Warning

Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Was phosphine used in the Ghouta Chemical Massacre?

By Petri Krohn,
December 6, 2016

A barrel of Detia GAS-EX-B in an abandoned grain silo in Herford, Germany
I have always maintained that the alleged "sarin" attack of August 2013 never happened. Instead, hostages were gassed in cellars throughout eastern Ghouta. The chemical agent used has been a mystery. I have assumed it was mainly chlorine, but not all symptoms match.

Lizzie Phelan has now published photos and video from a school in eastern Aleppo that had been used as a rebel base. A storage room contained hundreds of liters of potassium permanganate in 10 or 20 liter plastic canisters. We have long suspected that Syrian rebels use potassium permanganate to generate chlorine gas for their gas chambers and for staging "regime gas attacks".



The chemical cache also contains barrels of aluminium phosphide under the brand name Detia GAS-EX-B. Aluminium phosphide produces phosphine upon contact with atmospheric water. The primary use of phosphine is as a fumigant in farms and grain silos. Was Detia GAS-EX-B also used to fumigate rebel prisoners?

Dead children in in the "Sun Morgue" in Kafr Batna in August 2013

Detia GAS-EX-B is delivered in bags that are packed in metal barrels like the ones seen in on the video.
A barrel of Detia GAS-EX-B similar to the one seen on the video.
A bag of Detia GAS-EX-B taken from the barrels. (Photo by Lizzie Phelan)
The immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) concentration for phosphine is stated as 69,5 mg/m3 where it is only 29 mg/m3 for chlorine. However, only 118,56 mg of precursor chemicals are needed to poison one cubic meter of air to the IDLH level with phosphine, whereas 159,09 mg of potassium permanganate and pure hydrochloric acid are needed for one cubic meter of chlorinated air. The chemicals however come as water solutions, so the total bulk is far greater.

A canister of  potassium permanganate poured on the stairs of the school in Hanano.
Phosphine gas is a cytotoxic compound that causes free radical mediated injury, inhibits vital cellular enzymes and is directly corrosive to tissues. Wikipedia covers the effects of phosphine under the topic of aluminium phosphide poisoning. Poisonings are seen as a problem in India and Saudi Arabia.

The school in Hanano in eastern Aleppo may have been a weapons factory. Chlorine and phosphine may have been produced for use in chemical weapons. It is also possible that the were used in situ for executions. As a fumigant aluminium phosphide is quite similar to Zyklon B. Both are solid compounds that release toxic gasses when exposed to water or humidity. It should not be a huge intellectual challenge for an aspiring terrorist to figure out that aluminium phosphide or Detia GAS-EX-B has uses in a gas chamber.

For some odd reason no one has ever before suggested phosphine as the chemical agent in the Ghouta massacre. Other organophosphorus compounds have been suggested without much proof. One vital clue may be the smell. Impure "technical grade" phosphine has a highly unpleasant odor like garlic or rotting fish or rotten eggs. Witnesses in Ghouta reported the smell as unpleasant, rotten like rotten eggs.

Did Ghouta rebels use Detia GAS-EX-B to gas their victims in cellars or other gas chambers?

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Responding to Draister's 'Break the Silence'

By Adam Larson aka Caustic Logic
October 22, 2016
last edits Nov. 24

*November note: Throughout, an astute reader noticed, I misspelled Eric Draitser as Eric Draister. Apologies for minor dyslexia/quick reading. I had thought that was it for a couple of years and never checked.Also, my prediction of an "inevitable" Clinton victory for president quickly proved incorrect.

An Appeal to the Left, From the Gulf Within it
Eric Draister, founder of StopImperialism.org and host of CounterPunch Radio, recently wrote an article called Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence (Counterpunch,October 20). This calls out critically both to leftists who support the Syrian opposition or US intervention, and to those who support the Syrian government,  each in a different way. He predicted:
Undoubtedly there are people on both sides of this debate who, if they’re still reading (doubtful), are frothing at the mouth with rage as they prepare to send their hate mail or attack this article and me on social media.
Among those supporting the Assad government, Stephen Gowans posts a non-frothy rebuttal that's worth reading. I've seen some stronger opinions expressed in e-mails from supporters of Syria's government, but didn't dig through Twitter or anything. I'm sure there are several biting comments.

As for the other side, perhaps (I also didn't dig for these). But "unrepentant Marxist" Louis Proyect embraces the article as a "mea culpa", comparing it to earlier work by Draister that challenged accusations against Syria's government (see below) he now seems to accept. Proyect has made a long habit of insisting he's against US intervention, but maintains every provided moral reason for regime change and continued war with as much gusto as any Syrian opposition activist.To me, he's clearly either very confused, or a deliberate and likely paid disniformation agent. Unlike Draister, I see no value in reaching out to Proyect or others of his style of thinking. Proyect seems to think or hope Draister is now in the same camp. I hope not.

The fact is much of the populace, and even much of the "anti-war left" has been deluded into supporting this latest - indirect, but brutal and grinding - brand of regime-change campaign. Many who had opposed war on Iraq in 2003 support the anti-Assad fight now, and in 2011 rooted on the swifter mistake in Libya, perhaps just because a Democrat president has been at the helm. With the inevitable victory of Hillary Clinton coming up, naturally there's a fear escalated involvement in Syria is almost as inevitable. 

Draister is clear in his desire to stop this before it starts, and that's laudable. He spends some energy raising doubts among the war-supporting left while trying (too hard, in my opinion) to not appear a supporter of the "brutal dictator," or a possible "Putin troll." It's the John McCains, Hillary Clintons, Recap Erdogans, ... and I guess the Louis Proyects of the world  who need criticized the most for pushing a divisive anti-truth narrative or using it to harm people for some geopolitical gain. Folks like Eric Draister, it seems to me, are just trying to operate in the vast and confusing space between. Bridges need built, people need to be spoken to in their own language, etc.

This is a laudable kind of position to take in general - it won't be the purest truth, but has a better chance of reaching minds that need reached. And I sense that he's sincere in adopting this view, although it suggests he's missed some things. There are pitfalls to such an attempt at balance - like if an unexpected degree of religiously-inspired criminality appears in a slot one ascribes more rational motives to.  You expect x behavior from both sides, some sort of "there are no good guys" so-called "realism." But what if you don't quite get one of the sides as well as you thought?
Be that as it may, the question now before us is this: where do you stand on direct US intervention?
Against, against, against. In all forms and for any given reason. Indirect intervention too. They've lost all credibility and should not be allowed to meddle one iota from about five years ago at least. This question wasn't directed at me. "The left" in general, in the USA in particular, is about to be led - to some degree - to just this question, by their champ Hillary and with suggested answer of "yes," for some reason that will seem to make sense. Please, folks, try and notice this magic spell being cast, and refuse it vigorously!

Ignoring the other good questions for the opposition' supporters, ones I feel compelled to respond to: 

Protesters, Jihadists, and Syria-Russia Bombing
And while the revolutionary content of the rebel side in Syria has been sidelined by a hodgepodge of Saudi and Qatari-financed jihadists – the uprising began as a response to the Syrian government’s neoliberal policies and brutality, among other things – this cannot be taken to mean that countless innocent men, women, and children have not been maimed and killed by Syrian and Russian weapons, jets, and fighters.
Protests against neoliberal policies that were genuinely revolutionary: who said this? How can we know it was true as opposed to just sounding good? If true, how many of the protesters was it true for, and for how long? If they were predominantly liberals, why the quick slide into sectarianism? They were killing soldiers before the end of March, 2011, openly murdering Alawites in the street since mid-April at the latest, and chanting Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave since about the same time. And soon after, some stuff even Draister doesn't know about, some mentioned below.

My impression: at first both kinds of protesters were present, the liberals we could identify with in smaller numbers but put out front. As the sectarian Sunnis and their provocateur snipers took over, the liberals primarily stopped adding their voices to the furor and sided with the government against the terrorist menace, sponsored by an obvious (to them) foreign conspiracy. End of story, pretty much. Dateline: about June 2011 at latest.

Since then, they've primarily joined the government even, with loyal opposition parties allowed under the new constitution. These and their supporters on the street now stand by Syria and its now-elected president, and their friends and relatives serving in the conscription-based and representative Syrian Arab Army. The legitimate Syrian protesters of a few weeks in 2011 would appreciate our understanding and support as times have changed.

"(Jihadists have sidelined the "revolutionary" side, but) this cannot be taken to mean that countless innocent men, women, and children have not been maimed and killed by Syrian and Russian weapons, jets, and fighters.": Agreed. These are separate questions that need answered separately based on their own evidence. What could be taken to mean this is evidence that countless people have perhaps not been killed by Russian and Syrian bombs as alleged, and that something else has, at least in large part, been killing them this whole time, without being identified or condemned. And we have such evidence, some of which I'll mention below.

Shades of Gray and Specific Crimes
In the long and convoluted history of this war there have been precious few moments of clear and unmistakable moral judgment. If anything, the portrait of the war in Syria is colored in shades of gray, with little black and white to be found.
I'm a shades of gray person myself, but here I find startlingly dark shades vs. essentially white, at least in comparison. Realism doesn't always mean dividing the crimes down the middle. Character issues matter, and we have a representative, inclusive, secular government with every reason to not wreck the country they have to manage - and parties they trust and have invited to help - vs. - as Draister describes them, "a hodgepodge of Saudi and Qatari-financed jihadists," largely foreign but working with some Syrian Islamists as well, many of who are borderline suicide-bomber fanatics or who can walk away or hide in Turkey - and their foreign backers who get to bleed Syria by remote control.

The way to call this is effectively black-and-white, from a technically shades-of-gray perspective. And the black-and-white is upside-down from the way it's been hammered into our brains over the last years.
If you’re supportive of Assad then it’s a certainty that you’ve chosen to ignore or downplay the horrific violence of the bombings, the brutality of the torture chambers, and other unspeakable atrocities (I admit that I have often strayed too far into the latter) out of a desire to uphold the nominally anti-imperialist position.
That's not a certainty and it's not true in my case. In general, however, this is a real problem. Many folks ignore these allegations as inconvenient, or poke a few lazy holes of doubt and declare the claim sunk and discredited, or respond with bland "whataboutism" (what about US prison torture, etc.) I prefer to engage all such things and see what's up, on the premise of "what about this?" I encourage those in the "pro-Assad" camp along with me to more clearly address these issues even an ally like Draister gets stumped over. Our efforts so far have mostly been unconvincing, it seems.That's not because there's no truth to be found, but because most just aren't trying hard enough to discern it, or we do but it doesn't get heard. And I acknowledge it's not easy, if one is not in the habit.

He gives links with two crime categories he feels people are ignoring. I'll take those as good examples I'll address (again, in both cases):

"the violence of the bombings":
Independent (UK) report from 13 October cries 150 killed in 2 days bombing (Oct. 11-12) in Aleppo, "rescue workers say." It used to be "activists say," but they've got helmets now and might even rescue people sometimes, in between propaganda sessions. Draister probably doesn't buy the critiques of White Helmets as sectarian Jihadist allies, but can probably see how that's at least partly true. We should all understand why their claims are worth questioning, not just pointing to as facts.

As for the deaths, the opposition Violations Documentation Center (VDC) database shows only 67 Aleppo civilians killed by warplane shelling, even taking 3 days (Oct. 10-12). Is this a case where they cite the national total as the main news area's total? Not even quite that: nationwide, same 3-day span, only 97. (VDC records aren't necessarily complete, but get updated and are shown to be more detailed and credible than vague freeze-frame number-only tallies by SOHR or White Helmets)

Of the 67, 63 were killed in the cited 2 days, mostly in Bustan el-Qassr (the cited area of mass bombing). Oct. 11-12 deaths are all by Russian forces, as the VDC says: 46 men, 10 boys, 9 women, 2 girls. 7 men named al-Deeb were killed, with no children, and possibly no wives. This is the sort of weird demographics that underlie all alleged bombing massacres.

In that same span, the same bombing as usual said to kill ZERO rebel fighters in Aleppo. Really? Not a single strike aimed at and successfully hit a single rebel? The same results are seen in Sept. 19-Sept. 30 (12 days), and Oct. 16-17 - all times I've checked lately yield a combined ZERO rebels killed by mostly Russian bombing, to 585 civilians, primarily men, but with some whole families.

This prevalence of men can mean random chance, laundered rebel fighter deaths, or captive men, or a mix. I usually lean to hostages, including here. But in this case, it's quite likely we're also seeing lots of killed rebels passed off as civilians, to help "clarify" the moral stakes of bailing out Aleppo like we bailed out Benghazi, to avert a "bloodbath."

The arc of attack, well-mapped: relevant or not?
This is interesting because Draister called a similar pattern regarding last year's Douma market Attack, which he wrote about at Counterpunch but didn't mention here. That was a decent but not well-informed piece, raising some valid questions about the alleged fighter jet attack, and some invalid ones. He thought the reported 100+ fatalities being almost entirely men could mean they were rebel fighters killed in a government strike on some base of theirs. Proyect makes a fair case about Draister's sub-par analysis there - it's not hard to see four rockets hit public market areas, killing and wounding an unclear number. I trump them both with forensic evidence the markets were hit with terrorist (Jaish al-Islam) rockets fired from the south, not from a government jet, and for the victims - mostly men, but apparently civilians - being massacred already before those rockets were fired, obviously all by people working as a team. (see review)

The same pattern he noted, and was burned by his reading of, is a real oddity running all throughout the Syrian conflict. Time and again, dozens or hundreds are allegedly killed in random shelling, and they're usually 80-100% men. If these were laundered rebels, the war would have been over long ago. But, what else explains the strange gender distribution of the people living in the homes supposedly hit by careless government bombs? It's worth risking or sustaining a burn to wonder about that, as Draister did.

The problem runs way back. In Homs' Khalidiya district 138 people were reported as killed in their homes by random government shelling, in early Feb. 2012. Records show those 138 were 130 men and 8 mostly older boys. The counter-claim fits: they were minorities and government supporters taken hostage and then killed by the terrorists, in order to blame the government. (ACLOS) Prisoners would be largely men (often reckoned as 13+) or gender segregated anyway, and I kind of suspect this story is the true explanation. And I fear the same explanation might hold down though the years and to the present day, though with fighters mixed in too, in spots. For example, in Aleppo now, there's likely  a large number of dead fighters swept under the civilian rug. If so, the war may be over for them soon, and they might be too busy dying and running to finish executing all their hostages.

I don't suppose this reading will convince anyone who's sure Syrian and Russian shelling simply kills lots of civilians, and mainly men. They'll keep presuming this is how Syrians live, all segregated, and the regimes in Damascus and Moscow just keep bombing them to death, by accident or design, while hardly killing any militants in the same bombing. Why and how don't matter, just so long as the regimes are eventually made to pay. This is just the thinking underpinning the destabilization and bleeding of Syria. 

"Torture chambers":
For this, Mr. Draister links to the New Yorker piece on the "Assad Files" (April, 2016), which only indirectly connects to the "Caesar torture photos" story dating back two years earlier, which he might have intended to cite. I already tore up this later report with Regarding those "Assad Files": it seems the smuggled documents are legitimate and reflect only the government responding to a crisis, with reasonable measures re-painted in ominous and damning colors.

After digging for the juiciest material there is, the worst they could quote, and the biggest problem for Assad supporters, was one official speaking of some fairly extreme torture, which he heard a report of, and that he angrily demanded be stopped. Everything else is less clear than that, so apparently, they failed to find much. There was apparently no order connecting to the mass killing of prisoners supposedly proven by the "Caesar photos." But they fill in some gaps with supposed prisoners, steered to them by Qatari-sponsored activist groups and such, who implicate those same named officials with dramatic stories they tell. These stories may be prime evidence in future war crimes trials, "based on a true story" and just loosely.

The investigators remixing all this, like those who drafted the report supporting the claims of "Caesar," are professional regime-blames ("war crimes" investigators and/or prosecutors), getting paid by someone with a vested interest and deep pockets. They should be suspect of crafting  impressions of guilt where there may be no genuine basis for it. They might be credible and honest, but that shouldn't be taken as a certainty as one points to their work as a supposed fact. 

Further, the source they had speak with the New Yorker's writer, has a rather propagandistic and unlikely narrative. "Mazen Hamada" says he was arrested in 2012  for smuggling infant formula into Daraya, which was considered "terrorism." And he says that's why he was in a regime prison where he witnessed some scenes right out the "Caesar photos." 

These photos - a running story since January, 2014 - also exist, and remain poorly tackled by most supporters of Syria's government. There are the exceptions of at least Rick Sterling (Syria Solidarity Movement report) and myself (Fail Caesar series). My impression: they seem to be unidentified bodies given reference numbers; some rotted a bit before being documented and some were found alive and show signs of efforts to save them. About 40% of the photos aren't even shown, because they show killed soldiers and the scenes of rebel attacks. But among the 60% publicized (around 6,700 men and boys, and one token woman) it seems there are several kinds of dead people; some look like killed rebel fighters, and some soldiers killed and found out-of-context. Numbers suggest there were at least 10,000 unidentified bodies processed - if so, we're seeing only about 67% or less. Perhaps the missing half made it even clearer who these people were?
victims #215-3669 and 215-3670, w/Shia-suggesting tattoos

But most victims among those shown seem to be terribly abused prisoners, as alleged. They don't seem like government prisoners, however, lacking uniforms, but like terrorist hostages, gender-segregated like all those alleged bombing victims. They include many Shi'ites or Alawites (just going by tattoos) and at least some Christians. They were killed en masse, many it seems by a toxic gas like chlorine, after starvation and varying levels of abuse or torture. I believe the terrorists (likely Jaish al-Islam) gave each victim a false "regime prisoner ID #" on forehead tape before they were dumped for the government to find, and to be photographed that way by sympathetic insider "Caesar," or whomever he got the photos from, etc.

Not Mentioned
Further, we could add the sectarian massacres like in Al-Houla (May, 2012) and Al-Bayda, (May, 2013) with entire families slaughtered with great cruelty. But these were a while ago, and best evidence suggests terrorists carried these out while in charge of the massacre areas, killing families that supported the government, or converted to Shi'ism, with Alawites killed separately but at the same time. Or how about the supreme original sin of shooting protesters and police and army defectors who refused to shoot? All the same stories were untrue during the coordinated terrorist takeover of half of Libya in February, 2011. Why should we presume they're true in Syria?

Why aren't these mentioned, as Draister cites newer and more widely-accepted claims? Probably because he knows there are at least serious questions over "activists say," versions 1 and 2 aired from 2011-2013. It would better in arguing the case, whatever your reason for arguing it, to rely on the more nuanced claims that came after activists rounded that learning curve. Massacres no longer happen in town squares or private homes that rebels can access, as they can access half the country now. So their way to get evidently proven regime crimes is having the death come from the bottoms of aircraft above, or from within a controlled regime prison. 

 Assorted Responses
Words like “traitors,” “cowards,” and “terrorists,” are shamefully applied to ordinary Syrians fleeing to Europe and elsewhere in hopes of saving their families. Indeed, it is precisely this narrative that is at the core of the white supremacist, fascist ideology that underlies a significant amount of the support base for Assad and his allies (see David Duke, David Icke, Alexander Dugin, Brother Nathanel, Alex Jones, Mimi al-Laham, Ken O’Keefe, and on and on and on).
This strikes me as provocative and likely unfair. I've seen Mimi say she identifies as white and make arguably antisemitic comments, and there's David Duke. The rest I don't know. I really don't read around enough to bother refuting this "white supremacist, fascist ideology" claim. But I've got no stock in Alex Jones or David Icke anyway.

As for the refugees, they likely have a mix of motives, including terrorism and salafi networking, etc, besides innocent motives.
To the pro-Assad Syria fetishists, I ask: Will you continue to pretend that the only crimes and atrocities being committed are those veiled behind Old Glory?
I try not to be an "Assad fetishist," but might fit his definition. I for one don't say all - just most, or perhaps all serious crimes have been by the opposition side, be it ISIS or FSA, as far as I can tell. And it's not pretending, but an informed opinion based on the samplings we've taken and researched.
Are you comfortable in the knowledge that this war will continue on indefinitely so long as all outside actors continue to use Syria as merely a square on their respective geopolitical chessboards?
No. Outside actors - aside from those invited by the legitimate inside actor (Syria's sovereign government) clearly should butt out.
Will you continue to delude yourselves by refusing to accept the plainly obvious truth that no state or group has the best interests of Syrians at heart? 
I will continue, call it delusion if you want, that Syria's government wants what's best for its people. Russia's full motives may be more mixed, but they seem to be on the right side and carry the right spirit, so I refuse to accept they're a part of the real problem here. The USA, UK,  France, KSA, Turkey, other governments clearly do not want what's best for Syrians, and the sorry state of the country today is a testament to their plans getting the upper hand for years straight. The prevalence of false claims against the government has provided some moral cover for this.
Will you allow yourselves to be the useful idiots of carefully calculated political maneuvering?
Hell no, I hope. Question for Eric: Will you?
...our responsibility is to the people of Syria and to peace and justice.
Indeed, and truth is fundamental. This is why we owe it to them to question our own assumptions, consider the true problem as if we may not grasp it yet - because we may not.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

White Helmets Covering Up Genocidal Massacres?

White Helmets Covering Up Genocidal Massacres?
By Adam Larson aka Caustic Logic
October 20, 2016
last edits and notes Oct. 25

Mythology and Reality in Review
An image the White Helmets have recycled, FWIW
WHITE HELMETS! The Islamist-identifying "Syrian Civil Defense" aka "White Helmets" is apparently meant to replace the official Syrian Civil Defense with something more ideologically suited to operate in "liberated" areas (universally run by Al-Qaeda and their kind of Saudi-indoctrinated Sunni extremists). They probably are in part an actual rescue outfit that has saved at least some innocents, from violence that was actually by Syrian government forces or their allies. But the size of that part - 100% to read the mainstream media - is seriously in question. In large part they also seem to be a foreign-created PR stun in support of regime change, who specialize mainly in blaming "Assad" or "Putin" for every death in this foreign-sponsored violence. (see also White Helmets article at A Closer Look On Syria (ACLOS))

All the praise heaped on the White Helmets is perhaps just for casting the "correct" blame, but saving the lives of babies is the thing people mention. All the over-done love has rightly spurred a slew of critical analyses from alternative sources. A new video by In The Now essentially remakes previous ones in shorter form, showing the "neutral and unarmed" heroes fighting with guns, in and out of uniform, rooting for and working with Al Qaeda's Syria branch Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN), etc. The White Helmets have gotten so much negative press and accrued so many haters, as they also scored a Netflix documentary to boost their shot at a Nobel peace Prize (a chance now formally missed)... well, by now it feels a bit overplayed and I've mostly sat out adding to the noise.  But a few related points that are not as well covered yet seem to merit a post finally.

The impetus behind the creation of their creation by Western experts and Muslim allies  is clear - they finally brings a ray of hope amid the  grinding proxy war waged by brutal Islamists sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. So as this and/or the government's response causes increasing death and destruction, they sponsor rescuers too. Now besides armed Islamists, we have usually unarmed Islamists running towards cameras on a daily basis with living babies: One was SAVED! Hope emerges from the rubble! That's a more inspiring and less draining narrative. See inspirational cartoon here. It really re-energized the intervention, maight give it two years more before it's allowed to end.

Many videos include the now-famous  scene where civil defense men in uniform (gray overalls with logo on the back) wait by for a man to be shot dead by an Islamist militant, then rush the body away. The organization tried to argue around this, but failed - they're documented assistants to terrorist killings. (ACLOS discussion, May, 2015)

This is perhaps a good visualization and sort of tip of the iceberg for other things they might do. Some good evidence suggests, but doesn't prove, that the White Helmets have since their inception in (early 2015?) helped launder the murder of many thousand civilians, including women and children, in false-flag events meant to demonize Syria and its allies. The following two major and inter-related points explore this possibility with semi-detailed consideration of the available evidence.

1) White Helmets Covering Up Genocidal Massacres?
1a) "Shabiha" Means What?
Also widely-featured, and deservedly so, is the elderly "Syrian Civil Defense" worker who says with a creepy smile how they take "the bodies of Shabiha and throw them in the trash" (see Vanessa Beeley, the White Helmets' premier critic). "Trash" here probably means an unmarked mass grave.

Some say these "Shabiha" are genocidal maniacs, and whether killed in fighting or executed, would deserve an improper burial. The term is an Islamist rebel nickname for the National Defense Forces (NDF), previously called Popular Committees (Lijan Shabiya). Their cartoon villain version are taken as basically an Alawite death cult blamed for hundreds of inflammatory massacres of Sunni families. (see ACLOS).

But comment might be more insidious than people realize; it might be a slip admission of the general genocide program the "White Helmets" are part of. Research suggests that many or all of the massacres blamed on them were actually done by terrorists, and "Shabiha" sometimes means Syrians of the Alawi faith, regardless of fighting status with the NDF or otherwise, and sometimes regardless of age and gender. 

Consider the August, 2013 Latakia village massacres by JaN, Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS, and others in a broad team effort (ACLOS). They boasted of killing 170-240 of "Assad's men" or "Shabiha" during their offensive and occupation about ten villages near the Turkish border (they had Turkish assistance). In reality, per Human Rights Watch (and it seems good work for once), the "rebels" killed about 30+ soldiers in the takeover, and then killed around 115 civilian men, and a combined 75 women and children (mostly those who tried to run away, and some women they raped). That's a total of 220+ killed, proably incomplete, and the same 240 "Shabiha" rebels proudly killed, and "threw in the trash" as some would say. They also took some 225 women and children hostage, leaving no one alive and at liberty. The victims were all Alawi (Alawites), the religion of president Assad. It was a clearly sectarian massacre by the Sunni extremists.
 
Note: there were no White Helmets at this time to help launder the massacre. Here's a video the opposition's pathetic attempt to put a humanitarian spin on their occupation of the area, using a blood-smeared ambulance sponsored by "Medical Relief for Syria" and a couple of obvious actors to claim the "FSA" was in charge and never harmed an innocent Alawite, and in fact happily helped them deliver babies. (see notes here and note credible reports say the massacre included an Alawi baby beheaded and a pregnant woman cut in half - Steele, Guardian.)

Like the mythical Assad mentality of 'all Sunnis are terrorists,' the terrorists among the Sunnis really seem to think all Alawi are "Shabiha," or will be when they grow up, or are anyway fit to kill or steal. These will be some of the people murdered (mostly the men) and taken as hostages and/or human shields (women and children). Those might be variously used, released in exchanges, or simply killed whenever the terrorists want to blame something on the "Assad regime" or on Russia.

1b) Recent Cases of Note
Now consider some more recent incidents after "Civil Defense" appeared, starting with the Hayan missile massacre of August 12, 2016. Here, in an area run by Jabhat al-Nusra, north of Aleppo, we see a White Helmet sans helmet running with a dead and decaying child, while another man who seems in no hurry carries a living and apparently unharmed baby, for no clear reason. The dead child here is one among a reported 12 women and children just killed by a Russian jet strike. Activists say that came during or just after the daily cease-fire, as they walked with no male escorts in a barren industrial area a ways from town. 

However, there's no clear sign of a bomb impact, and the victims are decaying, probably dumped here after being killed somewhere else. The opposition VDC's records said at least 9 of these were from a Qraitem family - 4 women and 5 children, with 3 other children unclear, and no men killed with them. They may be executed; a boy has the top of his head sliced off, and a girl has a neat hole in the bridge of her nose (others are unclear).  The same VDC records show 3 men named Qraitem were killed at the end of July, with no women or children, also killed by "warplane shelling." Rather, it seems they were all gender-segregated hostages, killed in shifts. Further, the mothers having the same name as their husbands and children is unusual, and suggests this family was not devout Sunni, perhaps Christian or other non-Muslim. (there is or was a Yazidi village nearby, and the Shia villages of Foua and Kafr Aya were still holding out to the north).

Among the few more recent allegations provided by the White Helmets I've paused to examine, was crushed women in Rastan - another couple where the wife took her husband's name is involved. They became "displaced" (abducted?) from Homs, and died this day by government bombing in rebel-held Rastan along with another woman. The one woman shown seems to be previously stabbed in the head, but that's not certain.

On September 19, the White Helmets, via their local director Ammar al-Selmo, helped explain how Syrian and Russian forces destroyed the Red Crescent humanitarian aid convoy near Aleppo (ACLOS). It's not a possible genocidal massacre, but worth mentioning here. Over a dozen trucks of aid were destroyed, and it seems perhaps every person helping wound up dead, leaving no survivors. WH claim this is because the attack was so intense they couldn't get near for hours, as people bled to death. Otherwise, they brag of rushing into danger. Do note this wouldn't explain people found alive but wounded all dying eventually.

(edit: Oct 25) Research and analysis suggest the aid convoy was attacked by terrorists on the ground (probably of Noureddin al-Zenki, JaN allies), and its members were likely executed. If this is so, the White Helmets here probably had to know they were helping cover that up. The motive is quite clear: to prevent a wider war against JaN and hopefully to secure war against Russian and Syrian forces instead (see here). The means (control of the area, willingness to murder and lie, and weaponry) are all consistent; all attack site details we can see (so far) are consistent with land-based weapons rebels have - mortars, guns, rockets, RPGs, and the biggest blasts could be caused by a standard "Hell Cannon" round. No one has proven if there was airstrike aspect, but if there was ... we'd need to see good proof who it was. The same motive issues argue against it being Russia or Syria, and for it being someone (US or Turkey?) on JaN's side.(end edit Oct. 25)

On October 16 and 17 claims of whole families were reportedly killed under Russian bombs in East Aleppo. CNN. BBC, etc. cite the US-UK-created White Helmets and French-created Aleppo Media Center to blame more Russian' "bunker-buster" bombs for killing 20 from one family. Records show at least 20 from one family and 13 from another were killed in these two days (note Oct. 25: but the days are disagreed), with an unusually large number of girls and small number of men. Eight young children are shown in photos and videos, wrapped for burial but still in their clothes, all appearing non-mangled and possibly executed, one perhaps with a sliced-open face. (see ACLOS discussion)

2) First Appearances: Idlib, March 2015, Covering for Chemical Murder Along With JaN
Our first notice of civil defense (at ACLOS) was in the spring of 2015, in Sarmin, Idlib province. This is where alleged Germany bomb plot suspect Jaber al-Bakr later did "humanitarian work" with the White Helmets and Ahrar al-Sham, in  between stints learning about explosives with Islamic State in Raqqah. (see Christoph Germann, Newsbud) Idlib province is now "liberated" by Islamists and "Talibanized." "No religious minorities remain," after fleeing, forced conversion, or - perhaps - murder or abduction. (Landis and Simon at Foreign Affairs)

That's the situation after the late March, 2015 Turkish-engineered conquest of most of Idlib province by a coalition of Islamist forces led by JaN. The White Helmets were emerging by, at the latest, two weeks before this grand offensive. They appeared at least in Sarmin in connection with an alleged chlorine gas attack, via helicopter-dropped "barrel bomb," on the night of March 16. This is said to have killed a family of 6, including 3 babies seen dying on video, as later shown at the United Nations by ambassador Samantha Power for emotional effect (BBC). Clearly, this is an important incident, and one we studied in depth (ACLOS (talk) page). 

2a) WH-JaN Cooperation on Sarmin Attack Media Message
Evident from that time was the solid crossover of members and interests between Idlib Civil Defense and the ruling terrorists of Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN). The video collaboration, is one obvious sign. One apparent White Helmet, but allowed to work without the uniform, is seen here hosting daylight videos for JaN's Sarmin branch (the logo is JaN flag flying from a golden "Sarmin" in Arabic - سارمين ) Dubbed Mr. 21 for the number on his sleeve, he's explaining the previous night's alleged chlorine attack. (ACLOS)

Below the same expert is seen the night before - still not in full uniform or even helmet. He's sent with another WH rescuer in full uniform with a helmet camera, as they rush to the site of the alleged chlorine attack. Already he seems to know a lot about the crime scene and guides the other guy, but no people are left to rescue. And the other guy seems to run like hell at the sight of what looks like massive pools of blood.


2b) Running With a Baby
The next glimpse the morning of March 17, also in Sarmin  - a video stamped with the JaN logo, analyzed here at ACLOS, shows an odd sequence including the first noted White Helmet running-with-a-baby scene. An ambulance races to the scene of reported violence, trailed by a cameraman as it turns down an alley to a smoking site with rubble. But it seems nothing happened here and everyone turns around. Then a large truck pulls into the intersection from the south (see map below), effectively blocking the ambulance in. 

Just then, a van arrives from the north, and a few men rush out. One carries a baby, and another following wears a gas mask. This Jabhat al-Nusra cameraman follows, and they all pile into another van yet facing east in the intersection. It has the now famous blue-and-yellow civil defense logo in the rear window. Hurriedly, they drive off to the east, the gas mask man now holding the baby, who seems okay except for bloody socks, but curious what the hell was going on.


This is one of the strange things they're involved in, perhaps a clue where the White Helmets get all these babies from to be seen running with. The van came from the north; a ways to the north are the Shia villages of Foua and Kafraya, still holding out against rebel occupation but occasionally raided, with abduction. There are other people, Shia or otherwise, worth stealing in other areas too - besides other reasons they had this injured baby.

2c) Tennari's Clinic, Non-Chlorine Deaths, White Helmets, and "Fate"
That baby winds up in a certain clinic, shown to have a genuine foot injury under those socks, and now cries in pain. This place is called Field Clinic in Sarmin, supported by various charities, including Doctors Without Borders, and was run by Dr. Mohammed Tennari. This member of the Syrian-American Medical Society later emerged as a prolific, globe-trotting, and ridiculously unreliable propagandist. He's seen here (on the left) speaking to the US congress with his translator, Mouaz Moustafa, director of war freak John McCain's Syrian Emergency Task Force.

We later placed that clinic (center on larger map above, and see below).

Dr. Tennari would report his clinic struck by 11 airstrikes, with the last one, in October 2015, blamed on Russia and completely destroying it (ACLOS). As proof, they have a photo of a room clearly trashed by people inside, with no walls or windows damaged. White Helmets video shows the two blasts were both half a block away, and we can see the cameraman injured in the blast gets up and limps into the untouched clinic.

Back to the alleged chlorine attack this first sighting centers around - the victims were seen dead or dying in this same clinic. This was given as the Taleb family - 3 young children (aged 1-3), the mother, the father, and paternal grandmother. They supposedly were fatally exposed in their basement apartment. Somehow despite the caustic gas burning their lungs, they never figured out how to walk out of the two open doors or the giant hole in the wall seen on video (see above). Note: chlorine does not make you pass out or anything - it motivates you to get get to fresh air ... except with everyone in this family?

The rescuers seen here seem to be proper White Helmets only in part. Some men in civilian clothes do the baby-running here, after men in traditional firefighter garb hose them down. (right: baby Sara rushed into the clinic by a man in a gas mask) Others in white helmets assist, stand aside, or record videos. Some wear the proper uniform, but it seems they don't have the logos on the back, while scenes from Sarmin ten days later do show the logo there (new uniforms, impostors, or what? ACLOS discussion)

Interestingly, the Civil Defense logo appears on ubiquitous blankets used at Tennari's clinic that night, but done in gold and black, instead of the usually gold and blue. One of these is used to cover the babies' dead grandmother Ayosh. She's laid out in the emergency room, not the morgue, for lack of space they say. Then the dead or dying girls Sara and Aysha were rushed in and laid on top of her for failed resuscitation efforts. See below, a screen grab from JaN's video, and I just noticed that blanket has the White Helmets logo with Jabhat al-Nusra in Idlib colors! What an appropriate design for this cooperative venture!
Again, this is the clinic run by the shady Dr. Mohamed Tennari. He said he was there that night, leading the efforts to save those babies. There are two emergency room videos, one by JaN and one by the Idlib Civil Defense, that between them cover the crucial five minutes as the children die. These show Dr. Tennari was not present at all (see Where was Dr. Tennari?). He also makes nonsense claims: chlorine fumes off the babies  made him sick and made  a nurse faint. But chlorine doesn't cause fainting, nor does it rise and cause secondary exposure - especially from people that were were already stripped and washed.

A look at the children also reveals they were never exposed to chlorine. Instead of violent coughing, skin burns, red tearing eyes, they're pale, limp, unresponsive and don't even visibly breathe. In fact they seem dead; one reportedly was, the other two not. And infant Mohamed at least is just comatose; one attempted breath is seen on the White Helmets ER video, but before and after that, he appears dead. Further, no one in this "emergency room" does anything to help him breathe, and so he naturally dies (see What Killed the Talebs?).

The deaths are blamed on "Assad," and less directly on the world community's supposed inaction. Our best guess what killed these babies, based on the indicators, is a deliberate overdose with a CNS depressant drug, like morphine or demerol, aggravated by improper diagnosis and medical neglect. Grandma Ayosh actually appears more like a chlorine victim, but signs say chlorine was made at the apartment not by any bomb but by people pouring chemicals together in mass amounts. (the apparent pools of blood - see Terrible Flaws in OPCW's Syria chlorine investigation) The father isn't clearly seen, and the mother not at all, but it seems all too likely this whole family was somehow murdered with chemicals here in JaN turf.

So ... if there really was a place filled with chlorine, these babies were never in it, and so no one ever removed them from it. This disconnect may not have been known to everyone on the ground, but should have been clear enough to wonder about as they claimed with certainty just what happened.. Dr. Tennari, his colleagues in the nascent White Helmets, or at least Jabhat al-Nusra themselves must know who those Syrian people were, and why they had to die this way.

Who were the victims really? Dr. Tennari says the father, Waref al-Taleb, was a casual friends in town, who recently fixed his phone. But in an earlier report he called the Talebs strangers from the next town. By names, no other Talebs were killed in the area at this time, but grandma Ayosh apparently had several relatives in the Sarmin area killed by alleged regime bombing in the following days. (ACLOS)

As White Helmets chief Raed Saleh said in May, 2015 about this incident: “One of the children died in silence before we got to the hospital. We did what we could to save her, but dying in silence was her fate. Death in silence before the whole world.”" (The Guardian) The other two (Aysha and Mohammed) had the same basic fate, but they died after they got to that "emergency room." That really seems more like a dying and blame chamber, with clearly more care to documenting death than to preventing it.

In truth, this "fate" was determined not by God - theirs or anyone's - but by the foreign powers who have created the chronic motive for this endless death. Once it's uniformly blamed on "Assad" or allies, it all goes towards perpetuating and escalating the foreign intervention. And by the basic laws of supply and demand, the intervention's Islamist proxies in Syria keep supplying the corpses, whatever it takes.

And the White Helmets are often there to apportion some of the blame to "fate" (God's work) and other parts to "Assad" (the devil).

Friday, October 14, 2016

Humiliating Aid Rejected by Whom?

Aleppo Convoy Attack: "Humiliating Aid" Rejected by Whom?
By Adam Larson (aka Caustic Logic) (as usual)
October 14, 2016 
(rough - last edits Oct. 27)

Establishing motive is crucial to solving any crime, including the deadly September 19 attack on a Red Crescent aid convoy near Aleppo (see A Closer Look On Syria research page). At least 20 and perhaps more than 30 were killed in a disputed attack that destroyed several trucks' worth of humanitarian aid. The options for what happened are basically:
  • a Russian or Syrian airstrike, as universally claimed in the West and with no clear proof, or 
  • a terrorist false-flag attack, as Russia and Syria allege.
The Russia-Syria motive, as accepted, is to deny some humanitarian aid, to kill, carry out their evil, and flaunt international law with no regard to consequences. This seems perfectly logical to the well-conditioned masses.

The terrorist motive would include the creation of the above impression, to invite those consequences on their smug war-criminal enemies. Further, as we'll see and strange as it sounds, attacking this aid convoy would complicate or halt a supposed US-Russia team effort on their favorite member group, Syria's branch of Al-Qaeda. Further, it seems they had other reasons already to hate the aid itself and those bringing it.This would give the opposition groups a double-motive for the attack.

The UN Aid-for-Surrender Conspiracy, as The Killers Likely Saw it
In a complicated way I don't completely follow, it seems this and other aid, chronically blocked for contested reasons, became linked to a complex web of implausible promises. Delivery of this aid was one of the prerequisites for a 7-day "cease-fire" (September 12 to 19, sundown to sundown). On the presumption Syria was blocking the aid and would welcome the reward, that was linked to a planned US-Russia partnership, a joint fight against Jabhat al-Nusra (ACLOS) now calling themselves Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (here JaN).

JaN has a slew of obvious and universally accepted war crimes to their credit (with a true number much higher and certainly constituting genocide and including countless massacres), and is still a US-designated terrorists group, despite their formally cutting al-Qaeda ties and changing their name. "Moderate" Islamist opposition fighters would finally be asked to disentangle from JaN so the US and Russia, and presumably Syrian forces and allies on the ground, could somehow all jointly attack both Islamic State (ISIS, Daesh) and JaN without hitting any of Washington's non-designated terrorist proxies. Those would supposedly observe a "Cessation Of Hostilities" (COH) and seek a "political solution" while allowing the fight against those everyone agrees are terrorists.

Alternately, JaN would be asked to leave Aleppo, and might even be escorted out with guns to regroup in a new battlefield of their choosing. Different plans were mentioned, but everyone at the UN seemed to agree they should go.

To anyone who's really followed the conflict, this is a ridiculously unlikely plan - or did I just misunderstand it? Who would want it:
  • Russia: this was apparently a Russian proposal accepted by everyone in Geneva on September 9.
  • Syria
  • The United States (on paper)
Who would not want it:
  • Jabhat Al-Nusra/JFS: their director of foreign media relations Mostafa Mahamed told BBC Newsnight JFS cannot withdraw from Aleppo, they've gotten themselves so deeply embedded among their human shields ("society") it was impossible to separate them, as painful to the civilians as it would be to them - JFS and all the other groups and all the citizens were in total love, must stay together and be protected together.
  • Most of their "moderate Islamist" allies: 21 armed groups - including Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam - declared at the start, on September 12 they  rejected the ceasefire, choosing to remain with JaN (The New Arab, Middle East Eye). If the al-Qaeda branch was attacked or forced to leave, they would lose their most powerful portion, and be left weaker and more prone to a government victory in reclaiming east Aleppo, if Damascus simply decided to break the COH.
  • The opposition's joint backers in the Gulf and Turkey, and even "humanitarian-minded Europe": British expert Michael Stephens told BBC Newsnight JaN "is seen as a Syrian movement. It’s seen as standing up for Syrians and fighting the regime… and so it makes no sense to peel away from them because actually what you’re doing is weakening your own position by doing that." (see analysis - notes how the 9/11 anniversary was marked by helping re-brand al-Qaeda and its occupation of Syria) 
  • The United States (in reality): Washington clearly leaped at the chance to reject the deal with Russia and to help preserve JaN's position in Aleppo, after the performance to suggest good faith. Also consider it was just two days before this was to go into effect the US had to "accidentally" attack Syrian forces in a well-known but tenuous position near Deir Ezzour, allowing an Islamic State advance. As a show of bad faith regarding the upcoming teamwork, it would do quite well, but they insist it was an accident they hoped to not keep repeating.
But publicly, up to September 19, the US insisted there could and should be a separation. But they had other conditions for tackling JaN, like that humanitarian aid supplied by the UN and others must be delivered first. The demand was leveled at the Syrian and Russian governments, as it was assumed the rebel side all wanted it.


However... because of how things were set up, the UN aid was seen as connected to this pipe dream of a US-Russia joint counter-terror force. If Al-Nusra or allies accepted it, there could be a new offensive against them. So there was a sentiment, at least, to reject it, and force the US to cancel its offered deal, on the premise that requirements weren't met.

Here is the relevant mindset demonstrated in a protest in East Aleppo, September 14: Bilal Abdul Kareem reported on a protest against UN aid to Aleppo, where they say there can be no cease-fire unless both sides agree, and they didn't agree. Abdul Kareem got an explanation, as shown at right, that they consider the aid "humiliating" because it's linked to the demand to separate fighters and divide their unity. It was part of a "conspiracy" by the "United Nations and its allies" to dilute the Jihad in Syria.

As the opposition's protest planners almost said in late 2012, as al-Nusra was listed a terrorist group, "we are all Jabhat al-Nusra." In the end the idea was voted down for obvious PR reasons, but I wanted to see it. Using a photo of a real protest in Homs saying "we are not terrorists" (that day's theme), I used Photoshop to have them spell out the rejected idea. (Note how they misspelled Nusra. Idiots. But it's a transliteration, so fair enough and sort of realistic.) Anyway, this is about what the protesters are saying now.

Motive in Review
On motive for the September 19 convoy attack, these points are crucial. As my friend Petri Krohn notes here at ACLOS, summarizing the case for rebel motive:
Rebels and their civilian supporters have blocked UN aid from reaching east Aleppo.
The ceasefire agreement comes with strings attached. If no aid is delivered, there can be no ceasefire. If there is no ceasefire, there is no need to separate al-Nusra from the "moderate" rebels.
Rebels have said they will end cooperation with UN aid agencies because the UN "supports the regime".
During the ceasefire the rebels merged their command structures. All may now be commanded by ex-Nusra.
The White Helmets, who were first seen on the site after the attack, could see the SARC (Syrian Arab Red Crescent) as a competitor operating on their "turf".
And again I'll cite b at Moon of Alabama:
A few days ago the "rebels" had accused the UN, which had goods on the convoy, of partisanship and said they would boycott it. "Rebels" in east Aleppo had demonstrated against UN provided help and said they would reject it. There was a general rejection of the ceasefire by the "rebels" and they were eager to push for a wider and bigger war against Syria and its allies. Al-Qaeda in Syria even made a video against the ceasefire. A part of the ceasefire deal is to commonly fight al-Qaeda. They naturally want the deal to end. The attack on the aid convoy seems to help their case.
So clearly, as he sums up, "The motive argument makes an attack by the "rebels" plausible and an attack by Syria and its allies implausible." We would have to accept that Russia and/or Syria wanted to destroy that batch of aid so badly they would obliterate the planned deal both had reason to favor. They would be doing al-Nusra, its Islamist allies, and their foreign backers a huge favor.

JaN Says "We Will Arrest the Driver?"
The most telling thing I've found is from an interview with a supposed JaN commander interviewed by German journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer and published September 26. There is some confused reflections of this seeming like a different interview, and controversy over its validity. Perhaps that's nothing, but I'm not sure yet, so for good measure I note this here (see ACLOS for sources and possibly analysis in time.)

The interviewee, face partly covered, calls himself "Abu al-Ezz," a mid-level commander of what he still calls Jabhat al-Nusra (and not Fateh al-Sham, as most others insist on saying). He  says all area rebels are one with Jabhat al-Nusra and should be called that, like they used to all say everyone is FSA. He says they are still backed by Turkey, and directly supported by the United States, not "properly" with air support, but with advisers and some direct deliveries of weapons.

These are dynamite revelations, if true, but what matters here is the attitude "Abu al-Ezz" ascribes to JaN regarding the cease-fire and related aid deliveries.
Todenhöfer: You do not want those 40 trucks with aid supplies to bring those into the eastern part of Aleppo?

"Abu Ezz": We have demands. As longs as the regime is positioned along Castello road, in al-Malah and in the northern areas we will not let those trucks pass. The regime must retreat from all areas in order for us to let the trucks pass. If a truck comes in despite that, we will arrest the driver.
I'm not sure what Al-Nusra's position is otherwise. They've denied this is a valid interview and wouldn't publicly say such a thing. At least, not after the events of September 19th! They have public relations and are lobbying for air support, and quite likely say the right things, like wanting to help their people, in light of the siege.

The 21 Islamist groups who rejected the cease-fire in solidarity with JaN were careful to say they "welcomed plans to deliver aid to besieged areas of the northern city of Aleppo and said they would help facilitate it," while criticizing "the "unjust agreement" between Washington and Moscow to target the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat Fatah al-Sham group." (AP) Lucky for them as we've seen, that "unjust agreement" never did go very far.

The Fateful Day
All agree the 7-day cease-fire held fairly well, considering. At the tail end of it, early on September 19, the aid convoy in question was loaded in government-held west Aleppo, and inspected to ensure it had no weapons or contraband items. They finally had all approvals and 31 trucks moved out only then, just hours before the calm was scheduled to possibly end. A statement from Jaish al-Mujiheddin (allies of Jabhat al-Nusra) claiming to represent the "Free Syrian Army," said they happily facilitated the convoy's delivery into rebel territory at 11:30 am.

The trucks were apparently stopped for a long time in Khan al-Assal, where a Russian drone passed over around 1:10 pm and filmed the convoy parked alongside the road. A rebel truck towing a large mortar passed them, driving west, out ahead. Where that mortar wound up and whether that matters are unclear. The convoy was moving again soon, with at least some trucks reaching the warehous near Urm al-Kubra and positioning to unload by about 1:30 pm, while others were still back in Kafr Naha at about the same time. (ACLOS)

Interestingly, JaN/JFS reportedly launched an offensive nearby the same day, apparently a few kilometers to the east: 
Earlier in the day, a spokesman for Russian forces based in Syria said that Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, ...had launched a large-scale assault on Syrian forces in the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo. ... preceded by massive artillery fire from tanks, multiple rocket launchers and mortars, targeting “governmental troop positions and residential areas on the southwestern edge of Aleppo.” Government forces, the spokesman said, “are conducting fierce defensive battles in order to prevent the groups of terrorists from breaking into the central part” of the city. (Washington Post)
Connection: unclear. But around that time, those 31 trucks of "humiliation" came rolling into turf reportedly controlled by Harakat Noureddin Al-Zenki, known JaN allies. These are the who in July, 2016 filmed themselves beheading a boy and boast of being "worse than ISIS," also blamed for a chemical weapons attack in early August, besides other atrocities like the ones the US believed adequate to stop arming the group in 2015.

"Abu Ezz" said if any driver brought in aid with government forces still guarding the road, they would be arrested. If there were many drivers, in a convoy he wanted to claim Russia had attacked ... they - again, meaning all fused rebel groups - would likely arrest and kill them and blame that worst version on Russia-Syria. What would al-Zenki in particular do? Presumably they would be smart enough not to behead these victims and film the process, and to keep it somewhat realistic. The bodies would mostly be burned badly, which helps obscure clues.

Another drone pass around 4 pm showed some 20 trucks at the site. (ACLOS) Some trucks (a reported 17) had unloaded and returned before sunset. But at least 12 remained, slowly unloading, when the convoy was attacked just minutes after darkness fell and the cease-fire ended. Later, an apparently planted bomb fragment was used to blame Russia, but the rebels knew instantly during the night-time attack that it was "Russian planes" that were "going to execute the airstrike," apparently "within our airspace." (Paveway IV).

The first news was that local Red Crescent director Omar Barakat was killed, and 10-12 unnamed aid workers. Many were injured, including 15 drivers. Later, it was said about 20 were killed, and then the Jaish al-Mujiheddin statement said 31 were killed - 12 aid workers and 19 "civilians," including "the drivers," with no mention of anyone just injured. Of the 12+ killed and 18 wounded in first reports, this could be a case where all injuries proved fatal - and the deaths were probably a lot quicker and more systematic than they make it sound. (see ACLOS)

Of about 31 drivers total, 18 had reportedly returned safely before the attack. But among those who remained at nightfall ... it's not spelled out nor certain, but it seems like perhaps there were no survivors, and thus no credible witnesses to the attack. The vaunted and heroic White Helmets were on site to blame the Russian-Syrian aircraft with the story we've heard. But it seems likely they managed to not save anyone here. They say it's because the attack was so intense and prolonged.

But consider this truck of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, its cab facing the warehouse being one of the less-damaged parts of the convoy. Yet it has a windshield smashed out, a side-mirror ton off, and the paper UNHCR sign torn off the grill. (Add October 27: new view shows this at bottom, with an even clearer example from the same scene dded above, with comment)

(for the bottom scene) This could be done by some shrapnel from the bomb/shell/rocket that detonated just behind the truck and to the right, that ricocheted  off the warehouse's facade. But that's more likely to deflect up than down, and there's no more than perhaps one mark from this in the metal. And another sign is partly torn from the driver's side wheel well in a way shrapnel couldn't likely do. (for the top scene scene, there seems little possible explanation at all) What Russian bomb could hate the UNHRC and its "humiliating aid" enough to rip its stamp away with disgust?

(bottom scene) The driver's door is flung open, with wet spots, possibly blood, immediately beneath that. The driver's side window is intact. Hmmm. Further, I'm not a car person, but is that the whole engine under that spacious hood, or is part of it missing? Another truck cab seems smashed apart but lacking an engine. Were rebel scavengers perhaps taking these for use in their improvised war machines? If so, it would probably be done before they shelled and torched the trucks to mimic a Syria-Russia airstrike.

Aftermath: 
Such a middling-scale crime would normally lead to some condemnations, prompt some Syrian army actions, and then be forgotten. But in the bizarre and frightening context it was jammed into, this little event might have huge repercussions. If so, clearly, these little details of the incident will warrant far more than the minor attention they've gotten.

The response was astonishingly uniform, strong, and clear across the entire spectrum of Western mainstream,  controlled discourse: a reflexive blaming of Russia with unknown or secret evidence, and cancelling the deal against JaN almost at minute one. This effectively protected the terrorist group's position in Aleppo as they, Saudi Arabia, etc. had demanded. But a State Department spokesman commented to say he would not dignify the obvious conclusion with a comment.

Then the US has taken every follow-up chance to blame Russia and/or the Syrian forces they're the bosses of for any unproven atrocity against rebel-held Aleppo (echoing the opposition claims by which over 400 civilians and ZERO rebel fighters were killed by government and Russian bombing in the last 12 days of September - ACLOS). This unacceptable brutality forced Washington to suspend all cooperation with Russia in Syria, start calling Russia's government a "regime" and speaking of war crimes trials for both Damascus and Moscow, readying to attack Syria directly and preparing for general war with Russia if needed, with assurances we would win at whatever level it got to.

As analyst Israel Shamir notes,
If the greatest poker game of all times will end by nuclear grand slam, and the survivors will review the causes of WWIII, they will die laughing. The Third World War had been fought to save al Qaeda. Yes, my dear readers! Uncle Sam invaded Afghanistan in order to punish al Qaeda, and now he started the World War to save al Qaeda. Positively a great ambivalent passionate love/hate relationship between the American gentleman and the Arab girl, from 9/11 to Aleppo.

For the future historians, the WWIII commenced with the US decision to terminate bilateral talks with Russia over Syria. Let the arms do the talking, they said. Here is an exclusive revelation:
The US decided to suspend talks after Russia called for withdrawal of al Qaeda (al Nusra Front etc.) fighters from Aleppo. This was the casus belli.
I'm not keen on such rhetoric of 1960's style nuclear WWIII scenarios ... (besides, I'd call it a nuclear escalation of the ongoing World War IV). But people are pushing on that lever now. The lever exists because Russia refuses to back down, against the regime-change-obsessed  US-led alliance demand to at least secure al-Nusra's position in Aleppo. If the nukes start flying, or whatever comes next anyway, it would be triggered largely by this apparent false-flag act of piracy and murder.