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Can a Heart Surgeon Resuscitate Syrian Revolution? Here is what Jawad Abu Hatab has to say on War-torn Context!

Five months ago, Jawad Abu Hatab was elected prime minister of the Syrian Interim Government

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Dr. Jawad Abu Hatab, prime minister of the Syrian Interim Government. VOA
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Some would describe it as mission impossible.

Trying to run a government is challenging enough, but when you are coming under round-the-clock airstrikes, seeing members of your Cabinet killed and having to shift your location frequently to escape death in a scorched-earth war zone where you command no fighters, the odds of success would seem to be heavily stacked against you.

That isn’t a view held by politically independent heart surgeon Jawad Abu Hatab. Five months ago, he was elected prime minister of the Syrian Interim Government, or SIG, by an overwhelming majority of members of a general assembly of the war-wracked country’s main exiled political opposition groups.

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Since his election, airstrikes have killed 10 members of Syria’s little-known “alternative government” — two of them ministers; but, the 54-year-old cardiologist from rural Damascus remains — outwardly anyway — undaunted. Hatab smiles when he explains how he and his wife, also a doctor, handled 26 births in a makeshift clinic one night as fighting raged around them.

A Syrian Army modified T-72 tank drives during Syrian forces' assault to capture the rebel-held village of Hawsh Nasri, which is located near the rebel-held town of Douma on the eastern outskirts of the capital Damascus, Nov. 22, 2016. VOA
A Syrian Army modified T-72 tank drives during Syrian forces’ assault to capture the rebel-held village of Hawsh Nasri, which is located near the rebel-held town of Douma on the eastern outskirts of the capital Damascus, Nov. 22, 2016. VOA

“Twelve of them were by Cesarean Section,” he told VOA in an interview in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep. He had just come from northern Syria — a perilous journey in itself — for a 24-hour visit to Turkey to meet with non-governmental organizations.

Legitimate alternative?

The interim government has struggled to not only be relevant, but to be accepted as a legitimate alternative to the regime of Syrian President Bashar-al Assad. The interim government was formed in 2013 by an opposition umbrella alliance now known as the Syrian National Coalition.

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Rebel commanders, whether aligned to the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) or running hardline Islamist brigades, have paid neither it nor the Syrian National Coalition much heed. Local councils in rebel-controlled areas have gone their own way and without any grassroots organizational structure inside Syria, and starved of funds, the interim government has been little more than a talking shop of political exiles or a stage for factional squabbles.

In a poll last year conducted in Syria by the NGO the Day After Association, only 6.5 percent of respondents said the interim government represented their interests. That was a lower percentage than what the armed factions or even the Assad government received at 14.5 percent and 16.1 percent respectively. The Western- and Gulf-backed Syrian National Coalition received the support of 16.8 percent. A quarter of respondents said no one represented them.

Helping those in need

Hatab, the interim government’s third prime minister, wants to change that and is determined to make his alternative government relevant to the more than five million Syrians living in rebel-controlled areas. His focus is on practical steps, including having all ministers based inside Syria and working on establishing education and health care services. He and his ministers are based in Aleppo and Idlib provinces but often move their locations because of fighting or airstrikes.

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Injured boys react at a field hospital after airstrikes on the rebel held areas of Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 18, 2016. VOA
Injured boys react at a field hospital after airstrikes on the rebel held areas of Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 18, 2016. VOA

He lists statistics, saying 28,000 children have been killed in the nearly-six-year-long conflict and 120,000 injured. Of the 1.5 million children in opposition-held areas, there are facilities left only to teach 700,000. He says 2,400 schools have been destroyed. Under Hatab’s plan, he needs 30,000 teachers, but only 8,000 are now teaching on salaries of $100 a month. He needs 5 million school books and the interim government is now busy recycling old textbooks and photocopying others for distribution.

Hatab and his ministers are busy negotiating with the European Union — he is asking Brussels for $88 million for various projects. He wants to rotate doctors and medical staff in and out of Syria and says the clinics left need more drugs and equipment.

Hatab says trying to exert influence over the armed factions at this stage as his predecessors attempted is a waste of time and will merely get the SIG bogged down in fruitless negotiations. “We will try to negotiate with all the militias after we have established services for the civilians,” he says, arguing then he will have more leverage, if he has popular support.

“For years the fighters have referred to the interim government as the ‘hotel government,’ saying that all the opposition politicians just live comfortably in hotels in Turkey. With me they can’t do that — I am inside Syria,” he says. The heart surgeon has been from the very start of the conflict. Hatab estimates he has carried out more than 5,000 operations in the past five years as he has moved around the country to where the need is most.

A damaged operation room is pictured after an airstrike on the rebel-held town of Atareb, in the countryside west of Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 15, 2016. VOA
A damaged operation room is pictured after an airstrike on the rebel-held town of Atareb, in the countryside west of Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 15, 2016. VOA

Hatab acknowledges not having command of the armed factions does pose challenges but says the militias are giving him the political space to get on with what he wants to do, including Ahrar al-Sham, a hardline Islamist militia that’s been in alliance with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the al-Qaida-linked group once known as Jabhat al-Nusra. The latter, he says, is unable to confront him currently because that will bring them into confrontation with other militias that are supportive of what the SIG under his leadership is trying to do — namely, benefit civilians in ways that may improve their lives even in the midst of a war.

“Others, too, working with more than 400 local councils in Syria’s opposition areas also report that militias have become easier to work with and that many armed factions are backing off insisting that they have control over civilian as well as military affairs.”

More resources needed

For Hatab’s approach to work — for him to be able to bring more political coherence to an uprising that’s been marked by disunity and factional and ideological disputes and was quickly dominated by militias and the emergence of toxic jihadist groups — he will need more resources from Western powers and a willingness to back a revolution that is in its darkest and possibly final days.

The question is, has he come too late?

“He has good ideas,” says a Western diplomat. “But he has no traction and we are probably now in the end game,” added the diplomat, who asked not to be identified in this article. Much will depend on President-elect Donald Trump. Shortly after his election earlier this month, Trump told The Wall Street Journalthat, once in office, he would consider cutting off funding for the Syrian rebels and that the priority in Syria should be to defeat the Islamic State terror group rather than oust Assad.

“I think Trump doesn’t know a lot about what is going on in Syria,” says Hatab. “Once he’s in office and understands what’s happening here, that Russian and Assad warplanes have bombed more than 200 hospitals, once he has accurate information, I hope he will change his mind.”

What does Hatab want from a Trump presidency? “At the very least, to stop the airstrikes on us and impose a no-fly zone,” he says. Whether he will get to make a face-to-face plea to Trump or top level administration officials remains unclear. Hatab hopes to be in the United States by November 29 for a private donor conference but so far, has received no reply to a visa application he filed more than two weeks ago. (VOA)

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After a Decade, India Remembers The Terrorist Attack On Mumbai

Businessman Dilip Mehta took counseling for months after he faced the prospect of falling victim to a terrorists bullet at Taj Mahal hotel.

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Mumbai Terror Attack
A man walks past a wall riddled with bullet holes opposite to the Nariman House, one of the targets of the November 26, 2008 attacks, after the renaming ceremony of Nariman House as Nariman Light House in Mumbai, India. VOA

A decade after 10 Islamic terrorists laid a three-day siege to India’s financial capital, Mumbai, and killed 166 people, businessman Dilip Mehta recalls the horror of the nine hours that he was holed up in a banquet hall in a luxury hotel, wondering when the gunmen would storm inside.

“I do feel traumatized when I hear of any kind of terrorist activities in the world,” said Mehta, who was eventually evacuated via a fire exit.

From the mark it left on survivors and the families of the victims to the deep blow it struck to ties between India and Pakistan, the scars of the coordinated attacks that began on November 26th in 2008 still run deep.

26/11 Mumbai Attack
A reporter talks on her phone as smoke is seen coming from Taj Hotel in Mumbai, November 27, 2008, where terrorists were holding hostages during an attack that began the previous day. VOA

Solemn memorial services were held in the city for the victims as India marked the 10th anniversary of the attacks, in which the heavily armed gunmen stormed multiple targets.Mumbai’s police paid homage to more than a dozen officers and commandos killed in the operation against the militants.Two luxury hotels held private services while a Jewish Center, which was also attacked, unveiled a new memorial to all those who died in the assault.

“Our solidarity with the bereaved families.A grateful nation bows to our brave police and security forces who valiantly fought the terrorists during the Mumbai attacks,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter.

The foreign ministry said it is a matter of “deep anguish” the victims of the attack who belonged to 15 countries “still await closure with Pakistan showing little sincerity in bringing perpetrators to justice.The planners of 26/11 still roam the streets of Pakistan with impunity.”

New Delhi says the attack was masterminded by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and frequently slammed Islamabad for not taking action against the man who founded the group, Hafiz Saeed. Saeed, who has been designated as a terrorist by the United Nations, has denied involvement and Pakistan says India has not produced enough evidence against him.

Mumbai Terror Attack
FILE – People hold a candlelight vigil for the victims of a terrorist attack, in Mumbai, India, Nov. 29, 2008. The attack took a total of 160 lives. VOA

Announcing a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to arrests or convictions of those involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack, the United States also said that it was an affront to the families of the victims that those who planned the attack had not been convicted.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on “all countries, particularly Pakistan to uphold their U.N. Security Council obligations to implement sanctions against the terrorists responsible for this atrocity, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliates.”

Nine of the 10 gunmen who mounted the attack were killed, one was captured.He has been convicted and hanged.

According to Harsh Pant at New Delhi’s Observer Research Foundation, the 2008 Mumbai attacks continue to cast a shadow on India-Pakistan relations.“When you talk of rapproachment with Pakistan, when you talk of talks with Pakistan, the stakeholders are very limited,” he said.”The question comes: why have we failed in bringing those who perpetrated these acts to book?”

Mumbai Terror Attack
Flames engulf the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, on November 27, 2008, VOA

While Mumbai had suffered terror attacks prior to those in 2008, the strikes were the most audacious.The three-day siege put the spotlight on India’s weak coastal security – the 10 terrorists sneaked into the city on a fishing vessel.

Since then, maritime security has been strengthened and coastal police stations have been set up.On the eve of the anniversary, police officials said the city is better prepared to counter terrorist threats.

Also Read: By 2030, Over 98 Mn Indians Will Have Diabetes, Lancet Study Revealed

“I can assure Mumbaikars that the city is safe and police are capable of protecting you from any eventuality,” Mumbai Police Commissioner Subodh Kumar Jaiswal said.

Businessman Dilip Mehta took counseling for months after he faced the prospect of falling victim to a terrorists bullet at Taj Mahal hotel, where for about 60 hours, the gunmen shot dead guests