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Syria Coalition and Koenders in Turkey, Of Mistura, Memory & Mali

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 22 -- From its base in Turkey the Syria Coalition issued a strange press release or at least headline on December 21 about Bert Koenders, the Netherlands' foreign minister and former UN official in Cote d'Ivoire and Mali:

Koenders Reminds Bahra: The Situation in Syria Involves More Than Just Assad's War Against ISIS

Hadi Al-Bahra, President of the Syrian Coalition, stressed that "defeating terrorism in the region can only be achieved through the elimination of its root cause, which is the Assad regime," during a meeting held yesterday with the Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders in Istanbul. Bahra stresses "the need to support the Free Syrian Army with advanced weapons for its battle against Assad and ISIS,” pointing out that the FSA was the first to declare war on ISIS. The meeting discussed the 24-point peace plan put forward by the Syrian Coalition during the Geneva talks. The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs reaffirmed his country’s support for the moderate Syrian opposition, pointing out that the Syrian Revolution began when demonstrators took to the streets demanding freedom and that the situation in Syria is not a war between ISIS and the Assad regime."

  The meeting also discussed the plan of the UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, and both sides agreed that many points regarding the plan needs to be clarified. At the end of the meeting, Koenders reiterates his government’s continued support for the projects that provide services to the Syrian people. (Source: Syrian Coalition)

  The last paragraph seems to connote that al Bahra's Coalition is now lobbying European ministers against Staffan de Mistura's plan.  (Inner City Press asked the president of the Security Council for December when de Mistura will brief the Council on his progress; next month at earliest, it seems.)

  But did the Syria Coalition really need to be "reminded" by Koenders? Or should Koenders be reminded of what he left so abruptly in Mali, a shooting gallery and trap of IEDs against UN peacekeepers? DPKO and its foot soldiers are just cannon fodder, some say, for the diplomats who drift or float through at the top levels, using it.

After UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous ordered surrenders to Jabhat al Nusra in the Golan Heights, the UN's report dated December 1 said:

"Armed groups had seized a number of vehicles during the incidents involving the detention of the 45 peacekeepers from United Nations position 27 and the confinement of others at positions 68 and 69 late in August. While UNDOF  hurriedly moved personnel and most United Nations assets, including vehicles, from Camp Faouar and other United Nations positions were temporarily vacated, unfortunately some assets and equipment were left behind."

   Now there are reports of UN vehicles being used for suicide car bombs attacks in Daraa in Syria.

  Who in the UN will be held responsible? Ladsous who reported ordered the surrender then never answered questions about it? What steps if any did the UN take since then to try to avoid UN vehicles being used in car bomb attacks? Is this another case of UN Peacekeeping negligence?

  Back on September 30 when now outgoing UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos spoke on Syria to the Security Council, one expected her to describe the impact of the airstrikes in Syria by the US and five Arab kingdoms which began fully eight days before on September 22.

  But Amos stuck to the script, a written report with a cut-off date of September 17. Thus she did not mention the reports of airstrikes hitting grain mills in Manjib. One question is, will she ever?

Update: Amos in public also did not mention the "other" UN-named terrorist group in Syria, Jabhat al Nusra. Inner City Press has learned that in the closed-door consultations that followed, Amos presented a map of who controls what in Syria, listing ISIL-affiliates groups and then, in another color, other groups. That includes Al Nusra -- that is, Nusra and the Free Syrian Army. We'll have more on this.

   Syrian Permanent Representative Bashar Ja'afari came out of the Security Council. Off-camera, he told Inner City Press that the airstrikes since September 22 -- the only day on which he said Syria was notified by the US -- have killed "only 14 Da'esh" or ISIL fighters.

  On UNTV camera, Inner City Press asked Ja'afari about the impact of the strikes; he said the number of civilians casualties is not yet known but when he has the information, he will provided it.

  Inner City Press asked about the order by UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous that troops from Fiji and the Philippines surrender to Al Nusra. Ja'afari said Ladsous has not gotten back to Syria -- strange, given that it hosts a peacekeeping mission, and that Ladsous met untransparently with Sudan's Omar al Bashir.

  But Ladsous is getting more and more selective, more recently blocking Inner City Press' camera and then taking his favored scribes away from the scheduled (and canceled) stakeout for a "briefing." Video here from Minute 1:19.

  The UN released its August 19 - September 17 Syria aid access report for September in an even more pre-spun way than it did on April 23, then on May 22, on June 20 and then on July 24 and August 28. The UN has declined or refused to reform its broken "gray lady" system. This report cuts off on September 17 -- before the airstrikes by the US and five Kingdoms.

  The new report, cutting off on September 17, says "Government forces also shelled and undertook airstrikes against ISIL positions in the northern and eastern parts of the country in an attempt to stop ISIL."  What about the US and five Kingdom's airstrikes?

  Inner City Press on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access went to the UN Spokesperson's Office on September 29, the eve of the Security Council's month meeting, and asked for an explanation why rather than reform the pre-spin system, the reports are simply not pre-released. There was no explanation.

Update II: on September 30, the UN Spokesperson's office put the report, dated September 23, into its "Gray Lady." What was the point? We'll have more on this. The UN should be transparent.

 The new report goes on, "Government- controlled cities and towns continued to be subject toindiscriminate mortar attacks, shelling and vehicle-borne improvised explosivedevices by armed opposition, extremist and designated terrorist groups, notably in
Aleppo and Damascus governorates. For example, in Aleppo city, extensive shellingin the Khalideah residential and commercial area at the beginning of September resulted in the deaths of eight civilians, including women and children."
 On a group neither listed with ISIL and Al Nursa, nor (formally) with the Free Syrian Army, the new UN report says "On September 5, armed opposition groups took control of the Dokhanya and Ein Tarma suburbs of Damascus and engaged government forces in Midan and Zahira al Jadida, located less than 2 km from the Old City. A similar operation took place in Teshrine district, north of Damascus. On 16 September, one of the main Islamic Front factions (Ajnad al Sham) announced the beginning of a second phase of rocket attacks on the centre of Damascus."

   In the new system, selective reports circulate for days before the UN's actual report.

  The spoon-fed pre-spinner, ironically, has engaged in censorship of other leaks, click here for, here for critique by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

  As Inner City Press reported here, Australia along with Luxembourg and Jordan pushed a  resolution on Syria aid access.

  Again, the UN report does not directly address calls in Washington to support the Free Syrian Army -- which is still listed by another part of the UN as recruiting and using child soldiers.


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