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Paul Larudee: Reports – Peace Delegation to Syria – May 2-10, 2013

Initial Report: Peace Delegation to Syria, May 2-10, 2013

April 30, 2013

Dear supporters of Palestine and Syria,

I will leave in a few hours to join the delegation. We will gather at the Greek Catholic Patriarchate in Lebanon just north of Beirut. During the first day and a half, we will meet with dignitaries and representatives in Lebanon, and with Syrian refugees. We will then go to Damascus for four days of meetings with members of a variety of communities in Syria, and to view as much as we are able. We then return to Lebanon for additional meetings and a final press conference, which I will unfortunately have to miss because I must return a day early.

Below is a list of participants, whose bios will soon be posted at the FPM website. Not listed there is Dennis Kucinich, who has said that he will come, but apparently has not confirmed. If any of you are in touch with him, please encourage him join us. I have also been trying to reach Ashley Judd, who has excellent humanitarian credentials, but I have been unsuccessful. If any of you has a means of contacting her, please do. I don't know her position on any of this, but if she advocates against U.S. support for either side, she needs to be a part of this team, and it may boost her credentials if she plans to run for office.

Peace Delegation to Syria:

Francesco CANDELARI (Italy) His current role is International Coordinator of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and he has held previous positions at the United Nations and as journalist covering the Arab Spring. He has been in close touch with people from Syria and interested in looking for possible nonviolent solutions to the conflict in Syria.

Marinella COREGGIA (Italy) Italian journalist and writer in the field of ecological justice; and an ecological farmer, Marinella Correggia, has been active for peace since 1991. Associated with the No War Network, she co-organised many demonstrations in Rome, petitions to the UN, sending information to some Un missions in Geneva, writing articles and conferences.

Susan Anne Day DIRGHAM (Australia) has organized and helped lead tour of Syria for students from La Trobe University, Melbourne. She organised accommodation, transport, interviewees in Damascus (through Ministry of Information) for Australian film-maker Bruce Petty.

Mel DUNCAN (USA) is Director of Advocacy and Outreach, Nonviolent Peaceforce. Mel Duncan is the founding Executive Director and current Advocacy and Outreach Director of Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP). Modeled on the Gandhian concept of Shanti Sena, Nonviolent Peaceforce is composed of trained citizens from around the world. Mr. Duncan has 40 years of experience organizing and advocating nonviolently for peace, justice, and the environment. He currently focuses on advancing the recognition, policy and funding support for nonviolent peacekeeping at the UN.

Tiffany EASTHOM (Canada) She is Country Director for South Sudan for Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) which is an international non-governmental organization (INGO) engaged in the creation of a large-scale unarmed peacekeeping force, composed of specially trained civilians. Prior to becoming NP's Country Director in South Sudan, Tiffany served as Country Director at NP's Sri Lanka project as well as Country Director for Peace Brigades International in Indonesia.

Denning ISLES (Australia) is a graduate of Welsey Institute, majoring in Audio Technology (2008). He currently works for Fr. David Smith with Fighting Fathers Ministries, in which he supports various youth and community organisations such as Dulwich Hill's Holy Trinity Youth Center, Binacrombi Camp Site and the Dulwich Hill Gym.

Tim KING (USA) is the Editior of Salem-News in the USA (based in Salem, Oregon). Tim is well traveled in the Middle East and known for his efforts to change American policy toward Palesitne and the region. Has written widely about the criminal US war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Franklin LAMB (USA) is an international lawyer based in Beirut-Washington, DC. A former Assistant Counsel of the House Judiciary Committee of the US Congress, Lamb has written widely on Middle East issues as part of his commitment to the cause of Palestine.

Paul LARUDEE (USA)is a former Ford foundation project supervisor, and Fulbright-Hays lecturer in Lebanon, and a U.S. government advisor to Saudi Arabia. He has been a faculty member at several universities in the San Francisco Bay Area,an organizer with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine and co-founder of the movement to break the Israeli siege of Gaza by sea, and was aboard the boats that succeeded in doing so in 2008 as well as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which was attacked by Israeli forces on May 31, 2010. He is a cofounder of the Global March to Jerusalem.

Alan LONERGAN (Ireland) has for many years been involved in campaigning for Palestine. He is a founding member of Sadaka the Ireland Palestine Alliance and currently serves on the board of Sadaka as their Church Liaisons Officer.

Amir M. MAASOUMI (Canada) is a sociologist, specialist of contemporary Islam, intercultural and interfaith relations, dialogue among cultures and civilizations. He is also a peace, social justice and human rights activist.

Mairead MAGUIRE (Northern Ireland) is Nobel Peace Laureate (l976) Hon. President, Co-Founder Peace People, Northern Ireland. Mairead (Corrigan) Maguire is a Nobel Peace Laureate (l976) Hon. President and Co-founder of the Peace People, Northern Ireland. Mairead was responsible for co-founding the Peace People. She has received many honours and awards, including an honorary doctorate from Yale University, the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Distinguished Peace Leadership Award and the Nobel Peace Prize Award (l976).

Michael MALOOF (USA) is a senior writer for WND (WND.com), or World Net Daily, specializing in international political and economic reporting and analysis. He also writes a weekly column for subscribers only for WND's G2Bulletin providing analysis in these areas. As part of his reporting, Maloof travels many times a year to Lebanon where he is expected to set up a bureau there for WND.

Alyssar MIDANI (France) founded and managed Arabesque (international intercultural association head quartered in Paris) She organised cultural activities (concerts, exhibitions, Syrian and Arab movie promotion, cultural days: Passeport pour la Syrie 2003), Support for Palestinian & Iraqi people. She is founding Member and member of the Board of trustees of NOSSTIA (Network of Syrian Scientists and innovators in Technology abroad) and was instrumental in ICTTA 04 Conference – Damascus Syria (organization & scientific committee) Open Source Software workshop – Damascus Syria)

Ann PATTERSON (Ireland) is a family therapist at the Quaker Centre in Belfast, she works to provide counseling support for families from the divided communities. During the peace process in Northern Ireland, she worked with imprisoned paramilitaries from both sides, preparing them to enter into peace talks. She is founder member of the Peace People, a pacifist movement that played a critical role in promoting the Good Friday Agreement and advancing the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Gianmarco PISA (Italy) is Secretary in IPRI – CPC NET (Civil Peace Corps) and President of "Operatori di Pace – Campania" [Peace-Workers – Campania], active in the National Program "Civilian Peace Intervention" and Regional Program "Scuole Aperte" about peace-education, Project Coord. in Peace Class: A.C.H.I.E.V.E. (Alternative Conflict Handling to Inhibit Emergencies and Violence Eradicate) and Program Coord. for Civilian Peace Service and Civilian Social Defence in Castelvolturno (S.C.P.C. Program). He is Founder of "IRA Mauritania Ð Italian Bureau" (IRA Mauritania Ð Bureau Italia) against slavery and for human-rights and Researcher in IRES (Training and Research) and RESET (Economy, Society and Territory) – Naples, for social inclusion and social rights.

Antonio Carlos da Silva ROSA (Brasil) is the editor of TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS since its inception in 2008, he is also the Secretary of the Board of Conveners of TRANSCEND International-A Network for Peace, Development and Environment, founded by Johan Galtung in 1993.

David B. SMITH (Australia)started Fighting Fathers Ministries in 2002 – a company that aims to offer an alternative culture to young people, based on values of courage, integrity and teamwork. This work has been the subject of numerous TV documentaries and one short film. Particularly well-known for our use of boxing-training as a means to help young men overcome anger-management issues. He was twice nominated for Australian of the Year on the basis of this work. He is known for his friendship with Mordechai Vanunu (the Israeli 'nuclear whistle-blower'), which started in Sydney in 1986, started my involvement in social justice work in the Middle East and has subsequently developed a strong profile in Australia as a Palestinian human rights activist.

Luke WATERS (Australia) is an award winning senior journalist, with experience filing reports for television, radio, print and on-line news services throughout Australia and overseas. Luke has anchored state and national news bulletins for the Ten Network as well as news and current affairs programs for the ABC. He has worked as a print, radio, on-line and television journalist, video journalist, presenter, producer and / or chief of staff on a range of programs. Luke's journalism has been recognized with selection as a finalist or winner of several media awards including the United Nations Media Peace Awards, The Australian Sports Commission Media Awards and the National Drug And Alcohol Awards for excellence in media reporting.

In solidarity,

Paul Larudee for the FPM Team

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Dispatch #1 from the Mussalaha Delegation to Syria: "When can we go back?"

by Paul Larudee Sunday, May 5th, 2013

"When can we go back?"

This plaintive question of refugees since time immemorial was asked again of Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire at the United Nations High Commission on Refugees intake center in Zahleh, Lebanon, overlooking the vast Beqaa valley, now dotted with refugee camps wherever we look. The Mussalaha Delegation is spending longer than expected in Lebanon because of visa delays to Syria. However, if we wanted to find the effects of the war, Lebanon has plenty to show. There are one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which itself has a population of only 4.3 million. Many are from Syrian minorities, drawn to Lebanon by its large Christian and Shiite communities.

Children gather in front of their makeshift home at a camp in the Beqaa valley

Most of the camps fail to meet the minimum standards for hygiene and housing. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) claims it cannot keep up with the numbers, but there is reason to think that it may be dragging its feet in order to pressure its donors for more funds and supplies. Similarly, the Lebanese government does not want to encourage a greater influx, and is therefore slow to accommodate arrivals. They have their reasons, but the refugees are pawns in these bureaucratic and power games, which only increase their suffering.

At the UNHCR registration center in Zahleh, overlooking the valley, the backlog is as much as four months. One man told me that he and his family, including a newborn, had been living for more than two months in the space between two cars with whatever canopy they could manage and a few chairs. Others were living twenty to a room in warehouse space with mattresses taking up most of the floor space at night. To a very great extent, refugees are on their own, negotiating their accommodation wherever they can with whatever resources they have.

A young Syrian mother with newborn speaks to an interpreter at the UNHCR intake center in Zahleh, Lebanon

Most of the men and some of the women do not want to be photographed, but the children don't mind. Several people from Qusayr, a town on the Lebanese border said that when the demonstrations first began two years ago, they were nonviolent and the local officials would even clear the roads for them. However, as they became more violent, the central government failed to act and the town was eventually overrun by armed local elements and foreign fighters from Chechnya, Azerbaijan and other places. It was only after the population fled that Syrian troops finally came to quell the rebellion, which has apparently not yet been fully accomplished.

I have no way to assess the accuracy of these stories, nor to generalize them, but at least my modest Arabic skills allow me to strike up conversations with whomever I want, and there are no government minders in Lebanon. Nevertheless, we all want to meet with groups that have a very different story to tell, and Mother Agns-Maryam has included such opportunities in our schedule, even Jabhat al-Nusrah, the al-Qaeda affiliate, with whom none of us expected to be able to speak.

Mother Agns-Mariam of the Cross with delegation members

I have to say that Mussalaha exceeds our expectations, and that this is largely due to the leadership of Mother Agns, as tough a nun as you could ever want to meet. She is fearless, tireless and relentless. Patience is not her forte, but compassion is, and without regard to the identity of the person in need. For this reason, Mussalaha has earned the respect Ð sometimes grudgingly Ð of a very wide range of communities in and outside Syria. Although Mussalaha has strong Christian orientation, its president is Dr. Hassan Yaacoub, a Shiite politician who belongs to the mostly Christian party of General Michel Aoun, who is allied with the Hezbollah party. You may be forgiven for finding that none of this agrees with whatever assumptions you may have held until now.

We have also had numerous meetings with religious leaders of the various faith communities in Lebanon, including the major Christian denominations, as well as the Shiite and Druze spiritual leadership. They are all in touch with the Syrian members of their faith, and had much to say. The message: first stop the fighting, then sit down together, push your agenda by peaceful means, and be ready to compromise. Regrettably, the grand mufti of the Sunni community in Lebanon had to reverse plans to meet with us. We have reason to believe that he might have conveyed the same message, but his community is divided on some of these issues, which makes it difficult for him to say anything at this time.

Mussalaha President Dr. Hassan Yaacoub and the delegation meet with Sheikh Hussain Qabalan, Vice Chairman of the Higher Shiite Council

It is regrettable that former Congressman Dennis Kucinich did not join us. However, the presence of Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire Ð another fearless and compassionate woman Ð provides inspirational strength and prominence to our group and brings us the exposure that we need. The rest of the group brings an excellent balance of skills and experience, and for such a diverse group we find ourselves working remarkably well together.

Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire and the Mussalaha delegation meet with clerical leaders in Lebanon

The next dispatch will be from Damascus, but I won't say when, and I will have another after I return to the U.S. Syria needs a miracle, but these folks believe in such things.

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Dispatch #2 from the Mussalaha delegation to Syria

by Paul Larudee
Friday, May 10th, 2013

As I begin to compose this, I hear what sounds like artillery and rocket fire in the distance, mixed with occasional small arms and possible explosions. Most of their targets must be far away, because I don't hear them hit. The explosions may or may not be something else.

I guess that after two years of fighting it is not surprising that the Syrians take it in stride, and life is surprisingly normal, if hard, for the slightly more than half of Syrians that have not been killed or displaced. It's a terrible statistic, equal to almost 10 million out of a total population of 23 million.

The delegation has been disrupted several times by changes of plan. Our visas were delayed, so our time was lengthened in Lebanon and shortened in Syria, with additional days added at the end. Then, on our first day in Syria, our appointment with Dr. Kinda Shammat, Minister of Social Affairs, was canceled by a cabinet meeting called by President Assad, leaving us with only an improvised outing to an affected neighborhood, which I missed because of a faulty telephone in my hotel room.

That evening was a large meeting of Mussalaha members from all over Syria talking about their war experiences and the intervention of Mussalaha to turn tragedy into reconciliation. One of them was the celebrated case of a nine-year-old Christian boy named Sari Saoud, killed by rebels in Homs. His body was taken by the rebels, but his mother, Georgina al-Jammal caught up with them, and her embrace of her dead son was captured on video by the rebels, who then falsified the account to make it appear that the boy had been killed by government forces.

Sari's mother with his body and two of the rebels after they allowed her to take the body.

I talked with Georgina, who supports the government, but blames it for leaving the area without protection. She told me that she recognized some of the rebels from the neighborhood, but that others were strangers. Part of the story can be found here, by Syrian Arab Television. It has a strong dose of propaganda but the important parts are factual and sincere. Another account is available here. It is cruder and more amateurish, and only party subtitled, but it includes some of the footage shot by the rebels and their clumsy attempt to disguise the killing. It is also quite graphic and captures the terrible moment of the Georgina's attempt to revive her dead son.

Shaikha Asya al-Mashi

I also met a woman by the name of Shaikha Asya al-Mashi, part of a prominent Muslim family in Raqqa. Her brother-in-law was offered an enormous sum of money to leave and turn over his properties to the rebels. When he refused, he was killed outside his home, where the family listened to him die. I offered to suppress her name and photo, but she defiantly insisted that I publish them.

I do not wish to dwell on these stories, but several things impressed me about them and the Mussalaha gathering:

  1. The witnesses and attendees represented a wide range of communities, both geographically and in terms of confession. Mussalaha is a diverse and accessible organization that reaches many Syrians.
  2. There are varying degrees of support for the regime itself, but there are clearly many Syrians that support the regime's attempt to restore order.
  3. Part of the evening's program consisted of an open mike where anyone who wanted could tell their story and ask for Mussalaha's intervention in their community.
  4. Much of the evening was lost on the delegates because it was all in Arabic and interpretation was inconsistent and hard to hear. My Arabic was of some help, but I missed a lot.
  5. We did not hear from the other side.

To elaborate on point number 5, there are Lebanese allies of the armed opposition and opposition fighters in Lebanon. I don't think it is impossible to meet them, but I'm not sure it is possible for Mussalaha to make such arrangements. Mussalaha has contacts with such parties for the purpose of prisoner exchanges and reconciliation. However, offering us the chance to confer with such parties could possibly put them in jeopardy with the regime. Mussalaha tries to develop trust with everyone, but I suspect that there is a line that they dare not cross for fear of losing their mandate to operate.

Having said that, my experience with the nonviolent opposition is that they, too, are intolerant of the point of view of Syrians that support the regime in any way, and do not want this rather large segment of Syrian society to have a voice in Syria's future, because that voice is necessarily the regime's. As long as some Syrians refuse to respect the views of other Syrians, I fear for Syria's future.

Early the next morning I began to feel the effects of stomach poisoning, so I spent the day in bed until we met briefly as a delegation. We then received a visit from Dr. Jihad Lahham, President of the Parliament. He made a point of the fact that he is from the opposition, but the "loyal" opposition, saying that he would like very much for Assad to find himself in the opposition for a few years. I left later that evening, still on an empty stomach.

Altogether, we had too many meetings with too many dignitaries, all of whom had essentially the same message. After one interview upon arrival, I stopped giving them for fear that I would appear to be part of a propaganda machine. Mairead and most of the others were careful to speak of our solidarity with the Syrian people, not the regime or any other party, but Syrian News kept filming us with dignitaries of the same general stripe.

Perhaps it was too much to expect anything different. For security reasons we were housed at the Dama Rose Hotel, the most secure hotel in Damascus, because there is no doubt that we were a potential rebel target and an opportunity to embarrass the government. However, the reason it is the most secure is that it is also the plushest and most expensive hotel, and therefore the hangout of all sorts of government VIPs. Even hosted by Mussalaha, which has built trust with a wide spectrum of elements in Syria, it is exceedingly difficult to get as full a picture as we wanted and needed.

Nevertheless, we learned a lot, and I had to leave before the end of the visit, because the schedule had migrated beyond my original departure date, which I could not change because of personal obligations. I am eager to know what happened after my departure, and may yet have some more hopeful news in a later report. I also helped to draft two declarations for the delegation and want to share them with you, but only after they have been approved by the group, with amendments. I may also have further news about initiatives that were developed as a result of the visit.

Thank you for continuing to support peace.

Paul Larudee for the FPM Team

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Syria Dispatch #3: prisoner release; attack on M. Agnes; Homs project

by Paul Larudee Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

In my previous dispatches I withheld some information from you. Over the last four months I have been in touch with Dr. Mohja Kahf, who is active in the Syrian Nonviolence Movement. Dr. Kahf has produced some excellent background material. It is not unbiased, in my opinion, but very informative nonetheless, and I have great respect for her work.

As early as January, she also began to compile a list of prisoners of conscience held by the Assad regime. By the end of April, the list had 72 names on it, and I took it with me with the intention to petition for their release. Dr. Kahf assured me that the list had been carefully vetted so that it contained only political prisoners that had engaged in nonviolent activity, sometimes including civil disobedience, sometimes not even that.


9 May, 2013 – Damascus – the delegation meets with the Minister of Justice and presents a petition for the release of 72 non-violent activists

I did not inform you previously because protocol dictates that the delegation must first agree to present the petition, and then consider whether public disclosure is in the interest of the prisoners and at what point in the negotiations for their release. I am now free to disclose this news because the Minister of Justice, Dr. Najm al-Ahmad, announced in his meeting with the Mussalaha delegation on Thursday, May 9, that the government had in principle approved the release of all the prisoners on the list, pending review of their cases.

The only reason I did not put this information in screaming headlines is that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we are awaiting word of the review. If the government wants to make a strong impression of its good will, it will release all 72 at one time before the end of the week, in which case it will be big news. If it decides not to release all of them, it will probably do so in stages, without a lot of fanfare. Let us hope.


Mother Agnes-Mariam of the Cross

In a second bit of news, a vehicle carrying our primary host and delegation organizer, Mother Agnes-Mariam of the Cross, was attacked by gunmen on the road just outside Damascus. Three bullets penetrated the vehicle but thankfully hit no one. It happened just outside the "secure" areas. I wish I had more information, but will forward it as available. Was it a random attack that could have happened to any vehicle in that area or is there any reason to think that Mother Agnes was a target? I don't know, but I would be inclined to think that the attackers did not know who passengers were. Additional information may shed light on this question.

Finally, delegation members Mel Duncan and Tiffany Easthom of Nonviolent Peaceforce confided with me before my return home that they had been having private meetings in order to arrange an unarmed peacekeeper accompaniment program in and near Homs. That program is now approaching implementation, with possible sponsorship from Mussalaha and participation of members of the delegation that extended their stay for that purpose. I have few details at this time, but I spoke to Mother Agnes earlier today, and she is thinking in terms of a semi-permanent international peace delegation.

The developments remind me a little of the beginnings of the International Solidarity Movement, when the third international delegation became a permanent volunteer presence starting in March, 2002. Exciting times. Exciting possibilities.

For additional news see the excellent report of delegation member Father Dave Smith on his website.

Paul Larudee for the FPM Team

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Syria Dispatch #4: Declarations of the delegation; prisoner release

by Paul Larudee
Friday, May 17th, 2013

After all the delays and rescheduling of the Syria visit, most of my fellow delegates have now returned to their home countries, and are compiling their thoughts, film and photos.

Further to the sniper firing at the car transporting Mother Agnes, it apparently happened twice, both coming and going, and as far as she knows, the attack was not directed specifically at her, but rather towards all vehicles, with a view toward making the route impassable. The car was damaged but Mother Agnes is fine.

The government has decided not to release all of the 72 prisoners whose names we presented to the Minister of Justice. According to them, some of the prisoners are charged with crimes and will have to stand trial. They have said that they will announce on 20 May which prisoners will be released and when.

Obviously, any release is a good thing, but this is not a bold move to show good faith. A bold move would be the dropping of spurious charges against all 72 prisoners and their immediate release. The decision could mean several things:

The regime feels that it is in a strong enough position that it does not need to make concessions.
The regime considers our delegation too unimportant for such a request and that a more prominent one might have been more successful.
The regime considers the detention and imprisonment of leaders of the nonviolent movement to be strategically more to their advantage than their release for the sake of national unity.
Of course, it could mean all of these and more. If on Monday we see that twenty or more of the prisoners are being released immediately, we will know that our request had some effect. If all that we see is a list with a lot of future release dates, we most probably had no effect and these dates had already been previously determined.

In the fifth and probably last dispatch in this series, I will report to you on the prisoners and other developments, and offer some closing observations. During the visit, I and Canadian delegate Amir Massoumi were tasked with composing two declarations. The first was initially drafted in Lebanon just before leaving for Syria. I drafted the second before leaving, and my colleague Amir completed it later, at the conclusion of the delegation.

Declaration of the Mussalaha Delegation to Syria on the Refugee Situation in Lebanon Ð Friday, May 5th, 2013

The summary conclusion of the Mussalaha delegtion is that Syrian refugees in Lebanon are forced to rely mainly on their own resources and Lebanese hospitality, both of which are strained to the limit and portend a humanitarian tragedy when they are exhausted. Lebanon hosts a disproportionate share of refugees in both absolute terms and relative to its population (4.3 million). Reliable numbers are unavailable, but the most commonly quoted refugee figure is one million persons.

Since the cause of this crisis is the widespread violence in Syria, we call for an immediate end of all aid Ð lethal and nonlethal Ð to all combatants, an immediate and mutual ceasefire, and immediate negotiations among all the parties without preconditions.

With respect to the existing refugees, the lack of aid and support is disgraceful. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) claims that normal processing is 31 days, while in fact refugees wait up to four months, often without even tents for shelter. UNHCR also charges a registration fee of $100.

UNHCR says that it is overwhelmed and has insufficient resources. It should have facilities ready and waiting for new arrivals, and money should be flowing to the refugees, not from them to UNHCR. In order to make this possible, donor nations should immediately live up to their obligations. However, UNHCR also needs to be fully transparent, including an audit on the use and allocation of resources.

A lot of refugee care is happening at the individual level, as generous Lebanese and even Palestinian refugees in their camps open their doors with compassion to accommodate their Syrian brothers and sisters. However, this support is often untenable over the long term and insufficient for the numbers of refugees, leading to makeshift camps that do not meet minimum international standards. These camps often receive no supervision by UNHCR or any other agency for eight months or more.

In addition, the refugees become increasingly vulnerable to exploitation, including prostitution and human trafficking. These conditions bring shame to the agencies and committees and their sponsors charged with refugee rights and support. All refugees have a right to the basics of life and safety. They must have immediate access to support services and adequate protection from abuse.

Lebanese citizens, Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon, Lebanese charitable institutions and other Lebanese civil society institutions deserve much credit for providing support that the international society has not done. However, a refugee influx of this magnitude is more than any society the size of Lebanon can accommodate without massive aid from the United Nations and its constituent members. It is a matter of urgency for them to make their actions match their words of sympathy and compassion.

Mussalaha team members at Baalbek preparing to cross into Syria

The Concluding Declaration of the Mussalaha Delegation to Syria Ð Friday, May 10th 2013

Syria exhibits a massive and terrible breakdown of human decency and respect. There are millions of innocent victims and many individual acts of heroism, but amongst the powerful we see an appalling degree of violence, hypocrisy and corruption. Tens of thousands have died, millions have been displaced, and nearly the entire population of 23 million lives in fear. The international community has stated and we confirm that the Syrian tragedy is possibly the worst since World War II.

States, political organisations and combatants are the primary causes of the misery, which they pursue for their own advantage, sewing terror and manipulating the suffering to reflect badly on their opponents while all too often refusing to compromise or even talk to each other.

These are the findings of our delegation, consisting of 16 human rights activists from seven countries. Over the course of nine days we visited refugee camps, affected communities, religious leaders, combatants, government representatives and many others Ð perpetrators and victims Ð in Syria and Lebanon.

We were already horrified by what we knew before coming, but what we have learned as a delegation brings shame to almost everyone involved.

We call on the international community to protect the territorial integrity of Syria and to respect the fundamental rights of Syria as a sovereign state. We deplore any intent to breach the integrity of SyriaÕs frontiers or to damage the unity and rich diversity of the Syrian people.

We recognise the legitimacy of the aspirations of the Syrian citizens for change, reforms, the eradication of State corruption and the implementation of a democratic life that respects and protects the fundamental rights of all citizens and minorities but we believe that effective and lasting reforms an only be achieved through non-violent means.

Our primary appeal is that all countries stop their interference in Syrian affairs Ð more specifically, that they halt the supply of arms and foreign combatants to both sides of the conflict. If foreign countries agree to eliminate the influx of arms and fighters, we are confident that Syrians can find their own solutions to their problems and achieve reconciliation.

We unequivocally oppose all aggression and foreign intervention against Syria under any justification. At the same time we appeal to all parties, including the government, to show restraint in response to the provocations that aim to escalate the violence and broaden the conflict.

We consider it beyond debate that the Syrian people have the right to determine their own government and their own future. Foreign interference is currently preventing the Syrian people from exercising their right to self-determination. We are concerned that such pernicious intervention is tearing apart the fabric of the country itself, with long-term consequences that can only be imagined.

The cautionary example of Iraq serves to remind us of the dire consequences of such international folly. This humanitarian crisis is already spilling into neighbouring countries. A collapse of Syrian society though will destabilise the entire region. We appeal to the international community to show that it can learn from history and make better choices in the case of Syria, which will spare further tragedy for the courageous Syrian people.

Secondly, we appeal to the international media to stop the flow of misinformation regarding the Syrian conflict. We believe that every Syrian, both in and outside the country, should be given the right to be heard and we do not see this reflected in the international coverage of this crisis.

Thirdly, while we entirely support the embargo on arms, we ask the international community to review and reconsider the crippling sanctions that are taking such a heavy toll on ordinary Syrian people.

Fourthly, we urge the international community to take seriously the vast number of refugees and persons who have been internally displaced by this conflict.

We look towards the cessation of all violence when these people might be allowed to return to their homes. In the meantime, however, humanitarian aid efforts must be expanded to meet the basic needs of such persons.

Our earlier report, the ÒDeclaration of the Mussalaha Delegation to Syria on the Refugee Situation in LebanonÓ, outlines the inadequacies of current refugee programmes. We appreciate that various government authorities have attempted to respond to the refugee crisis. We recognise though that the International Committee of the Red Cross and its affiliates, as well as other humanitarian agencies, must be allowed to set up centres inside Syria to care for internally displaced persons, so as to prevent these displaced persons from fleeing to foreign countries.

This work requires immediate and significant funding by the international community. While this will be a costly undertaking, we believe that the costs will in fact be only a fraction of the amount currently being spent on destroying Syria.

Finally, we appeal to all parties involved to put an end to all forms of violence and human rights violations Ð actions that target and terrorise innocent civilians and prisoners, indiscriminate terrorist attacks on the civilian population, the unjustified systematic targeting of vital state infrastructures, civilian installations, industrial zones, factories, communication facilities, agriculture reserves, health centres and hospitals, schools and universities, and religious and cultural landmarks Ð all of which results in the transformation of the residential areas into war zones, resulting in the flight of the civilian population.

We likewise oppose the use of religious decrees that encourage, trivialise and justify barbarity, rape and terrorism. We appeal to the entire religious community to call the faithful to nonviolence and peacemaking, and to reject all forms of violence and discrimination. We express our admiration and respect for the many Syrian religious leaders who have refused to endorse the use of violence and have dedicated their lives to working for a peaceful solution to this conflict, and we appeal specifically for the immediate release of the two abducted Christian bishops, both of whom were dedicated to the work of peace and reconciliations, as we appeal for the release of all Christian and Muslim clerics and other abducted Syrian citizens.

We conclude by commending the work of Mother Agnes Mariam and the Musalaha initiative. We have witnessed their work inside diverse communities across Syria. We offer our unequivocal and ongoing support to these brave people, and we commit ourselves to continue to work alongside them until Syria is truly at peace.

We thank the Patriarch, Gregorios III Laham, for his kind invitation and his ongoing support for Mussalaha. We likewise thank Mr. Jadallah Kaddour for his generosity that made our visit possible, and we express our gratitude to all those who have facilitated our path, most especially the Organization Committee of the delegationÕs visit and the Popular Council for the National Reconciliation.

Damascus, the 10/5/2013

Mairead Corrigan Maguire in the name of the International Delegation to Syria for Mussalaha and Peace.

Signatories from the Mussalaha Delegation to Syria:

Francesco CANDELARI (Italy) His current role is International Coordinator of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and he has held previous positions at the United Nations and as journalist covering the Arab Spring. He has been in close touch with people from Syria and interested in looking for possible nonviolent solutions to the conflict in Syria.

Marinella COREGGIA (Italy) Italian journalist and writer in the field of ecological justice; and an ecological farmer, Marinella Correggia, has been active for peace since 1991. Associated with the No War Network, she co-organised many demonstrations in Rome, petitions to the UN, sending information to some Un missions in Geneva, writing articles and conferences.

Mel DUNCAN (USA) is Director of Advocacy and Outreach, Nonviolent Peaceforce. Mel Duncan is the founding Executive Director and current Advocacy and Outreach Director of Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP). Modeled on the Gandhian concept of Shanti Sena, Nonviolent Peaceforce is composed of trained citizens from around the world. Mr. Duncan has 40 years of experience organizing and advocating nonviolently for peace, justice, and the environment. He currently focuses on advancing the recognition, policy and funding support for nonviolent peacekeeping at the UN.

Tiffany EASTHOM (Canada) She is Country Director for South Sudan for Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) which is an international non-governmental organization (INGO) engaged in the creation of a large-scale unarmed peacekeeping force, composed of specially trained civilians. Prior to becoming NPÕs Country Director in South Sudan, Tiffany served as Country Director at NPÕs Sri Lanka project as well as Country Director for Peace Brigades International in Indonesia.

Denning ISLES (Australia) is a graduate of Welsey Institute, majoring in Audio Technology (2008). He currently works for Fr. David Smith with Fighting Fathers Ministries, in which he supports various youth and community organisations such as Dulwich HillÕs Holy Trinity Youth Center, Binacrombi Camp Site and the Dulwich Hill Gym.

Alistair LAMB (USA)

Franklin LAMB (USA) is an international lawyer based in Beirut-Washington, DC. A former Assistant Counsel of the House Judiciary Committee of the US Congress, Lamb has written widely on Middle East issues as part of his commitment to the cause of Palestine.

Paul LARUDEE (USA) is a former Ford foundation project supervisor, and Fulbright-Hays lecturer in Lebanon, and a U.S. government advisor to Saudi Arabia. He has been a faculty member at several universities in the San Francisco Bay Area,an organizer with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine and co-founder of the movement to break the Israeli siege of Gaza by sea, and was aboard the boats that succeeded in doing so in 2008 as well as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which was attacked by Israeli forces on May 31, 2010. He is a cofounder of the Global March to Jerusalem.

Amir M. MAASOUMI (Canada) is a sociologist, specialist of contemporary Islam, intercultural and interfaith relations, dialogue among cultures and civilizations. He is also a peace, social justice and human rights activist.

Mairead MAGUIRE (Northern Ireland) is Nobel Peace Laureate (l976) Hon. President, Co-Founder Peace People, Northern Ireland. Mairead (Corrigan) Maguire is a Nobel Peace Laureate (l976) Hon. President and Co-founder of the Peace People, Northern Ireland. Mairead was responsible for co-founding the Peace People. She has received many honours and awards, including an honorary doctorate from Yale University, the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award, the Nuclear Age Peace FoundationÕs Distinguished Peace Leadership Award and the Nobel Peace Prize Award (l976).

Michael MALOOF (USA) is a senior writer for WND (WND.com), or World Net Daily, specializing in international political and economic reporting and analysis. He also writes a weekly column for subscribers only for WNDÕs G2Bulletin providing analysis in these areas. As part of his reporting, Maloof travels many times a year to Lebanon where he is expected to set up a bureau there for WND.

Ann PATTERSON (Ireland) is a family therapist at the Quaker Centre in Belfast, she works to provide counseling support for families from the divided communities. During the peace process in Northern Ireland, she worked with imprisoned paramilitaries from both sides, preparing them to enter into peace talks. She is founder member of the Peace People, a pacifist movement that played a critical role in promoting the Good Friday Agreement and advancing the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Antonio Carlos da Silva ROSA (Brasil) is the editor of TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS since its inception in 2008, he is also the Secretary of the Board of Conveners of TRANSCEND International-A Network for Peace, Development and Environment, founded by Johan Galtung in 1993.

Father Dave SMITH (Australia) started Fighting Fathers Ministries in 2002 Ð a company that aims to offer an alternative culture to young people, based on values of courage, integrity and teamwork. This work has been the subject of numerous TV documentaries and one short film. Particularly well-known for our use of boxing-training as a means to help young men overcome anger-management issues. He was twice nominated for Australian of the Year on the basis of this work. He is known for his friendship with Mordechai Vanunu (the Israeli Ônuclear whistle-blowerÕ), which started in Sydney in 1986, started my involvement in social justice work in the Middle East and has subsequently developed a strong profile in Australia as a Palestinian human rights activist.

Professor William Stanley (USA)

 

Source: Free Palestine Movement

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