[email protected] [email protected], Just [email protected] [email protected] them (sorry keywords have been regulated by nazi's) - The ‘visual blitz’ from East-Ghouta needs to be critically evaluated rather than just bought at face value, as similar campaigns were during ‘Save Aleppo’ in 2016 were used as a pretext to call foreign military intervention.
For the last few days, social media platforms and many media houses are filled with hundreds of images and videos from war-torn Syria’s East Ghouta. Visuals of children under rubble, children bleeding, women and children running out of ‘air-strike’ destroyed houses- these are some of the images that are flying around. Many are re-posting and sharing these narratives and calling upon the international community to act.
Many of the photos and videos being circulated of the attack on children and civilians in East Ghouta are in reality visuals from Israel’s bombing in Gaza, US-led anti-ISIS operation in Mosul or Saudi led bombing in Yemen. One such viral image is of a father-child duo running away from rubbles, which has been posted as a visual from East Ghouta. This particular image is actually from the 2017 battle of Mosul.
Both, the Russia-backed Syrian government and the US and Saudi backed opposition’s armed campaign has led to the death of a lot of civilians, and the causalities have been further exacerbated by US-led airstrikes.
At the outset, it is clear that the civilians are the ones who are facing the brunt of any war. An attack on civilians has no place in warfare and are also a violation of laws of war. For the attack on civilians to end, the wars need to stop. And for the war to end, the imperialist western interventions around the world have to stop.
In terms of media narratives on Syria, the line between truth and lies is quite thin. In the complex war in Syria, every side has their own propaganda machinery- but the most powerful among them is the one that is eyeing on regime change in Syria. Riding on the generated political opinion via ‘visual blitz’, US, Britain, and Saudi Arabia, among others are calling for “decisive actions to stop the killings”- a coated wording for another intervention.
The ‘visual blitz’ from East-Ghouta need to be critically evaluated rather than bought at face value, as similar campaigns were seen during ‘Save Aleppo’ in 2016 to call for foreign military intervention.
Though a United Nations (UN) brokered 30 day ceasefire has been imposed in Syria, many questions about the authenticity of the visuals from East Ghouta remain unanswered, and so does the ones about White Helmets- the ‘Syrian Civil Defence’. These are important to understand the complexity of the situation in the country.
In the words of Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch in 2015, “ending Syria’s downward spiral requires international backers of armed groups as well as the government to make protecting civilians a top priority.”
East Ghouta a suburb near Damascus, which is currently under the control of various warring, armed opposition groups. The region had been the hub on increasing mortar and missile attacks against the Damascus city, leading to heavy civilian causalities. Amid a population of around more than a lakh, thousands of heavily armed militants belonging to various Islamist groups are fighting the Syrian government.
There had been three major armed groups in East Ghouta trying to consolidate their power after the death of Zahran Alloush, a Salafist, considered being a hallmark case of a sectarian and power-hungry warlord who wanted establish “Islamic paradise’ in East Ghouta. He became prominent in 2013, as the money started pouring into the Eastern Ghouta from Salafi preachers in Kuwait and from Saudi Arabia, bringing millions of dollars for the Syrian opposition. He was killed in a Syrian airstrike in 2015, throwing a power struggle in the area.
He was the leader of Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), backed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and fought against the Syrian government. The other groups that have considerable presence in the suburb are Al-Qaeda in Syria (aka Nusra Front) and its allied group Faylaq al-Rahma.
The East Ghouta under Jaish al-Islam and other had been organising purge of civilians from Alawite belief and in a particular instance, they were taken in cages to be used as a human shield against Syrian airstrikes. The armed group said that they had placed around 1,000 cages in areas targeted by the regime airstrikes.
In 2015, a video surfaced showing militants from East Ghouta attempting to shoot down a civilian airliner that was landing at Damascus airport.
In August 2013, series of nerve gas incidents in East Ghouta prompted UN-led Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) investigation. It is not yet clear who is responsible for the attack. Syrian opposition and US blame Syria for the attack, and the Syrian government, Russia and Syria claimed that the incident was due to rupture in armed opposition’s chemical stockpiles.
The recent Syrian offensive in East Ghouta is take over the last militant-held area near Damascus, from where increasing mortar and missile attack had been launched. Just days after receiving a warning from Russia that the armed groups are staging a chemical attack incident, reports from East Ghouta started coming out of people suffering from the symptoms consistent with exposure to chlorine gas. Again, despite lack of any credible evidence the chemical attack pretext has been used by the west for intervention in the country.
White Helmets - the propaganda arm?
White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defence are the centre of the ‘visual blitz’, which is sending out hundreds of images and videos from East Ghouta. Hailed as a hero in the western world, the organisation’s name is an obscuration to their background and purpose- with many claiming it as a logistical and propaganda arm of Islamist opposition groups.
“A naive viewer might imagine that Assad was just bombing civilians for the hell of it because the jihadi fighters are totally absent from the picture. And the pictures are literally provided by the jihadists themselves,” said Peter Ford, former UK ambassador to Syria and Bahrain, referring to the controversial White Helmets.
White Helmet was founded in 2013 by a former British army officer, James Le Mesurier, who had served as intelligence coordinator for Pristina City in Kosovo soon after the NATO intervention, which led to war crimes against thousands of civilians. Mesurier is currently a private contractor, with a company based in Dubai. He was earlier the Vice President for Special Projects at the Olive Group, a private mercenary organization that has since merged with Blackwater-Academi into forming the present Constellis Holdings. In 2014, Mesurier created his own company, May Day Rescue using funding from US and UK to expand the operations of White Helmets.
The White Helmets receives massive amount funding amounting to millions of dollars from the US and other countries that involved in the Syrian conflict and backs the opposition armed groups against the Syrian government. The organisation has received at least $23 million in funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a wing of the US State Department, $29 million (£19.7 million) from the UK Government and $4.5 million (€4 million) from the Dutch Government. Britain’s Boris Johnson announced a further 32 million funding for the organisation, with France supplying logistical equipment.
The organization is supported by a British public relations firm called the Syria Campaign (who are intron backed by London-based public relations firm called Purpose) with the help of an influential British-Syrian billionaire, Ayman Asfari, to market the White Helmets to the Western public.
The White Helmets operate exclusively within the areas held by armed opposition groups, working closely with al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other extremist groups.
This March, a leader of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham , of an al-Qaeda-led rebel coalition in Syria, hailed the White Helmets in a special video message as the “hidden soldiers of the revolution.”
In one of the shocking expose, the White Helmet members were seen participating in an Al Nusra execution of a civilian in Hreitan, Northern Aleppo in 2015.
The organisation later claimed it is investigating and that they helping for ‘proper burial’. Also, the Swedish NGO Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR) accused the members of White Helmets, of faking information about its “humanitarian work” in Syria using a ‘staged’ video of White Helmets of providing injecting to an infant.
Another organization, from where the global mainstream media sources its news about Syria is the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), SHOR is a London-based clearinghouse for information coming out of Syria mostly using the source from anti-regime activist and armed opposition groups.
2016 Save Aleppo Campaign by Syrian Opposition
Syrian armed groups ran a similar media campaign during 2016, focusing on the Aleppo military operation by the Syrian government. The then ‘Aleppo Media Centre’, funded primarily by the French government, and together with the "White Helmets" and armed groups created a visual blitz. AMC was spearheading the campaign demanding no fly zone and intervention of international forces to 'stop Syrian atrocities'.
The face of the campaign was Bana Al-Abed, a seven-year-old girl supposedly tweeting from the besieged city on a daily basis. The same organization that ran the AMC is now running the Ghouta Media Center (GMC) focusing on the East Ghouta. And new such Banas has been created in East Ghouta.
“We saw this very much with Aleppo. We saw the same kind of coverage from the Western media. Atrocities were being predicted and reported and it turned out that most of those, if not all of them, were actually false propaganda claims. And we are seeing the repeat of this situation again,” Charles Shoebridge, a security analyst and former UK Army officer, pointed out.
Amid these media campaigns dominating the western media narratives, many questions still remain unanswered. Why there was no visual blitz or outrage seen when Raqqa and Mosul were razed to the ground in US-led coalition bombing. And where are the armed opposition groups, who once used civilians in cage against bombing in the media narrative? Are the current campaign and visual blitz around East Ghouta all about trapping the audience into buying the argument of ‘humanitarian intervention’- as ‘they’ did in places like Somalia, Iraq and Libya?