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2130 political prisoners are being freed today by the Syrian government in exchange for the 48 Iranians detained by the Free Syrian Army. The Iranians claimed to be pilgrims but the FSA says they were there to fight for Assad. See my FSA says Iranian pilgrims really Republican Guard for a contemporary report. They were captured 4 August 2012. Since then there have been numerous findings of Iranian and Hezbullah fighters in Syria supporting the Assad regime.

The Assad regime admits to still holding some 32,472 "prisoners of conscience" after this release. Turkey and Qatar are credited with playing a key role in prodding the negotiations between the Free Syrian Army and the Assad regime.

The Washington Post has this report:

Syria frees 2,130 captives to rebels in exchange for 48 Iranian prisoners

By Babak Dehghanpisheh, Wednesday, January 9, 5:41 AM
BEIRUT — The Syrian government and the rebels fighting against it carried out a massive prisoner swap Wednesday, with the government releasing 2,130 Syrian and Turkish captives in exchange for the freeing of 48 Iranians who had been seized by rebel forces.

The swap appeared to be the largest yet in the nearly two-year-old conflict, which has left up to 60,000 dead. The deal was brokered by the governments of Qatar and Turkey. A Turkish humanitarian group that has helped in previous exchanges facilitated the prisoners’ release

Critics of beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the lopsided deal highlights how much he is influenced by Iran, one of the Syrian government’s last remaining allies. They noted that Assad did not insist on the release of any of the hundreds of Syrian soldiers who have been captured by the rebels, focusing instead on the Iranian prisoners. More...

In other news, Al Jazeera has a very interesting report on the al-Nursa Front, an Islamic fighting group that operates outside of the control of the Free Syrian Army and is widely considered to be one of the most effective groups fighting the Assad regime.

In the report, al Nursa says they see their role as helping the Syrian people defeat the Assad regime. They acknowledge that they are fighting for an Islamic state but insist they have no ties to Al Qeada as alleged by the Assad regime and the Obama administration.

They see their role as being front line fighters focused on liberating new territory. Once al-Nusra has liberated an area, they turn it over to the FSA and then move the front forward.

The Obama administration recently added al Nursa to its blacklist of "terrorist organizations" that already includes groups, such as Hamas, that many see as fighting for national liberation. The alleged Al Qaeda connection has played a prominent role among all those that oppose the Syrian revolution because, in the wake of 9/11, Al Qaeda has been framed as the ultimate bogeyman, and its strength and connections to other Islamic groups have been wildly exaggerated for its propaganda value. That association is meant to imply that the group so associated is a direct threat to US security in the way the perpetrators of 9/11 were when there is no indication that the al Nursa front is a threat to the US beyond helping to upend the Assad regime.

Many, working for the overthrow of the Assad regime, including the Free Syria Army and the Syrian National Coalition see the Obama designation of a group playing an important role in defeating the Assad regime as a terrorist organization as part of a continuing effort by the Obama administration to undermine the Syrian people's efforts to overthrow the Assad regime.

Back when "communism" was their favorite bogeyman, one might well have expected the US government to put the Soviet Union, the Chinese Communist Party and the Viet Minh on a similar sort of blacklist, and eventually they did. But it is easy to see why they didn't do that in the midst of World War II when all of these fighting organizations were receiving military aid from the US in their common fight against fascism.

When you are serious about winning the fight at hand, you don't play these political games that are likely to delay or deny victory.

While only those with a functioning crystal ball can know what role groups like al Nursa will play in Syria's future, those that see the main task today as overthrowing the Assad regime and stemming the bloodletting that has cost 60,000 lives already, see the Obama administration's designation as yet another strike at the revolution from imperialism.  

The Quilliam Foundation has also just published an extensive report on the Al Nusra Front, which can be found here:

Executive Summary
Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) is a Syrian jihadist group fighting against Bashar Al-Assad’s Ba’athist regime, with the aim of establishing an Islamist state in Syria. With approximately 5000 members JN is by no
means the largest group fighting in the conflict, although it has often been described as the most
effective. There are a number of similarities between JN and al-Qaeda In Iraq (AQI), which serves as
evidence of their shared history beginning in the early 2000s. The short-term strategy of JN is
primarily military focused, although preparations are being made for long-term sustainability of the
group, including the organisation of a humanitarian support group and the procurement of heavy
Al Jazeera also recently ran an interview with the Ahrar al Sham military commander, who complained that a shortage of weapons and ammunition that is stalling the fight against Assad. Increasing many Syrians feel they have been abandoned by a world that would prefer to see Assad stay in power.

Also today EAWorldView is carrying documentation of what looks like another mass killing in Idlib province by the Assad regime:

1435 GMT: A War Crime Documented - This video is graphic. It shows an elderly man who appears to be dead, lying on the ground and surrounded by soldiers. The description of the video says that this is Darayya.

A source, Zilal, provides a translation:

The cameraman says, "He wants freedom, a pig," [in reference to the dead man]. Another voice says back, "you brought him freedom." Afterwards, the cameraman tells the soldier to "put your boot on him." Then there are some bad words in general on sisters and so on... then one of them said that it's better if he doesn't film these scenes.

Rarely are the faces and facts so clear. If this man is really dead, the men on the video take credit for it, and their faces could, hypothetically, be identified in the future.
Click here for a list of my other Daily Kos dairies on Syria
5:32 PM PT:

Since the Assad regime is trying to deny the illegal use of Russian cluster bombs, here is a YouTube playlist of 129 videos that say otherwise.  

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (0+ / 0-)

    Remember history, Clay Claiborne, Director Vietnam: American Holocaust - narrated by Martin Sheen

    by Clay Claiborne on Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 10:50:20 AM PST

  •  Leave the Enemy of My Enemy thinking to Kissinger. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OIL GUY, Fire bad tree pretty

    Your commentary on Al Nusra sounds like 1982-era Dick Cheney talking about the Contras.  

    Art is the handmaid of human good.

    by joe from Lowell on Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 12:05:34 PM PST

  •  If Al Nusra wants an islamic state there is no (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OIL GUY, mickT, Fire bad tree pretty

    reason to support them. An islamic state means loss of freedom for half the population (the females). Not the freedom to say your political mind, but the very banal freedom of moving outside your house unsupervised.

    He who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

    by Sophie Amrain on Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 12:30:24 PM PST

    •  I agree there's no reason for anyone (0+ / 0-)

      outside Syria to support Jabhat al Nusra, but for those fighting on the frontline inside Syria there is the rather good reason that for a time they were the only people with the military skills to neutralise Asad's armour.
      Its a simple equation - supply of decent weapons to the mainstream FSA would have meant no JN threat.

      •  The US, UK and EU would have to break their own (0+ / 0-)

        arms embargo of Syria. If they did, it would make a mockery of these laws. They have to change the terms of these embargoes without looking like blatant hypocrites.

        Another problem is that there is no way to control the arms once they enter the country. If they fall into the hands of the terrorist designated Al-Nusra Front then it opens up a new can of legal worms. They would be placed in the very awkward position of providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.

        Pakistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are now in violation of these laws if they continue to support Al-Nusra with arms OR money. This may be part of the reason for arms supply into Syria drying up.

        He who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind.

        18 USC § 2339B - Providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations

        (a) Prohibited Activities.—

        (1) Unlawful conduct.— Whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life. To violate this paragraph, a person must have knowledge that the organization is a designated terrorist organization (as defined in subsection (g)(6)), that the organization has engaged or engages in terrorist activity (as defined in section 212(a)(3)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act), or that the organization has engaged or engages in terrorism (as defined in section 140(d)(2) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1988 and 1989).

        (2) Financial institutions.— Except as authorized by the Secretary, any financial institution that becomes aware that it has possession of, or control over, any funds in which a foreign terrorist organization, or its agent, has an interest, shall—

        (A) retain possession of, or maintain control over, such funds; and

        (B) report to the Secretary the existence of such funds in accordance with regulations issued by the Secretary.
        (2) Extraterritorial jurisdiction.— There is extraterritorial Federal jurisdiction over an offense under this section.

  •  I would strongly suggest (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mickT, Fire bad tree pretty

    that you stick to reporting and spare us the editorializing

    You write some interesting stuff, but the flakking for al Nusra is over the top. Your repeated accusations that President Obama is trying to keep Assad in power is utterly ridiculous.

    To quote Joe Friday; "the facts man, just the facts."

    Here's my take on it - the revolution will not be blogged, it has to be slogged. - Deoliver47

    by OIL GUY on Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 02:19:30 PM PST

  •  Report by Washington Post - Surviving in Aleppo (0+ / 0-)

    The "silent majority" finally being heard by MSM.

    I wonder where the hundreds of billions of dollars are going to come from to stabilize Syria in the future?

    Surviving in Aleppo
    Published: January 9, 2013
     As fighting in Syria’s largest city enters its sixth month, the economy has ground to a halt. There is no electricity, and the prices of basic goods such as bread and cooking oil have skyrocketed. Residents are selling off their possessions to survive.

    The rebels’ hope for a quick victory in Aleppo has given way to the reality that there is no end in sight to this war. Though the rebels recently seized the Sheikh Suleiman Air Base and the Infantry School on the outskirts of Aleppo, the regime still controls large swaths of the city itself and regularly shells rebel-held zones.
     Ahmad Mustafa makes jeans in a clothing factory. The 30-year-old father of 10 did not participate in the protests that preceded the armed conflict. “I just want to work,” he says.

    With no electricity to power his television for almost a month now, he does not follow current events. “I know nothing about the Coalition or politics,” Mustafa says, stroking the head of one his many daughters. “I just focus on surviving.”
     “We did not think the F.S.A. would fail as badly as it has,” said Musab Muhammad, a professor of electrical engineering at the Aleppo university. “Its mistakes are causing it to lose the support of the people.”

    While the F.S.A.’s performance is eroding its support, the National Coalition has none to lose. A shell with no grass-roots operation, it does not have the wherewithal to meet daily needs. If the coalition is to get any traction in the population, it will need to make its presence better known. Its members will have to spend more time dealing with flour distribution and less in Western capitals seeking aid that does not trickle down to Mustafa or Badri.
    Abdallah is 21, and the other protesters look to be under 25. Older men observer from afar. When a foreigner approaches an older man standing with a bag of tomatoes and cucumbers, he quickly moves away. “I don’t want any trouble,” he mumbles, evidently fearful that a conversation with a stranger might reach a regime that still controls parts of the city. By its absence from the opposition rallies, the silent majority signals that it is not yet prepared to throw its lot in with the rebels.

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