Iran in Syria: Death buys chocolate

Hezbollah convoy in Syria

Hezbollah convoy in Syria

Dutch TV reporter Roozbeh Kaboly and the Nieuwsuur team have put together this report, with English subtitles, based on a video said to show Iranian troops training militia in Syria, using a village school as a base.  The man being interviewed has been identified as Revolutionary Guards Commander Esmail Heydari, who reportedly died in Syria a few weeks ago, and was later given a public funeral in his hometown of Amol, about 180km north of Iran’s capital, Tehran. He describes the mission, working with teams which are on 25-day rotation, adding that some were previously trained in Iran. Part of the mission’s objective appears to be securing access for Hezbollah to deliver weapons and supplies.

Esmail Heydari| Photo:

Esmail Heydari| Photo:

Followers of human rights abuses in Iran, used to reading about the indescribable torture and cruelty dispensed to prisoners in the “special” IRGC detention centres and isolation wards, may be surprised by the smiling, relaxed, countenance of this commander. Heydari reveals the secret of his team’s success on their training mission is that they treat fighters with respect, “We haven’t paid them or anything,” he comments. Respect is a sentiment Heydari claims to extend to the local people: for example, by driving military vehicles slowly in civilian areas to avoid raising dust. While driving through a village Heydari says was deserted until his unit came to the area and cleaned up, he greets children warmly, offering candy. “When we came, there was no human being,” says Heydari. One of his team responds, “There are still no humans now, just Arabs.” The Nieuwsuur translation then relates the cameraman suggesting the Iranians also offer candy to the women they are passing on the road, but misses what I consider to be an implied threat in the reply: “We’ll give them some(thing), and you can film.” This is more typical of the IRGC behaviour I am familiar with.

The regime in Iran celebrated his death by burying Commander Heydari with honor, as a martyr who died defending the Shrine of Syeda Zainab, granddaughter of the prophet Mohammed.

At least 6 more videos were posted to YouTube by the admin of a rebel group’s Facebook page, and were later verified by France24 journalists working with translators, who helped to produce a detailed analysis. The links to the original videos were shared on Twitter, but were either shared only with selected contacts, or the settings were later changed to prevent public access. Copies of the videos, which seem to show Iranian military officers working with soldiers from Syria’s regular army, giving them advice and instructions for combat, can be seen here.

The film appears to have been recorded by Hadi Baghbani, a young Iranian documentary maker, who reportedly died during an incident on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria, where he is said to have been on a 10-day assignment, his second such visit. A second group of Iranians reportedly died while on the road in Syria, either because of a traffic accident or because their driver was killed by a sniper. The rebels believed to have found Baghbani’s video camera, the Idblib-based Dawood Brigade, which released the video, claimed responsibility for “most” of the deaths in an interview with al-Aan TV. The group’s spokesperson, Hosam Alsermene, told Al-Jazeera that they killed about 15-20 members of an Iranian team after hearing about their Syrian operations. Their identities and operational details were confirmed after taking possession of mobile phones and the video camera of an independent journalist who just happened to be there. The 30-year-old filmmaker received a burial ceremony in his hometown of Babolsar, Iran.

Hadi Baghbani

Hadi Baghbani

It’s not completely clear, from the available accounts, how the bodies were returned to Iran. Can we assume that this happened with the help of Syrian authorities or the militia which were being trained? Alternatively, other Iranians still present in Syria might have been able to repatriate the dead themselves.

Defending the Shrine of Syeda Zainab

In July 2012, it was reported that about 5,000 Shiite Muslims were living in the neighbourhood of the shrine, including some who fled there to seek refuge from sectarian violence. Local youths armed with sticks were said to be defending the site, with Iran alleging clerics in Saudi Arabia had issued a fatwa demanding its destruction. A group of 48 Iranians, including members of the IRGC who claimed they were in retirement and making a pilgrimage to the shrine, was taken hostage in August 2012, before being traded in exchange for 2,130 prisoners of the Syrian regime in January 2013. Abdel Nasser Shmeir, interviewed by Al Arabiya and presented as the commander of Al-Baraa Brigade, claimed the hostages, plus their Afghan interpreter, were members of a 150-strong group sent to Syria by Iran for reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering. Shia news organisations claim that the shrine is now being protected by hundreds of Shia militants from Iraq and the Lebanese Hezbollah group. Recent reports say a custodian of the site, Anas Romani, was killed, and the building damaged, when it was attacked by mortar shells in July 2013.  The Syrian government accused militants of the attacks.

August 2012: The battle for Damascus


Despite the military cordon that now surrounds Damascus, France 24 reporters Matthieu Mabin and Sofia Amara managed to enter the city. In an exclusive video, they report on the rebel fighters’ struggle to overthrow the Assad regime.

Map image: Fr24

Barzeh & Roukneddine

The 18 July rebel attack on Damascus security forces rocked the heart of the Bashar al-Assad regime, triggering violent fighting between regime troops and militants in several districts across the capital. Barzeh (a largely Kurdish area in the north of the capital) and neighbouring Roukneddine came under attack by Assad forces on July 22. After two days of deadly fighting, officials said they had regained control of the areas. But sporadic clashes continue to be reported in the two neighbourhoods.


Jobar was one of the districts targeted in the regime’s crackdown on the capital. An assault began here on July 20, and after a few days officials said they had taken control. But like most other areas, regular clashes are still reported. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), violent clashes took place on August 4.


A rebel stronghold since the beginning of the uprising, Kabun is one of the worst affected areas for fighting. The regime staged a helicopter attack on the area on July 16, and claimed to have full control by July 24.

National Security Bureau

An unprecedented rebel attack targeting the national security agency on July 18 saw four high-ranking officials killed, proving a huge shock to the regime.

Sabeh Bahrat square

For the first time since the beginning of the uprising, clashes broke out on this major roundabout in the heart of the capital on July 17.

Kfar Sousa

Clashes here broke out in mid July and on July 22 regime forces staged a heavy offensive. Again, the regime says it is in control of the area, but sporadic fighting is still being reported.

Nahr Aiche & Daf al-Choke

Fighting broke out in these southern districts, beside the well-known market neighbourhood of Midan, on July 15. Regime forces stormed the area on July 23. A few days later, they claimed to have regained control.


One of the districts where clashes have been the most violent. Armed tanks were deployed here on July 16. After five days of intense fighting, the regime claimed to have control. The previously bustling neighbourhood is now deserted of its residents.

Qadam & A’asali

Heavy shelling on July 21 saw rebel forces retreat from these districts, the SOHR reported.


Another rebel stronghold. Regime forces attacked the district on 15 July but were unable to gain control. Bombings continued until August 4, when Bashar al-Assad announced that the capital had been “purged of terrorists”.

Umayyad square

Rebels attacked the state broadcasting building on August 6, causing extensive damage but failing to close down the regime mouthpiece.


Rebel fighters sprang up around this wealthy neighbourhood after July 18. Regime forces claimed to have regained control after violent clashes on July 24.

Yarmouk camp

This Palestinian refugee camp next to Tadamon has found itself surrounded by rebels. On August 2, 21 civilians were killed here by regime shelling.

Hajar al-Aswad

The Syrian army bombed the district on July 21. Other battles were also reported here before the Assad regime announced on August 4 that it had regained control of the capital.


Syria News Summary 21 Jan 2012


#Syria Headlines 12 Jan 2012


Death of journalist in Syria brings calls for investigation

USA TODAY – ‎21 minutes ago‎
BEIRUT (AP) – The death of a French journalist in Syria brought new calls Thursday for an independent investigation of the violence in the country after a series of mysterious attacks since December killed scores of people despite the presence of Arab 

Syria to Investigate Rocket Attack that Killed French Journalist, 8 Syrians

Voice of America (blog) – ‎35 minutes ago‎
The Syrian government says it will conduct an investigation into a rocket attack that killed French journalist Gilles Jacquier and eight Syrians in the central city of Homs on Wednesday. State news agency SANA said Thursday Homs Governor Ghassan Abdel 

Journalist’s Death in Syria Brings Calls for Probe

ABC News – ‎36 minutes ago‎
By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY and ZEINA KARAM AP The death of a French journalist in Syria brought new calls Thursday for an independent investigation of the violence in the country after a series of mysterious attacks since December killed scores of people 

Journalist’s death in Syria brings calls for probe

Houston Chronicle – ‎36 minutes ago‎
ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY, AP, ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, addresses supporters during a rally at a central square in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012. Assad joined thousands of his supporters Wednesday in 

Syria unrest: El Arabi dismisses mission criticisms

BBC News – ‎48 minutes ago‎
The head of the Arab League has defended his organisation’s observer mission in Syria, following the criticism of a former monitor who said it was a farce. Nabil El Arabi said the mission was encouraging more Syrians to take part in peaceful 

Syria regime ‘liquidating’ journalists, opposition council says

National Post – ‎57 minutes ago‎
DAMASCUS — The opposition Syrian National Council accused the regime on Thursday of “liquidating” journalists in order to hush up what is happening in the country, a day after a French reporter was killed. The SNC’s accusation came as France demanded 

‘Syria is being punished for ties with Iran’

RT – ‎1 hour ago‎
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad waves at supporters during a rare public appearance in Damascus on January 11, 2012 in which he vowed to defeat a “conspiracy” against Syria, a day after he blamed foreign interests for stoking months of deadly violence 

Syrian Rights Group: More Arab League Observers Leaving Country

Voice of America – ‎1 hour ago‎
January 12, 2012 Syrian Rights Group: More Arab League Observers Leaving Country VOA News A Syrian rights group says more Arab League observers are leaving the country to protest the Syrian government’s deadly crackdown on a 10-month opposition 

Journalist’s death renews calls for Syria probe

CBS News – ‎1 hour ago‎
Syrians hold a candlelight vigil as the body of French television reporter Gilles Jacquier is taken out of a hospital in Homs, Syria, to be transported to the capital city of Damascus early Jan. 12, 2012. (AFP/Getty Images) BEIRUT – The death of a 

Many Arab monitors said to question Syria

Reuters – ‎1 hour ago‎
By Dominic Evans | BEIRUT (Reuters) – Many monitors in the Arab League’s troubled mission to Syria are angry over what they see as its failure to halt attacks on protesters and more are likely to pull out in protest, an Algerian former monitor told 

France wants ‘whole truth’ from Syria on journalist’s death

CNN – ‎1 hour ago‎
By the CNN Wire Staff Damascus, Syria (CNN) — The French foreign minister wants the “whole truth” from Syrian authorities about the death of a French journalist in Homs. Alain Juppe told France 2 television Thursday that an “investigation must 

Arab League’s Syria mission not going to plan, warns chief

The Guardian – ‎1 hour ago‎
The Arab League chief has cast further doubt on the delegation his organisation has sent to monitor the crisis in Syria, describing ongoing violence as “very worrisome” and saying the mission was not going to plan. Nabil al-Arabi’s comments on Thursday 

The risks of conflict

Times of India – ‎1 hour ago‎
Over the past few weeks, some Syrian opposition leaders have requested foreign military intervention to oust President Bashar al-Assad and his regime from power. Count the US out in any such endeavour. While an intervention involving the American 

Syria to probe killing of French reporter

Ninemsn – ‎1 hour ago‎
Syria says it will set up a commission of inquiry into the death of French journalist Gilles Jacquier, killed by a shell in the flashpoint city of Homs. “The governor of Homs, Ghassan Abdel Al, issued a decision to create a commission charged with 

Probe into killing of French reporter in Syria

Khaleej Times – ‎1 hour ago‎
DAMASCUS — Syria said on Thursday it would set up a commission of inquiry into the death of French journalist Gilles Jacquier, killed by a shell in the flashpoint city of Homs on Wednesday, official media said. “The governor of Homs, Ghassan Abdel Al, 

Syrians struggle to cope with energy shortages

Financial Times – ‎2 hours ago‎
Conflict-torn Syria is battling growing shortages of heating oil and other fuels as President Bashar al-Assad and the west fight a propaganda war over who is to blame. With scant petroleum product supplies combining with power cuts to leave people in 

All of

TIME (blog) – ‎2 hours ago‎
The Fate of Bashar Assad: Will He Be the Next Gaddafi or the Next Milosevic? By Tony Karon | @tonykaron | January 12, 2012 | + Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C) speaks at Umayyad Square in Damascus, Syria, Jan. 11, 2012. 

After Monitor Quits, Arab League Defends Its Syrian Peace-Keeping Mission

NPR (blog) – ‎2 hours ago‎
by Eyder Peralta In this frame grab from an amatuer video posted on YouTube, members of the Arab League monitor the recent violence in Syria. In this frame grab from an amatuer video posted on YouTube, members of the Arab League monitor the recent 

Two monitors quit Syria: Arab League

News24 – ‎2 hours ago‎
Cairo – Two Arab League monitors in Syria have quit, officials said on Thursday as the head of the operation accused an Algerian observer who resigned of making unfounded claims about the operation. “Two monitors have excused themselves, 

Syria opposition disappointed by Arab mission – ‎2 hours ago‎
The Syrian opposition activists have said that they are disappointed by the Arab League observer mission’s failure to halt violent crack downs. Syrian opposition activists have said that they are disappointed by the Arab League observer mission, 

Arab League says no delay in sending more observers to Syria

Xinhua – ‎2 hours ago‎
CAIRO, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) — An Arab League (AL) official denied on Thursday there would be a delay in sending more observers to Syria. Adnan al-Khodair, head of the AL’s monitoring operations room in Cairo, told Xinhua when the AL would dispatch a new 

World powers want journos protected

Sky News Australia – ‎3 hours ago‎
World powers are demanding journalists in Syria be protected following the death of a French reporter in a rocket attack hours after President Bashar al-Assad vowed to defeat a ‘conspiracy’ against his regime. Meanwhile, hundreds of Syrian and foreign 

Wait and sea

The Economist – ‎3 hours ago‎
THE Syrian port of Tartus is Russia’s only military base outside the old Soviet Union. Moreover, Russia is the Syrian regime’s only big-power friend. So the arrival there of the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft-carrier and a few other warships earlier this 

More Arab League Observers Reportedly Leaving Syria

Voice of America (blog) – ‎3 hours ago‎
A Syrian rights group says more Arab League observers are leaving the country to protest the Syrian government’s deadly crackdown on a 10-month opposition uprising. Mousab Azzawi of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA 11 

Syria protesters gather against defiant Assad – ‎3 hours ago‎
Anti-government protesters rallied overnight on the outskirts of Damascus, hours after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a surprise appearance at a pro-regime rally in the city centre where he again vowed to end the months-long revolt against his 

Spiral of violence, division continues in Syria

CBS News – ‎4 hours ago‎
The Syrian government, under international pressure, allowed just a handful of foreign reporters into the country. But sadly this very welcome initiative began with a tragedy. A mortar attack on civilians in Homs killed eight Syrian residents of the 

* Arab League split over troubled monitoring mission

Reuters Africa – ‎4 hours ago‎
By Alistair Lyon BEIRUT, Jan 12 (Reuters) – Several Arab League monitors have left Syria or may do so soon because the mission has failed to halt President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on a popular revolt against his rule, an Algerian former 

Arab observers face tough mission in Syria: China

Ahram Online – ‎4 hours ago‎
China’s envoy to the Middle East Wu Sike on Thursday said Arab League observers were facing “difficulties” in Syria, urging the government and other factions there to cooperate with the monitors. Wu made the remarks after talks with Arab League chief 

Algeria rejects criticism of Arab League in Syria

euronews – ‎4 hours ago‎
The Algerian government on Thursday downplayed suggestions from one of its former Arab League monitors in Syria that the mission was a “farce”. The 22-member body was sent to investigate whether President Bashar al-Assad would keep his promise and halt 

Assad digs in amid horrors of Homs

The Australian – ‎4 hours ago‎
THE conflict in Syria escalated yesterday as a member of the Arab League’s peace mission to the country described scenes of utter carnage and a French reporter became the first Western journalist to be killed in the uprising. 

#Syria blames 'terrorists' for new Damascus blast – CNN


A suicide bomber targeted a police bus in central Damascus Friday, killing an estimated 25 people and wounding another 46, most of them civilians. The blasts comes two weeks after twin blasts killed 44 people in the Syrian capital, which the authorities blamed on terrorists targeting security buildings—a claim that the Syrian opposition denied, saying that the government staged the bombings. Activists say security forces attacked anti-regime protests, savagely beating a 10-year-old child senseless before dragging him away – just around the corner from where this blast happened.

CNN International Syria blames ‘terrorists’ for blast – YouTube.