Archive for January, 2016


Monday, 25 January 2016

Saudi Arabia wastes nearly 50 billion riyals ($13.3 billion) of food per year, new data has revealed.

Alriyadh newspaper yesterday reported the Saudi Minister of Agriculture, Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli, saying Saudis waste a staggering 49.833 billion riyals of food per year, equivalent to 30 per cent of the local agricultural output and food imports.

Al-Fadhli explained that “Saudis waste nearly 250 kilograms of food per year, the highest in the world.”

He presented a report during a workshop in Riyadh which explained that there are 795 million hungry people around the world, noting that saving “only a quarter of the food wasted annually can provide food for 870 million people, and help eradicate hunger in the world.”

He stressed on the need to enact laws that limit food waste and appealed to the concerned authorities to punish those who deliberately waste food.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23532-official-data-saudi-wastes-133bn-of-food-each-year.

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December 15, 2015

GENEVA (AP) — U.N.-brokered peace talks between Yemen’s internationally recognized government and Shiite rebels opened Tuesday in Switzerland with expectations for a deal low as fighters on both sides failed to honor a weeklong cease-fire in some parts of the country.

The truce, scheduled to start at noon on Tuesday, was meant to give the warring factions a chance to find a solution to the conflict that has engulfed the Arab world’s poorest country. Security officials said rebel shelling and ground clashes continued in southwestern Taiz province and a Saudi-led coalition struck back with airstrikes several times throughout the day.

Yemen has been torn by fighting pitting the rebels, known as Houthis, and army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against forces of the internationally recognized government, which is backed by the Saudi-led coalition and supported by the United States, as well as southern separatists, religious extremists and other militants.

According to U.N. figures, the war in Yemen has killed at least 5,884 people since March, when the fighting escalated after the Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes targeting the rebels. In a statement, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, emphasized the urgency of the talks in Switzerland — the latest in a series of negotiations and cease-fires that have so far failed to end the fighting.

“The people of Yemen are daily, indeed hourly, anticipating the outcome of these discussions. This meeting is their only glimmer of hope and must not be extinguished,” the envoy said. “The tongues of fire, the scenes of destruction, the reverberation of bombs and the soaring prices have turned their daily lives into a series of ongoing tragedies.”

Previous efforts to end the violence have ended in failure, as the government insisted the Houthis comply with a U.N. resolution that requires them to hand over weapons and withdraw from territory they captured over the past year, including the capital, Sanaa. The Houthis have demanded the country’s political future be decided through negotiations.

In the past, the rebels have said they are willing to honor the U.N. resolution but did not specify to whom they would hand over weapons and territory. Yemen’s civil war has divided the armed forces, which have units loyal to ousted president Saleh, a Houthi ally, and others who answer to the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Negotiations were taking place at the Swiss Olympic House in the village of Macolin, a training center for elite athletes. On Tuesday, police armed with automatic weapons were on patrol outside the facility, which was cordoned off with metal barriers requiring journalists to keep about 50 yards (meters) away.

The talks, which could go on for days, were shrouded in secrecy. Ahmed Fawzi, a U.N. spokesman in Geneva, said the participants signed a “non-disclosure” agreement pledging not to speak to the media until the negotiations were over. However, he said in a text message to the AP late Tuesday that the cease-fire violations had not impacted the talks.

Just hours before Tuesday’s scheduled start of the cease-fire, the Saudi-led coalition and pro-government forces seized the Red Sea island of Zuqar from the rebels. Yemeni security officials, who have remained neutral in the conflict, said both sides had intensified the fighting to solidify their positions ahead of the truce. There was no immediate word on casualties and the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

The two sides had initially agreed to halt fire at midnight Monday but the coalition delayed the truce to midday Tuesday, without elaborating. During the cease-fire, both sides have agreed to allow the “unconditional movement of aid supplies, personnel and teams to all parts of the country,” the World Health Organization’s mission chief for Yemen, Dr. Ahmed Shadoul, told reporters in Geneva.

International aid groups have been sounding the alarm about roads blockaded by armed groups and rebels preventing the delivery of essential aid to the civilian population for months. Even if the talks succeed in brokering a peace deal, there are grave security challenges facing any unity government that might emerge in the country’s east and south, where the local affiliates of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have exploited the chaos to grab land and exercise influence.

The Islamic State group has claimed attacks that killed at least 174 people in the war-torn country this year, according to an AP count, including a bombing last week in the port city of Aden that killed its governor. Aden has also witnessed a recent uptick in assassinations of government officials and senior military officers bearing the hallmarks of al-Qaida.

The internationally recognized government seized the strategic port city from the rebels earlier this year and made it a base for its operation. Once exiled in neighboring Saudi Arabia along with his Cabinet, Hadi returned to Aden in recent weeks.

Yemen’s al-Qaida branch has long been seen by Washington as the most potent affiliate of the extremist network and has been linked to a number of attempted attacks on the U.S. Al-Qaida fighters have captured much of Yemen’s sprawling Hadramawt province and its capital, Mukalla, as well as the capital of southern Abyan province, Zinjibar and the town of Jaar. In the areas they control, al-Qaida has publicly killed and flogged residents accused of “witchcraft,” drinking alcohol and swearing, among other things, residents there told the AP.

Al-Haj reported from Sanaa, Yemen. Associated Press writers Nour Youssef in Cairo and Boris Heger in Macolin, Switzerland, contributed to this report.

Oct. 10, 2011

KHARTOUM, Sudan, Oct. 10 (UPI) — Sudan is making necessary preparations that would allow displaced refugees to return to their homes in Darfur, a government official said.

Amin Hassan Omar Abdullah, Sudan’s minster of state for culture, said during multilateral talks in Khartoum that his government had discussed arrangements for displaced refugees to return.

He told the official Sudan News Agency that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said a technical committee was set up to document a trilateral agreement between Chad, the UNHCR and Sudan for refugees.

The refugee issue from Darfur follows orders submitted by the breakaway Sudan Liberation Army’s Historical Leadership that prohibit the use of child soldiers within its regional ranks.

Usman Musa, the group’s leader, in August issued orders to his soldiers to end “all behavior” that leads to the abuse of children and banned “recruiting and using children in the ranks of the movement.”

Other armed movements in Darfur are moving toward similar action, said the U.N. mission there.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1593 in 2005 referred Sudan to the International Criminal Court after evidence emerged of serious rights violations in Darfur.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Khartoum isn’t party to the Rome Statute that created the international court.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2011/10/10/Sudan-prepares-for-returning-refugees/UPI-76261318263304/.

Global Arab Network – In January 2007 Russia and China vetoed a resolution against the Burmese military junta in Myanmar. In July 2008 both Russia and China rejected sanctions against the Robert Mugabe’s odious regime in Zimbabwe. I was not surprised that Russia and China have vetoed a European-backed UN Security Council Resolution that threatened sanctions against the Syrian regime if it did not immediately halt its military crackdown against civilians. The resolution would have been the first such legally binding move adopted by the Security Council since the Syrian Regime began using its military machine against protesters in mid-March in the town of Deraa.

The European sponsors of the resolution had tried to avoid a veto by watering down the language on sanctions three times, to the point where the word “sanctions” was deleted. India, South Africa, Brazil and Lebanon abstained. The four abstainers have some explaining to do.

According to the London Guardian “Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told the council after the vote that his country did not support the Assad regime or the violence but opposed the resolution because it was based on a philosophy of confrontation, contained an ultimatum of sanctions and was against a peaceful settlement.

China’s ambassador, Li Bandong, said his country was concerned about the violence and wanted reforms but opposed the resolution because sanctions, or the threat of sanctions, do not help the situation in Syria but rather complicates the situation”.

Of course such justifications are feeble lies. Russia and China feel confident that Bashar al-Assad will survive, cling to power and continue to be a good friend with both powers.

What message does this double action give to the people of Syria? What does it tell the Arab Street about Russia and China?

My reading of the Arab Press, Social Media and the Television broadcasts, I can say that the Syrian people are seething with anger at the Russian and Chinese blocking of the UN Security Council Resolution. The Arab Street is equally furious. The veto has been an abuse of power and is a Public Relation Disaster for Moscow and Beijing. William Hague the British Foreign Secretary described the decision as “deeply mistaken and regrettable”.

The people of the Middle East see it like this; both Russia and China are giving the green light to the butchers of Damascus to carry on killing pro-democracy demonstrators. Russia and China stand with the tyrant against the people. Let us not forget that neither of the two so-called super powers gives a fig about freedom, democracy or human rights.

By their actions Russia and China will have no place in a new democratic Middle East. Their action has debunked the myth that only the USA and Western Europe are propping up the dictators of the Middle East.

Russia and China have lost Libya because they supported Muammar Gaddafi until the last minute then switched their support to the National Transitional Council when they realized that their man was doomed.

Russia and China are playing a dangerous game by backing the tyrannical regime of Syria. It escaped the notice of these two world giants that Bashar al Assad’s regime is waging a brutal war against his own people. Since mid March over 3200 protesters have been killed by the Syrian security forces. Thousands have been detained, beaten and tortured to death. Hundreds of injured were snatched from their hospital beds to be murdered by the much feared security thugs also known as Shabbiha.

The Arab Street has been disillusioned. Russian and Chinese flags have been burnt in various Syrian towns.

The Libyan and Syrian people have now discovered who their real friends are. In the final analysis Russia and China are the real losers because of their short-sighted policies of defending the killers of Damascus.

You will be forgiven if you think that China and Russia have learnt their lesson from the Libyan experience. No, they have not. They are repeating the same catastrophic errors with Syria. The Syrian regime is going to fall sooner or later. It has lost the support of its people and most of the Arab Street. Russia and China have decided to stand against the Arab Spring Tsunami and stop the clock. I wonder whether Moscow and Beijing have competent geo-political specialists to advise them and warn them against being on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the future.

In an article in the Huffington Post (Shame on China and Russia for supporting the Butchers of Syria September 15th) I urged Hu Jinato the Chinese President and his Foreign Minister Yang Jechi to reconsider and think of the long term damage to China in the region if they vetoed a resolution calling for the protection of the Syrian people I also appealed to Dmitry Anatolyenvich Medvedev, the Russian President, his Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to think again and refrain from blocking a future UN Security Council Resolution calling for the protection of the Syrian people. All I got for my effort was a number of negative comments from Chinese and Russian readers.

The American President Barack Obama, the British Prime Minister David Cameron and the French President Nicolas Sarkozy have acted absolutely correctly on this particular issue and put principles and morality above business and trade. I recognize that neither China nor Russia are champions of democracy and human rights, but common sense and simple PR rules, demand that they take into account the Arab world’s public opinion and their own image in the eyes of Arabs and Muslims everywhere.

Russia and China have decided to shoot themselves in the foot instead.

Source: Global Arab Network.

Link: http://www.english.globalarabnetwork.com/2011100812152/Opinion/russia-and-china-green-light-to-kill-syrians.html.

Global Arab Network

Amina Murtada

Friday, 07 October 2011

Global Arab Network – As rail passenger numbers continue to multiply, the construction of Morocco’s planned high-speed rail network, set to enter service in 2015, is picking up speed. The project, which is being developed along with plans to upgrade and increase the capacity of the standard-gauge rail network, is attracting major institutional financing, Global Arab Network reports according to OBG.

The number of Moroccan rail passengers increased to 31m in 2010, up by 4.7% on 2009 figures. Passenger numbers have risen every year since 2004, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 9%. The distance passengers are traveling has been growing even faster, rising by 5% to 4.4bn km in 2010, with a CAGR of approximately 10% since 2004.

Rail freight has had a tougher ride, with both tonnes transported and freight tonne kilometers (FTK) having fallen during the global downturn in 2008 and 2009. However, both rebounded strongly in 2010, with tonnes transported growing by 44% on 2009 figures to 36m tonnes in 2010, while FTK jumped by 36% in the same period.

The upward trajectory looks poised to continue through 2011, with rail passenger numbers in the first half of the year growing by 13% on the same period in 2010 to 17m. An additional 3.6m people used the train network in July for a total average of 120,000 customers per day, compared with an average of around 84,000 in 2010.

In line with this growth in demand, the Moroccan government is investing heavily in both rolling stock and track. The largest investment project by far is the country’s planned high-speed rail line, which will run between the economic capital Casablanca and the major north-eastern port city of Tangier. The project will cost an estimated Dh20bn (€1.78bn) and is set to begin service in December 2015. It is expected to reduce the travel time between the two cities from five hours, 45 minutes to two hours, 10 minutes, with a maximum speed of 320 km per hour along a 200-km stretch of the line. The authorities predict that 6m passengers will travel on the high-speed network annually.

In late July Mohamed Smouni, the director of development for the National Office for Railways of Morocco (Office National des Chemins de Fer du Maroc, ONCF), told press that the project was proceeding on schedule, assuring that the ONCF and its partners were in the process of wrapping up preparatory works and were moving towards commencing work on the civil engineering phase of the project.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy in early September indicated that he would travel to Tangier at the end of month to attend the beginning of construction works on the line, a reflection of the fact that French companies are heavily involved in the project. French national railway company SNCF will be in charge of designing, building and operating the rolling stock and maintaining the track.

The French firm Alstom in December last year signed a €400m deal with the ONCF to provide 14 high-speed double-decker trains that are to be assembled in Morocco, each able to carry at least 533 passengers. In June Alstom also signed an agreement with French cable manufacturer Nexans to create a joint venture firm that will produce cables and other equipment to be used in this project, as well as in the Casablanca urban tram network project, in which Alstom is also involved.

France, along with a number of other European countries, is also channeling loans and grants to the Moroccan project, worth some Dh2bn (€177m). Financing has come from further abroad as well, and in July the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development agreed to provide a loan of Dh712m (€63m) towards the high-speed network.

Other segments of the country’s rail system are also attracting financing. In March the African Development Bank finalized an agreement to lend Morocco €300m towards a planned Dh5.1bn (€453m) project to increase the capacity of the Marrakech-Tangier line as a whole. The line accounted for 16m passengers in 2010, just over half of all Moroccan rail traffic. The capacity expansion project is part of a wider Dh12.8bn (€1.14bn) railway investment program to be carried out between 2010 and 2015. (OBG)

Source: Global Arab Network.

Link: http://www.english.globalarabnetwork.com/2011100712142/Economics/morocco-on-track-developing-high-speed-rail-network.html.

December 15, 2015

GENEVA (AP) — U.N.-brokered peace talks between Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the country’s Shiite rebels started on Tuesday in Switzerland as the guns went quiet across Yemen and air raids from a Saudi-coalition targeting the rebels were halted.

The week-long ceasefire, meant to give the warring factions a chance to find a solution to the conflict that has collapsed the Arab world’s poorest country, went into effect at noon on Tuesday. But only Yemeni government officials were able to confirm it, Shiite rebel leaders could not be immediately reached for comment on how the truce was holding.

Yemen has been torn by fighting pitting the rebels, known as Houthis, and army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against an array of forces, including the internationally recognized government, which is backed by the Saudi-led coalition and supported by the United States, and also southern separatists, religious extremists and other militants.

In a statement, U.N. special envoy for Yemen Ismail Cheikh Ahmed said the talks in Switzerland “should mark the end of military violence in Yemen.” According to the U.N., the war in Yemen has so far killed at least 5,878 people since March, when the fighting escalated after the Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes targeting the rebels.

Just hours before the ceasefire started, the coalition and pro-government forces seized the Red Sea island of Zuqar from the rebels. Yemeni security officials, who have remained neutral in the conflict, said both sides had intensified the fighting to solidify their positions ahead of the truce. There was no immediate word on casualties and the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

Past efforts to end the violence have ended in failure, as the government insisted the Houthis comply with a U.N. resolution that requires them to return seized weapons and territory they had captured over the past year, including the capital, Sanaa. In response, the Houthis demanded negotiations over the country’s political future.

The two sides had initially agreed to halt fire at midnight Monday but the coalition delayed the truce to midday Tuesday, without elaborating. In Geneva, U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said a total of 24 people were taking part in the “open-ended” talks. U.N. officials have declined to specify the location of the talks, but Swiss public radio on Monday said they were to take place in the village of Macolin, near the Swiss town of Biel.

Al-Haj reported from Sanaa, Yemen.

December 21, 2015

CAIRO (AP) — Ahmed Doury and his wife had fled their home in Sudan’s Darfur region for safety in Jordan. But after Jordanian security forces violently rounded up and deported them and other Sudanese asylum seekers, the 32-year-old says he’s now more determined than ever to go to Europe.

“I will take the sea … I will get out of here by any means necessary,” he said Sunday, adding that it was the only thing he could think about on the flight back to Sudan. Speaking by telephone from the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, he recounted the deportation to The Associated Press with a solemn voice.

Doury had gone to Jordan in 2014, fleeing death threats for his tribal and ethnic ties in the war-devastated Darfur region. He registered as a refugee with the United Nations and worked intermittent menial jobs in the Jordanian capital, Amman, to support himself and his wife.

Feeling discriminated against by authorities, the two joined a makeshift camp outside the U.N. headquarters where other Sudanese were living. On Wednesday, Jordanian security forces stormed the camp, tore it down and forced the asylum seekers onto vans headed to the airport.

The camp’s proximity to the U.N. headquarters had given the group a false sense of safety, he explained. “We have no trust in the U.N. anymore after what happened. No one did anything to help us,” Doury said, echoing a view widely held among Sudanese refugees in Jordan.

“Everyone was beaten … they stepped on the people who fell down,” he said. The troops marched in early in the morning, swearing and indiscriminately beating its inhabitants with rubber and electric batons, he said. They fired tear gas and rubber bullets and at one point shoved a pregnant woman to the ground. She fell, broke a leg and went into labor, he said.

Once dispersed, the Sudanese were driven to a holding bay near the country’s international airport in vans “so crammed, (they) were barely able to breathe.” Although all the asylum seekers were in metal or plastic handcuffs, Jordanian security continued to beat them at the holding area, and the trauma caused another pregnant woman to go into labor, he said.

On Friday, they were put onto planes taking them back to Sudan. Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed Momani denied the use of force against the refugees. U.N. spokeswoman Aoife McDonnell said they believe the majority of those deported were registered refugees. Exact numbers were not available but the U.N. is “concerned about their status and the fear and apprehension that will pervade the remaining community here,” she said.

The agency says majority of some 3,500 Sudanese in Jordan are from the troubled Darfur region where they risk being persecuted. The U.N. had warned Jordan that the deportations violate international laws, but the Jordanian government said Friday that those deported had come under the pretext of seeking medical treatment and that asylum protection did not apply to them.

Some 120 Sudanese managed to escape the dispersal and are now on the run in Jordan. Doury said most of the Sudanese sent back were interrogated for at least two hours upon arrival in Khartoum and allowed to leave, but some have been detained indefinitely.

Doury said his wife, who is two months pregnant, was beaten in the break-up of the camp and now has pelvic and abdominal pain. “I am worried for the baby,” he said, but added that they don’t have money to see a doctor.

Being deported from Jordan may have given him and other asylum seekers the push they needed to brave the seas in search for a better life in Europe. “This is indescribably bad situation,” he said. “We tried the legal way, so now a lot of people will be trying the illegal way.”

Associated Press writers Sam McNeil and Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

January 18, 2016

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — A court acquitted former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf Monday in a murder case involving the killing of a separatist leader, Akbar Bugti, who had died in a 2006 military operation in Baluchistan province, lawyers said.

An anti-terrorism court announced the verdict in the southwestern city of Quetta, Baluchistan’s provincial capital. The court accepted the defense’s argument that Musharraf had nothing to do with the killing, said his lawyer Akhtar Shah. He added that he had been pleading his client’s innocence ever since the case was registered in 2009.

Musharraf’s government in mid-2000s launched a crackdown on separatist insurgents in Baluchistan province and Bugti was killed in a raid in 2006. Separatists in the province want complete autonomy from Islamabad and have been fighting for a greater share of revenue from their region’s natural resources.

The case against Musharraf was brought by Bugti’s son, Jamil Bugti. Bugti’s lawyer Sohail Rajput said he will appeal the verdict in a higher court. He alleged favoritism extended to the former military dictator due to his powerful background.

The 70-year-old Musharraf took power in a 1999 coup and then stepped down in 2008. He later left the country, but returned to Pakistan in March 2013, hoping for a political comeback. Instead, he got embroiled in court cases, including one involving treason charges, which are connected to his decision in 2007 to declare a state of emergency and detain senior judges, including the chief justice.

Musharraf, who was not in court Monday, has been released on bail pending all cases against him. He lives under tight security in the southern port city of Karachi.

Colombo (AFP)

Jan 5, 2016

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called Tuesday for closer military cooperation with Sri Lanka on an official visit to the island.

Pakistan was a key supplier of arms and aircraft for Sri Lanka’s military in their battle against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels during the civil war that ended in May 2009.

In talks with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sharif also expressed a desire for more naval exchanges.

“I conveyed our desire for more frequent port calls, participation in military exercises and defense seminars and training of military personnel,” Pakistan’s leader said in a statement following an official welcoming ceremony.

Sharif held talks with Wickremesinghe soon after his arrival on Monday and is due to fly back Wednesday after visiting the Buddhist pilgrim city of Kandy.

Sri Lanka sends its military officers for higher training to both Pakistan and its arch-rival India as well as to several other countries, including the United States and China.

The island’s closest neighbor India withheld arms and ammunition during the height of Colombo’s war with Tamil rebels, who have close cultural and religious links with the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Sharif said he was also keen to expand trade with Sri Lanka and was eager to invest in its sugar and cement industries.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Pakistan_seeks_closer_military_ties_with_Sri_Lanka_999.html.

Beirut (AFP)

Oct 8, 2011

When the Syrian army raided his village in the central province of Homs and began shooting at unarmed civilians, Amin knew it was time to join the growing ranks of soldiers defecting to the opposition.

“I was off duty that day in June and I couldn’t bear what I saw,” the 25-year-old lieutenant told AFP, asking that his real name not be used.

“I decided then to send my parents and siblings to a safe area and I slipped across the border into Lebanon.”

Several soldiers who have defected in recent months and fled to Lebanon gave similar harrowing tales, describing a “scorched earth” campaign by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its much feared “shabiha,” or pro-government thugs, to crush the seven-month popular revolt.

The soldiers showed AFP their army ID cards as proof of their identity.

Amin said that on one occasion, soldiers burst into the house of a suspected activist in his village and shot the man’s wife and daughter in the legs to force them to reveal his whereabouts.

“When the army carries out such operations, the shabiha are then given a free hand to loot and destroy,” he said.

According to reports that cannot be confirmed — as the Syrian government has restricted access to foreign journalists — more and more soldiers are defecting, with some forming an underground group called the Free Syrian Army.

Apart from Lebanon, Turkey has also become a refuge for defectors.

Experts and diplomats say that while the phenomenon is not widespread, it indicates growing frustration over the regime’s fierce crackdown against a mostly peaceful uprising that has left nearly 3,000 people dead.

The cities of Homs and nearby Rastan have become hubs for defectors who have joined the opposition.

“I defected before being faced with the dilemma of having to kill someone or being killed myself for not obeying orders,” said Rami, who was with army intelligence and fled to Lebanon in June.

He described an army in which many soldiers are disillusioned with the regime and hesitate to shoot at demonstrators, but fear reprisals from their commanders.

The army top brass usually hail from the ruling Alawite community, while the rank and file are mostly from the majority Sunni Muslim community.

“Soldiers are kept under close watch by their superiors and once they come under suspicion they become the target themselves,” said Rami, who, like others interviewed for this article, did not use his real name.

“When that happens, it’s time to quickly pack the family and get out.”

He said soldiers whose loyalty is questioned are placed on the front lines when the army raids a town.

“If you fail to shoot, then they kill you and tell your family that it was the work of an armed terrorist gang,” said Rami, in his 40s.

Yussef, a frail-looking 20-year-old who fled to Lebanon in August, said his unit in Homs province would often be ordered to shoot at people even not taking part in a demonstration, just to sow terror.

“I saw with my own eyes an unarmed older farmer in a village in Homs province go by on a bicycle and we were ordered to shoot him in the back,” he said emotionally. “He was left there to bleed all day.

“I have no idea why he was killed. He didn’t represent a threat.”

Yussef said members of his unit, known for not using up their ammunition, were sent on a mission once and told to fire all their bullets or else.

He also said security services often shoot at army units to uphold the regime’s “tale” that armed terrorist groups are behind the uprising.

Maher, an activist who is among some 5,000 Syrians who have sought refuge in Lebanon, said the opposition in Homs has organised to assist defecting soldiers and offer them safe houses.

“If the international community really wants to protect the Syrian people without getting involved militarily, then it needs to supply these soldiers with ammunition,” he said.

“And this needs to be done quickly before the regime carries out new massacres.”

Amin, Rami and Yussef said they believe that as the Assad regime intensifies its brutal campaign, more and more soldiers will defect.

But they also fear being tracked down in Lebanon by Assad’s men or by his supporters in Lebanon, where the government is dominated by the powerful militant group Hezbollah and its allies.

“I got out because I need to live with a clear conscience,” said Amin. “I joined the army to protect my people and my land, to free the Golan, not Homs and Daraa.”

Source: Terra Daily.

Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Syrian_army_defectors_tell_of_regime_ruthlessness_999.html.