Monday, June 02, 2014

2-Jun-14: A moment's thought about Syria

Aleppo, Syria's largest city. April 10, 2013 [Image Source]
Known as the crown of Jewish splendor in the Sefardic
world, Jews lived in Aleppo from ancient times. But no more.
Syria, with its immense troubles and unrelenting bloodbath, is in the news this morning. And the news, as usual, is disturbing to Syria's neighbours, notably to us here in Israel.

Lazar Berman in Times of Israel reports on an Israel strike in the early hours of this morning, Monday, by the Israel Air Force on unspecified Syrian targets triggered by something explosive and air-borne, originating in Syria, having struck Israeli territory on Mt. Hermon in northern Israel yesterday. There have been several similar instances of Syrian fire on Israel in recent weeks. Ynet's reported offered a few more facts:
Several mortars were fired at Israeli targets early this morning, with a mortar landing near an IDF outpost in Mt. Hermon region. The IDF responded with artillery fire aimed at the source of the mortar fire. No injuries or damage were registered on the Israeli side. An initial investigation revealed that at roughly 5 am a mortar landed only a few hundred meters from the outpost. Heavy fog was felt in the area, hindering visibility, and once it cleared, the IDF began searching the area to find the shell.
Israel's wariness of the Syrians has deep roots over decades. One of the reasons is the Assad family's proven willingness to avail themselves of chemical weapons even in the face of intense scrutiny from outside. So while Syria came perilously close last August to a United States military attack ["Obama says U.S. will take military action against Syria, pending Congress’s approval", Washington Post, August 31, 2013], there continue to be indications that chemical-based attacks on his own population - and perhaps on other populations as well - remain on Assad's mind and, it appears, table.

Elhanan Miller, also writing in Times of Israel today, quotes reports from anti-Assad Syrian sources that chemical weapons are continuing to be hidden away and stockpiled in remote regions of northwestern Syria where the Assad clan's own Alawite tribe have a strong presence. Eight weeks ago, vehicles loaded with chemical substances arrived by night in a town under the control of Assad's Mountain Brigade. Electric power was cut to the entire region as the vehicles and their load "were then buried underground within the brigade’s encampment. In addition, the sources reported, the regime has been transferring chemical substances and missiles carrying chemical warheads from a research center" to a location in the mountains where they were stored in caves and trenches...“We believe the regime has hidden a large amount of VX (nerve agent)”, one of the sources is quoted saying.

The US president said at the height of last summer's standoff with the chemical-minded Syrian regime that someone needed to step up and confront the Syrians and under certain circumstances that might be the United States. Here's how he was quoted by the BBC on September 10, 2013:
"US President Barack Obama has said he will put plans for a US military strike against Syria on hold if the country agrees to place its chemical weapons stockpile under international control. But he said he was sceptical the Syrian government would follow through... The US accuses Damascus of war crimes including use of chemical weapons, allegations denied by the regime... The US president on Monday gave a series of television interviews aimed at building support among a US Congress and public wary of new military action in the Middle East." [BBC]
As we know now, the US did not step up and move on Syria, and in fact no one has. With a death toll that has already exceeded 160,000 and shows no sign of abating, the carnage goes on.

Belgian media coverage of Mehdi Nemmouche,
charged with being the Brussels Jewish Museum shooter
[Image Source]
And one additional Syria-based story of death and destruction in today's news: AFP says today the murderer of four people at Brussels' Jewish Musuem last week is a French male of 29 who spent a year fighting for Islam in Syria. Mehdi Nemmouche was arrested on Friday in Marseilles. A 40-second 'confession' video was in his possession, along with a Kalashnikov rifle and a handgun, and a piece of white fabric on which were inscribed in Arabic the words Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a notorious terrorist organization, and the words “Allah is great”. The video includes some footage of the killer saying he brought a GoPro camera with him to capture the killings for posterity. But the technology let him down.  He returned from the killing fields of Syria in March 2014, ready - it appears - for more domestic action, and found it firing a high-powered automatic weapon at unarmed visitors to a cultural venue. A Jewish cultural venue. Nemmouche, we now know too late, was "known" to the French domestic intelligence agency DGSI. His family say he was taciturn but harmless: “Nice, intelligent, educated and has done a year at university,” Nemmouche's aunt told reporters... “He never went to the mosque or spoke of religion.”

One of the lawyers, Soulifa Badaoui, who represented him in his numerous legal entanglements is quoted in the New York Times today saying "he had been moved “from foster home to foster home” as a child, and became homeless at age 17. “He was not a young man anchored in crime... He was a young man with difficulties of a personal sort... but also “endearing,” “respectful” and “sharp-minded.

40,000 Jews continue to live in Belgium. Meanwhile
As many as 3,000 Europeans, including more than 700 French, are thought to have fought or to be fighting in Syria, most of them with the jihadist groups opposed to the government of Bashar al-Assad. France, with Europe’s largest Muslim population and a deep pool of anger and resentment among the country’s poor black and Arab youth, has already arrested dozens of men upon their return from Syria, charging some under the country’s antiterror laws and warning people thinking of traveling to Syria to join the conflict that their activities will be closely followed by the intelligence services. [New York Times today].
Aleppo in Syria was once home to one of the world's most ancient Jewish communities. In 1947, 10,000 Jews lived there, with about 30,000 Jews living in other parts of Syria. In 1967, Aleppo had only 1,500. Today there are none.

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