I am Zeina Khodr, an Al Jazeera English correspondent who just returned from reporting in Aleppo, Syria. Ask me anything!
Al Jazeera correspondent Zeina Khodr has just returned from reporting in Aleppo, Syria, and is here to answer any questions you have starting at 9AM EDT (that's 13:00 GMT).
Khodr mainly covers the Arab world, but has also reported from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. She's worked in news for more than 15 years, with Al Jazeera, MBC, Emirates Dubai Television, the BBC's World Service and CNN.
Here are some of her recent reports from Syria:
Remaining Syrian Christians fear chaos
Citizen press emerges in Syria's rebel zones
Syria's Aleppo divided by frontlines
Bodies dumped in Syria's 'river of death'
You can follow her on Twitter: @ZeinaKhodr
UPDATE: Thanks everyone! Zeina is done answering questions, though she may be briefly back later to answer a few more.
Undoubtedly the government has been responsible for many atrocities. It is fighting its own people. The rebels have been accused of atrocities like executing their prisoners ... The UN has blamed both sides but it was right when it said rebels didnt reach the "intensity and scale" of the regime's
Were you witness to any violations of the geneva conventions by rebel forces?
Not a witness, no. But there have been videos.
Do you think that once the rebels gain power they will continue to eliminate regime's supporters or people of other faiths?
There is a possibility. I know the rebels have a "wanted list" - and they dont shy away from publicizing this. There are those who seek revenge. there are others who believe those responsible for crimes will be held accountable in courts
Notice the choice of words here, Syria is "Undoubtedly responsible" whereas the rebels are just "accused".
Both sides have done atrocities and Zenia only claims the the government has.
Zenia only claims the the government has.
No, she doesn't. That is a prime example of twisting words.
No, I think I made clear that the rebels have been responsible for atrocities. I specifically remember reporting about the killing of prisoners (govt soldiers) by rebels in saraqeb after the opposition took over their base
Does the conflict remain mainly a popular revolution against the government, or is it now more of a civil war between Alawites, Kurds, Sunnis etc?
Undoubtedly people took to the streets to demand democratic reforms. But it is now a civil war. And there is hatred. Many people in the opposition feel that they were marginalized... never given equal opportunities,. there was corruption ... To some extent you feel it is also a class war ... I remember standing at the main border corssing between Lebanon and Syria when thousands fled Damascus due to the fighting last year (July) - they were fleeing in their vehicles and had the money to stay at hotels. One hundred meters from the crossing there were people crossing into the country illegally and being sent to camps. One man from Homs told me: look all they care about is their cars and apratments ... let them feel what we have been enduring for months
Is the opposition as defined as people in the West believe it to be?
How are conditions for the average Syrian citizen?
Conditions are bad. Many have lost their jobs and livelihoods. Many have been forced from their homes because of the fighting. And most of the fighting has been in poor rural areas ... even in Aleppo city ... the fighting has been in impoverished neighborhoods where the rebels were able to set up base . So many people were poor to begin with. It is a daily struggle ... As for the opposition - they are united in their goal to topple the regime ... but they often dont coordinate on the ground and they have different agendas for the "new" Syria
Do you think Assad will fall and if so how long do you think it will be before it happens?
Hard to say. The state has undoubtedly been weakened but they are still holding strategic territory. Even in Idlib province, they still control the main city and a few strategic bases
Did you meet any radical Islamists who came from other countries to "help their brothers"? I live in Amsterdam, and there's been a big debate here about 15-16-17 years old youngsters who go to Syria for this reason. Nobody knows "who they help", who are their brothers, etc., because they don't want to speak about they (obviously, around 100 of them just left to fight, and some of them already died there).
If you didn't meet them, please tell me what do you think about this issue? Are they paid soldiers or what could be their reason to leave such a nice country as Holland is and to go to the war?
Yes we have met fighters from other countries in Syria. I answered this question earlier. They are not the majority. But what they did tell me is that they feel it is their duty to help their Muslim brothers.
Does a breakthrough from either side seem possible in Aleppo? And what state are the city and its residents in after so many months of fighting?
It is a stalemate in Aleppo. The forntlines havent moved since rebels stormed some neighborhoods and set up base last July. (recent rebel gains in Sheikh Maqsood and Sheikh Saeed districts may be an exception) The opposition has been trying to take control of the main international aiprort in the city for some time now. To no avail. The state will fight hard because it uses the airport to send supplies to its troops in the west of the city. // Many people are tired. In some areas there is no electricity at all. Even water ... very difficult living conditions - apart from the bombardment ... //There are those who tell me that they are willing to sacrficie even more to achieve their goal ... but there are others who clearly want this war to end ... and support some form of negotiated political settlement.
Hi Ms. Khodr,
Thank you for doing this AmA. I have a few questions
1) Have you noticed the influx of Croatian arms that was reported by the NYT?
2) what are people's view on the Al Nusrah Front? Were you able to interview any members of Al Nusrah?
3) How much of Aleppo is now completely under rebel control?
4) It seems as though many Syrians are locked into the stalemate mentality regarding the war. Do people in Aleppo seem to share that sentiment or do they see recent rebel advances as marking the "end game" of the conflict?
thank you for your time.
Yes I met members of Nusra. There are those who highly respect them - even young children. They tell you the fighters of Nusra are the only ones who are on the frontlines. But there are others who view them with suspicion ... because they want to create an Islamic state.
No I didnt see that. But clearly the rebels in Deraa province and the southern flank of Damascus have become stronger (close to Jordan border).
Thank you for your response. When you say "stronger" do you mean in terms of armaments? training? numbers?
Not sure because I havent been to that area. But clearly the opposition has been making advances in that region - which is strategic - Deraa is less than an hours drive to Damascus.
The eastern part of the city is in rebel hands (apart from the airport). The state controls the west... They have an advantage since the state controls higher ground ... strategic ground ...
I've often read and heard characterizations of the current crisis as a regional proxy war in which Ankara and Riyadh are seeking to effectively hijack the anti-government rebellion by putting opposition militias on their payroll with the ultimate goal of installing the current leadership of the Syrian National Coalition and creating a new Syrian government which will be friendlier to their interests as well as the interests of the West. While you were in the Idlib and Aleppo provinces, did you find the political agendas of some of the opposition militias whom you met with to be in any way at all influenced by the government of Turkey or the governments of the GCC countries? If so, how strong was this influence on the activities and the goals of these opposition militias? And what was the view among opposition militias of the Syrian National Coalition?
Many rebel commanders and fighters ... as well as civilians dont recognize the SNC ... they feel that the "politicians abroad" are out of touch with reality and are working for their own interests. THere are those who tell you that they are willing to give the SNC a chance if they are able to improve their lives - ie: provide food, money, etc ... The biggest challenge facing the SNC is to gain credibility on the ground. Right now, it is the commanders on the ground who are influential ...
Thank you for doing this.
1) Seeing the conflict first hand, do you believe the situation can shift towards peace without outside military interference?
2) Do you see the "rebellious fractions" as the voice of the people, and as the natural takers of power, after a given revolution? Is Assads time over, or does he still have noticeable support? (western media are not objective on this)
EDIT: Typo in question 2.
It is proving to be very difficult to find a peaceful settlement to this conflict. Rebels do represent the people simply because they are the people. But the biggest question is whether they would unite after the fall of the regime. Or will there be a power struggle. They certainly have more influence on the ground that politicians living abroad. And yes the state still has support - (there are many who fear the alternative; possible chaos). But it is hard to say how much support
How many of the rebel fighters are not actually Syrians (estimation, of course)? Does it seem to be the case that many outside groups are appropriating the rebels' fight for their own ends?
There are fighters from other countries - but they are not the majority. It is hard to give an estimate. But they feel that they are doing a duty and helping their fellow Muslims. That is what many of them told me. They feel that the world abandoned the Syrians and they had to step in
an amazing and courageous Journalist! my question is what are your impressions on who would win the war in the end (FSA, al Nusra, Assad)
Hard to say but I can tell you who lost: the civilians
What about raping women by syrian soldiers? Is it wide spread like Bosnia war? Are there any number estimated for women raped in this crisis?
I really dont have much information on this. First of all, it is a conservative society so women tend to avoid discussing this. And second we cannot operate in government controlled territory.
Hi! How do you view the country situation regarding the civil war, public safety and infrastructure? Now with all the North Korea news, Syria has been dormant for a short while, and I was wondering/hoping if things have improved just ever so slightly?
No the sityation has not improved. It is getting worse. Fighting is spreading to other areas forcing many people to seek safety elshwere - refugee and displaced numbers on the rise
In your perception, is the general population supportive of the regime, or the FSA? Or they don't care and just want to live?
There are those who just want to live. There are those who support the opposition. There are some who still support the state. There are others who support the state simply becasue they fear the alternative.
To what extent do you see the conflict in Syria spilling over into Lebanon? Do you see political factions within Lebanon openly taking sides?
Political factions in Lebanon have openly taken sides. The country has been destabilized by the conflict in Syria.
Hi Zeina, what kind of timeline can you imagine? Do see an end to the conflict any time soon? Do you think the conflict will be resolved by Syrians alone, or do they need foreign assistance? for example a Turkish invasion.
There are no signs that the conflict will end soon, Syrians are unlikely to find a solution by themselves. Both sides have made clear they want to fight until the end
How is it for you personally to live in Aleppo? Feeling "safe"?
Nowhere is safe in Allepo.
How do you cope with that?
You have to take precautions. But this is a war. there is little you can do
What is the allegiance of the rebels in Aleppo; are they mainly FSA, or Al Nusra, or some other group?
To what extent do these groups have a command structure?
Finally, how much influence do groups like Al Nusra now have nationally in Syria, compared to the FSA? Does the FSA still comprise the majority of the rebels?
There are many groups operating in Allepo city. Many different brigades. Some are loyal to the Supreme Military Council. Others fall under the umbrella of the "Islamic Front". It is hard to say who is the majority. All groups know that they will have the support of the people if they can provide services, improve their lives ... So you increasingly see them get involved in providing bread etc ... A few months ago, there were demonstrations against the FSA ... (again this is just a label and it is now understood as a term to define non-Islamic groups) becasue they were accused of corruption. So the rebel commanders are aware that they will lose support unless their fighters help people and bring law and order
Hopefully you'll be back to answer this: Have there been any significant territorial gains on the part of the government? Is there any major area that was once rebel-held that the government has reconquered and pacified?
No. When the government soldiers are "forced" to leave an area... They rarely send their troops back in. But they do launch a counteroffensive using planes ... Airstirkes and shelling
Have you met any humanitarian groups? I'm especially interested in small groups of Syrian individuals living abroad like physicians in the US organizing themselves to take a trip to bring medial supplies to the people, perform surgeries, delivering ambulances, etc. Have you seen or heard about this while being there? Are they making any dent?
Very few intl aid workers are in Syria.
People need help. The very few aid workers who are in Syria have told me that they are shocked by the intl response. Yes it is dangerous to operate in the country. But people are angry becasue of the little help they get. They (those who live in opposition controlled areas) are angry at the UN since the world body doesnt operate without hte approval of the govt.
What is the main reason for sunni soldiers remain in the syrian army what is in there mind? and is it true that sunnis are the majority in the syrian army?
It is believed that Sunnis make up the rank and file ... the officers are Alawites. There are a number of reasons why many havent defected : they support the state, they cant leave, fear for the safety of their families
do you think the Assad regime could have lasted the way it did with out the unrelenting support of Iran?
The support the govt gets from its allies has been crucial
How is the view about Turkey held by Syrian people in general?
Many are thankful of Turkey's support - Turkey has opened its borders and it is a lifeline for rebels and civilians
My friends and I always debate the viewpoint of Western media on the happenings in Syria. With all the disturbing headlines and footage I feel like Syria is in chaos and its people in turmoil. In your opinion, are the majority of Syrian people happy? Do they consider Assad to be a good ruler?
I wont quantify. But we have to always understand why the uprising started. Many people felt that the "selected few" were benefiting while they were marginalized ... Those who were close to the leadership were given opportunities. I wont forget what one man told me - he said i feel safer now than when the regime was in our town. And he told me that while we were hiding in a bunker - the town of Maarat Numan was coming under heavy bombardment and airstrikes ... That didnt seem to bother him. He said that when govt soldiers were in the town - and even before the uprising - an intelligence officer could just knock on his door and arrest him for no reason ... So now he felt safer despite the bombardment. There are others of course who feel the uprising should not have become an armed conflict.
Is sexual assault in Syria as systemic as it was in Egypt in 2011? Have you ever felt personally threatened in this regard?
can you pls guess how long would the war continue like this if the 'international community' didn't intervene!
It can end suddenly ... or it can last for years.
Would you say the general population supports the uprising?
Would people prefer the status quo (Not necessarily Assad, but continuity and stability versus change) , or are people willing to support the 'rebels', even if it means repercussions from the government?
I hear so many conflicting claims, it's tough to discern the truth.
Cant quantify. There are those who support hte opposition. Some tell you they will sacrfice their children for their cause. Others are afraid of the alternative. They see a fractured opposition. But many fear what is next.
Hello, just want to start by saying that I'm an avid Al Jazeera fan and think your coverage of the Syrian conflict has been impeccable. I have three questions that are all sort of related.
What sort of support are both sides of the conflict receiving from various actors and how is this affecting the dynamics?
Do you think that arming the rebels is a good idea?
What are the important similarities/differences between Syria and Libya in terms of prospects for a Western intervention?
Both sides are getting support from their allies in terms of weapons and money. Those who support arming the rebels believe that is the only way to break the stalemate and maybe force the state to negotiate. Right now neither side enjoys the upper hand. The balance of power needs to shift for one side to agree to negotiations
Is there a civic culture emerging - or re-emerging - in Syria that will enable a more stable political culture to develop, and counter balance the tendency of post-revolutionary governments to be ongoing struggles of factions? Is there a "good government" movement there? Does the movement for democracy or self-government reflect the culture there?
The biggest challenge will be to rebuild the state. State institutions have collapsed in many regions
Hy Zeina, Where is the food coming from? Is there eletric energy yet? How is general acess to internet and cel phones? It seems that Internet is still playing a role in the organization and mobilization? Is there any rebel-made news we can read?
There is food but it is expensive. A lot comes from Turkey. Many areas - no electricity or water. Syrian mobile phones dont work everywhere - activists, "citizen journalists", rebel commanders have internet access ... it is usually satellite ... there are many opposition pages on facebook ... and other organizations like Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, LCC (Local coordinating committees) ... Allepo has its own TV channel and twitter account ... most groups have their own twitter account
Hi Zeina. What do you believe are the most important steps that the international community should be taking to help bring the conflict to an end? Enforcing a no-fly zone? Arming the rebels?
Enforcing a no-fly zone would reduce civilian casualties.
Hi Zeina, I have two questions:
1) Syria was initially a conflict between the Syrian regime and the FSA, but as the conflict protracted other groups, such as Kurdish militias and al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra, began to arm themselves against the regime. Now, the non-international armed conflict has developed into one with sectarian tensions. My question is: what exactly led these groups to arm themselves?
2) The violence in Syria is now spilling over into neighbouring countries. What are countries, such as Lebanon and Iraq, doing in order to contain the violence within Syria's borders?
Thank you for taking the time to do this.
When you talk to any opposition fighter - be it a member of the "FSA" (even though this is just a label) or Nusra ... they tell you that they took up arms to defend themselves. And they were forced to take up arms because the state didnt respond to their demands and used force ...
Yes the Syria conflict has affected Lebanon and Iraq - it raised sectarian tensions in both countries. Syria has always been a divisive issue in Lebanon. People there are divided in their support and opposition to the Syrian government. Lebanon - just like Iraq - both had their own civil wars. The situation is very delicate and the longer the conflict continues in Syria ... it will destablize both countries even further
the kurds want kurdistan, and Al-Nusra was formed after protestors formed into militia groups and began fighting against the regime.
Al Nusra formed after the islamist-minded protestors got together, and that attracted foreign jihadists (some of whom with training and battlefield experience in Iraq). They began training Syrians who joined up, and now are the most effective fighters in Syria
Yes Nusra are the most effective fighters in Syria. They have gained a lot of respect but at the same time there are those in Syria who fear their agenda. Yes the Kurds want an independent state. And some Syrians have told me that they fear that after this war, they may have another war with the Kurds.
Hello Zeina! Thank you very much for your commitment to reporting the situation in Syria. My question relates to the branding that is going on by the FSA and other parts of the opposition. I read an article a while ago about an FSA officer who went to Turkey to have a logo designed for his brigade so they would all look the same if they took Aleppo. Have you noticed any of these efforts to create uniform symbols by groups like the FSA, and, if so, how they go about creating them?
There have been numerous attempts to unite the armed opposition. They have been trying to create a command and control structure. That is why the Supreme Military Council led by Idriss has been created. But this is not going to be easy. Some groups have recognized the council and others havent. FSA is a term and a label. When you ask a commander or a fighter to identify himself, they use their brigade name. FSA - as a term - is increasingly being used to describe groups that recognize the Supreme Council. This is the biggest challenge the opposition faces. Already there have been tensions between groups - and they have pointed their guns at each other.
Hi Zeina, I have 2 questions for you. Firstly: Do you think there will be a UN R2P intervention? Secondly: Should there be?
Doesnt look like there will be any intl interention for the time being - the UN is deadlocked ... and western countries are hesitant to get involved
Just a quick confirmation, are you answering questions alone? Reason being, you answered 45 questions in 3 hours. That is one comment every 4 minutes.
I'm not questioning that it's doable, I'm just objectively curious.
I type fast :))And yes I answered the questions.
Did you see any evidence of chemical weapon usage?
No, I didnt see any evidence myself
Did you witness the chemical attack of Feb, 2013 or see the immediate aftereffects?
No, I wasnt there
It doesnt look like refugees can return home soon. Dont forget they dont just leave Syria because of the fighting, violence, war ... but they no longer can cope, survive (economic reasons)
Do you ever put sound effects in post production?
Do you think peace is viable in the next ten years in the region?
It is hard to predict what will happen in ten years. But the situation in the region is not stable. And the Syria conflict has spilled outside its borders
You've mentioned the FSA is just a label, can you explain that a bit more? Are rebels loyal to local leaders? Or a larger group at all? And is Nusra holding particular areas? Or spread throughout the rebels?
What i mean is that there is no organizaation called FSA - there are different brigades. Rebels are loyal to the commander of their brigade. Brigade commanders are either loyal to the Supreme council (linked to SNC) or loyal to Islamic groups ... Nusra is strong in a number of regions
Do you believe that if Assad falls, it will end the fighting, or will the different rebel factions turn on each other?
There is a fear that the fall of the regime wont necessarily end the war. Rebel factions can fight each other. that is a possibility. And people on opposing sides can fight each. Those options are possible
I have heard that many Alawites fear for their safety if al-Assad's government falls, should they be?
I have asked this question to the opposition fighters, especially since we filmed an abandoned Alawite village in Idlib. They said that they are not blaming the community as a whole but believe many Alawites have taken up arms to defend the state. And yes, they didn't shy away from the fact that they will go after those they believe are responsible for crimes against them
What do you think will bring this conflict to an end so the people can stop living in a warzone?
One side has to defeat the other. Or some sort of political negotiated settlement (which seems highly unlikely) - UN peacekeepers may be an answer
What is going to happen to the loyal Sunni members of the military after the government falls? Will there be Hutu and Tutsi style Truth and Reconciliation committees or something more along the lines of a blood bath?
It is hard to see how there will be reconciliation because there is hatred. We can only hope that will happen
When this conflict is over, do you believe the US will regret not aiding the rebels further in their cause? Likewise, are the rebels frustrated by the lack of western support, or are they taking ownership of this conflict as their own?
The US has lost a lot of support in Syria. Many are angry and feel that the US is working for its own interests. that is what I hear time and time again from Syrians inside
What's the best thing we can do,individually, to help the people in Syria?
Send humanitarian assistance
Is there an end in sight?
Not in the near future. There is a military and political stalemate
Do you speak Arabic, and have you noticed a difference in "tone" between Al Jazeera English and normal Al Jazeera?
I ask because of that DOHS twitter thing a while back.
I speak Arabic
What side of the political spectrum do the rebels and the current rulers fall under?
Who is "winning"? I mean I see more rebel videos on sites like youtube, blowing up tanks or fighting in cities, but never much from the government soldiers
Both sides have done very horrible things to their fellow man. (torture or slow executions) When it is done do you think the UN will find any war crimes were done?
No side is winning. It is a stalemate.
Would the rebels like the US to get involved militarily? Or would that make it worse?
No, they dont want boots on the ground. they want the international community to provide them with weapons.
Hey there Zeina, did you witness anyone getting shot or any explosions of any sortI while in Syria?
You see a lot. You hear a lot. We have seen wounded rebels on the frontline. We were in a village when there was an airstrike - it targeted a house about 150 meters from where we were .. Constant sound of shelling ..
Do you think the conflict is likely to result in the Salafis insisting on an Islamist government in Syria? I hear about that a lot on the news but primarily from detached newscasters not on the ground and I'm curious from someone who is actually there, how strong are the younger secularists in the rebellion?
There are those who are fighting for a secular democratic Syria. There are those who want an Islamic state.
me an other people fear that the uprising has been taken over by jihadists, with their very own agenda of making a sharia/umma state. almost all video's i see i hear people shouting Kaffir and allahu akbar. as a secular i fear that syria will become a stepping stone for other jihad wars in the region. i also think this is a main reason why the UN or other western organisations are afraid to help. they dont want the stingers and weapons to fall on the wrong hands, like what happend with the Moedjahediens fighting the russians.
how accurate is view of the situation? how 'far' is the war beeing taken over by jihadist groups? is this a fair view of the situation?
Yes there are many like you who fear that. The opposition is divided. There are those fighting for a democratic state and other groups want an Islamic state
I read recently about the Bio/Chemical weapons that used to be warehoused by the regimes, have now become proliferated among rebel and possibly terrorist groups after the Arab Spring. Did you hear any rumors or hints about the spread and possible use of those weapons in Syria?
It is very hard to independently confirm.
Is there any hope of this ending without other countries forces being involved?
One side will have to defeat the other.
I just want to say thank you for your good work.
I am from Italy, I speak maroccain dialet of arabic. Perfect english and I want to join the rebels. I was planning on going trought Lebanon crossing the border from there, but I don't know anybody in Syria. Do you have any advise on how a foreigner should join?
Sorry, I dont know
Do you feel that Western Media has accurately portrayed the conflict in Syria? It feels like we are being given the impression that the government is the oppressor and the Rebels are the freedom fighters. Are both sides committing equal amount of atrocities?
View HistoryShare Link