Syrian Television’s Underwhelming Evidence of Foreign Backing for Rebels

By: Robert Mackey

As my colleagues Kareem Fahim and Hwaida Saad report, the Syrian government blocked an aid convoy from entering a devastated neighborhood in the city of Homs on Saturday, citing safety concerns, a day after granting access to a state television crew.

As it has since the start of the uprising, the state broadcaster presented the violence in Homs as the fault of foreign-backed militants. Reporting on Friday from Baba Amr, the neighborhood shelled for weeks on end by government forces, state television showed anguished residents blaming rebel fighters for their misery.

A still frame from video shot in the Syrian city of Homs on Friday showed a stack of nearly worthless, decades-old bank notes from Turkey, Israel, the Philippines and Lebanon.

According to a summary of the report on the English-language Web site of Syria’s state news agency: “The authorities restored security and safety to Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs, ridding it of members of armed terrorist groups who ran amok in it and committed murder and vandalism, turning the locals’ life into a living hell.”

One of the last shots in the state television report showed a stack of foreign currency, apparently evidence discovered in Baba Amr proving that the rebels were paid agents. A closer examination of the money, however, reveals that all of the the bills are notes of very small denomination withdrawn from circulation years ago in Lebanon, Turkey, Israel and the Philippines.

After more footage of the foreign currency was broadcast on the Iranian government’s Arabic-language satellite channel, the Syrian activist and blogger Shakeeb Al-Jabri pointed out on Twitter that some of the bills described as “Israeli bank notes,” were, in fact, small denomination Lebanese liras that have not been in use since 1985 and an old type of Philippine peso that was replaced by a coin a decade ago.

An activist who writes on Twitter as “Arab Spring,” and the Israeli blogger, Elizabeth Tsurkov, combined to explain that even the one bill on the top of the stack which did originate in Israel was actually an old one-shekel note, a bill that has not been in circulation since 1985, and would now be worth about one-fiftieth of an American penny.

The one other bill that is visible is an old Turkish lira, also of a sort used in the 1980s, which would now be worth about half of one American penny, if it had not stopped being exchanged for new currency in 2009.

All told, the current value of the stack of bills displayed on Syrian television as proof of foreign support for the rebels would appear to be far less than one American dollar — if, that is, the rebels could find someone inside Syria to accept old Israeli shekels or Philippine pesos in exchange for anything of value.

That said, since the Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa wrote on Friday that he was forced to flee Homs without a bag containing thousands of American dollars — after a rocket attack on the building he was staying in killed two of his colleagues — the Syrian authorities may yet find a more impressive wad of cash to display for the cameras.

Source: New York Times

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