Eine perfide Erfindung

A perfidious invention: barrel bombs the Assad government is throwing out of helicopters onto residential urban areas of Syria. The steel barrels contain accelerant and e.g. nails, for large possibly napalm-like explosions that distribute sharp shrapnel. Opposition sources indicated these hardware-store bombs are being used for terrorism of civilians living in rebel-controlled areas; one was dropped near a school for example.

Meanwhile, the peaceful protesters who tried to oust the violent Assad family by nonviolent means and then understandably fled the country in droves suffered in an unusual blizzard last month, which dropped ~40 cm of snow on Jerusalem in early December 2013. German news showed footage of families living in tents on frozen dirt floors, with plastic tarp walls not even keeping out the wind, in Jordan, or a dozen people crowded into one unheated room with a weeping wet ceiling in Lebanon. Asking for several billion dollars in aid, especially from wealthy neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the United Nations estimated the number of Syrian refugees would increase to several million in the next year, while three-quarters of Syria’s population might experience food shortages. There’s talk too of a lost generation because, it was estimated in a U.N.H.C.R. report, ~3 million Syrian children aren’t attending school because of the war.

Update on 29 Dec 2013: Spiegel.de said a “rebel-friendly human rights organization” reported that Syria’s air force used the dreaded barrel bombs to blow up an open-air fruit-and-veg market in Aleppo’s old city on a Saturday morning.

Update on 19 Apr 2014: ZDF heute journal said the Assad troops dropped >300 barrel bombs from helicopters in March 2014; it’s unclear whether that was just over Aleppo or all battle zones in Syria.
For what it’s worth, a London-based Arabic-language newspaper said the Assads are hiring foreign mercenaries as pilots, possibly because some Syrian troops have refused to fly these helicopters.

(Eye nah   peah FEE dah   eah FINNED oong.)


“Devil’s stuff,” the chemical weapons Syria agreed to destroy with international partners, including the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. A schedule has been set for the most dangerous of them, mustard gas and sarin gas, with collection before 31 Dec 2013 and destruction before 30 Jun 2014.

Update on 16 Nov 2013: Protesters in Albania succeeded in getting their president to promise not to use Albanian facilities to destroy Syrian chemical weapons. Their concern was understandable. Everyone’s reluctance is understandable. Albania had been asked by the U.S.A. if they would take on the job because Albania had experience destroying its own chemical weapons. Germany still has some facilities that have been used to destroy old munitions and unexploded bombs that keep turning up from the world wars. Syria’s weapons might be destroyed by incineration at very high temperatures or by chemical “hydrolysis” cleavage, said ARD tagesschau.de correspondent Rolf-Dieter Krause. “Both are quite dicey methods whose control requires experience and very safe technical systems.”

Update on 30 Nov 2013: The U.S.A. offered to destroy 500 tons of the most dangerous of these military materials on board a ship and to pay for it. The O.P.C.W. announced that after that another 800 tons would be destroyed by specialist companies. The elimination is a little behind schedule because many countries that were asked to help destroy the chemical weapons regretfully declined to do so.

Update on 13 Dec 2013: All chemical weapon production sites in Syria are said to have been destroyed. Deadly chemicals from Syria’s arsenal will be transported on volunteered Danish and Norwegian ships to a huge U.S. Navy vessel that will destroy them via chemical cleavage and neutralization, in about two weeks, said Jan van Aken, former U.N. weapons inspector, environmentalist and now bioweapons and chemical weapons-specializing Bundestag member (Leftists party). “Helicopters, aircraft carriers and fighter jets will have to secure the Cape Rae” during the destruction process, said ZDF heute journal correspondent Roland Strumpf. The process will create >7 million liters of toxic waste water. The other residues left over from the substances will be stored in drums. The current cold snap in the Middle East, which just dumped forty cm of snow on Jerusalem, is a problem for the initial truck transport of the >1000 tons of poison gas; presumably the U.S. and other countries will be monitoring those transports via satellite imagery and other tracking.

Update on 10 Jan 2014: A company owned by Germany’s federal government in Munster will be participating in the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons by eliminating some of the degradation products produced by the breakdown of mustard gas. Several hundred tons of the diluted residues will remain after combustion on the Cape Ray, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons asked Germany for help with them in addition to the 5 million euros the country pledged to the project. The chancellor’s new defense minister told reporters Germany has the methods and technology to combust these residues down to nothing, with equipment still being used to dispose of unexploded bombs still being dug up from W.W.II.

Reporting on the methods and quantities involved in this project is starting to contradict itself, but the spirit of cooperation, multiplicity of partners and good intentions on all sides to “unsharpen” the conflict in Syria is wonderfully welcome.

Update on 23 Jun 2014: The Syrian government announced that all the chemical weapons scheduled to be destroyed have been destroyed.

(TOY fells TSOY g.)

Fluorwasserstoff, Ammoniumhydrogendifluorid, Natriumfluorid

Hydrogen fluoride, ammonium hydrogen difluoride, sodium fluoride.

What did your country’s companies export to the Assads’ Syria that could have been used to hurt civilians?

These are three of the chemicals German companies exported tons of to Syria between 2002 and 2006 that could have been used to make chemical weapons, at a time when the Assad regime was known to have a chemical weapons program.

The German government’s Ministry for the Economy [Bundeswirtschaftsministerium] drew up and published a list of such chemicals, including quantities, dates and prices, that could have been used to manufacture chemical weapons and for which the government issued export permits, in response to a question submitted by the Leftists party (Die Linken) and by Bundestag member and former U.N. weapons inspector Jan van Aken (Leftists) in particular. The government supplied this information one week before a national election.

Update on 30 Sep 2013: After the national election the government supplied more information. German companies were issued export permits for “dual-use” chemicals even until 2011, after the Assads were killing peaceful Syrian protestors. From 1998 to 2011, ~300 tons of such chemicals, which could be used for civilian or military purposes, were delivered from Germany to Syria. Klaus Barthel (S.P.D.) criticized the Bundeswirtschaftsministerium for, among other things, phased provision of the truth. The Bundeswirtschaftsministerium said they reviewed the investigation and remain convinced of the plausibility of the civilian uses cited, but the C.D.U. said plausibility is not enough when dealing with regimes like the Assads’. Reporter Arnd Henze said Germany has to be especially careful in these matters because the world knows that chemical weapons were produced in Libya and Iraq “with German support.”

On 01 Sep 2013 it was announced that Britain had issued licenses to export sarin gas precursors potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride to Syria in January 2012, ten months into the uprising against the Assad family. The export licenses were revoked in July 2012 after the European Union agreed to sanctions against the Assad regime. Prime Minister David Cameron (Tory)’s office initially responded by saying the U.K. has the the most rigorous export control regime, with a computer system called C.H.I.E.F., which is how they know that though the export permits were issued at that unfortunate time no chemicals were exported under the permits. Later it was indicated this was not so. Following up, Business Secretary Vince Cable (LibDem) subsequently reported that other licenses to export sarin precursor chemicals to Syria were issued by previous U.K. governments between 2004 and 2010 (the year Mr. Cameron’s Conservative-LibDem government came to power).

Update on 09 Jul 2014: U.K. foreign minister William Hague sent a written statement to the British parliament announcing that British companies had probably exported hundreds of tons of chemicals to Syria in the 1980’s that could have been used to make chemical weapons such as sarin and VX.

(FLEW or voss ah SHTOFF,   a MOAN ee oom hee dro GAIN dee FLEW oar EAT,   NOT ree oom FLEW oar EAT.)


“Watering can principle,” in which subventions are distributed evenly throughout a group without regard to individual needs or priorities, a principle some European arms exporters say they won’t follow if allowed to resume exporting weapons to Syrian rebels. They say they will only give guns to good guys. The UK and France don’t want to renew the EU’s embargo on Syrian arms shipments, which is about to expire.

Update on 27 May 2013: Because the member states could not reach a unanimous decision, the EU embargo on sending more weapons to Syrian rebels will expire. The UK indicated they were only proposing voting against renewal of the embargo because they want to increase pressure on the Assad family (which is currently fighting to the death, of all its members, unless they agree to a better solution at the upcoming peace talks in Switzerland). We shall see whether France and the UK now indeed export more weapons to that corner of the world.

(GEESE Cannes en prints EEP.)

Minister für Nationale Aussöhnung

Syria’s Minister of State for National Reconciliation Affairs responded positively on 12 Feb to the Syrian opposition-in-exile’s 10-Feb offer of dialog, agreeing to direct talks if they might result in elections in Syria.

(Min EASTER   fir   ow! ss LEN dish eh   ow! ss ZÖ noong.)


Small autonomous groups of rebels fighting the Assads’ military machine in Syria. According to ZDF heute journal reporting on 11 August 2012, these small units or brigades fight on local territory, defending their neighborhoods. Each katiba has a logistics officer, and they organize their own money, food, weapons and medicine. It is not entirely clear where their money is coming from, but the local neighborhood defense means that foreign fighters are few, ZDF says, and when foreign fighters have joined the rebellion against the Assads it tends to be in border regions.

The BBC posted this map yesterday showing who may have recently been holding which territory [thanks, BoingBoing.net]. Nearly all the territories marked on this map appear to be in border regions.

(Kah TEE bah.)


Nightmarish, oppressive, disturbing.

(Beh CLEM end.)


Concerned, affected, shocked, afflicted, struck aback by something.

(Beh TROFF en.)


“Lips avowal,” “lips confession.” Lip service. Only talking the walk.

(LIP pen bah KEN t niss.)


“Holding-off tactic,” to stall or delay someone, string them along. What the Assads are doing in the Syrian peace talks.

(HINN holt ah TOCK TICK.)


The quiet of the cemetery, the peace of the graveyard. What the al-Assads are trying to achieve in Homs.

(FREE d hoffs roo ah.)


“Ripe for storming.” To bombard a target until it is so “softened up” that you can attack with ground troops. 30 years ago, Bashar al-Assad’s father shot the Sunni town of Hama sturmreif, then marched in. 20,000 to 30,000 people were killed.

(SHTOORM rife.)


To make a cat’s arched back; to kowtow, to fawn. “First Lady of Syria Asma al-Assad’s personality appears to have changed after her marriage, perhaps due to all the Katzbuckeln around her.”

(COTS book eln.)

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