Syria: Prisoner swap frees 2130, al Nusra speaks out

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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.