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Thursday, August 23, 2007 

Syrian journalists arrested in the Occupied Golan Heights

Two Syrian journalists have been arrested by Israeli Occupation Forces.

Ata Farahat and Yousef Shams - correspondents for Al Watan - have been detained on unknown charges. They are Syrians, working on Syrian territory.

A handful of their colleagues have been demonstrating outside the UN office, carrying pictures of the two men, and fifteen other Syrians who have languished in Israeli jails for more than twenty years.

It is Israel's latest attempt to make Syrians living under occupation quiet. A number of protests have taken place in the Israeli Occupied Syrian Territory, and some demonstrations by Israeli Jews have taken place in Jerusalem.

This is interesting:

War for Syria's Water
by T Schuh
(No verified email address) 25 Aug 2007
Real casus belli behind next Israel-Syria showdown
QUNEITRA, Syrian Golan Heights --- Trucks of every size were queued up for miles and some hadn't budged in days. At the end of the line, drivers resigned to a long, hot ordeal set up camp waiting for inspections.

At the border checkpoint on the Beirut-Damascus highway, each industrial vehicle must be searched in compliance with UN Resolution 1701 to insure it isn't smuggling missiles or weapons into Lebanon. Israel and the US repeatedly charge Syria with rearming Hezbollah, and if true it could provide a casus belli for the next Lebanon war.

I discussed the possibility of an attack with a retired Syrian Army General who had served as a Captain in the 1967 Six-Day War when the Israelis defeated the Syrians, and seized the Golan Heights. "I am afraid there will be more trouble here and in the middle east," he sighs.

And the fate of the Golan? "There is an Israeli military buildup now on the Golan Heights... and negotiating at the United Nations has never gotten the Arabs anything..."

In the Golan's graveyard city of Quneitra, a town destroyed by Israel during the conflict, an eery sound whistles through the burnt skeletons of a hospital, a Christian church and a mosque. The main street feels haunted, with shop facades blown off, baring the insides of what may once have been a pharmacy, a bakery or a beauty parlor. Home after home is punched flat to the ground, one with trellised front gate still creaking in the wind.

Across a dirt road and a barbed wire fence is a minefield, and beyond that the green farms of Israel. This strategic plateau rises 500 yards above the Sea of Galilee, abutting the Jordan River Valley near the West Bank and the Lebanese Sheba'a Farms.

But the real strategic asset is water. The Golan is the catchment basin for the Sea of Galilee which provides 30% of Israel's supply. In 2006, Israel began building its 20 Golan reservoir- the Quneitra Reservoir- just yards from the ruins of the town. "To be without water will be worse than any war," the Syrian General told me. "Millions could die. It is not land but water that will cause wars in the future."

On Israel's Mount Hermon, which overlooks Quneitra and as far as Damascus, the preparations for such a war are well under way. Despite the heat, IDF soldiers are drilling in full combat gear and restocking military bases with equipment for the first time in over a decade. In the southern Negev desert, IDF commandos recently staged mock raids on a Syrian village.

Israeli intelligence predicts war within the next 24 months and security officials claim the army is on its highest alert since the Yom Kippur War of 1973. According to Israeli military expert Aaron Klein, the country's top ministers held a "very sensitive" closed-door meeting on August 8 to finalize plans.

The Syrians too are getting ready, building so-called "pitas", a type of flat bunker that blends into the landscape, resembling unleavened bread. The Syrian government is purchasing advanced military hardware and anti-aircraft technology from Russia. Israel and the US also accuse China of supplying Syria with C-802 missiles- the same model used by Hezbollah to puncture an Israeli navy ship during last summer's war.

Learning from history, the Syrians are training their own guerrilla teams to wage Hezbollah-style ambushes, with the help of up to 15,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards stationed in Syria.

Ironically, Great Britain, France and American-allied Arab states led by the US all urged Israel to attack Syria as an extension of the 2006 war on Hezbollah. Israel wisely refused. While these instigator allies live safely oceans away, Israel could be left vulnerable to constant future retaliation from contiguous nations inflamed by US war-making.

At the Syrian Consulate in New York, I spoke with Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Dr. Bashar Ja'afari about US policy, and Bush's professed "Crusade for Democracy". Ja'afari warned that spillover from another war in the region would dangerously impact everyone. "We have to deal with this American elephant in the china shop... The midde east is a very fragile area."

Israelis themselves echo the view. On July 31, the Golan Peace With Syria movement headed by former Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Liel urged a resistant President Bush to allow peace negotiations with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. "For the past year we have heard voices that we have never heard before from Damascus... We believe such talks could remove the threat of missiles that are currently flowing from Iran into Syria by the thousands and may soon land on our heads," he told Yedioth Ahronoth.

But will Bush learn from history? At the foot of Mount Hermon overlooking both the Syrian and Israeli sides of the Golan Heights is an Ayyubid fortress, the Nimrod Castle, used to expel the Crusaders from Damascus in 1291. Crusaders who didn't leave were beheaded, and their bones flogged...
See also:

August 25, 2007
Ashlander to study women in Syria
By Julie French
Ashland Daily Tidings

Orville Hector | Daily Tidings
Emily Robbins, cousin of Rachel Corrie, recently graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and will travel to Syria this September with a Fulbright award to study the role of women in sacred spaces.In Syria, when a woman says she is going to a government rally, it could be code for going shopping with friends.

Emily Robbins, 23, learned such proper protocol for government-sponsored protests in Syria's socialist dictatorship and other cultural quirks during her two stays in Damascus, Syria's capital. Robbins, who grew up in Ashland and recently graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, will return to Syria this September with a Fulbright award to study the role of women in sacred spaces.

Robbins attended protests against the U.S. and the European Union as part of her earlier research. The government announced the rallies with text messages on state-controlled cell phones. All government employees got the day off and were expected to attend.

"After a little bit, people get bored," Robbins said, recalling conversations she overheard. "What are you doing?" one woman might ask.

"Going to the rally," the standard reply.

"Oh, so am I," the response would come.

"But you both know you're going shopping," Robbins said.

Robbins decided to study Arabic while she was studying in Argentina during the gap year she took between high school and college. Her cousin, Rachel Corrie, was killed that year in the Gaza Strip when an Israeli bulldozer ran her over while she was protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes.

"After that it seemed very important for me to learn Arabic," she said.

Since that time, a play written about Corrie's death has caused national and local controversy. The play was slated for performance this season at Oregon Stage Works, but was cancelled amid disputes surrounding the play's political content.

Studying Syria

Robbins studied in Damascus for a semester during her junior year and returned the next summer for research on her senior thesis about young women and their interaction with the Syrian government. She spent most of her time with other women, memorizing prayers with young girls in the mosque and studying and socializing with her host sisters.

"I found that actually really positive in my own development as a woman," Robbins said. "After having spent a lot of time in mainly women's groups, I came back to the U.S. to find I was much more confident in mixed groups."

Robbins said she also stopped buying from retailers that support Israel, such as the Gap and Starbucks, after seeing thousands of Lebanese refugees pour into Damascus during Israel's bombing campaigns.

"Seeing the damage that has been done by Israel, which is backed by the U.S., was a really eye-opening experience to me," she said.

Robbins came back with more appreciation for America in other areas, though, such as the clean air of Ashland and all the activities available to young people. Growing up in Ashland, Robbins was active in speech and debate, Little League, volleyball and water polo, programs not available to most Syrian youth.

When Robbins returns to Syria, she will continue researching women's growing role in public and sacred spaces, although she avoided political topics on her Fulbright proposal because the Syrian government had to approve the research.

Although the Middle East has a reputation for danger, Robbins' mother Bonnie Brodersen said she is not worried about her daughter's safety.

"We visited her in Syria last year," Brodersen said. "We would be out at two o'clock in the morning, and we felt very safe."

Robbins' academic career at Swathmore earned her high praise.

"She was just an outstanding student, very engaged, very accomplished, and very creative," said Prof. Steven Piker, Robbins' senior thesis advisor.

But Robbins said she doesn't feel any different from most 23-year-olds.

"I think growing up in Ashland and going to a liberal arts college, I've always been surrounded by people who are passionate about what they're doing," she said.

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com. To post a comment, go to www.dailytidings.com.

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  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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