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UN Syria Report Says "Coalition" Strikes Kill 50 Civilians, Gray Lady Returns

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 25 -- The UN released its Syria aid access report for November again  in the same pre-spun way it did on April 23, then on May 22, on June 20 and then on July 24 and August 28. Unlike other reports, for example on Sudan where both the UN's Herve Ladsous and Valerie Amos have been petitioned by Darfuri groups, here, the UN put an advance copy of this Syria report its its so-called "gray lady."

  As previously reported, the "gray lady" holds documents, of late only the month's Security Council program of work, of which advance copies are released, sometimes with a heads-up to favored media.

  Who decided for the UN Secretariat and Spokesman which are the important issues meriting such treatment? The Free UN Coalition for Access posits that it should be all reports, with no advance notice to favored media. The system could be fixed, but to simply without explanation return to the current murk is UNacceptable - and typically UN.

  The new "advance" report, dated November 21, nevertheless says, in Paragraph 9, that "armed opposition and designated terrorist groups continue shelling government controlled areas, including in civilian populated areas... including in Damascus, Homs, Hama and Quneitra. For example, on October 20, mortar shelling was reported on a university in Quneitra."

  So who did this shelling: the  "designated terrorist groups" ISIL and Al Nusra, or the "armed opposition" and did this include the Free Syrian Army?

 In Paragraph 15, the new / "advance" UN report says that "the international coalition continued airstrikes against ISIL in Syria on a near-daily basis with reports of some 865 people killed, including 50 civilians, in Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor, Hasakeh, Idlib and Raqqa since strikes began."

  Fifty out of 865 - the UN doesn't opine.  The UN report describes the proposal of its envoy Staffan de Mistura (without giving credit to the Geneva-based Center for Humanitarian Dialogue for the idea). Today, the Syrian Coalition said:

"Commenting on the ceasefire proposal put forward by the UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, the Syrian Coalition stated that “the goal of any UN move should guarantee the right of the Syrian people to self-determination, to choose their political system, to preserve the unity of Syria and to reject any foreign intervention, especially Iran’s military and political intervention. “Any political process must be based on the Security Council resolutions, including resolutions No. 2118, 2165, 2170, the Geneva I protocols, and the clauses related to the establishment of a transitional governing body with full powers, and accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The starting points for Mistura’s plan must include the establishment of protected safe zones, a no-fly zone north of latitude 35, and south of latitude 33, and in the Qalamoun region, and taking tangible measures to expel the terrorist foreign militias imported by the Assad regime. The plan must also ensure the delivery of relief aid to the areas under siege, the prevention of the Assad regime from using civilians as hostages in exchange for political gains, the release of detainees and the disclosure of Assad’s secret prisons.” Moreover, the statement stresses that the proposed local ceasefires in some areas must be based on the Geneva protocols and the UN Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 2165." The Syrian Coalition, as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, confirms it is open to any efforts aimed at helping the Syrian people get rid of tyranny, stressing that it is the only party mandated to respond to the UN initiatives that should not affect the unity of the Syrian opposition, rehabilitate the Assad regime or its head, or fuel fears of a taking Syria toward fragmentation and division."

  The September report, conveniently cutting off on September 17, said "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: 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.

  On ISIL, the report continues in Paragraph 8: "ISIL continues to increase its influence in the Syrian Arab Republic, predominantly along the main supply lines in rural central Homs, Hama, Rif
Dimashq, southern Hasakeh and western Aleppo. It also continues to fight for the control of border crossings and natural resources. During the reporting period, it made advances in Raqqa, Hasakeh, and Aleppo governorates following clashes with Government forces."

  How has the pre-spinning worked, or not worked? Back on July 24 at 11:15 am US state media began tweeting about the report. Inner City Press went to the Spokesperson's Office and asked if it had been put out as described below. No, was the answer.

  But 15 minutes later, the Spokesperson's Office squawked that the report had been distributed to the Council, and there is then was in the "gray lady" -- the only UN report still distributed this way -- no reports on Africa are.

 Back on June 20, just before 6 pm, the UN Spokesperson's Office announced over its "squawk" system to correspondents still in the building that the report had been circulated. This meant it had been placed in piece of furniture in the Spokesperson's Office which has sat empty for many days now.

  Apparently only these Syria reports are now pre-released, pre-announced and pre-spun.

  In terms of the Spokesperson's duty to answer questions, there was by closure on June 20 no answer to Inner City Press' request to confirm or deny Ban Ki-moon was handed legal papers about the introduction of cholera into Haiti as he entered the Asia Society, Inner City Press coverage here.

  Back on May 22 the UN's go-to wire service, which has also tried to get other media thrown out, gushed that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's "toughly worded report... said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government bore the greater responsibility."

   This wire's report didn't mention the Free Syrian Army displacing people (in the report) or the FSA recruiting child soldiers (in another recent UN report, which Inner City Press noted here.)

  Nor did it mention, for example, "45,000 in areas besieged by opposition forces in Nubul and Zahra." The number remains the same in the June 20 report.

   As we diplomatically sketched on April 23 hoping for some reform, the UN Spokesperson's Office makes "advance copies" of reports available. That is fine - but there is no consistency in who they tell of the availability of reports or how they make the announcement.

  Showing bias, they only "squawk" over the internal intercom system some but not all reports.

  Now this inconsistency applies to pre-releasing some but not all reports. Who decides? How?

   Using the squawk system rather than e-mailing all resident correspondents favors media, like the UN friendly wire, which have a person sitting in their office -- for example a person who filed a "for the record" complaint against another media, than scammed Google into banning the leaked complaint from Search, misusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, click here for that.

  Other international organizations handle this with less bias. The IMF gives accredited media like Inner City Press embargoed copies of documents, and hold embargoed briefings to which accredited journalists anywhere in the world can pose questions, then wait and report at the embargo time. The UN must improve: and the Free UN Coalition for Access is working on this.

  Other have complained about this murky UN practices; others still a month ago asked FUNCA to wait a week before proposing reforms, which it did. But where are any reforms? We will continue to Press.

   If the Gulf & Western insiders on the board of the UN Correspondents Association, which tried to get other media thrown out of the UN, have a problem with disclosure, they too should push the UN to reform. But they won't even reform themselves, and for example commit not to seek the expulsion of other media from the UN.

  The current spokesperson has taken sides on this and other things; it is time for reform. If Ban Ki-moon is so tough and principled, why was he praising the president of Sri Lanka just after a report showed him seeking to "go all the way" and kill all his opponents? This all circles back. We'll have more on this.

Further back-ground: On April 30 when UN Humanitarian chief Valerie Amos took media questions, Inner City Press asked her about two paragraphs of her report on Syria, the advance copy of which was released on April 23 as analyzed below.

   Paragraph 47 disclosed 25 UN staff members detained. Inner City Press asked, by whom? Amos said by both the government and the armed groups.

 The June 20 report, in Paragraph 44, says "29 UN staff (27 UNRWA and 2 UNDP) are currently detained of which four are missing."

   The Free UN Coalition for Access has repeatedly asked, including at UN noon briefings, why these reports don't just go online for all to see. The response, off-camera, has been to allow translation into the UN's official six languages. Really?

  The result is that stories are written, for example here by Reuters, that focus on the Syrian government while the report has whole sections about Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, ISIS, et al. Is this retyping really "reporting" by the Reuters bureau chief, who himself is engaged in censorship, here?

 Despite the lack of any stated rule in this regard,  FUNCA and Inner City Press have been criticized for even questioning or reporting on this anti-public process. A previous UN spokesperson told Inner City Press the reason for stealth is that "the member states" would like pre-release before translation. But doesn't the Secretariat WORK for member states? Or is this how they buy the fealty of the scribes?

   But if Gulf media immediately scans and puts the advance copy online, where is the mystery? Where is the double standard? Wouldn't it be better for the UN itself to put the report online when available?

 And then not, as it did on Western Sahara, change the report after getting pushed around? FUNCA is and will remain for UN transparency and fair treatment. And FUNCA maintains there should be answers -- including from UN Under Secretaries General -- and written rules. The UN has outright refused to explain why for example the Turkish Cypriot leader Eroglu was allowed to speak on UNTV but Polisario is not. The lack of rules only benefits the powerful: media, countries, corporations.

  Back in April when Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'fari came to speak, Inner City Press asked him about US-made BGM-71 TOW missiles now in Syria, of the group Harakat Hazm. They are with Al Nusra, Ja'afari said.

  Inner City Press asked on what basis Ja'afari said the US approved their transfer to Syria, if they could have come through Turkey. Ja'afari said there is no way they could come in without approval from Washington. Video here -- this is Inner City Press YouTube video.

  Unlike other stakeouts, the UN did not put on its UN Webcast archive Ja'afari's long April 17 stakeout including on TOW missiles. Inner City Press asked about it on April 22 at the noon briefing, and later another UN individual acknowledged it had not gone up. But why?  Now, only after asking, it is up. Click here (TOW question and answer from Minute 15:17.) This is how the UN works, or doesn't.

  This has happened again in June  - click here.

  Ja'afari was asked by Voice of America, why Syria doesn't use Russia or China to get a meeting about Kassab. Ja'afari responded to the question; he did not say as France Ambassador Gerard Araud did on April 15 to Al Mayadeen, "You are not a journalist, you are an agent."
  By Araud's logic, is not Voice of America an agent? Is not France 24, also called on by Ja'afari? Ah, freedom of the press. Here is what the Free UN Coalition for Access has done so far.

   When outgoing French Ambassador Araud scheduled a press conference on human rights for April 15, he began to receive many questions, here, about blocking human rights monitoring in Western Sahara.

  It is a policy Araud is particularly associated with, since Javier Barden quoted him calling Morocco France's "mistress." Araud spoke of suing, but hasn't.

   But when during the April 15 press conference, in which Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition for Access were not called on, Araud was asked about France having killed people in Algeria, Araud told the questioner, You are not a journalist, you are an agent. Video here.

  The French run press conference gave the first question to Al Arabiya, for UNCA (now known as the UN's Censorship Alliance), then France 24.  By Araud's spokesperson Frederic Jung, a Voice of America affiliate was given a question.

  Syria "Caesar" report panelist David Crane was asked who funded it and answered on camera merely that he was paid. (The photographs, Inner City Press noted and notes, are extremely troubling - all the more reason that taking Qatar's funding and denouncing the only critical question were unwise.)

  Afterward, Inner City Press asked Crane to confirm the payment was from Qatar. He confirmed it. Inner City Press asked, did you seek any other, less compromised funding? The answer was no. In fact, Crane said he gave his recommendations to the Syrian National Council. Afterward Inner City Press asked him if he meant the Turkey based group headed by Ahmed Al Jarba, and Crane said yes, than added, "The resistance" writ large.

     When Qatar sponsored an event at the UN in New York on March 21 featuring the Syrian Coalition headed by Ahmad al Jarba, a group calling its the Syrian Grassroots Movement held protests seeking to oust Jarba.

   By March 22, the group stated that some 40,000 people in 58 cities inside Syria had participated in demonstrations to get Jarba out of his post, saying "it is time to put an end to political corruption."

  Back in September 2013, France sponsored an event in the UN and called Jarba the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. French Ambassador Gerard Araud was the first questioning at Qatar's March 21 Syrian Coalition event. What is France's position now? Who chooses the leaders?

  Likewise, back in July 2013 and earlier this month, the Jarba-led Syrian Coalition held faux "UN" events in the clubhouse Ban Ki-moon's Secretariat gives to the largely Gulf and Western UN Correspondents Association. How does that now appear, in light of the anti-Jarba protests?

   Qatar's March 21 event was not listed in the UN Journal nor in the UN Media Alert. It was not on the UN's publicly available webcast.

  Select media outlets were there, when Inner City Press came in at the end to ask a question: Al Jazeera on the podium in Qatar's event, Al Arabiya like a Saudi diplomat -- not the Permanent Representative -- in the audience along with Al Hayat, even Al Hurra, on whose Broadcasting Board of Governors US Secretary of State John Kerry serves.

   The new Free UN Coalition for Access is against faux UN events, in the clubhouse the Secretariat gives to what's become its UN Censorship Alliance or elsewhere.

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