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Syria Blog

Updates on the situation in Syria, as attacks on ISIL by the US and its allies add a new dimension to the civil war that began in 2011 and has killed more than 190,000 people.



  • Okay, John McCain has attacked Russian President Vladimir Putin in an article on the Russian website, Pravda.ru. The article is a response to Putin's piece in the New York Times.

    McCain says Putin "is not enhancing Russia's global reputation. He is destroying it. He
    has made her a friend to tyrants and an enemy 
    to the oppressed, and untrusted
    by nations that seek to build a 
    safer, more peaceful and prosperous world".

    You can read our article on the Pravda.ru piece here on Al Jazeera America.

    by Graeme Baker

    i
  • Vladimir Putin meanwhile says he cannot guarantee "100 per cent" that all of Syria's chemical weapons would be destroyed. It's a fairly significant  thing for the architect of the plan to say publicly after the events of the last two weeks...

    From Reuters:

    Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he could not be 100 percent certain that a plan for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons would be carried out successfully but he saw positive signs for hope.

    "Will we be able to accomplish it all? I cannot be 100 percent sure about it," Putin told a gathering of journalists and Russia experts. 

    "But everything we have seen so far in recent days gives us confidence that this will happen." 




  • More from Putin:

    Putin urged the international public not to place the onus on Russia to deal with Syria's CW. "This is not the first time I hear that special responsibility rests with me.

    "Special responsibility rests with all of us, and it is equally shared. If the attempts to resolve the problem peacefully fail, it will be very bad."

  • I'll be writing a story for our main site on Putin's comments in the next few minutes. Twitter is quite busy with traffic on McCain's piece in Pravda, here are a couple of other good lines:



  • Some moves on the diplomatic front, from AFP: 

    The world's chemical weapons watchdog will meet on Sunday in The Hague to discuss a Russian-US plan to destroy Syria's arsenal, it said. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has postponed the meeting several times this week as a draft text was not yet ready.

    The OPCW is responsible for implementing the terms of the Convention on Chemical Weapons in Syria.

    I think I'm right (although I'm not an expert) in saying that the permanent five members of the UN will not agree on any resolution on Syria until the OPCW meets to discuss the issue, and forward its recommendations on the plan (which at the moment says all of Syria's stockpiles will be destroyed by mid-2014).

    There is a UN General Assembly meeting next Tuesday, where it is hoped that the resolution will be formalised. So there will be very little time between the OPCW and the GA for the P5 to agree its resolution. 

    Apologies for the acronym overload.

  • Back on Putin's comments, and his unequivocal position on August 21: The attack was a "sly and ingenious" provocation by the rebels. Read the full story by clicking here.


  • Here's something for the mix, the latest Stream programme focusing on Syria.

    The Stream - Russia's take on Syria
    by AlJazeeraEnglish on 5:35 PM yesterday


  • And also, if you've not seen it, here is the first episode of Al Jazeera's documentary on the history of the modern Syria: the Reckoning. Well worth a watch, and you find the other episodes on Youtrube. thanks.

    Al Jazeera World - Syria: The Reckoning - Episode 1
    by AlJazeeraEnglish on April 17 at 5:03 PM





  • Back to Azaz, Twitter reports state fighting is continuing.


  • A doll lying amid debris on the front line in Saif al-Dawla,  Aleppo, northern Syria, is a reminder of the devastating impact war has had on Syrian children's lives. Photo: AFP/ Jim Lopez
    by AJE Staff


  • A trainer points to a spot on a mannequin during military training for female members of the "Mother Aisha" battalion in Aleppo's  Salaheddine district. Photo: Reuters/ Loubna Mrie
    by AJE Staff



  • A bit of background to add on the Nusra front:

    The US State Dept designated Al Nusrah Front a terrorist organisation last December. There are financial sanctions in place.

    Recall that the Syrian opposition was angered by the US's decision because they considered it a serious undercutting of their efforts to defeat the Syrian Army. 

    http://translations.state.gov/st/english/texttrans/2012/12/20121211139845.html

    by Graeme Baker

  • Back to the statement from Qadri Jamil, one of the three deputy prime ministers in the Syrian regime. He told the Guardian  newspaper that rockets fired on August 21 in Damascus were loaded with sarin in Libya and sent to Syria after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

    contacted Richard Guthrie, the former Project Leader of the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project of the Stockholm International Peace Research Instituteabout the plausibility of the statement. Mr Gurthrie, currently the co-ordinating editor of CBW Events  said: 

    (i) There is no clear evidence that Libya ever produced sarin in bulk. Their declaration to the OPCW, as reported in the media, referred to sarin precursors, but no large quantity of sarin itself.

    (ii) Transporting a filled munition such a distance would be difficult.

    (iii) Sarin naturally degrades with time and the purity of the samples tested as described in the recent United Nations report could only have come from recently produced sarin.

    If the allegation was that sarin precursors had been transferred from Libya and then mixed together in Syria that would have had more credibility. However, such mixing requires specialist facilities to do so effectively and safely. Sarin is odourless and tasteless and any leak would kill the people doing the mixing.


  • Our story on reported FSA defections is now on the main site, which you can access on this link.


    by Graeme Baker on Sep 20, 2013 at 9:17 PM

  • From out US defence correspondent, Rosalind Jordan, on the FSA defections to al-Qaeda linked groups:

    If more soldiers abandon the FSA, that will make it extremely hard for the Obama administration to continue arguing for expanded US support for the opposition.  

    There's considerable suspicion among Republicans and Democrats that the administration is throwing in its lot with people who may not have US interests at heart - comparable to our support for the mujahideen in the 1980s in Afghanistan.  

    This latest development will not help the US's case.

  • Jonathan Cook, Al Jazeera correspondent in Jerusalem, has written on how the focus on Syria's chemical weapons has resulted in pressure on Israel to come clean on any stockpiles in its possession. You can find the article here.

    by Graeme Baker


  • Palestinians march during a rally against a possible military attack by the United States on Syria at the village of Taybeh near the West Bank city of Ramallah [AP]


    by AJE Staff



  • Mortar round hits Russian embassy compound in Damascus

    A mortar round hit the compound of the Russian embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    There were no immediate reports of injuries in the attack, which struck inside the compound but did not appear to hit the embassy's main building.

    Rebel forces arrayed in parts of the outskirts of the capital regularly fire rockets and mortar rounds into Damascus, including the area around the embassy in the centre of the city.

    But the attack is the first time that they have hit the embassy compound, the Observatory said.

    Russia is a staunch ally of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, providing him with diplomatic backing as well as weapons.

    It was a key force behind a deal under which Damascus will hand over its chemical weapons stocks for destruction, which headed off a US plan to take military action against the regime.

    [Source: AFP]

  • Conflicting reports about the mortar attack. The Interfax news agency says that the Russian embassy in Damascus does not confirm the alleged mortar shelling of the embassy complex.




  • The US Secretary of State (L) and Russian Foreign Minister shake hands after meetings regarding Syria at a news conference in Geneva [Reuters]

    by Amna.Bagadi
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    Russian FM: US 'blackmailing' Russia over Syria

    The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the United States of blackmailing Russia to support a tough United Nations resolution against Syria, and said the West is blinded by the idea of regime change in the war-torn country.

    "Our American partners are beginning to blackmail us: if Russia won't support a resolution under Chapter 7 in the UN Security Council, then we will stop the work in the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons," Lavrov said in a Channel One interview, according to Russian agencies.

    "Our partners are now blinded by their ideological goal of regime change (in Syria)" Lavrov added. 

    "All they talk about is that Bashar al-Assad must leave," while Russia's goal is to "solve the problem of chemical weapons in Syria".

    [Source: AFP]
  • Heavy fighting rages across Syria

    Heavy fighting rages across Syria
    by AlJazeeraEnglish on August 13 at 7:18 PM

    The Syrian army is stepping up its campaign to recapture areas controlled by rebels. 

    Activists say pro-government militias killed dozens of people in Sheikh Hadid village in Hama.

    Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reports.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters joke around with a Guy Fawkes mask in Jobar, a suburb of Damascus on Sunday. [Reuters]

  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he was "not concerned" about a draft resolution that the US, the UK and France have submitted to the UN Security Council to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control, China's state broadcaster said on Monday.

    Assad was quoted as saying to state television CCTV in an interview that by submitting the draft, "the US, France, and Britain are just trying to make themselves winners in a war against a Syria which is their imaginary enemy".

    Assad also said China and Russia "are playing a positive role in the UN Security Council to ensure any excuse for military action against Syria will not stand".
  • Syria to dominate UN General Assembly meeting 

    UNGA as seen from across the East River in Queens, New York [AP]
    by Amna.Bagadi
    "Syria is the biggest peace, security and humanitarian challenge we face." [AP]
    by Amna.Bagadi
    Two electronic boards show the results of a Syria vote in the UNGA last May [AP]
    by Amna.Bagadi
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    United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that the top agenda item at the UNGA will be Syria's two and a half year civil war. 

    No one expects a breakthrough in the crisis this week, though there may be approval of a UN resolution backing a US-Russian plan to rid Syria of chemical arms.

    "Syria is the biggest peace, security and humanitarian challenge we face," Ban told reporters last week. "Let us be clear - the use of chemical weapons in Syria is only the tip of the iceberg."

    "The suffering in Syria must end," he said.

    The resolution to be considered by the UN Security Council would back the US-Russian plan to remove Syria's chemical weapons by June 2014 to avoid US air strikes. 

    That plan was agreed to as UN inspectors confirmed sarin nerve gas was used in an August 21 attack near Damascus that killed over 1,400 people, many of them children, according to Uestimates.

    Syria's ally Russia and the US continue to disagree sharply on how to end the war, with Moscow blaming the rebels for chemical attacks and blocking peace talks, and Western powers blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    Washington is still struggling to persuade Moscow not to veto another Syria resolution amid Russian objections to any threat of force against Assad's government. 

    [Source: Reuters]




  • Al Qaeda-linked fighters killed in clash with Syria rebels

    A Libyan commander and a dozen other fighters from al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have been killed in clashes with rival rebel forces in northern Syria, a monitoring group said, in the latest spate of internecine rebel violence.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said six local fighters were also killed in Sunday's battle with ISIL in Hazano, west of the city of Aleppo and close to the border with Turkey.

    Clashes pitting the al Qaeda-linked ISIL and Nusra Front brigades against less effective but more moderate rebel forces have been intensifying recently, especially in opposition-held territory along Syria's northern and eastern borders.

    The infighting has undermined the rebel military campaign against President Bashar al-Assad. Their uprising began as peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule but degenerated into a war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

    Western powers have said the disarray of rebel forces and growing influence of radical armed groups have made them wary of intervening directly in the civil war. 

    [Source: Reuters]
  • Damascus says $250 million needed for reconstruction


    Syrian villagers remove debris as they find the dead body of a man [AP]
    by Amna.Bagadi
    Smoke rises after an airstrike hit Habit village, in the central province of Hama [AP]
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    The Syrian government has earmarked 50 billion Syrian pounds ($250 million) for reconstruction next year in the war-torn country, a pro-regime daily on Monday quoted the prime minister as saying.

    "The government has increased its budget spending for emergency aid and reconstruction for 2014 to 50 billion Syrian pounds," Wael al-Halqi said in remarks published by Al-Watan newspaper.

    In 2013, the government budget for aid and reconstruction was 30 billion pounds, he said.

    Halqi also called for an increased budget allocation for agriculture, Al-Watan said.

    "Food, energy and drug security are a priority," he said.

    The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme last week warned they are alarmed by the drop in Syria's food security index.

    In 30 months, Syria's war has killed more than 110,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.

    [Source: AFP]
  • Russia's president warns of violence spreading from Syria

    Russian President Vladimir Putin warned ex-Soviet allies that fighters from Islamic groups in Syria could eventually spread to their countries, some of which have Muslim majorities.

    "The militant groups [in Syria] did not come out of nowhere, and they will not vanish into thin air," Putin told the six-nation Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). "The problem of terrorism spilling from one country to another is absolutely real and could directly affect the interests of any one of our countries," he added, citing the deadly attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi as an example.

    "We are now witnessing a terrible tragedy unfold in Kenya. The militants came from another country, as far as we can judge, and are committing horrendous bloody crimes," Putin said at the CSTO summit in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi. 

    [Reuters]

    by AJE Staff

  • A Syrian internally displaced mother comforts her baby at an abandoned piece of land where she and her family have taken shelter after fleeing their village that turned into a battlefield between government forces and Free Syrian Army fighters in Idlib province, northern Syria. [AP]

    by AJE Staff

  • Civilians walk as smoke rises behind a mosque after what activists say was a shelling from the Syrian regime in Aleppo [Reuters]
    by AJE Staff
    Rebel fighters secure an heavily damaged street in Syria's eastern town of Deir Ezzor following fighting with Syrian government forces [AFP]
    by AJE Staff
    Aisha Masri, 39, a former dressmaker, took nursing courses when the civil war in Syria started and is now giving first aid to wounded civilians and Free Syrian Army members [Reuters]
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  • France confident about Security Council resolution

    France said on Monday it expected the Security Council to agree on a resolution to enforce a chemical weapons deal with Syria and appeared to give up on its previous calls to have a resolution threatening force against President Assad.

    Some UN diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, had expressed concern about whether agreement on a resolution could be reached. However, speaking to reporters in New York French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius appeared to back down.

    "We should take exactly what was foreseen in Geneva," Fabius said. "On that basis we should come to an agreement."

    Fabius appeared to confirm France's willingness to accept Russia's demand that the current draft resolution not be enforceable under Chapter 7. 

    According to the Geneva agreement, the Security Council would have to adopt a second resolution in order to punish Syria for any non-compliance with a US-Russian plan to eradicate Syria's chemical arsenal. [Reuters]
  • Brazil grants visas to Syrians fleeing conflict

    The government says it will grant special visas to Syrians who want to leave their conflict-wracked nation and travel to Brazil.

    The government's official gazette says Tuesday that the foreign ministry has been authorized to issue the visas for "humanitarian reasons," allowing Syrians affected by the conflict and the "deterioration of living conditions" to enter.

    Brazil has a Syrian immigrant community estimated at about 3 million. [AP]
  • French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday the UN Security Council had to make a threat of eventual "coercive" measures against Syria if it does not hand over its chemical weapons.

    Hollande told the UN General Assembly that a resolution being discussed must "foresee coercive measures" under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and for those responsible for chemical weapon attacks in Syria to be "held accountable in the justice system."

    by AJE Staff



  • Frenchman fighting with rebels killed in Syria

    A French Muslim convert has been killed fighting the Syrian army in the northern province of Aleppo, a monitoring group said on Tuesday.

    "Abu Mohammad al-Faransi, a Frenchman who converted to Islam, was killed while fighting against regime forces on Sunday in the south of Aleppo province," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

    More than 300 French nationals or residents are currently fighting in Syria's civil war, planning to go or have recently returned, according to French Interior Minister Manuel Valls in a speech last week. [AFP]
  • Twelve-year-old Dylan fled from Syria to northern Iraq with his family for safety. It was very difficult for the boy, who is blind. But his love of music has helped him survive and to forget the sounds of violence in his native country. Video produced by the UN refugee agency.


  • by AJE Staff
    Arms sent to Syrian rebels worry Iraq

    Iraq's foreign minister has said outside nations should not supply weapons to any of Syria's rebels for fear they could fall into the hands of extremist or  terror groups.

    Iraq has long urged other countries against meddling in the 2 ½ year civil war to its west, even as Baghdad acknowledges that the continued fighting has escalated violence in Iraq.

    But Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Wednesday that nearly 10,000 foreign fighters have joined Syria's rebel opposition. He said foreign military aid could help jihadist groups that are fighting among Syrian rebels against President Bashar Assad's regime.

    The US began sending small arms to the Syrian opposition within the past few weeks, and has arranged for anti-tank weapons to be funneled to vetted rebel fighters through allied nations. - AP








  • by AJE Staff

    UN says Lebanon faces social explosion over Syria refugees


    The UN has said that Lebanon faces an explosion of social tensions unless the international community helps to handle hundreds of  thousands of Syrian refugees.

    Lebanon's President Michel Sleiman told foreign ministers from the world's  leading nations on Wednesday that his country faces an "existential crisis" because of the influx fleeing the war between President Bashar al-Assad and opposition rebels.


    He said major financing was needed to pay for the refugees, reinforce  public services because of the burden and bolster the army.

    The Syria conflict will cost Lebanon $7.5 billion from 2012 to 2014, according to an estimate given by
    World Bank president Jim Yong Kim to the
    meeting held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

    The UN says there are already 760,000 Syrians registered in Lebanon and  there will be one million by the end of the year. 

    Lebanon's government
    estimates there are already 1.2 million with many not bothering to register.

    It is says there will soon be a strain on electricity supplies and is  having to start school  lessons by shifts to cope with an extra 90,000 Syrian children. 

    Kim said that by the end of 2014 there could be 200,000-300,000 more Lebanese unemployed which would double the unemployment rate to more than 20 percent.

    "Without question social tensions could increase as competition for jobs and services intensifies,"
    he said.

    "If we do not act decisively, now and fast, the Lebanon that we know today will not resemble the Lebanon that we will see tomorrow." 

    Antonio Guterres, UN high commissioner for refugees said: "I do not recall any country having suffered a more dramatic impact in its economy and in its society by an inflow of refugees than Lebanon today."

    Guterres and other officials and ministers praised the "the extreme generosity" of Lebanon in keeping its borders open to refugees during the 30-month-old war.

    He said Lebanon "has been to a large extent left alone by the international community and this needs to change". - AFP [Photo: Reuters/ Jamal Saidi] 



  • Syria's President Assad has not ruled out US attack

    Syrian President Bashar Assad has said 
    by AJE Staff

    that he does not discount the possibility of a US military attack, even though threatened action was forestalled when he agreed to give up chemical weapons.

    Assad said in an interview broadcast by Venezuela's state-run Telesur network on Wednesday that his government had confessions from rebels that they brought chemical weapons into the civil war-wracked nation.

    According to the broadcast's Spanish dubbing, Assad said all evidence pointed to rebel responsibility for the attack.

    He said that Syrian authorities had uncovered chemical arms caches and labs and that the evidence had been turned over to Russia, which brokered the deal that helped persuade US President Barack Obama to pull back from threatened military action over an August 21 gas attack that killed civilians in a Damascus suburb.

    Assad predicted during the 40-minute interview that "terrorists'' would try to block access of Uinspectors who enter Syria to secure the government's chemical arsenal.

    While Assad said he had evidence that countries including Saudi Arabia were arming Syrian rebels, he said he had no proof that any particular country had supplied them with chemical weapons. - AP [Photo: AFP/ SANA]



  • A mortar shell hit the Iraqi consulate in the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday, killing an
    Iraqi woman and wounding four other people, witnesses said.

    It was not clear whether the consulate - which is located in the upscale al-Maliki neighbourhood near the United States and Chinese embassies - had been deliberately targeted.

    A guard at the consulate said he had been on duty when the woman was killed. "I helped carry her to the ambulance. She was limp and covered with a coat," he said.

    A mortar shell landed in the Russian embassy compound in central Damascus on Sunday, wounding three people.

    -- Reuters and AP
  • Listening Post - Syria: The propaganda blitz
    by AlJazeeraEnglish on 4:09 PM yesterday

  • Brazil is going to grant special visas to Syrians who want to leave their conflict-wracked nation, the Washington Post reports.

    Brazil’s National Committee for Refugees authorized the foreign ministry to issue the visas for “humanitarian reasons”, the government’s official gazette announced on Tuesday.

    To read the full article click here.

  • A young man once jailed for smuggling weapons for the Toronto 18 terror plot to attack Canada's parliament and other targets has been killed in Syria, local media said Thursday.

    Somalia-born Canadian Ali Mohamed Dirie reportedly left Canada after his release from prison in 2011 to join rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

    The daily Toronto Star and other newspapers cited unnamed security and Toronto Muslim community sources as saying that Dirie had been killed in the civil war that has claimed more than 110,000 lives, including at least 100 Canadians who left for Syria in the past year.

    Dirie was arrested in 2005 at the US border trying to re-enter Canada with two loaded handguns taped to his thighs, and pleaded guilty to importing and possessing firearms and ammunition.

    The so-called "Toronto 18" suspects were arrested the following year for plotting to attack parliament, a nuclear power plant, the Toronto stock exchange and other targets using fertilizer explosives packed in rented vans.

    Their plot was foiled when members of the group sought to purchase three tonnes of the bomb-making ingredient ammonium nitrate from undercover police officers, who had switched it with an inert substance.

    [AFP]
  • Diplomats at the United Nations say the five permanent members of the divided UN Security Council appear to have reached agreement on a resolution to require Syria to dismantle its chemical weapons stockpiles.

    Their comments on Thursday came a day after Russia's deputy foreign minister said negotiators had overcome a major hurdle and agreed that the text of the resolution would include a reference to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which allows for military and nonmilitary actions to promote peace and security.

    The five veto-wielding members of the Security Council have been discussing for weeks what to include in a new resolution requiring that Syria's chemical weapons stockpile be secured and dismantled.

    The US and Russia had been at odds on how to enforce the resolution.

    [AP]
  • Activists say an al-Qaeda commander in Syria has been killed during clashes with Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors the fighting in Syria, says the commander died on Wednesday night in fighting in the northern province of Aleppo.

    The Britain-based group did not provide the man's name but identified him in a statement on Thursday as a UAE national and the emir - or the commander - of Aleppo.

    On Monday, a top al-Qaeda commander was killed in an ambush by rival Western-backed rebels.
    Infighting between al-Qaeda-linked groups and other, more moderate rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad has spiked in recent days.

    [AP]
  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, has been fighting alongside Syrian forces.

    The Shia Muslim group's stated policy is to prevent Assad's regime from collapsing.

    But it has paid a heavy political price for its involvement in the neighbour's conflict and is under increasing pressure at home.

    Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr reports from Beirut.

  • A mortar shell from Syria has landed on the dome of a mosque in the Jordanian border town of Ramtha, Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh reported from Ramtha.

    There were no casualties, she said.

    On the Syrian side of the border, fierce fighting was ongoing in Deraa province between President Bashar al-Assad's troops and rebel fighters trying to seize the border crossing.
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