I Am Andrew Simmons, correspondent for Al Jazeera English, and fresh out of Syria. Ask me anything!
Andrew Simmons will be swinging by in an hour to answer your questions.
For proof, a quick description of him and to see the latest things he’s been reporting on, click here.
He’s just returned from Syria and is currently on the Turkey-Syria border.
Feel free to start asking questions, and he’ll update this post (and start answering questions) as soon as he gets in.
Edit: Sorry, Andrew has been detained. At around 14:30GMT he said he had some breaking news to attend to, so we're waiting for him to finish that up.
Edit2: He just popped in.
Edit3: Update on the breaking news: At least 3 people were killed after mortar attacks from Syria land in the Turkish border region of Akcakale.
Edit4: Andrew's latest report: Syrian familes torn apart by civil war.
Edit5: Andrew's preparing for another live at the top of the hour (1700gmt) - he'll be here intermittently answering questions, and again later on after he goes on air. You can find our livestream here.
Edit6: While waiting for Andrew, you may as well follow him on Twitter: @simmjazeera.
Edit7: By the way, here is the original video of his Reddit AMA callout from the Syrian border posted yesterday. Also, ctrl-f rampart. No matches found. Thank you, Reddit.
That is hard to predict. And dependant on how they can somehow co-ordinate their actions on the ground in a better way. Not only that and far more crucial they are crying out for more effective heavier weaponry and more ammunition supplies.
As many others have said, Thank you for taking the time to do this. These AMA's really are making reporters seem human again.
Recently, Hillary Clinton pledged millions of dollars for the Syrian rebels/Resistance. She pledged humanitarian aid, and electronic support/assistance. By your view, have these pledges made there way to the ground? Have you seen such missions being carried out? If so, what sort of aid has been given? By your own view at least.
I was in Istanbul when Hilary Clinton pledged more humanitarian aid in August and there have been more such gestures since. There is aid - but not enough - reaching the 90,000 + Syrian refugees here in Turkey. But on the other side of the border next to nil. Western NGOs and aid agencies are very thin on the ground, partly because the Syrian Government doesn't want them there, Last week I was at Atma camp - a stone's throw from the border where 7,000 internally displaced people are living in dire conditions. Many under the branches of olive trees strewn with the few blankets they possess. I spoke at length to a Syrian lawyer there who explained he didn't necessarily want to leave the country he loved.. he was living in those awful conditions to keep his kids safe. Sorry have to cut short.. shells have landed Turkish side of border at least five dead and we have to do a team briefing, Back within 15 minutes.
I AM SORRY BUT THE SITUATION ON THE TURKISH BORDER WITH SYRIA HAS BECOME WORSE. THE FIRST ATTACK BY SYRIA WHICH HAS KILLED TURKISH NATIONALS AND THEY INCLUDE CHILDREN. TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER IN PHONE CONTACT WITH UN SEC GEN BAN KI MOON. I HAVE TO GO NOW TO PREPARE FOR LIVE REPORT AT THE TOP OF THE HOUR -- 17G -- PLEASE WATCH IF YOU CAN ONLINE http://www.aljazeera.com/watch_now/
Thanks for doing the AMA Mr. Simmons!
Would you say what is happening right now in Syria constitutes civil war?
What do you think will be the biggest deciding factor in whether Assad stays or goes? What kind of percentage chance would you give the survival of his regime?
Can you say at this point whether the country would be better off one way or another? Obviously Assad has been brutal and murderous, but it's not difficult to foresee a potentially worse situation.
And lastly, how do you think the resisters in Syria find the courage to continue? It's been such a long and brutal conflict, it must take a tremendous amount of resilience and fortitude.
Sorry for all the questions, I don't know when I'll get another chance to ask! Thanks!
Without doubt this is civil war. Assad going a percentage chance???? I am not a betting man but I would put it as high. The only question is when and how. It could be a very long time with who knows how many civilian deaths before there is some solution which is more than likely in my view to be well after the US elections. This country would be better off with a political settlement but that is out of reach right now. A worse situation? It could indeed get worse and as things stand that is probably likely. If what you mean is could chemical weapons be involved or could the war spread regionally for now these threats are further down the road .. as threats I mean.
How many foreign fighters did you come in contact with?
Only a handful -- but I haven't been to areas where they are reportedly prevalent. They tend to be at the very frontline of conflict.
Thanks for doing this!
What's the average day like for the citizens there?
Have you ever been close to dieing from a suicide bomber or gun-fight?
The average day is absolutely dreadful for so many Syrian civilians right now. Please view the report running on AJE if you can - it's on again in just over 5 minutes. It hasn't been uploaded yet - I will post the link as soon as it is up there. It's the children who are suffering the most.
On your second question - I've never thankfully been near to a suicide bomber. In this conflict I have been lucky so far although only a few days ago we had to take hard cover during an air raid. In the past yes I have been too close to gun fights. In Grozny, Chechnya and in Bosnia. And in Iraq on Gulf War 1 I was taken prisoner by the republican guard in Basra for more than a week. At one stage it looked like I was going to be executed. However, it was at the end of the conflict and I along with the rest of the team for the UK news organisation ITN became part of the final peace deal by being classified as POWs and handed over to the ICRC in Baghdad.
When do you think Turkey will say "Enough" and either intervene or close their borders? Thanks for the AMA
Turkey has already closed its borders to internally displaced people in Syria who become refugees once they are here. They are allowing a few thousand a week through but that isn’t enough. Turkey is overwhelmed by the influx of Syrian people – the total of officially registered refugees is about to reach 100,000 and you have to add to that a colossal number of unregistered Syrians most of whom have been smuggled across the border illegally – something that is commonplace at a cost to the Syrians. Politically Turkey is at risk of political isolation should it try to intervene militarily. Put simply without US support it will not do so.
Mr. Simmons, thank you very much for this. Where does Turkey stand on the movement of men and materiel across its southern border into Syria? How are weapons and ammunition, outside of store captured from the regime, making it to the frontline brigades?
Turkey turns something of a blind eye to the movement of men across the border and I have no doubt that arms and ammunition are crossing as well although covertly and with the watchful eye of Turkish intelligence services. I cannot give absolute evidence of this but I do know their intelligence agents are active on the border and fairy well appraised of what is going on. Again I cannot prove this but reliable sources have told me that much of these arms and ammunition are bought on the black market and smuggled along well used routes through holes in fences along the long winding border with Syria that stretches more than 900 kilometres. As for foreign arms shipments there appear to be none from Western states in line with their public statements. However there are unconfirmed reports of Arab states supply arms or the money to buy them. But how such weaponry is getting in is unclear.
How does the Free Syrian Army compare to similar groups in similar conflicts?
I normally baulk at comparing one warzone or force within it to another because every conflict is different. Syria is one of the most complex wars I have covered. The Free Syrian Army is an umbrella organisation that gradually started showing some signs of co-ordination. But now it has splintered and its very existence isa t stake. No one knows an accurate number of brigades, battalions, military councils and fighting groups. The head of the FSA Riad al-Asaad who has been trying to run his campaign from Turkey is under serious pressure now because of dissent and outright hostility on the ground in Syria. I reported on this two days ago. A new command of military councils has now been formed that claims 80 per cent support. One of the main aspects of the frequent switches of allegiance from one command to another is the poor supply of weapons, almost exclusively off the black market, that the FSA gets. Riad al-Asaad told Al Jazeera English in a rare exclusive interview that he hasn’t received one bullet from any foreign power. However other groups do seem to be getting much better arms shipments from Arab states. It gets complicated but as for comparing the FSA to similar groups in similar conflicts I would say there are no such similar groups and no such similar conflicts.
If the anti-government forces succeed in toppling the regime could it inspire other revolutions in other Arab states? Would a decisive victory by the al-Assad regime quell protests and slow the spread of the Arab Spring?
This of course is a possibility. There is little doubt that the Syrian uprising would not have happened had it not been for the Arab Spring starting in Tunisia and inspiring the Egyptian revolution and then the uprising in Libya. As for a decisive victory by Assad quelling protests elsewhere that is a hard call. I think it unlikely. I also find it hard to foresee Assad remaining as president should there be a political settlement eventually.
What are the main foreign interests in Syria? Who is (or isn't) supporting which side of the struggle, and for what reasons? And why are the UN having such trouble there?
The main foreign interests in Syria are these: Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Egypt, the USA of course, Europe (particularly France of late), Russia and China. Russia and China are with the Assad government. The rest support opposition to Assad but they are split on which elements of resistance both politically and militarily they are prepared to back.
As for the UN – the Security Council is impotent in taking any action. Resolutions have been vetoed by China and Russia. And the UN General Assembly is turning out to be little more than talking shop and place for all sides to grandstand. Meanwhile the abysmal human tragedy of Syria carries on.
Since there is all this death in destruction going on in Syria have you seen something while you were there that has restored your faith in humanity?
The level of support civilians have for each other -- often selfless under the most appalling circumstances. And a lawyer sitting under an olive tree in Atma IDP camp with absolutely nothing apart from the love and care that made his 3 kids smile. And he was smiling too. I gave him a Turkish cellphone and SIM card and we'll keep in touch.
How much is your station influenced by the fact that the Qatari royal family is funding you? They are really pro America and against countries who are openly hostile to western interference.
This fact is also why your network has lost a lot of face, would be great with your perspective on it.
I answer this with all sincerity as a Correspondent of 57 years of age with three decades of experience in broadcast news. Not once with AlJazeera English have I been swayed, censored or had story ideas refused in my seven years with the organisation. And I know I also speak on behalf of my colleagues in saying this. Please judge our journalism from what you see on screen, not the predictable lines you have obviously seen in other media.
What is the most interesting thing you have encountered during your time spent reporting in Syria?
DEPENDS WHAT YOU MEAN BY INTERESTING. IN TERMS OF NEWS INTEREST THE MOMENT IS NOW. SORRY I HAVEN'T BEEN ABLE TO ANSWER MORE QUESTIONS BUT I HAVE BEEN REPORTING LIVE FOR THE PAST THREE HOURS IN OPEN ENDED COVERAGE OF TURKEY'S ARTILLERY ATTACK ON SYRIA IN RESPONSE TO THE ASSAD FORCES MORTAR THAT KILLED FIVE TURKISH NATIONALS AMONG THEM CHILDREN. THIS IS THE FIRST TIME TURKEY HAS RESPONDED MILITARILY IN THE 19MONTH CONFLIC. DIPLOMATIC HOTLINES ARE BUZZING. NATO EMERGENCY MEETING SOON.
What was a typical day like for you while in Syria?
Getting very little sleep although I was so exhausted at one point that I slept though an air raid in Jabal AlZawiya with one bomb landing fairly close. Getting stressed by the time it takes to get from A to B - with fuel shortages you have to be vigilant about having enough to make your destination. Food isn't in short supply so no real problems there. The stories covered made for different days really - not a typical one. In Jab alZawiyah the random nature of shelling and air attacks was a constant. It was striking how extraordinarily resilient civilians have become in dealing with the threat. Digging out their gardens to make bomb shelters, some using caves. There is a mood of sad acceptance that the war will be prolonged.
Is there any fear of retribution in the Alawite community if the rebels are able to unseat al-Assad?
Do you think that kind of retribution is likely?
I am afraid sadly the answer is yes.
In your opinion, is there any way this conflict could end other than either side claiming a military victory? Would Bashar al-Assad ever conceivably step aside under an amnesty agreement, power-sharing arrangement, or some other non-military option?
EDIT: Removed a small typo.
I think your question is well put. Russia wants to see a political settlement along the lines of the latter part of your question. However, all sides in this have come so far down a bloody road it is hard to see anything settled in the near future. But many observers feel realpolitik will have to kick in eventually. One has to ask what the people of Syria want - they don't have a vote or any means of an opinion poll. The longer this goes on the more polarised it gets with sectarianism making a peaceful solution appearing unattainable.
"fresh out of Syria."
When is your next shipment?
Fresh as described by an online colleague isn't the word I would use to describe my state. And as for shipments, carrying a rucksack with a couple of changes of clothes, some protective body armour and water supplies with long walks across borders is about all any shipment amounts to on newsgathering assignments.
sigh I bet this will be ignored or buried, but I wanted to ask how you got your career started at Al Jazeera Mr. Simmons? I love the courage journalists like you have to dive right into the action and come out with a story.
My career started in tv news three decades ago. I was a correspondent for the UK's Independent Television News for 16 years followed by Sky News then the BBC. I had been based in West Africa when I was asked by a former ITV colleague to join AJE pre-launch and set up Africa Bureaux. I hesitated at first but then jumped in at the deep end in June 2005. And I've never looked back. In 2006 I moved to Nairobi, Kenya in 2006 and I transferred to London News Centre two years ago. But I'm on the road most of the time. It's a great channel for independent journalism. Multinational spread of staff,culture and receptive to ideas form the field in a way I haven't experienced at any stage in my career.
Are you always fearful of your surroundings? Are you always alert just in case you end up in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Yes you have to be alert - not just for yourself but the camera person who takes more risks than the Correspondent. In TV news the pictures are obviously the priority and that sometimes means taking calculated risks as a team. We are also so dependant very often on fixer/translator/guides who are much braver than us. And so often we leave them behind when the assignment is over. They deserve more plaudits than us in making things happen. As for wrong place wrong time well yes you are mindful of that but if it spooks you through some instinct then you just don't do it.
Do you speak Arabic? If so, do you've any advice for an English speaker in the process of learning it? It's damn hard.
I don't speak Arabic and wish I did. And I agree it is very hard - especially at my age. Please pass on any advice!
How long do you expect the conflict to continue?
Impossible to judge. I would suggest that it will be well after the U.S elections.
So what's the deal with Turkeys counter artillary strike against Syria? Are we looking at a war between the two nations now?
Turkey says it has run out of patience with shells and mortars landing its side of the border in the Akcakale area. At time of writing Turkey is still reported to be firing shells into Syria. This has all the hallmarks of a limited retaliatory action but the longer it goes on the more the risk of more escalation. Syria has in effect apologised to the Turkish people for the 5 civilian deaths Wednesday and says it will investigate. It is important to stress that we have absolutely no evidence the Syrian mortar was deliberately aimed at Turkey. The fighting that is going on with rebels on the border town of TalAbyad. Are we looking at a war between Syria and Turkey? Right now the answer is no. For background on what was happening on the ground prior to this action please watch my report from a few days ago http://goo.gl/Cc2iT
Syria just attacked Turkey and the situation between the two nations has escalated.
In your professional opinion, do you think Turkey will strike back?
That question has been answered now by events -- I hope you can watch AJE online for updates. Please see earlier post for my brief thoughts.
Do the rebels have any chance of winning?
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