The city of Zabadani has returned to the Syrian battle map after Jabhat al-Nusra in Qalamoun tried to penetrate Hezbollah’s sites in Lebanon’s Brital village. This highlights the attempt by the armed groups to open a supply route between Arsal and Zabadani that would go through the rest of the areas under their control in Qalamoun.
As winter approaches, the armed groups — which are present on the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the Qalamoun Mountains — have started to look for a way to escape the snow and bitter cold, as well as the military siege by the Syrian army and Hezbollah. Zabadani represents an escape route for them. It is located on a border point, 45 kilometers (28 miles) away from Damascus, next to the towns of Bloudan, Madaya and Biqqeen in Syria. At the administrative level, it is part of Rif Dimashq governorate, and geographically, it links Rif Dimashq to Qalamoun, as it extends toward Assal al-Ward, Rankous and Serghaya. On the Lebanese side, the eastern Lebanon mountain range that extends toward Brital, Arsal and Anjar separates it from the Bekaa and Baalbek.
A source on the ground explained to As-Safir the importance of Zabadani for the armed groups: “They are working hard to open and secure a supply route that links Assal al-Ward areas to the barren lands of Arsal, Brital and Zabadani. They are besieged now within this axis, particularly in Zabadani.”
Greek Orthodox Bishop for Baghdad, Kuwait and their surroundings, Ghattas Hazim, realizes that the position assigned to him by the Holy Synod of Antioch, presided over by Patriarch John X Yazigi as patron of that diocese (the area under supervision of a bishop), is not easy.
Hazim is also aware that his mission might be legendary, and requires great effort to heal the wounds of the Christians in this Arab region, especially in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq. This mission started in 1991, during Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and continues today under different forms. The mission is to provide suitable circumstances to secure the Christians in their land and maintain the Christian presence and, in particular, the Orthodox presence in Mesopotamia.
Hazim is from the town of Mhardeh in the countryside of Hama, in Syria, which is home to over 20,000 Christians. He is the nephew of the late Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim. He was supposed to join his new diocese before the end of this year, where Yazigi would appoint him in his position, and he would preside over the Orthodox diocese in Kuwait.
He turned from a candidate for the post-January 25 Revolution Egyptian parliamentary elections into a fighter in the ranks of extremist organizations, and from pro-democracy to anti-democracy that accuses all democracy supporters of infidelity. This is, in brief, the short story of Ahmed al-Darawi, a former policeman and member of the Police Officers Coalition during the “revolution.”
Darawi reportedly died late last May from health complications as he was receiving treatment abroad. However, “jihadist” pages revealed in the last couple of days that Darawi was a fighter in the ranks of the Islamic State (IS) and that he carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq, thus contradicting the original story of his death. As evidence, pictures of him wearing a uniform and carrying an Afghan weapon were published.
The first to publish Darawi’s photo was the Twitter account of “Abdul Aziz,” known for his support for IS and for possessing extensive information about “jihadists” in both Egypt and occupied Palestine.
Darawi’s photo was among other published pictures of dead members from the militant group in these two countries. Abdul Aziz commented on the picture saying, “Ahmed al-Darawi was an officer in the Egyptian security forces and a candidate for the parliamentary elections, and then he repented and rushed to the land of the caliphate and carried out a martyrdom operation.”
The Syrian army and Hezbollah are in a state of alert and readiness in Qalamoun and its surroundings, especially the regions of al-Jebbah and Assal al-Ward in the northern countryside around Damascus after the fierce attack launched by militant groups led by the emir of Jabhat al-Nusra in Qalamoun, Abu Malik Talli, a few days ago.
The signs of the battles are still apparent; the bodies of insurgents lay on the ground, covered with sand, at the entrance Assal al-Ward, along with destroyed military equipment. Dense apple orchards spread out both sides of the road in Assal al-Ward — known for its apples — separating the road leading to one of the most important military points between al-Jebbah and Assal al-Ward. The point reached by As-Safir is a dangerous front line, especially since the region has witnessed heavy fighting and may be attacked at any time. The Syrian army and the (pro-regime) resistance fighters are deployed here overlooking militants infiltration points. From here the scene of the attack is clearer. This point has contributed significantly to the direct hits in the militants' ranks, in a fierce battle that lasted from the early morning until night. This battle benefited from heavy fire support — through the use of all kinds of missiles including TOW, Cornet and Concourse, in addition to the artillery rockets. The sounds of artillery shelling targeting militants deployed in the barren lands could be heard from other sites.
Despite the personal sensitivity of her story, Yusra did not hesitate to answer when asked if she would like to see it published. She immediately said, “Yes, certainly. We want the world to know that what the Islamic State (IS) is doing thousands of kilometers away from us has become a story that aggravates our daily lives.”
This effect has exceeded all limits. Yusra was walking with her sister, Amal, in a big amusement park in Belgium. The cheers and clamor did not prevent the hurtful comments from reaching the two young women’s ears. The comments were hurtful with premeditation: “Look, a terrorist,” one said to his companions.
The trauma left by repeatedly hearing those words made the holiday miserable for the two girls. Yusra started crying, while her sister consoled her even though she was the one targeted. “Do not be sad,” said Amal. “This is not a personal comment, because these people do not know me. If they knew me, they would not have said that.”
Yusra, 22, is in her senior year at university, studying Arabic and Arab culture. The two young women were born in Europe to a Muslim family of Moroccan descent, but each lives her faith her own way. Yusra does not even wear a veil, while Amal does not leave home without the khimar, which covers everything except the face.
Lebanon’s presidential position has been vacant for 136 days now [as of the time of writing], and the course of events is now controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State (IS). They are delivering a daily program for the parents of abducted soldiers, indicating the steps they should take while threatening to kill their sons who are members of the army and the Internal Security Forces (ISF). They are steering the policy of a Lebanese political party that was quick to invest in the serious security developments that occurred last Sunday [Oct. 5] in the eastern Mount Lebanon range; Hezbollah was held responsible for what happened and the party was called to immediately withdraw from Syria, as reiterated by Samir Geagea and the March 14 secretariat.
It was quite interesting that certain Arab and Lebanese media outlets dealt with the video that was circulated by Jabhat al-Nusra — which included a soundtrack, songs and pictures — like it was a “cinematic treasure” necessitating guests and comments.
Merely two weeks after the start of the Islamic State’s (IS) attack on Kobani, which is inhabited by Syrian Kurds, the political landscape in north Syria started to change. The city, which is around 160 kilometers [100 miles] from Aleppo and adjacent to the Turkish border, might be remapped by international alliances on the one hand and by Turkish whims on the other. This has Kobani facing two conflicting scenarios. The first involves the “buffer zone” Turkey wants to establish in north Syria while the second involves establishing an autonomous Kurdish region, similar to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Meanwhile, as battles wage and alliances change, possibilities remain open for new scenarios, including emptying north Syria of Kurds!
On Sept. 18, Kobani inhabitants awoke to the sound of shelling and violent battles that indicated IS advancement in the “autonomous” areas under Kurdish control. Kurdish officials described Turkey’s support for the radical IS militants as “substantial,” and the militants managed in a few days to control over 200 villages in the region, which includes around 440 villages. IS moved to less than 10 kilometers [6 miles] away from Kobani. There was a large wave of displacement of inhabitants afraid of seeing a repeat of the Sinjar scenario (where IS committed many massacres against Yazidis in Iraq).
The Yemeni political class consists of conflicting elites, each constituting a miniature state within the state and possessing its own army or militia, media outlets, financial and educational institutions, and its own “capital.”
The city of Amran — from 1963 until its fall in July 2014 at the hands of Ansar Allah (Houthi groups) — was the capital of the elders of the Hashid tribe and their military and political allies. Since 2004, the city of Saada has been the capital of Ansar Allah. Each of these cities had its own revolution. Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen from 1990-2012, claims to be the rightful heir of the revolution of Sept. 26, 1962, despite having betrayed it. The al-Ahmar family and Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar claim to be the protectors of the Feb. 11, 2011, popular youth revolution. And recently, the Houthis had their own revolution (the revolution of Aug. 18, 2014), which marked the beginning of the war [which arrived to the] capital Sanaa between Sept. 16-21, 2014. In addition to the regional capitals of these elites, each elite has its "mini-capitals" inside Sanaa.
The Syrian Kurds are currently facing a life-or-death battle against the Islamic State (IS). Their city, Ayn al-Arab (Kobani), awaits “a new massacre,” unless a change is brought about, according to Salih Muslim, leader of the [Syrian Kurdish] Democratic Union Party (PYD). Muslim has been shocked by the international silence concerning the plight of Kurds in Syria.
In an interview with As-Safir, he expressed concern that IS is too free to use its heavy weapons to besiege their city, which is already encircled by Turkey. In his opinion, it’s ironic that IS is besieging them thanks to US weapons, while the latter is leading an international coalition against IS, without aiming to lift the blockade. These doubts culminated with Turkey's quest to establish a buffer zone that will be fought by the PYD, believing it to be an occupation.
In a press conference at the European Parliament on Wednesday [Sept. 24], Muslim made a distress call. The experienced Syrian oppositionist did not get nervous. He remained calm and logical, even though he was witnessing the doom of his hometown.
The besieged Kurds were supposed to take a deep relaxing breath with the international coalition’s airstrikes. The PYD has welcomed them, but has questioned why IS forces besieging Kobani have not been bombed. The PYD has openly offered to be a backup force for the operations against the international “enemy,” since hard work is underway to find parallel ground forces, yet there has been no response to the offer.