Adonis Diaries

Archive for November 28th, 2015

Another cult-like status in Syria?  Who is Suheil Al-Hassan “The Tiger”?

Nov. 25, 2015

by Al-Souria Net (opposition website)

Al-Hassan’s cult-like status has helped him cement an image of a fearless and merciless commander in the public eye, with many touting the Syrian colonel as a likely successor to President Bashar Assad


In recent years, Syrian Colonel Suheil al-Hassan has become one of the most iconic and respected names amongst loyalists of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. News of Hassan’s (reportedly undefeated) military success on numerous fronts has been widely publicized in pro-regime media, with many questioning how the colonel has witnessed such victory while so many other regime commanders tasted defeat.

Known to many as “The Tiger”, Hassan was considered by many to be a necessity for the continued rule of Bashar Assad as the crisis worsened and the battlefronts expanded across Syria. Acting on advice from intelligence officials, Bashar and his brother, Maher, appointed a leader who they believed would act faithfully on their behalf, as well as serve as a symbol representative of the strength of the Assad regime.

Although Hassan is not the only Syrian officer with high-ranking influence, he is regarded as the most influential commander inside the country’s pro-regime areas. Alsouria Net learned from reliable sources that Hassan was given the authority to appoint the heads of the security committees in Hama and Homs, and to assign new directors for Hama’s military intelligence and air force intelligence departments.

Hassan also administers security in the city of Al-Salamiyah in the countryside of Hama, overseeing local air force intelligence in addition to the the region’s largest militia leaders, including Wareeth Alyounis and his brother Rajab, Musib Salamah, Mahmoud Afifi and Ghazwan Alsalmouni. Despite the regular differences between Hassan and the militia warlords, which could sometimes lead to armed conflict, their sectarian relationship played a major role in diffusing tensions and preserving loyalties.

‘The Tiger’s’ Battles

Colonel Hassan’s battle success can in many ways be attributed to his authority to command Syria’s air forces as he desires. He is known for his use of heavy aerial bombardment alongside his private artillery forces, consisting of a group of trucks from the Fourth Armored Division carrying around 130 large guns, in addition to a number of tanks, mortars, armored vehicles and fighters trained in Iran and Lebanon.

The late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad was well known for his supreme control over his notorious air forces and air force intelligence department, and Bashar Assad followed his father’s lead by implementing a similar method of airtight control over these same institutions.

As an Alawite, Hassan has been able to garner favorable influence among Syria’s top military officers, and is one of the only people authorized by President Assad to direct the air forces during battles, despite objections from air commanders and security heads. Although Colonel Fadl Salami, chief of Hama’s security committee, was known to have an amicable relationship with Hassan, Salami refused to obey a number of Hassan’s orders, and was consequently relieved of his position as the leader of Hama’s military airport of Hama.

Often described as employing a scorched earth policy, Hassan is known to move his troops only when he is assured the attack area is brutally destroyed, and often justifies his indiscriminate attacks by claiming all civilian areas are potential environments for terrorism to hide behind. According to information obtained by Al-Souria Net, as a show of his authority in front of his troops, Hassan rarely consults with his superiors before issuing orders, allowing him to make decisions during battles without the fear of accountability.

In addition, Iran has offered the commander unrestricted support for his ground units. Officers of The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps generously supplied his troops with advanced equipment and special weapons. In return, Hassan commanded his forces as if in a Holy War, appearing on video as a Shiite preacher heralding the coming of Mahdi before the prophesized Day of Judgment.

The Russian Support

The Russian air force has focused on supporting Hassan’s troops since the start of Moscow’s incursion into Syria. Moscow’s air cover supported his forces in the Battle of Jazal and recapturing of a number of Syria’s oil fields, as well as in the recent battle to reclaim Kuweiris Airport.

Moscow considers Hassan’s approval a priority as its air forces are heavily reliant on Syrian air bases to launch their missions. Russia’s eagerness to pander to Hassan recently impacted on its capacity to strike in the east of Hama, as its air forces were split between the battle at Kuweiris airport in addition to its strikes in Hama’s northern countryside, Homs and Idleb, which mainly targeted the Free Syrian Army. The complication led to the advancement of Islamic State (ISIS) troops towards Ethria, which endangered regime forces in the area. All distress calls sent by National Defense Forces (NDF) militias were neglected by the military air base at Hama, resulting in the loss of many villages and sites considered of great importance for the regime.

Hassan and His Opponents

For all his popularity and cult-like status among regime supporters, Hassan has faced considerable internal competition to his authority and control, especially in Hama province. The most notable case was his much publicized conflict with Hama’s military intelligence, following several attempts by the local intelligence director to arrange Hassan’s assassination. The most recent assassination attempt, in October 2014, resulted in the director of Branch 219 being removed from his position.

Hama’s military intelligence was not the only concern for Hassan, as a number of pro-regime warlords would become sworn mortal enemies due to deep conflicts of interest, despite their alliances with the commander. Hassan stood as an obstacle for warlord Musib Salamah, who was leading a smuggling and burglary ring in the eastern regions of Hama’s countryside. Although altercations erupted between fighters loyal to Salamah and Hassan, as well as other militia leaders, including parliamentarian Ahmed Aldarweesh, however, common interests usually overcame the problems and the direct confrontation was avoided.

The Striking Force

Along with fighters from the pro-regime National Defense Forces militias, Suheil Hassan was also successful in encouraging militants and security services to join him in battle, including military intelligence forces and other armed groups. Yet, his biggest problem emerged when the NDF of Al-Salamiyah separated from Hama’s National Defense Force center in Der Shmiel, often likened to an Assad death camp, where he had a held significant authority and influence.

Following the controversial split, which drew the attention of an irked President Assad, Hassan worked hard to encourage large number of other militias in Salamiyah to fight amongst his ranks.

But Hassan wasn’t satisfied with the results, leading him to form a Special Forces unit named the Striking Force, with support from Iran and Colonel Fadl Salami, the former head of Hama’s military air base. Assisted by top Syrian officers and Iran, Hassan managed to convince the Minister of Defense to exempt all members of his Striking Force from mandatory military service.

In addition to Hassan’s Stiking Force, all volunteers in the air force intelligence in Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Lattakia and Tartous would be considered a member of Hassan’s troops, with air force intelligence fighters styling themselves as the “Alnemer Forces” (Tiger Forces) in a show of loyalty to him.

Story of two survivors: From a boat carrying 500 refugees sunk at sea

Every day, I listen to harrowing stories of people fleeing for their lives, across dangerous borders and unfriendly seas. But there’s one story that keeps me awake at night, and it’s about Doaa.

A Syrian refugee, 19 years old, was living a grinding existence in Egypt working day wages. Her dad was constantly thinking of his thriving business back in Syria that had been blown to pieces by a bomb.

And the war that drove them there was still raging in its fourth year.

And the community that once welcomed them there had become weary of them. And one day, men on motorcycles tried to kidnap her.

Once an aspiring student thinking only of her future, now she was scared all the time. 

Patsy Z shared  via TEDxSKE

The power of stories… Much more powerful than the hundreds of numbers we hear of…|By Melissa Fleming

01:13 But she was also full of hope, because she was in love with a fellow Syrian refugee named Bassem.

Bassem was also struggling in Egypt, and he said to Doaa, “Let’s go to Europe; seek asylum, safety. I will work, you can study — the promise of a new life.” And he asked her father for her hand in marriage.

But they knew to get to Europe they had to risk their lives, traveling across the Mediterranean Sea, putting their hands in smugglers’, notorious for their cruelty. And Doaa was terrified of the water. She always had been. She never learned to swim.

02:01 It was August that year, and already 2,000 people had died trying to cross the Mediterranean, but Doaa knew of a friend who had made it all the way to Northern Europe, and she thought, “Maybe we can, too.” So she asked her parents if they could go, and after a painful discussion, they consented, and Bassem paid his entire life savings — 2,500 dollars each — to the smugglers.

02:29 It was a Saturday morning when the call came, and they were taken by bus to a beach, hundreds of people on the beach. They were taken then by small boats onto an old fishing boat, 500 of them crammed onto that boat, 300 below, 500 above. There were Syrians, Palestinians, Africans, Muslims and Christians, 100 children, including Sandra — little Sandra, six years old — and Masa, 18 months. There were families on that boat, crammed together shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet. Doaa was sitting with her legs crammed up to her chest, Bassem holding her hand.

03:15 Day two on the water, they were sick with worry and sick to their stomachs from the rough sea.

03:22 Day three, Doaa had a premonition. And she said to Bassem, “I fear we’re not going to make it. I fear the boat is going to sink.” And Bassem said to her, “Please be patient. We will make it to Sweden, we will get married and we will have a future.”

03:42 Day four, the passengers were getting agitated. They asked the captain, “When will we get there?” He told them to shut up, and he insulted them. He said, “In 16 hours we will reach the shores of Italy.” They were weak and weary.

Soon they saw a boat approach — a smaller boat, 10 men on board, who started shouting at them, hurling insults, throwing sticks, asking them to all disembark and get on this smaller, more unseaworthy boat. The parents were terrified for their children, and they collectively refused to disembark. So the boat sped away in anger, and a half an hour later, came back and started deliberately ramming a hole in the side of Doaa’s boat, just below where she and Bassem were sitting. And she heard how they yelled, “Let the fish eat your flesh!” And they started laughing as the boat capsized and sank.

04:56 The 300 people below deck were doomed. Doaa was holding on to the side of the boat as it sank, and watched in horror as a small child was cut to pieces by the propeller.

Bassem said to her, “Please let go, or you’ll be swept in and the propeller will kill you, too.” And remember — she can’t swim. But she let go and she started moving her arms and her legs, thinking, “This is swimming.”

And miraculously, Bassem found a life ring. It was one of those child’s rings that they use to play in swimming pools and on calm seas. And Doaa climbed onto the ring, her arms and her legs dangling by the side. Bassem was a good swimmer, so he held her hand and tread water.

Around them there were corpses. Around 100 people survived initially, and they started coming together in groups, praying for rescue. But when a day went by and no one came, some people gave up hope, and Doaa and Bassem watched as men in the distance took their life vests off and sank into the water.

 One man approached them with a small baby perched on his shoulder, 9 months old — Malek. He was holding onto a gas canister to stay afloat, and he said to them, I fear I am not going to survive. I’m too weak. I don’t have the courage anymore.”

And he handed little Malek over to Bassem and to Doaa, and they perched her onto the life ring. So now they were three, Doaa, Bassem and little Malek.

06:50 And let me take a pause in this story right here and ask the question: why do refugees like Doaa take these kinds of risks? Millions of refugees are living in exile, in limbo. They’re living in countries [fleeing] from a war that has been raging for four years. Even if they wanted to return, they can’t. Their homes, their businesses, their towns and their cities have been completely destroyed. This is a UNESCO World Heritage City, Homs, in Syria.

So people continue to flee into neighboring countries, and we build refugee camps for them in the desert. Hundreds of thousands of people live in camps like these, and thousands and thousands more, millions, live in towns and cities. And the communities, the neighboring countries that once welcomed them with open arms and hearts are overwhelmed. There are simply not enough schools, water systems, sanitation. Even rich European countries could never handle such an influx without massive investment.

The Syria war has driven almost four million people over the borders, but over seven million people are on the run inside the country. That means that over half the Syrian population has been forced to flee. Back to those neighboring countries hosting so many. They feel that the richer world has done too little to support them. And days have turned into months, months into years. A refugee’s stay is supposed to be temporary.

08:49 Back to Doaa and Bassem in the water. It was their second day, and Bassem was getting very weak. And now it was Doaa’s turn to say to Bassem, “My love, please hold on to hope, to our future. We will make it.” And he said to her, “I’m sorry, my love, that I put you in this situation. I have never loved anyone as much as I love you.” And he released himself into the water, and Doaa watched as the love of her life drowned before her eyes.

09:34 Later that day, a mother came up to Doaa with her small 18-month-old daughter, Masa. This was the little girl I showed you in the picture earlier, with the life vests. Her older sister Sandra had just drowned, and her mother knew she had to do everything in her power to save her daughter. And she said to Doaa, “Please take this child. Let her be part of you. I will not survive.” And then she went away and drowned.

10:10 So Doaa, the 19-year-old refugee who was terrified of the water, who couldn’t swim, found herself in charge of two little baby kids. And they were thirsty and they were hungry and they were agitated, and she tried her best to amuse them, to sing to them, to say words to them from the Quran. Around them, the bodies were bloating and turning black. The sun was blazing during the day. At night, there was a cold moon and fog. It was very frightening. On the fourth day in the water, this is how Doaa probably looked on the ring with her two children.

10:52 A woman came on the fourth day and approached her and asked her to take another child — a little boy, just four years old. When Doaa took the little boy and the mother drowned, she said to the sobbing child, “She just went away to find you water and food.” But his heart soon stopped, and Doaa had to release the little boy into the water.

11:22 Later that day, she looked up into the sky with hope, because she saw two planes crossing in the sky. And she waved her arms, hoping they would see her, but the planes were soon gone.

11:38 But that afternoon, as the sun was going down, she saw a boat, a merchant vessel. And she said, “Please, God, let them rescue me.” She waved her arms and she felt like she shouted for about two hours. And it had become dark, but finally the searchlights found her and they extended a rope, astonished to see a woman clutching onto two babies.

12:05 They pulled them onto the boat, they got oxygen and blankets, and a Greek helicopter came to pick them up and take them to the island of Crete.

 But Doaa looked down and asked, “What of Malek?” And they told her the little baby did not survive — she drew her last breath in the boat’s clinic. But Doaa was sure that as they had been pulled up onto the rescue boat, that little baby girl had been smiling.

12:38 Only 11 people survived that wreck, of the 500.

There was never an international investigation into what happened. There were some media reports about mass murder at sea, a terrible tragedy, but that was only for one day. And then the news cycle moved on.

13:03 Meanwhile, in a pediatric hospital on Crete, little Masa was on the edge of death. She was really dehydrated. Her kidneys were failing. Her glucose levels were dangerously low. The doctors did everything in their medical power to save them, and the Greek nurses never left her side, holding her, hugging her, singing her words. My colleagues also visited and said pretty words to her in Arabic. Amazingly, little Masa survived.

13:39 And soon the Greek press started reporting about the miracle baby, who had survived four days in the water without food or anything to drink, and offers to adopt her came from all over the country.

13:56 And meanwhile, Doaa was in another hospital on Crete, thin, dehydrated. An Egyptian family took her into their home as soon as she was released. And soon word went around about Doaa’s survival, and a phone number was published on Facebook. Messages started coming in.

14:21 “Doaa, do you know what happened to my brother? My sister? My parents? My friends? Do you know if they survived?”

14:34 One of those messages said, “I believe you saved my little niece, Masa.” And it had this photo. This was from Masa’s uncle, a Syrian refugee who had made it to Sweden with his family and also Masa’s older sister. Soon, we hope, Masa will be reunited with him in Sweden, and until then, she’s being cared for in a beautiful orphanage in Athens.

15:09 And Doaa? Well, word went around about her survival, too.

And the media wrote about this slight woman, and couldn’t imagine how she could survive all this time under such conditions in that sea, and still save another life.

The Academy of Athens, one of Greece’s most prestigious institutions, gave her an award of bravery, and she deserves all that praise, and she deserves a second chance. But she wants to still go to Sweden. She wants to reunite with her family there. She wants to bring her mother and her father and her younger siblings away from Egypt there as well, and I believe she will succeed.

She wants to become a lawyer or a politician or something that can help fight injustice. She is an extraordinary survivor.

But I have to ask: what if she didn’t have to take that risk? Why did she have to go through all that?

Why wasn’t there a legal way for her to study in Europe?

Why couldn’t Masa have taken an airplane to Sweden?

Why couldn’t Bassem have found work?

Why is there no massive resettlement program for Syrian refugees, the victims of the worst war of our times?

The world did this for the Vietnamese in the 1970s. Why not now?

Why is there so little investment in the neighboring countries hosting so many refugees?

And why, the root question, is so little being done to stop the wars, the persecution and the poverty that is driving so many people to the shores of Europe? Until these issues are resolved, people will continue to take to the seas and to seek safety and asylum.

17:27 And what happens next? Well, that is largely Europe’s choice. And I understand the public fears. People are worried about their security, their economies, the changes of culture.

But is that more important than saving human lives? Because there is something fundamental here that I think overrides the rest, and it is about our common humanity. No person fleeing war or persecution should have to die crossing a sea to reach safety.  

18:13 One thing is for sure, that no refugee would be on those dangerous boats if they could thrive where they are. And no migrant would take that dangerous journey if they had enough food for themselves and their children. And no one would put their life savings in the hands of those notorious smugglers if there was a legal way to migrate.

So on behalf of little Masa and on behalf of Doaa and of Bassem and of those 500 people who drowned with them, can we make sure that they did not die in vain?

Could we be inspired by what happened, and take a stand for a world in which every life matters?




November 2015

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