Kim Sengupta on Syria - Live coverage - The Independent

Kim Sengupta on Syria

The Independent's defence correspondent answers your queries after several weeks covering the conflict from Aleppo

  • During the past few weeks, The Independent and i's defence correspondent, Kim Sengupta, was at times the only foreign journalist in Aleppo - the focus for the strife in Syria. Back in the UK, he has been answering your questions live.

    Kim's now finished. Thank you to everyone who sent questions, and apologies that there wasn't time to answer them all. Above all, thanks to Kim.

    This blog will be available for a while to review the exchanges.
    8/15/2012 10:31:06 AM
  • Kim Sengupta reported from the bloody conflict in Aleppo. (Main picture, Reuters.)

    8/15/2012 9:35:05 AM

    Saturday 4 August
    The Aleppo life-saver calling for weapons to save lives
    ‘You can only patch up people for so long. Most of the seriously injured we can’t save. The only way to end this is to defeat Assad’

    Thursday 2 August
    'What will happen to us?': Loyalists fear rebel attacks
    In Aleppo, Kim Sengupta finds members of pro-Assad tribes hiding behind closed doors in fear of revenge raids

    Wednesday 1 August
    Ambushes and air strikes as Syrian regime fight rebels street-by-street to gain possession of Aleppo
    Violence and expectation of more destructive strife to come, added to the sense of fear and the growing stream of refugees fleeing their home.

    Tuesday 31 July
    The people who live on Aleppo’s fiercest frontline have fled. Only the fighters remain
    In Aleppo, Assad's forces are locked in bloody battle with a splintered opposition. Kim Sengupta, the only foreign reporter in the heart of Syria's second city, reports

    Monday 30 July
    Jubilation as rebels force Assad troops to flee base
    Kim Sengupta in Al-Bab, Aleppo Province

    Sunday 29 July
    'They fear the regime will take revenge,' say Syrian opposition activist
    Kim Sengupta in Al-Bab, Aleppo Province

    Saturday 28 July
    Syrians: 'We shall be free or we shall suffer'
    Special report: Syrians brace themselves as war planes join the battle for Aleppo. Kim Sengupta reports from Al-Bab
    8/15/2012 9:57:59 AM
  • BREAKING NEWS: Blast strikes near Damascus hotel used by UN
    8/15/2012 10:40:16 AM
  • TODAY: Burnt vehicles are seen after a bomb exploded at a military site near a hotel used by United Nations monitors in Damascus (REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri)

    8/15/2012 10:52:48 AM
  • Q. What is the latest situation in Aleppo? Who has the upperhand? #IndySyria - mmusabay (via Twitter)

    A. The situation, as you would imagine, is quite fluid. However, what we have seen in the past few days is that the regime are making their superior firepower tell, especially with air strikes and tanks, and have taken over almost all of Salheddine and are probing into areas which the rebels had captured. The rebels, as you know, lack heavy weaponry. More civilians are leaving, but they are hampered by fuel shortage for their vehicles.
    8/15/2012 11:35:32 AM
  • Q. Are most of the fighters you met in Aleppo actually from the city of Aleppo or are they from other towns in Syria. Also what countries were the non Syrian fighters from. - Desmond Halforty

    A. The fighters were initially from Aleppo, but they were significantly reinforced by fighters from elsewhere in Aleppo Province and also from neighbouring Idlib as the regime reinforced its own forces. I saw very few foreign fighters myself. They are around, but not, I believe in large numbers. Interestingly there was a Libyan guy who headed a largely Syrian unit.
    8/15/2012 11:39:45 AM
  • Q. How closely is Syria's crisis related to Iran's weapons ambitions? - Martin, Essex

    A. The Iranians certainly feel that their enemies, the West, Israel, Saudi Arabia are using Syria to an extent to undermine Iran. I am not sure there is a direct correlation between the Syrian civil war and the Iranian nuclear programme, but the Iranians are strongly supporting Assad. They are also apprehensive about having a hostile Sunni state on their border.
    8/15/2012 11:43:55 AM
  • Q. How hard is it to maintain subjectivity when in a battle zone and your survival depends on one of the sides in a conflict? I'm massively impressed by what you achieved. - Philip, Hampshire

    A. I am afraid that it is not always possible to remain totally objective in such situations. It is very hard to remain neutral when you see civilians being killed and maimed, especially when it appears to be deliberate. We are also affected by an element of Stockholm syndrome, sharing the risks of the guys we are with. Having said that, it is essential that we don't whitewash atrocities committed by the side we are reporting from. Thus I felt it was very necessary to write about summary executions carried out by rebels. We must keep a close eye on how the Alawites are treated in the future.
    8/15/2012 11:50:27 AM
  • Q. What evidence, if any, have you seen of foreign funding and foreign troops? #indysyria - false_dawn (via Twitter)

    A. Funding certainly: the rebels appear to be getting considerable sums of money from abroad, especially the Gulf countries, as well as from the wealthier members of the Syrian diaspora in other countries. There are complaints about exactly what has happened to some of this money. I have seen foreign fighters, as stated previously, but no troops from foreign countries.
    8/15/2012 11:54:07 AM
  • Q. How critical is Turkey's role in any solution to the Syria crisis? - Behindthesofa

    A. What Turkey is doing and may do in the future will be of enormous importance. Turkey rather than Lebanon and Jordan is the main conduit for rebel fighters and weapons going into Syria at present and the volume of this will increase in the future. So far, however, the Turks have tried to keep quite tight control of what passes through their territory and they seem anxious not to let countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia have overwhelming influence over the opposition. Turkey is also having to cope with a refugee crisis growing by the day, one of the reasons for their demand for a security zone inside Syria.
    8/15/2012 12:00:32 PM
  • Q. I understand that there are many factions claiming the name of the "Free Syrian Army" but how varied are their aims and ideologies? – Laurence Hardy (via Facebook)

    A. You are absolutely right, many factions and factions within factions. The Free Army does not have a noticeable command and control structure and there is often contempt expressed by the fighters on the ground for those in the Free Army who they see as leading an easy life in Turkey, Lebanon or the West. There is a wide variety of religious and political aims among the rebels, including various shades of Islamists. They do not, however, comprise the majority of the fighters by any means.
    8/15/2012 12:05:20 PM
  • Q. Are the UN and other humanitarian agencies making any noticeable affect on the situation for the population there, or is it still too dangerous to consider any concerted effort to help those civilians? #indysyria - Brian Spalding, Warwickshire

    A. The UN and international organisations are working with the refugees who have come across the Turkish border. However, the violence inside Syria means that areas which needs international aid the most are not getting it. There is little or no UN presence in any part of the country, a secure humanitarian corridor will have to be established for this to happen.
    8/15/2012 12:09:37 PM
  • Q. Do you think providing the opposition with more developed weapons can help end this crisis faster? How do you evaluate the public support of the SFA inside Syria? Can you see any prospect for a solution? - Wael

    A. It is undoubtedly the case that the rebels need heavier weapons facing what they do from the regime. In particular they are in need of anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank weapons. Part of the problem about arming them, I gather from people who are supplying the arms, is that the rebels have, so far, failed to form cohesive bodies through whom distribution can take place, Instead individual khatibas (battalions) send their own shopping lists. Any solution must start with a proper cease-fire which can be monitored. I am afraid that on the ground the chances of that seem further away than ever.
    8/15/2012 12:15:50 PM
  • Q. What is life like for civilians in Syria at the moment and what are their immediate needs? - Claire

    A. As you can imagine, things are extremely tough for the population. The level of hardship they suffer depends, of course, on where they are. In Aleppo and the individual towns around it the main problems now are lack of power, increasingly, lack of food and the start of a water shortage. The clinics in the rebel held areas are short of equipment, medicine and medics. Injured fighters obviously cannot go to the government hospital for treatment, many civilians, too, say they fear arrest if they go to them.
    8/15/2012 12:21:01 PM
  • Q. 1. I visited Aleppo a dozen times between 2007 and 2010 - how badly damaged is the city? 2. Is any coherent political organisation emerging among the rebels? if Assad goes who might take over? – Peter Lewis (via Facebook)

    A. Most parts of Aleppo, thankfully, have not been too badly damaged. Salheddine, the main frontline, has been devastated and there is some damage, on a much lesser scale, to the Old City, around Aleppo Castle which is another battle ground. There is no coherent political organisation at present, it seems, to take over. The Syrian National Council is viewed as divided with a long way to go. There is, however, quite lively debates about the future political shape of the country in the towns now in rebel hands.
    8/15/2012 12:26:32 PM
  • Q. What reaction was there from fighters regarding Kofi Annan's resignation, and the role played by the UN, and the £5 million in British non-lethal aid? - John, Brighton

    A.The fighters regarded the Annan plan as dead in the water a long time ago. They do not appear to have much faith on the UN and, increasingly, any peace plan; the feeling is that the military option is the only one left unless President Assad and his circle leave Syria. There was some curiosity about the British aid with questions about how exactly the money would be disseminated and spent.
    8/15/2012 12:31:22 PM
  • Q.Have you any idea what the rebels have in mind in regards to changing how the country is run when they have overthrown Assad? - Stephen Davies

    A. As in Libya, there are various competing schools of thought. There seems to be common ground that Islam should play a key role in public life but there are differences about just how much of the legal code and constituition would be based on religion. This is the case among the various Islamist parties as well. There is also debate about what happens to the Alawites. Most say an accommodation must be found, but there are also those who are adamant that they cannot share the country with them after all that has happened.
    8/15/2012 12:36:25 PM
  • Q. How supportive are the Syrian general public of the FSA and other factions fighting the regime ? Is there a sense that they are to blame for the current devastation or does the blame lie with Bashar?

    A. It is undoubtedly the case that the Assad government enjoys an element of support among the Sunnis as well as the Alawites and the Christians. Aleppo, as you know, was late in joining the revolution and one heard complaints from the rebels about the attitude of some of the residents. Older people tended to be more pro-Assad than younger ones and various clans, like the Barris, fought for the government. As the scale of destruction from shelling and air strikes grew, criticism of the rebels also grew to an extent. Most people, however, say at least that they are for the revolution.
    8/15/2012 12:41:41 PM
  • Q. Where do you think the rebels secured such high tech weaponry as that Steyr AUG A1 and the Nato 5.56mm rounds to fire through it? - Actually A Banana

    A. I saw just two Steyr rifles in my three weeks in Aleppo among hundreds of rebels and the owners of both of them were running out of ammunition. The standard weapons they have are AK-47s, RPGs and some mortars. The Libyan rebels I was with last year were vastly better armed.
    8/15/2012 12:45:24 PM
  • Q. How likely is it that the Assad regime will resort to the use of chemical weapons and under what circumstances do you think such a development is likely to happen? - Sam Barcock

    A. I think we need to be very sceptical about the use of WMDs, especially after the lies told about then by the British and American governments in relation to Iraq. Syria is a particularly vicious war and there is, of course, the possibility that the regime, in desperation may start using chemical weapons. I personally doubt that will be the case and the rebels don't seem to be overworried about WMDs either.
    8/15/2012 12:50:06 PM
  • Q. Do you feel the 'Arab Spring' has diminished or increased the terrorism threat in Europe and the US? - Charlotte, London

    A. Some extreme Islamists who may have taken part in organising terrorist plots in the West were and are focusing on the Arab Spring. But the number of plots overall, according to the security and intelligence services anyway, have not noticeably decreased since the Arab Spring began, the vast majority of them have failed to come to fruition. Most plots in the UK at least are linked to Pakistan and lately, Somalia and the Yemen, rather than the Arab Spring countries.
    8/15/2012 12:55:41 PM
  • Q.The situation there and the suffering is just unimaginable. My questions would be how can this end? When will it end? It looks to me like Syria is going the same way as Lebanon and there could be 10 years+ of conflict - Nigel King (via Google+)

    A. There is, unfortunately, little sign of the bloodshed ending and it looks like the violence and the suffering will go on for a while longer. You are right that the strife is likely to go on in the future, along Balkan, or as you put it, Lebanese lines. The sectarian antagonism which has been created sadly points in that direction.
    8/15/2012 1:00:30 PM
  • @Kim Sengupta Thanks for taking the time to answer me. Hope you stay safe.
    8/15/2012 2:33:16 PM
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