also the team leader of a UNICEF mission during the siege of Dubrovnik, evacuating 4,570. He was also involved in providing winter relief to the people of the people of besieged Sarajevo. He also helped support the UN weapons inspection and sanctions regime in under Saddam, particularly with regard to the issue of the Presidential palaces.
He first became involved in the Middle East after working in the UN Office of the Co-ordinator for Afghanistan as a Director of Fund-Raising and External Relations.  He then held a brief posting as the United Nations Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq, a post which he held for less than a year in 1997. He continued to work on implementing the UN sanctions machine in Iraq, sitting as a member of the Security Council Panel on Humanitarian Issues in Iraq in 1999, but was also a regional administrator in Kosovo later this year.
In 2000, he was the UN Special Rapporteur for the Fribourg forum on ‘Regional Co-operation and Co-ordination in Crisis Management for Europe and Newly Independent States’. He was the Personal Representative of Secretary-General in preventative diplomacy to diffuse tension in Southern Lebanon and Syria, and had major successes in his organisation of a de-mining program until 2004. De Mistura was then Deputy Special Representative for Iraq (2005-2006). He returned to Rome in 2006 as the Director of UN Staff College, training staff for conflict zone assignments. He was back in Iraq in 2007 as the Iraq Representative of UN Secretary-General in charge of all operations specific to Iraq. His appointment was vehemently opposed by Baghdad, who strongly favoured a former Romanian envoy. He was involved in the supporting the controversial UN position on Kirkuk and the disputed territories (the UN exceeded its remit to recommend the issue be set aside for a decade). De Mistura returned to the World Food Programme as Deputy Executive Director in Rome then was posted in Kabul until 2011, as Afghanistan Representative of UN Secretary-General responsible for all operations specific to Afghanistan and appointed chief of United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Following that, he was nominated as Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs in the technocratic Monti Government and was involved in attempting to negotiate the repatriation of two Italian Marines held in India for the shooting of Indian Fishermen in the Laccadive Sea. This mission failed and the relations between Italy and India have since 2012, remained strained.
Staffan de Mistura was appointed by Brussels as the President of Board of Governors of the European Institute of Peace, an organisation with a vision of fostering global peace through ‘operational mediation and informal dialogue with state and non-state actors.’ While the institution is not an official body of the EU, it does have a close partnership with the EU and includes Switzerland amongst its members. It closely resembles the United States Institute of Peace, established in 1984.

Ramzy Ezzeldine Ramzy

Deputy to UN Special Envoy for the Syria Crisis

Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy was born on February 4, 1954. Ambassador Ramzy was educated at the American University in Cairo where he received his BA in Economics in 1974, and at the University of Surrey, United Kingdom, where he completed his M.Sc. in Economics in 1975.
At age 24, after serving in the cabinet of the foreign minister for two years, he travelled to New York as third secretary at the permanent mission of Egypt to the United Nations, a top posting for a young diplomat.
Ramzy's career took off after that, taking him to major cities where he witnessed significant political and socioeconomic transitions firsthand. Serving as counsellor in the Egyptian embassy in Moscow in the late 1980s, he was there during the fall of the Berlin Wall and the final years before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ramzy took up his first post as ambassador to Brazil at the age of 42, the youngest Egyptian ambassador at the time. He held that post from 1997 to 2000, and also served as a Non-Resident Ambassador to Suriname and Guyana.
Between 2003 and 2007 he was Ambassador to Austria where he also served as Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Vienna. He also served on the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) where he was Vice-Chairman from 2005 to 2006. He was also Egypt's Non-Resident Ambassador to the Slovak Republic from 2004 to 2007.
From 2007 to 2008, Ramzy served as the Egyptian Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic Affairs and International Cooperation.
Ramzy was Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany from 2008 to 2012. He then served as First Under Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Arab Republic of Egypt from September to December 2012.
At the time of his new appointment as deputy to De Mistura, Ramzy was the Assistant Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs and International Cooperation in Egypt. He was also Egypt’s Commissioner to the Developing 8 Countries (D-8). Ambassador Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy was also seconded as Head of the Mission of the League of Arab States to Austria and Permanent Observer to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Vienna (May 2013).
Ramzy has also served as Head of Egyptian delegations to the General Conferences of IAEA, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) as well as the Preparatory Committee of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ), United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and OSCE Ministerial Conferences.
Ramzy has received the order of Merit, Fifth Class from Egypt and the GRA-CRUZ da Ordem Nacional do Cruzeiro do Sul from Brazil.

Friday, June 20, 2014


We issue our regular monthly report on Syrian war dead from the NCF's chief Syria analyst, Shree Wood. We recorded 2,739 as having been killed based on our data from the month of May of whom 831 were pro government combatants and just over 900 were rebels. Shree's report follows below. 

The line graph below is a timeline which helps to depict the rise and decline in the death figures over the last 12 months from June 2013 to May 2014. During this 12 month period the total for civilian dead was 17,632; the total for rebel dead was 9,756; and the total for government dead was 9,098. This gives an overall total of 36,486 killed in the Syrian civil war during the past year.

The NCF has been collecting data from six secondary sources since May 2012. The methodology for data collection for these casualty figures has been revised several times during that time to reflect feedback from experts and NCF members on the Syrian conflict. In order to present the most reliable figures, the NCF will only resource information and data from well documented sites that remain consistent with its data such as the VDC, Syrian Shuhada, Syrian Observatory, Syrian Network for Human Rights and Damascus Centre for Human Rights.

The NCF works out the figures by taking the average of civilians, rebels and government figures from their websites to tally up a monthly figure. By presenting the figures in the form of a bar and line graph, the NCF hopes to demonstrate the pattern of fighting and deaths in the different regions in Syria over a period of a year. However for the last couple of months the Syrian Network for Human Rights has ceased publishing full figures and the Local Coordination Committee have not updated their website since December 2013.

The Syrian government doesn't release casualty figures for the military, and paramilitary organizations that are playing a wider part in the war now than they did at its outset.

Figures for March and May are the lowest so far this year. Civilian figures have been steadily declining as rebel and government soldier numbers continue to fluctuate erratically. Fighting in the months of March and April seem to be steadily increasing due to increased fighting between rebel factions (rather than with the government). The government forces managed to take back several cities successfully such as Zara, a strategic town in Homs province, further blocking rebel supply routes from Lebanon.

The fighting carried on with both rebels and army soldiers fighting for key towns. On the 12th of April, rebels in Aleppo stormed the government-held Ramouseh industrial district in an attempt to cut the Army supply route between the airport and a large Army base next to district. The rebels also took the Rashidin neighbourhood and parts of the Jamiat al-Zahra district,

On 7th May, a truce went into effect in the city of Homs. The terms of the agreement include safe evacuation of Islamist fighters from the city, which would then fall under government control, in exchange for release of prisoners and safe passage of humanitarian aid for Nubul and Zahraa, two Shiite enclaves besieged by the rebels.

Then on the 18th of May, the head of Syria's Air Defense, General Hussein Ishaq, died of wounds sustained during a rebel attack on an air defense base near Mleiha the previous day. Syria's air defence chief was killed during an offensive by President Bashar al-Assad's forces against rebels east of Damascus, Islamist rebels and a monitoring group said. They said General Hussein Ishaq died from wounds suffered during an assault by Assad's forces on the town of Mleiha which appeared aimed at expanding the president's control around the capital before the June 3 election.

Ishaq is one of the most senior military officials to be killed in three years of conflict. The last high-ranking casualty was Hilal al-Assad, a cousin of the president and regional head of the National Defence Force militia, who was killed two months ago in the Mediterranean province of Latakia.

On Election Day, rebels threatened attacks to disrupt the polls. The civilian death toll from shelling from the rebel side was at least twelve. Syrian government warplane shelling continued while elections were held.

The joint U.N.- Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, stood down on 31st May after trying for nearly two years to overcome "almost impossible odds" to end a civil war that has claimed more than 150,000 lives. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon blamed the failure of the peace effort on the warring parties, but especially the Syrian government. He also blamed the deeply divided Security Council and countries with influence on the fighting sides. Ban pledged to keep working to achieve peace and urged all involved to rethink what they can do to bring hope to the Syrian people.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said he will appoint a successor when news of Brahimi’s resignation broke. Thus far however, Ban Ki-Moon has utterly failed to honour his promise though a number of names are being mooted including Algerian opposition leader Ali Benflis. Syria waits impatiently for him to act.

Brahimi is the second U.N.-Arab envoy to quit after failing to achieve a breakthrough in the more than 3-year-old conflict between the government of President Bashar Assad and rebel groups. When Brahimi took over from his longtime friend, former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, he said it would be "an extremely complicated and very, very difficult mission." He also indicated he could see no end in the near future to the bloodshed.

"I'm sure that the crisis will end — but the question is how many more dead? How much more destruction?" Brahimi said. "It's very sad that I leave this position and leave Syria behind in such a bad state."

Brahimi managed to get government officials and opposition to two rounds of peace talks in Geneva, but they ended without an agreement.

March 2013 & March 2014

We are comparing the months of March 2013 and 2014 as March 2013 was the deadliest month in the entire Syrian conflict and March 2014 has one of the lowest casualty figures, according to NCF data. In one year, how much has changed in terms of the ratio of casualties and the dynamics of fighting.
March 2013 was the deadliest month as rebels pressed home their offensive throughout the country, seizing a provincial capital for the first time and launching attacks on other fronts.

Between March 2013 and March 2014, there is a decrease of 61.2% in the total casualty number. In that period civilian death numbers have dropped by 69% and this change in the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths reflect the dynamics of a population on the run. As of May 2014, the total number of Syrian refugees stands at 2,853,975. Majority of refugees are in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Roughly 6.5 million Syrians are displaced within Syria (though this is clearly the roughest of estimates - there is no possibility at all of calculating an accurate figure).

March’s numbers also reveal the extent to which better-equipped rebels on the offensive have changed the war’s complexion. This also dramatically changed the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths and government forces suffered far greater casualties.

The most dramatic sign of that increase was rebel deaths, a likely reflection of the new aggressiveness with which they assaulted government positions in Syria’s north and east.

March 2014 saw the Syrian army capture Ras al-Ain near Yabrud, after two days of fighting and al-Husn in Homs province, while rebels in the Daraa Province captured Daraa prison, and freed hundreds of detainees. ISIS forces also completely retreated from the Idlib province. Hence much of the fighting took place between rebels and government troops. With town and cities laid empty, civilian casualty figures remained low.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Syrian 'Election' -- a Farce Hiding a Deeper Tragedy

In the aftermath of the European elections, concerns are being voiced over low turnout and popular disaffection with the EU. In the United States, the clock ticks toward the November mid-terms. Controversy rages over the Keystone Pipeline and Patient Protection. The vote could result in an impotent White House for the next two years. In both cases, though, whatever other concerns arise, we know at least that the polls are fair and democratic. The people will decide and will be accountable for the outcomes, whether or not they vote.
Meanwhile, in Syria . . . FOR FULL ARTICLE CLICK HERE