By Bas Spliet
Image: © White Helmets
Damascus – Around 4 PM yesterday, 8 April, I was having a very interesting conversation with a tiny Damascene handcraft shop owner who makes traditional Arab oud instruments when the news broke that a deal was struck between Jaish al-Islam – the last remaining rebel group in Douma – and the Syrian government. Under the ceasefire agreement, the militants will release all prisoners in exchange for being provided a safe exit to the northern Aleppean city of Jarabulus within 48 hours. As this meant the final halt of the seven-year-long indiscriminate shelling of the city centre by the Islamist rebels, which has always been largely ignored by the mass media, people reflooded the streets of the capital with a smile on their faces. Finally, they can live in peace.
The shop owner, a Christian, went on to say that he believes that if new elections are to be held, at least 70% of Syrians would vote for President Bashar al-Assad. As Sunnis make up roughly 75% of the population while only 11% are Alawite, this would be incomprehensible if the mainstream depicture of the Syrian government as an Alawite dictatorship is to be upheld. Nevertheless, his estimation is in line with the outcome of the 2014 presidential elections, as well as with several polls conducted by entities openly hostile to the Syrian government, such as NATO and the Turkish and Qatari governments. Due to the successful battle of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) against sectarian terrorism, he believes that Assad’s popularity will only increase. To illustrate why, he told a story about a French delegation that visited the souk where his shop is located once upon a time.
Because it was a holiday, Christian and Muslim shopkeepers gathered to talk and have breakfast together on the street. The French journalists accepted their kind offer to join them, but one of them had a rather strange look on his face. Inquiring him about his facial expression, the shop owner was told by the journalist that something like that would never happen in his home country, especially not between people of different faith. He was confused because he was told that tension and conflict between different ethnicities and religions was the prime cause of the “civil war” in Syria.
It is hypocritical, nay, racist, to continuously strive towards a separation of state and religion at home, and, at the same time, dismiss the possibility that Syrians might want exactly that as well. It is precisely because most Syrians respect the country’s rich ethnic and religious diversity, that the secular government’s fight against sectarian terrorists is so popular. Perhaps that is why you cannot walk 100 meters through the streets of the world’s oldest longest inhabited city without witnessing photos of President Assad or objects of any kind painted in the colours of the Syrian flag. In the image that the Western media has been putting forward over the last seven years, on the other hand, the Syrian government is depicted as a brutal “regime” or “dictatorship” despised by the Syrian people.
The proxy war of NATO and its allies against the Syrian people can only persist if this myth is perpetuated successfully, and this is possible only with the help of the mainstream media. As I reported yesterday, they have tried to ignore the devastating ritual shelling and killing of innocent Syrians throughout the war and have done so the last few days as well. When an opportunity arose to discredit the Syrian government, however, they suddenly traded their silence for selective outrage. Unoriginally, the well-oiled propaganda machine once again turned to the long ago-debunked claim that the Syrian government likes to gas its own people with chemical weapons, conveniently always just at the moment whenever it is on the brink of a huge political or military victory.
Per the BBC:
Medical sources say dozens of people were killed in an attack on the rebel-held town of Douma on Saturday. […] One video, recorded by rescue workers known as the White Helmets, shows a number of men, women and children lying lifeless inside a house, many with foam at their mouths. Other unverified footage shows young children crying as they are treated in a makeshift medical unit. However, it has not been possible to verify independently what actually happened, or the actual number of dead. The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, which runs medical facilities in the Eastern Ghouta, told BBC News that 70 deaths had been confirmed. According to the US-based Syrian American Medical Society, at least 48 people died, showing ‘symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent’. More than 500 people were brought to medical centres with such symptoms, it said, quoting emergency services in Douma.
However horrifying this may seem, we have to remain skeptical, because the incident might just be used for a military escalation tantamount to, or worse than, the American air strikes on the Shayrat Airfield after the alleged 4 April sarin gas attack in Khan Shaykhun a year ago. It became clear very soon from the work of emeritus MIT professor Theodore Postol, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, as well as from discrepancies in the official story, that it was a false flag attack perpetrated by the militants to provoke international outrage against their enemy, the Syrian government. The so-called White Helmets, a Western-backed al-Qaeda-affiliate whose main task consists of producing pro-NATO interventionist propaganda, played a central planning in fabricating this attack as well.
Jaish al-Islam has its own history with chemical weapons usage. Its now-deceased leader, Zahran Alloush, openly advocated for cleansing Damascus from people of other faith, and in 2015, the group caged civilians to be used as human shields. In September 2013, Jaish al-Islam and al-Nusra Front carried out one of the most despicable sectarian atrocities, the Adra massacre, killing dozens of Alawite and Druze civilians. According to a Damascus resident, children were burnt alive in a local baker’s oven.
While emeritus MIT professor Theodore Postol has shown scientifically that the Syrian government could not have carried out the 2013 Eastern Ghouta chemical attack, evidence leads to both al-Nusra Front and Jaish al-Islam as the perpetrators. In Mid-March 2018, the Russian Centre for Syrian Reconciliation published a statement saying that Eastern Ghouta insurgents, according to an anonymous phone call, were preparing a possible provocation involving the use of chemical agents. A couple of days later, Lebanese journalist Sharmine Narwani found a chemical lab in liberated Eastern Ghouta where deadly agents could likely have been made. And, lo and behold, two weeks later the chemical weapons attack takes place, and at a time of imminent defeat, defends the position of Jaish al-Islam.
Bas Spliet is a 22-year-old student Arabic studies at the University of Ghent in Belgium, where he previously obtained his bachelor’s degree in History. His journalistic work can be found at https://scrutinisedminds.com/ and he can be reached at [email protected].