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Syria Analysis: The Deception of a Pro-Assad Activist at the UN

Syria Analysis: The Deception of a Pro-Assad Activist at the UN
December 21
16:52 2016

PHOTO: Activist Eva Bartlett speaking at the UN, December 9, 2016


Eva Bartlett is a Canadian activist who has dedicated herself to supporting Syria’s Assad regime through propaganda. For months, she has been featured on conspiracy sites denigrating civilians and rescue workers in opposition-controlled areas. Recently she gained international attention with an appearance at the UN, organized by the Assad regime’s representative Bashar al-Ja’afari.

The performance featured a collection of Bartlett’s disinformation, including a claim that the White Helmets civil defense volunteers were staging their rescues of children.

But this time, Bartlett’s propaganda would not go unchallenged: Britain’s Channel 4 took apart one of her claims.

This is the first article in our forthcoming section Syria Oracle, with fact-checking and analysis to expose the propaganda — by the Assad regime and State actors such as Russia, assisted by activists like Bartlett and even journalists — in the Syrian conflict.

Now see Syria Analysis: How Assad Regime and Supporters Spread the “14 Foreign Spies in Aleppo” Deception


The Background

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian citizen who describes herself as an “independent writer and rights activist”.

She writes a blog for the state-funded Russian media outlet Russia Today and is candid about her support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad, who is fighting Syrian rebels with Russian and Iranian help.

In a speech organised by the Syrian mission to the UN, Ms Bartlett recently criticised the western “corporate media”, saying journalists were “compromised” and used sources that were “not credible”.

She went on to attack the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group funded by a number of western governments including Britain.

Western media outlets – including Channel 4 News – frequently broadcast footage supplied by the White Helmets, which purports to show the aftermath of regime attacks on various rebel-held areas in Syria.

Supporters of the Assad regime have variously accused the White Helmets of being puppets of western powers, peddlers of faked footage or even terrorist fighters posing as humanitarian workers, all of which the organisation vigorously denies.

Ms Bartlett said: “Their video footage actually contains children that have been recycled in different reports; so you can find a girl named Aya who turns up in a report in say August, and she turns up in the next month in two different locations.”

A clip from the press conference has been viewed more than 3 million times on In The NOW, a Facebook page run by Russia Today but not branded as such.

We’ve tried to contact Ms Bartlett without success, so it’s not 100 per cent clear what she means by this, but our best guess is that she is referring to a claim involving a girl called Aya which has been circulated widely on the internet:

bartlett-false-claim

The suggestion here is that the White Helmets filmed the same child – presumably some kind of actor – at three different locations, presumably to exaggerate the effects of regime bombing, or to fake attacks altogether.

This is almost certainly nonsense. Here’s why.

The Analysis

Girl One

The dates mentioned in this photo montage are roughly accurate.

The images across the top half of the picture were taken on 27 August by Abdalrhman Ismail, a Reuters photographer who has been working on the front line of the Syrian conflict for three years.

The shots show an unnamed girl and two other children supposedly being rescued from rubble by White Helmets.

Mr Ismail photographed the girl alone and with other children, along with many other survivors of two airstrikes that hit the Bab al-Nairab district of Aleppo.

A man carries a girl that survived double airstrikes on the rebel held Bab al-Nairab neighborhood of Aleppo

Two barrel bomb strikes on that neighbourhood on that day were very widely reported. The attack that day was notable because it hit a funeral where civilians were mourning deaths from an earlier attack.

Some people commenting online seem to think it sinister that the child was photographed in the arms of three different men, but we have seen plenty of other footage from Syria where rescuers work in a chain and pass children to each other.

Girl Two

The girl in the bottom left photo is hard to see from the still used in the “Al Qaeda/White Helmets” montage. She was the subject of an astonishing piece of video footage that was broadcast around the world in September this year.

Identified in reports as Rawan Alloush, aged five, the girl was shown buried deep in debris after an airstrike in Aleppo on 23 September this year. The rest of her family – three sisters, parents and baby brother – were reported to have perished.

The long sequence in which rescuers painstakingly clearing rubble away from around the girl suggests that it would have been difficult to fake this footage.

Someone would have had to have buried a screaming child up to their chest in rubble and carefully assembled a large amount of heavy wreckage around and on top of her – an extraordinary logistical challenge and an extraordinary collective act of child abuse.

Judging by some of the online conversation about this, some people don’t believe it’s possible for children to be pulled out of the rubble of collapsed buildings without serious injury, but we know that it can happen.

It happened recently after an earthquake in central Italy. And in other conflict zones, adults and children have been known to emerge unscathed from houses wrecked by bombs.

Indeed, Eva Bartlett herself reported on such a case in Gaza in 2009, telling the story of a Palestinian man called Abu Qusay who was “buried alive” by an Israeli bomb but emerged with “only a mere scar at his left eyebrow”.

The footage was not released to the world’s media by the White Helmets through their usual online channels.

Rawan is later filmed lying on a hospital bed soon afterwards, apparently asleep or unconscious. Her jumper has been removed and her face is more clearly visible:

syria-rawan-recovering

Some online comments we have seen suggest – without any evidence – that this is not the same girl we see being rescued and carried away. But some of the details of the outfits match, like the two gold bangles the girl is wearing on her left wrist, which is visible in earlier footage too.

A report in the Australian newspaper from a few days later – heavily based on conversations with doctors in rebel-held Aleppo – said of Rawan: “She is being cared for by her grandparents but remains in deep shock, barely able to speak and apparently unable to understand that her parents and siblings are dead.”

Girl Three

This video footage was also very widely circulated. It was first uploaded to YouTube by anti-Assad activists in Talbiseh, a large rebel-held town just north of Homs, and around 100 miles away from Aleppo. Again, it was not released by the White Helmets.

We see a girl with blood apparently pouring from a wound on the bridge of her nose, in some distress, after an airstrike on Talbiseh on 10 October. She is calling for her father in Arabic:

The girl then gives her name as Aya. She was reported to be eight years old. Reports from the time suggested that Aya’s parents and three siblings all survived the attack and she was reunited with them later.

Again, judging from comments, some people believe that this footage is staged, that the girl is acting and the blood on her face is fake.

Whatever this video does and doesn’t show, it lets us have a good look at Aya’s face, so we can compare the three girls side by side.

It seems pretty obvious that these are three different children, with quite different facial features:

bartlett-3-girls

We can also clearly see throughout the footage that, despite some superficial similarities in the girls’ outfits, they are not wearing the same clothes.

Aya is wearing a sleeveless turquoise top, while Rawan is wearing a jumper in a similar colour and the unnamed girl photographed by Abdulrhman Ismail is wearing a turquoise top with a distinctively different design.

Like Rawan, this girl wears gold bracelets, but they are on her right wrist. And unlike Rawan, her jeans are studded with sequins.

Timing of the Attacks

In the case of the unnamed first child, the attack in August was described by the Reuters photographer who took the picture, and there are numerous other press reports of a double airstrike in the same neighbourhood of Aleppo on that day.

Rawan was purportedly rescued from rubble on 23 September, a day when anti-government activists in Aleppo, local medical staff, journalists on the ground, the UN agency Unicef, Human Rights Watch, the Violations Documentation Center and others all reported heavy airstrikes on the city.

Indeed, the Syrian Army announced it was about to launch an operation to retake rebel-held districts of east Aleppo, including airstrikes, shortly before the incident.

In the case of “Aya”, footage uploaded by the same activist group in Talbiseh on the same day shows the aftermath of bombing on the town. Videos of victims, including crying infants and the dead body of an elderly man, were posted on the same day, apparently without attracting disbelief.

The attack took place a week after a wave of airstrikes in the area, after Russian officers were quoted as saying they were intensifying the air campaign in rebel-held areas.

The Verdict

It’s hard to prove something like this absolutely, but we think it is beyond reasonable doubt that the three little girls in these pictures are different people.

We would suggest that if you choose different still images and compare them with each other, the girls don’t really bear a very strong facial resemblance to each other at all.

The most striking similarity is their outfits – turquoise tops and jeans. But that raises an obvious question: if you really were using a child actor to fake three different incidents, why would you dress them in similar clothes? Logically, if anything, wouldn’t you make an effort to make them look as different as possible?

Add to that the other circumstantial evidence: the White Helmets – supposedly the instigators of all this “fakery” – did not actually release the footage of any of these rescues via their usual channels.

It’s not clear whether critics of the White Helmets believe that all the videos the group posts of people being rescued from bombed-out houses are fake. There are dozens listed on the group’s YouTube page in the last six months alone.

In the case of all of these three girls, we have footage of other injured children from around the same time as the attacks took place, which no one has suggested was staged. Why use fake victims when there were other real people to film and photograph?

And we have a Reuters photographer on the ground at one of the incidents, who was satisfied that the events he was recording were genuine.

Finally, we can verify from other sources that the airstrikes that led to these pictures really happened, and judging from the time they were first uploaded, we know that the pictures were taken very soon after bombs fell in the vicinity.

So to believe that these images are really of the same child actor, you would have to believe that a little girl was on standby somewhere in Syria, waiting to be rushed to different locations – crossing several front lines in the process – as soon as there was news of a regime airstrike.

Perhaps the simpler explanation is the more likely one: children really are being orphaned in Syria, or left wounded and distressed, and those children are now being wrongly accused of involvement in an elaborate conspiracy.

We ought to say that there is the possibility that Eva Bartlett had something else in mind entirely from this montage of pictures. We’ve tried to contact her for clarification but haven’t received a reply yet. We will update the blog if she gets back to us.

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About Author

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

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40 Comments

  1. Barbar
    Barbar December 21, 19:06

    Naturally nobody with a bit of common sense who is informed about the conflict believes what Bartlett has claimed re. WH’s, namely that “no-one has ever seen them in Aleppo“. I doubt she really canvassed everyone in Aleppo with this question and would be astounded if on her government-sponsored tour she ventured at all into the JI-Joe held areas, which is where WH’s exclusively operate[d]. As such her claim is worthless until modified to accurately read, “no-one I talked to has ever seen them in Aleppo“, and even then the news value remains negligible.
    .
    Her insinuations about child crisis actors, as if it were necessary to go to such bother, are equally ludicrous low-grade propaganda.

    Reply to this comment
    • Andre De Angelis
      Andre De Angelis December 22, 04:28

      Naturally nobody with a bit of common sense who is informed about the conflict believes what Bartlett has claimed re. WH’s, namely that “no-one has ever seen them in Aleppo“.

      Wrong. Another independent journalist, Vanessa Beeley, has verified that Syrians in Aleppo have never heard of the White Helmets.

      As such her claim is worthless until modified to accurately read, “no-one I talked to has ever seen them in Aleppo“, and even then the news value remains negligible.

      Not really. She made clear that the WHs operate almost exclusively in in Al Nusra controlled areas so she clearly would have questioned those who had come from these areas to get their take.

      Her insinuations about child crisis actors, as if it were necessary to go to such bother, are equally ludicrous low-grade propaganda.

      On what grounds do you come to that conclusion?

      Reply to this comment
      • Scott Lucas
        Scott Lucas Author December 22, 07:58

        Andre,

        Beeley is an activist not an independent journalist. We have taken apart her propaganda and likely will be doing so for Syria Oracle.

        You seem not to realize that the assertion “WHs operate almost exclusively in Al Nusra controlled areas” is nonsense.

        S.

        Reply to this comment
      • Barbar
        Barbar December 23, 19:51

        1. “Vanessa Beeley, has verified that Syrians in Aleppo have never heard of the White Helmets.” — She may claim that but I sincerely doubt it’s much related to reality and would be shocked to learn that she ventured into JI-Joe territory to canvass the inhabitants as to what they hadn’t seen.
        .
        2. “so she clearly would have questioned those who had come from these areas to get their take.” — I didn’t hear her claim this and don’t presume to know what she would have done with the conditional clause omitted.
        .
        3. “On what grounds do you come to that conclusion?” — On the grounds that there is a ferocious bloody war going on there and thus literally superfluous to resort to faking grisly scenarios in order to procure heart-rending footage of civilians splattered, crushed or decapitated by bombs [from both sides].

        Reply to this comment
        • Andre De Angelis
          Andre De Angelis December 24, 01:06

          1. You don’t have to ventured into JI-Joe territory to canvass the inhabitants. You interview those who have fled from those areas.

          2. You presume to know what areas she visited. Your presumption appears selective.

          3. You are ignoring history. No matter how ferocious and bloody a war might be, propaganda is recognized as an essential way ingredient. Iraq 1 would not have proceeded without the lies about babies taken out of incubators. Iraq 2 would not have taken place with lies about WMD.

          Reply to this comment
          • Barbar
            Barbar December 24, 10:28

            1. “You presume to know what areas she visited.” — No, I merely deduce from the fact that she is there on a Syrian-government-sponsored PR tour that she [plus ‘minders’] will not run the 100% risk of having her head sawn off within the first 10 minutes by voluntarily going in there. To think otherwise is to presume she is a suicidal idiot, which I also do not.
            .
            2. “You don’t have to ventured into JI-Joe territory to canvass the inhabitants. You interview those who have fled from those areas.” — That sounds reasonable but still does not cover her sweeping statement about ‘nobody in Aleppo’. Further, all did not flee to government areas and those who do must be presumed to be relatively sympathetic to the loyalist side, thus also more likely to tell Vanessa/Eva whatever they wish to hear, particularly when these inquisitive dames are backed up during the interview by a squad of heavily armed minders lurking in the immediate vicinity on the lookout for infiltrating JI-Joe sympathisers.
            .
            3. “You are ignoring history. No matter how ferocious and bloody a war might be, propaganda is recognized as an essential way ingredient. Iraq 1 would not have proceeded without the lies about babies taken out of incubators. Iraq 2 would not have taken place with lies about WMD.” — No, I’m well aware of the history of warmonglerish propaganda, but do not see how pulling up two arbitrary examples thereof helps verify Vanessa or Eva’s specific ludicrous statements about the WH’s alleged invisibility in Aleppo.
            .
            4. In general the pro-Syrian government propaganda produced in this war has been of very poor quality [and quantity] when compared to the efforts of NATO and its surrogates. Just look at Ziad Abu Fadel for a crass example of the fiction/fantasy genre which can only appeal to the most fanatically partisan fanbois. Employing the likes of Bartlett & Beeley may be a belated official effort to now start picking up the huge amount of slack, but they are by far not up to the standards of professional propagandists.

            Reply to this comment
  2. Amir in Tel Aviv
    Amir in Tel Aviv December 21, 21:21

    She visited Syria 6 times since 2014, she speaks Arabic and was able to talk with Syrians. She knows better than you do. Also, there’s no disagreement over the fact that the WH are an organ of the armed Islamist rebellion and are funded by the enemies of the Syrian government. For me that’s a good enough reason to believe her and not the biased channel 4.

    Reply to this comment
    • Don Cox
      Don Cox December 21, 21:46

      They can be a part of the rebellion and still be actually rescuing people from bombed buildings.
      .
      Certainly fake news is very common in Middle East conflicts, especially those between the Israelis and their neighbours, but that doesn’t mean that the WH are necessarily fakes. The bombing is certainly real, so there is a real need for rescue teams.

      Reply to this comment
      • Amir in Tel Aviv
        Amir in Tel Aviv December 21, 22:54

        I absolutely agree with you Don.
        If they only focused on saving people (and yes, there is a cruel war going on ), there was no criticism thrown at them. But they insist on politicizing their rescue mission.

        Reply to this comment
        • Bs As
          Bs As December 21, 23:09

          “But they insist on politicizing their rescue mission”

          You would prefere the crimes to go unnoticed?

          Reply to this comment
          • Andre De Angelis
            Andre De Angelis December 22, 04:29

            You would prefere the crimes to go unnoticed?

            So you are happy Clinton’s and Podesta’s emails got leaked and that the DNC server got hacked?

            Reply to this comment
  3. Gogo
    Gogo December 21, 22:14

    Eva Bartlett is right, I thank her for her bravery to tell truth. In civil war really terrible acts occurs, but rebels did as horrific acts as government forces. Rebels summarily executed prisoners, beheaded soldiers, mutilated bodies, fired mortars, gas cannisters and chemicals against civilian targets. Idlib is not different to medieval hellhole, rebels are mostly regressive fanatical islamists reprezenting no progress for humanity. Their situation is unsustainable, kept only by disrespectful usage technology invented by west (medicine, elektricity, cars, communication technology and so on).

    Reply to this comment
  4. Mike
    Mike December 21, 22:22

    The West and Arab kings working overtime to silence critics and pump out propaganda. She stood up to them. Bravo, Eva.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Mike
    Mike December 21, 22:27

    Anybody see the video of the rebel sending his two young daughters to carry out suicide attacks?
    .
    These people are sub-human. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are their masters.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Lyn
    Lyn December 22, 03:07

    I would love to know if you are so learned and brilliant at analising and writing articles, why this word for word transcript of a Channel Four News blog from 20th December ended up here on your site the very next day? Did you all get the hit piece memo, I take it? Pathetic. Teach at university do you? Shame shame shame on your institution, in that case.

    Reply to this comment
  7. badb
    badb December 22, 05:28

    The Assad regime is very well known for its brutality even before the civil war. It is expected and I don’t think there is a basis for painting Assad as Ghandi. You can base your judgments on footage taken by Assad’s soldiers where they torture people either during the civil war or even before in early and late 2000s. The thing that I hate the most about this war is bias. People thinking Assad is angel who never committed a crime and on the other hand, some will say all rebels are just freedom fighters. I only trust kurds and the actual Free Syrian Army that doesn’t want to push Islamic agendas. All other groups Assadists and Islamists shall burn in hell

    Reply to this comment
    • Andre De Angelis
      Andre De Angelis December 22, 20:23

      There is no Free Syrian Army

      Reply to this comment
      • Bs As
        Bs As December 22, 21:46

        “There is no Free Syrian Army”

        So who exactly was the kremlin armying one year ago when Putin announced that Russia was “providing arms to the FSA”?, Al-Qaida?.

        Reply to this comment
        • Andre De Angelis
          Andre De Angelis December 23, 00:53

          Feel free to provide a link

          Reply to this comment
          • Bs As
            Bs As December 23, 14:32

            Straight from the Kremlin, in those days they were “rebelS” lol:

            Russia supports both Assad troops and rebels in battle against ISIS – Putin

            ““We support both Assad’s army and the armed opposition,” Putin said in a lengthy recent interview to the newspaper, now published in full. “Some of them have publicly declared this, others prefer to remain silent, but the work is ongoing.””

            https://www.rt.com/news/328587-putin-syria-russia-isis/

            Russia delivers up to 40 airstrikes daily to help Free Syrian Army fight terrorists – General Staff:

            “He added that Russia’s task force in Syria is also supplying FSA units with “weapons, munitions and other material supplies.” In this way, Russia is “promoting the [Syrian] government troops and opposition groups joining efforts to defeat the terrorists,” the general said.”

            https://www.rt.com/news/325834-russia-strikes-support-fsa/

            Reply to this comment
            • Andre De Angelis
              Andre De Angelis December 24, 01:10

              You claimed Russia armed the opposition. It turns out that was a false claim.

              Thanks for the confirmation.

              Reply to this comment
              • Bs As
                Bs As December 24, 16:24

                Putin claimed that russia armed the opposition.

          • Bs As
            Bs As December 23, 14:38

            Really?, that is even worst!, why were them bombing the hell out of the place if they knew that the rebels were holding civilians hostages?, isn´t that exactly what they accuse Israel of doing?:

            Syria calls for world to stop Israel’s strikes at Gaza

            http://www.timesofisrael.com/syrian-chutzpah-assad-government-condemns-israel-for-gaza-attack/

            Reply to this comment
            • Andre De Angelis
              Andre De Angelis December 24, 01:14

              Israel started every war in Gaza. They even gave a cute euphemism for this policy “mowing the grass”, which is their way of describing the policy or destroying Gaza every few years to keep the Palestinians impoverished.

              Hamas have never presented a threat to Israel’s existence or threatened to overthrow the good government.

              Assad on the other hand was fighting an enemy who was trying to take over Syria and overthrow him.

              Surely even you can see the obvious difference.

              Reply to this comment
              • Bs As
                Bs As December 24, 16:27

                “Assad on the other hand was fighting an enemy who was trying to take over Syria and overthrow him.”

                And in the process que has killed more people than the black plague.

              • Don Cox
                Don Cox December 24, 19:12

                “Hamas have never presented a threat to Israel’s existence or threatened to overthrow the good government.”
                .
                The Hamas Covenant specifically states their aim of violently destroying Israel. It is easily found on the web.
                .
                Israel attacks Hamas only when the number of rockets sent from Gaza to Israel becomes too great.

                The stupidity of Hamas is that if they would only make peace with Israel, Gaza could be a very prosperous little state. But their obsession with religion, and with the idea that Muslims must always dominate over everyone else, is such that they will continue to live in frustration.

    • Scott Lucas
      Scott Lucas Author December 22, 09:29

      David,

      Thank you for this — it shows the sources of Bartlett’s deceptions and the lack of evidence.

      You’ll notice that Bartlett is drawing from 21st-Century Wire, in which Vanessa Beeley is involved, and merely recycling its fabrications and exaggerations.

      This is how a small circle of activists — whether intentionally or in parallel — put out the propaganda line of Russia and the Assad regime, supporting the political and military attacks.

      See, for example, http://eaworldview.com/2016/10/syria-feature-these-are-the-white-helmets/

      S.

      Reply to this comment
  8. Afshin
    Afshin December 22, 13:27

    The levels of propaganda on this forum are reaching alarming heights !

    Reply to this comment
    • Scott Lucas
      Scott Lucas Author December 22, 16:35

      Afshin,

      Thanks. One reason why we are starting Syria Oracle — to expose disinformation and get to heart of what is actually happening.

      S.

      Reply to this comment
  9. Kevin
    Kevin December 22, 18:53

    This must have hit close to home. The Putinbots are out in full force trying to slam this. LOL. Notice how none of them can present any facts whatsoever.

    Reply to this comment
    • Andre De Angelis
      Andre De Angelis December 22, 20:21

      Actually the Washington establishment and main stream media are the ones going after this story. They are clearly alarmed that Bartlet’s account has received such widespread attention.

      As for evidence, there is ample. The claim that there weer 250,000 Syrians trapped in East Aleppo has been completely debunked by the liberation of East Aleppo where the numbers don’t even come close.

      Reply to this comment
      • Bs As
        Bs As December 22, 21:57

        But most outstanding were those debunked stupid pro-regime statements wich claimed that there were no trapped civilians in East Aleppo cause they were all living happily in the assad-controlled territory (Mike dixit).

        Reply to this comment

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