The mask is off: Hardly any “moderate rebels” left over in Syria

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24239779

“Eleven Islamist rebel groups in Syria have announced they do not recognise the authority of the main opposition alliance, the National Coalition.”

“The signatories include members of the Free Syrian Army as well as more radical Islamists – among them the powerful al-Nusra Front…”

“The Istanbul-based Western-backed National Coalition was formed in November 2012 and is recognised by more than 100 countries as a legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition.”

“The statement also called on “all military and civilian forces to unite under a clear Islamic framework based on Sharia [Islamic law], which should be the sole source of legislation”.”

news.antiwar.com/2013/09/27/syrian-rebel-factions-disavowing-us-backed-coalition-en-masse/

“A…statement disavowing the…Syrian National Coalition (SNC) as…an umbrella group and calling for a new organization of rebels seems to be taking hold, with more than 30 rebel factions now officially on board in disavowing the faction.”

Lesson for Europe: Brazil speaks up at the UN about US surveillance on UN, politicians, economy

accusing the NSA of violating international law by its indiscriminate collection of personal information of Brazilian citizens and economic espionage targeted on the country’s strategic industries.

“Personal data of citizens was intercepted indiscriminately. Corporate information – often of high economic and even strategic value – was at the centre of espionage activity.

“Also, Brazilian diplomatic missions, among them the permanent mission to the UN and the office of the president of the republic itself, had their communications intercepted,” Rousseff said

“In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore no effective democracy. In the absence of the respect for sovereignty, there is no basis for the relationship among nations.”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/24/brazil-president-un-speech-nsa-surveillance

Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’: Nepalese workers die at a rate of almost one a day

ShortNews Middle East

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/25/revealed-qatars-world-cup-slaves

Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in Qatar in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.

This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks.

… exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.

Evidence of forced labour …

• Some Nepalese men have alleged that they have not been paid for months and have had their salaries retained to stop them running away.

• Some workers on other sites say employers routinely confiscate passports and refuse to issue ID cards, in effect reducing them to the status of illegal aliens.

“We were working on…

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Iran’s Hassan Rouhani: trackrecord after one month

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/19/hassan-rouhani-vision-iran-free

Softened diplomacy

He heralds improved diplomatic relations with the west by an exchange of letters with Barack Obama and David Cameron in early August. Both Iran’s supreme leader and Rouhani subsequently strike a newly conciliatory tone, seeming to signal Iran’s readiness for a fresh chapter in diplomacy.

Moderates promoted

Rouhani appoints a new cabinet consisting of pro-reform moderates and pragmatists, naming the veteran US-educated Iranian diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif as foreign minister. Several key officials belonging to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s era are dismissed from posts in major ministries.

Censorship eased

On 12 September Iran’s independent House of Cinema – the main film guild, shut down under Ahmadinejad – is reopened. Students previously banned from universities because of political activity are allowed to continue their education. Formerly tight restrictions on the media are eased, with some journalists reporting on the situation of political prisoners.

Women’s rights advanced

Following the appointment of Marzieh Afkham as Iran’s first female foreign ministry spokesperson and two women as deputies to the prime minister, 24-year-old Shirin Gerami this week became the first Iranian woman to race in triathlon under the Islamic republic’s flag.

Political prisoners released

On Wednesday leading human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh is released from jail, along with a number of other prominent political activists. This follows the easing of the terms of the house arrest of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, allowing them more frequent family visits.

Syrian government will offer ceasefire under international observation

The Syrian conflict has reached a stalemate and President Bashar al-Assad‘s government will call for a ceasefire at a long-delayed conference in Geneva on the state’s future, the country’s deputy prime minister has said in an interview with the Guardian.

Qadri Jamil said that neither side was strong enough to win the conflict, which has lasted two years and caused the death of more than 100,000 people. Jamil, who is in charge of country’s finances, also said that the Syrian economy had suffered catastrophic losses.

Meanwhile, he said, the Syrian economy had lost about $100bn (£62bn), equivalent to two years of normal production, during the war.

If accepted by the armed opposition, a ceasefire would have to be kept “under international observation”, which could be provided by monitors or UN peace-keepers – as long as they came from neutral or friendly countries, he said.

Leaders of Syria‘s armed opposition have repeatedly refused to go to what is called Geneva Two unless Assad first resigns. An earlier conference on Syria at Geneva lasted for just one day in June last year and no Syrians attended.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/19/syrian-government-civil-war-stalemate

Assad’s troops may be winning this war in Syria’s capital

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/robert-fisk-in-damascus-assads-troops-may-be-winning-this-war-in-syrias-capital–untouched-by-obamas-threats-8825005.html

“The claim that 40-50,000 rebels surround the capital is probably untrue but there are up to 80,000 security men and soldiers inside Damascus and, on this battlefront, they may well be winning.”

“If the government wanted to use gas, why not employ it north of Aleppo where not a single government soldier or official exists? Why in Damascus? And why wasn’t gas used on this scale in the previous two years? And why employ such a dreadful weapon when the end result is that Syria – by giving up its stocks of chemical weapons – has effectively lost one of its strategic defences against an Israeli invasion?”

Iran releases political prisoners, including Sakharov Prize winner Nasrin Sotoudeh

Prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been released two years into her six year prison sentence, according to her husband. At least ten more political prisoners have also been reportedly set free.

“It’s not a temporary release, it’s freedom. They put her in a car and dropped her off at the house,” Sotoudeh’s husband Reza Khandan told Reuters from the couple’s home in Tehran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who has replaced Mohamed Ahmadinejad as president after winning the election in June, promised to release political prisoners and to loosen social controls in the Islamic Republic during his election campaign.

http://rt.com/news/iran-nasrin-released-jail-027/

Syria: nearly half rebel fighters are jihadists

“Nearly half the rebel fighters in Syria are now aligned to jihadist or hardline Islamist groups according to a new analysis of factions in the country’s civil war.”

“Opposition forces battling Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria now number around 100,000 fighters…there are around 10,000 jihadists – who would include foreign fighters – fighting for powerful factions linked to al-Qaeda….Another 30,000 to 35,000 are hardline Islamists who share much of the outlook of the jihadists…”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10311007/Syria-nearly-half-rebel-fighters-are-jihadists-or-hardline-Islamists-says-IHS-Janes-report.html

Chemical attack was Syria rebel provocation, former hostages say

“It is a moral duty to say this. The government of Bashar al-Assad did not use sarin gas or other types of gas in the outskirts of Damascus,” Piccinin said during an interview with Belgium’s RTL radio station.

“In this conversation, they said that the gas attack on two neighborhoods of Damascus was launched by the rebels as a provocation to lead the West to intervene militarily,” Quirico told Italy’s La Stampa.

Based on what both men have learned, Peccinin told RTL that it would be “insane and suicidal for the West to support these people.”

“It pains me to say it because I’ve been a fierce supporter of the Free Syrian Army in its rightful fight for democracy since 2012,” Piccinin added.

“I am extremely surprised that the United States could think about intervening, knowing very well how the Syrian revolution has become international jihadism – in other words Al-Qaeda,” Quirico said
http://rt.com/news/chemical-weapons-rebels-captives-632/

Syria and the geopolitics of gas

Qatar shares the largest gas field in the world with Iran, the South Pars (Iranian appellation) / North Dome (Qatari appellation). Tensions exist between the two countries because Iran is unable to extract its gas as fast as Qatar, mainly because of the sanctions imposed on Iran (Tehran frowns upon the Qatari extraction which is “emptying” the common gas field).

2012-12-29-250pxSouthParsLocationMap.jpg

More than a year ago, Iran, Iraq and Syria signed an agreement for the construction of a pipeline supposed to transport gas from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea in order to supply Europe.

Meanwhile, Qatar transports its gas through the Strait of Hormuz and is therefore dependent on Iran for its exports (with LNG tankers which then need to pass through the Suez Canal). The Emirate had plans to build a gas pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. But, Bashar al-Assad blocked this project, preferring to sign an agreement with his Iranian ally, but above all, to preserve its long-term energy deals with Russia.

As a result, Europe — which is largely dependent on the Russian giant Gazprom for its energy needs — has an interest in seeking a competitor to lower its growing gas bill. We understand that a Sunni power could protect a Qatar-Saudi Arabia-Jordan-Syria pipeline to diversify its sources. Besides, this path would allow Europe to further isolate Iran by preventing it getting supplies from a “Shia pipeline” Iran-Iraq-Syria.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/milad-jokar/war-in-syria-geopolitics-_b_2378683.html