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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.

  • The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says it has postponed its meeting set for Sunday.

    The Reuters news agency reported moments before that the Syrian regime had submitted details of its chemical weapons to The Hague-based chemical weapons regulator.

    by Philippa Stewart edited by Graeme Baker 9/20/2013 1:24:31 PM
  • Here's a link to our latest story:

  • And here's Al Jazeera's latest video on the fighting inside Syria. Naser Shadid reports:

  • James Bays, Al Jazeera English's diplomatic editor, says that the submission by Syria to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons is very significant.

    "If we go back to just two weeks ago Syria would not even say that it had chemical weapons. Diplomats are relived that the process agreed by Russia and the US in Geneva is now under way."

    However, the timetable outlined in the plan appears to be slipping from what had been agreed.

    "Diplomats had hoped a Security Council resolution would be in place in time for the UN's General Assembly meeting on Tuesday - it now might overshadow the General Assembly.

    "The OPCW also has to say if it can do the work in Syria before any resolution is agreed. Security Council action is very unlikely until next week."
  • Al Jazeera's Syria desk reports that one of the biggest Free Syrian Army brigades, The Division 11, has announced it is joining the al-Qaeda affiliated group the Nusra Front, according to several activists and military sources.
  • Here's a video that our Syria desk says shows members of Division 11 joining the Nusra Front in Raqqah province in eastern Syria.

    فيديو جودة عالية : الرقة تبايع الجولاني أمير جبهة النصرة
    by خادم الدولة on 11:33 PM yesterday

  • The Reuters news agency has more on the FSA defections:

    Hundreds of rebels have pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda affiliated forces in northern and eastern Syria, activists and Islamist sources said on Friday, strengthening the group's control in the  region.

    According to the sources inside Syria,  entire units have joined Jubht al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant  in recent days. 

    At least two entire rebel brigades are said to have joined the Nusra Front in the opposition-held province of Raqqah, which borders Turkey.

    One of the groups, the Raqqa Revolutionaries, has about 750 fighters in total, according to a source close to Islamist forces.

    In the video clip, a voice can be heard saying in Arabic, "Raqqah... September 19, 2013... The convoy  of al-Nusra... Allahu Akbar.. al-Nusra in Raqqah province."
  • Our roving correspondent, Anita McNaught, says that if proven true, the mass defections from the FSA to the Nusra Front are a serious blow to its strength:

    "This means that the FSA has suddenly lost serious amounts of loyal fighters.. it's basically being swallowed up by Nusra.

    "The more Al-Qaeda inspired/influenced brigades are taking over the moderates. That has big geopolitical implications."

    - Indeed, if the Nusras and the ISISs of this world become the dominant force in the Syrian opposition, the US and the West would find it very difficult to support their cause.

  • 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.

    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

  • It's time to round up the significant events of this evening:

    Hundreds of Free Syrian Army troops are reported to have moved over to the al-Qaeda linked group the Nusra Front, a potential blow to the FSA and a worrying sign for the US and its Western allies. The FSA military command says the soldiers, mostly in Raqqah province, have not changed commanders. It says they have instead signed an co-operation agreement with the Nusra Front, which the US says is a terrorist organisation. You can read the story here.

    The world's watchdog on chemical weapons, the OPCW, says it has received from the Syrian government a preliminary list of its chemical stockpiles, and expects more information to follow in the coming days. Al Jazeera's diplomatic correspondent, James Bays, calls the development significant however the timetable for agreeing a UN resolution to back up the OPCW's future work in Syria appears to be slipping, as diplomats wrangle over the content and the OPCW postpones a meeting on the issue. You can read the story here.

    The deputy prime minister for the economy of Syria, Qadri Jamil, has tried to deny telling the Guardian newspaper that the Syrian government could accept a ceasefire if peace talks are organised. His party has said that his comments were misrepresented and he did not say the word "ceasefire". The Guardian stands by the story and the quotes, and released an audio file of the interview. 

    Jamil claims in the same interview that the rockets fired and the sarin used in the August 21 attack originated in Libya, being  transported to Syria after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. A chemical weapons expert, Richard Guthrie, told al Jazeera that such a statement was implausible. You can read his comments here.

    Many thanks for your time tonight. A member of Al Jazeera's night staff will now take over this liveblog. Stay logged on for more updates.

  • Our first liveblog poll asked if our readers thought Bashar al-Assad would fulfill his commitments outlined in the US-Russian plan to remove chemical weapons from Syria.

    61 percent voted No

    39 percent voted Yes

    Thank you for taking part. We'll be running more in the coming days.

    The poll was based on reader input and was not a scientific sample.

    by Graeme Baker

  • Australian counter-terrorism chiefs believe a 27-year-old Brisbane man blew himself up at a military airport in Syria last week to become the Australia's first suicide bomber.

    Brisbane daily newspaper The Courier Mail  reported that authorities were understood to be investigating the circumstances surrounding the bombing, which occurred at the Deir al-Zour military airport in Syria's east. However,  the Brisbane Muslim community had closed ranks as they denied the allegations.

    The bomber was named on social media sites as "Abu Asma al-Australi", an alias authorities believe could refer to a Brisbane man named Ahmed, the newspaper reported.

  • A swing still standing amid damaged buildings in the Damascus suburb of Jobar has offered local children some respite and a degree of normalcy to their lives amid the turmoil.
    by AJE Staff

  • Al Jazeera World - Syria: The Reckoning - Episode 1
    Since its independence from France in 1946, Syria has been rocked by periods of political instability.
    Syria: The Reckoning tells the story of the past and brings it right up to the present to provide deeper historical context to the events of today as war continues to rage in Syria with the unleashing of many of the forces which had been previously repressed. 

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

  • by AJE Staff
    China has called for quick implementation of a US-Russian deal to destroy Syria's chemical weapons, voicing hope for a political solution to the crisis.

    Foreign Minister Wang Yi, whose country holds a veto on the UN Security Council, said on Friday that China was "firmly opposed to the use of chemical weapons by any country or individual."

    "We support the early launch of the process to destroy Syria's chemical weapons," Wang said at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

    Wang also called for a second Geneva conference aimed at ending Syria's bloody civil war to take place "as soon as possible."

    "We believe that a political settlement is the only right way out in defusing the Syrian crisis," he said.

    His remarks came a day after Wang met with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who urged China to take a "positive, constructive" role on Syria and said that the Pacific powers "disagreed sharply" over the global response to  chemical weapons use.

    China has already welcomed the Russian-US framework under which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would surrender his chemical weapons to international control. - AFP

  •  Syrian families managed to get away from the turmoil that has engulfed their country, with a day in a park in the capital Damascus.
    by AJE Staff

  • by AJE Staff

    EU braces for huge influx of Syrian refugees 

    European Union governments are bracing for a surge in Syrian refugees that threatens to become a flood as hopes fade for a  quick end to the bloody civil war, officials have said.

    About two million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries so far, with four million internally displaced as the death toll mounts to more than 110,000.

    Thousands of refugees have headed for EU countries. Italy is among the worst affected, with about 3,000 refugees arriving in August alone, according to UN refugee agency data.

    The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has warned to be ready for a massive influx, especially if there are US military action against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, one EU official said.

    "For the moment, the number of those arriving is manageable," the official said. 

    ""The vast majority do not want to leave because they still hope they will be able to return home."

    The total number of Syrians seeking refuge there have risen to 4,600 so far  this year, up from just 369 in 2012, the UNHCR said.

    UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said most were families who had crossed the Mediterranean from Egypt.  - AFP

  • Syria gives chemical dossier to watchdog
    by AlJazeeraEnglish on 6:42 AM

  • FSA brigade 'joins al-Qaeda group'
    by AlJazeeraEnglish on 6:10 AM

  • The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says it has begun to examine the first details of Syria's chemical arsenal supplied by the government of President Bashar al-Assad. 

  • Syria opposition rejects Iran mediation offer

    Syria's opposition National Coalition has rejected an Iranian offer to broker talks with the regime, saying the bid was "not serious" and calling Tehran "part of the problem."

    "The Iranian initiative is not serious and lacks political credibility," the key opposition grouping said in a statement on Saturday.

    The comments came after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday that his government was willing to "facilitate dialogue" between the Syrian government and opposition fighters.

    To read the full story click here

  • Syria troops, armed groups kill 15 in Sunni village

    Syrian troops backed by pro-regime fighters have killed at least 15 people in a Sunni village in the central province of Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    The group, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers on the ground,
    said pro-regime forces carried out a "massacre" using guns and
    knives to kill residents of Sheikh Hadid village.

    "Fifteen people were killed - two women, a child and 12 men - by regime forces backed by the Popular Committees and National Defence Forces Alawite fighters using guns and knives," the group said on Saturday.

    Ten other people were wounded in the incident, it added.

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad comes from the Alawite minority community, and is battling a rebellion dominated by Sunni Muslims.

    The Observatory said there had been clashes between opposition and regime forces in the village, and it was not clear whether all the men killed were civilians.

    Opposition fighters managed to take control of the nearby village of Jelma, the group added.

    [Source: AFP]

  • A soldier gives food and water to Syrian children after they crossed the border into Jordan [Photo: Reuters]

    by Amna.Bagadi

    The UN children's agency (UNICEF) says at least 4,000 Syrian children have crossed borders into neighbouring countries without parents or relatives. 

    Of the 4,150 Syrian children identified and registered, about 1,700 are in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, where many are vulnerable to exploitation and and used for child labour.  

    In Iraq, UNICEF estimates there were 300 newly-arrived unaccompanied and separated children in the north.

    Jordan is home to about 1,170 children, including some as young as nine-years-old. Most of these children are in Za’atari camp, which despite being a makeshift camp housing more than 120,000 people is Jordan’s fourth largest city.

    Reuters reports that many children are working on farms or in factories while others in cities like Beirut are working as street vendors selling food and toys.

    Read the full UN report here

  • Since January at least 20,000 have arrived on the shores of southern Italy [Reuters]

    by Amna.Bagadi
    by Amna.Bagadi
    by Amna.Bagadi

    1 of 3

    One person has died as more than 400 refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war were intercepted near Sicily in the past 24 hours. 

    A first boat carrying 299 people, more than half of them women and children, was escorted to the port of Syracuse, Sicily, late on Friday. 

    On board was the body of one woman who died during the journey. 

    The reason for her death was still unknown, but fellow refugees said she was a diabetic and had died after falling ill more than two days earlier, Ansa state news agency reported.

    The people on the boat said they had left from Egypt about a week ago, Ansa said, citing Italian authorities.

    Another boat was located overnight carrying 124 others, who also said they were Syrian refugees, and the coast guard escorted it to a Sicilian port early on Saturday, the coast
    guard said.

    [Source: Reuters]

  • Russia's Interfax news agency quoted President Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, as saying the government could drop its support for Assad if the Syrian president reneges on his commitments to give up chemical weapons.    [AP]
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter runs for cover from snipers on the front line in Aleppo's Sheikh Saeed neighbourhood [Reuters]

    by AJE Staff

  • 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

  • Russia may change its position on Syria if it sees any "cheating" by the regime, a senior Kremlin official said on Saturday as Damascus disclosed details of its chemical stockpile in the first step of a disarmament plan.

    "I am speaking theoretically and hypothetically, but if we become convinced that (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad is cheating, we can change our position," the Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

    He was speaking at a conference in Stockholm organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

    Ivanov did not clarify his remarks, and reiterated Russia's opposition to intervention in the country wracked by civil war that has killed more than 110,000 in 30 months.

    He added that he expects the locations of the Syrian chemical arsenal to be disclosed within a week, but cautioned that the army does not control the entire country.

  • by AJE Staff

    Abou al-Eizz al-Saour holds a wooden warplane model he made in his room in Duma neighbourhood, in Damascus on September 21, 2013. Al-Saour, 55, was wounded from a rocket attack eight months ago and is now living alone. 

    One of Al-Saour's sons, a Free Syrian Army fighter, was killed during clashes with forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in al-Ghouta. His other son is still fighting with the Free Syrian Army. [REUTERS]
  • Syrians enjoy refreshments in a park in the capital, Damascus, on September 21, 2013. [AFP]

  • A Free Syrian Army fighter takes up a shooting position in Aleppo on September 21, 2013 [Reuters]

    by Amna.Bagadi

  • BREAKING NEWS: Syria opposition president says coalition would attend Geneva peace conference if it aims to establish transitional government with full powers - letter to United Nations Security Council.

    [Source: Reuters]
  • Head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition speaks during a news conference in Istanbul August 24, 2013 [REUTERS]

    by Amna.Bagadi

    Syrian opposition is willing to attend Geneva conference

    The president of the opposition Syrian Coalition, Ahmad Jarba, said the group would attend a proposed Geneva peace conference to end two and a half years of conflict in Syria if it aims to establish a transitional government with full powers.

    In a letter to the UN Security Council, obtained by Reuters and dated September 19, Jarba said the coalition "reaffirms its willingness to engage in a future Geneva Conference" but "all parties must ... agree that the purpose of the conference will be the establishment of a transitional government with full executive powers" as stipulated by an agreement last year by international powers.

    It was the first clear commitment by the Western-and Arab-backed coalition to attend the proposed conference sponsored by the United States and Russia. 

    The coalition has been dithering on whether to attend, especially after a chemical weapons attack on August 21 that killed hundreds of people in Damascus.

    [Source: Reuters]

    Editor's note: According to Al Jazeera's sources the SNC s
    ays it has not changed its stance and that it will go to Geneva if Geneva will pave the way to a new government without Assad. 
  • 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
    by Amna.Bagadi
    by Amna.Bagadi

    1 of 3

    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]
  • Al Jazeera spoke to a source in Damascus about the alleged mortar attack.  She had spoken to an eyewitness who said she heard only one shell in the vicinity of the embassy.

    The Russian embassy was not answering the phone.
  • Russian source confirms attack to Syrian state TV

    The AFP news agency says a Russian source has spoken to Syrian state news agency SANA, confirming that "a
    mortar round fell inside the embassy compound without injuring

    "The embassy is functioning as normal," the source added.

    The attack was also reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said it was the first time the compound had been hit.

    It confirmed that there were no injuries in the attack, which struck inside the compound but did not appear to hit the embassy's main building.

    Opposition 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.

  • Moscow insists that a new UN resolution on Syria should not allow the use of force [AP]

    by Amna.Bagadi

    Russia ready to send troops to Syria

    Reuters reports that the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is now saying that Moscow is ready to send troops to Syria to ensure the safety of United Nations chemical weapons inspectors. 

    He also said that Russia categorically opposes any UN resolution threatening force against Syria. 

    "They see in the US-Russian deal not a chance to save the planet from significant quantities of chemical weapons in Syria, but as a chance to do what Russia and China will not allow, namely to push through a resolution involving (the threat of) force against the regime and shielding the opposition," Interfax news agency cited Lavrov as saying.

    Russia has used its veto to block Western efforts to use the UN Security Council's clout to pressure Assad's government. 

    Earlier Moscow accused the US of blackmail over the UN resolution against Syria and said the West is now "blinded" by its "ideological goal of regime change".
  • 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.
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