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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.


  • Some 3,000 civilians trapped in a suffocating Syrian army siege of rebel areas in the city of Homs need urgent food aid, a monitoring group and activists said on Friday.

    "Three thousands civilians, among them 500 aged over 70, are living exclusively off the little food that had been stored in the besieged districts of Homs," said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman.

    "People there are barely eating enough to survive," he added.

    For more than 500 days, hundreds of families have been living under a tight government siege of rebel-held areas of the Old City neighbourhood of Homs.

    The army in July recaptured the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood, and hundreds of people who had been living there for months fled for other neighbourhoods under rebel control.

    [AFP]
  • Tens of thousands of people have escaped from the Al Safira district in northern Syria, fleeing non-stop heavy bombing in a "massive exodus", Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Friday.

    The non-governmental organisation, which has staff on the ground in the conflict-ridden country, said some 130,000 people had fled the district in the northern province of Aleppo, including almost all those who lived in the town of Al Safira.

    These add to the millions who have been driven from their homes since a brutal crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired protests in March 2011 escalated into a civil war that has now left some 115,000 people dead.

    "Faced with the magnitude of the needs of these displaced people, humanitarian aid is insufficient," MSF said in a statement.

    [AFP]
  • Rebels battled Syrian government forces earlier this week to retain control of a historic Christian town which fighters had stormed a day earlier, residents said.

    Syrian state TV showed video footage on Friday of an intense gunfire battle between the regular army and the rebels.

    The town is located amid several villages that support the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

    It also lies next to several arms depots and opposition activists said the raid by al-Qaeda linked forces was for military reasons and not religiously motivated.

    [Reuters]
  • Norway rejects a US request to receive Syria's chemical weapons for destruction.

    Boerge Brende on Friday said Norway doesn't have the capabilities to handle
    the request by the deadlines given so there was no point in continuing 
    the
    discussions.


    Brende said the US is looking at other alternatives but didn't
    give 
    details.

    [AP]

  • A video uploaded onto social media on October 22 and which cannot be independently verified purports to show a Russian man, reading out a message in which he says he will be brutally killed unless a Saudi national is released. 

    In the video message the bearded man identifies himself as Sergei Gorbunov and sets a deadline of five days for the release of the detained Saudi national Khaled Suleiman in exchange for the Russian's freedom.

    Suleiman is said to be a Saudi he said had been detained in the city of Hama.

    "If I am not exchanged in five days, I will be butchered," he said in a trembling voice on a grainy video that was also aired on state-run Russian television on Thursday," he reads out in the video.

    Russia has been Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's most powerful ally during a conflict which began with a crackdown on protests in 2011 but which has turned into a civil war in which more than 100,000 people have been killed.

    An Arabic caption under the video, whose authenticity could not immediately be verified, said the man was captured by the Mujahideen of Ibn Taymiyyah Brigade. 

    It said he is asking Russia and Syria to agree a hostage swap between him and Khaled Mohammed Suleiman, who it says was captured in Hama by "the Alawite regime" - a reference to Assad's government.

    "I appeal to presidents of Syria, Russia, the Red Cross ... I have not even started a family at home," the man said. I'm scared and I want to return to Russia, let someone help me."

    The man said he was seized at an airport whose name was inaudible. He said the kidnappers, whom he identified only as "Muslims", had given him food and treated him well.

    The caption accompanying the one-minute video said the Russian was an engineer who had been working in Syria. There was no immediate comment from the Russian government.

    An official at the Russian embassy in Damascus, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters by telephone that diplomats were checking the information and refused further comment.

    [Reuters]
  • Syria has released 62 female prisoners as part of three-way deal to free Lebanese and Turkish hostages. In an Al Jazeera exclusive, footage shows the released female detainees as they were discreetly handed over late on Wednesday evening.
  • Fierce clashes erupted in Syria overnight between Kurdish fighters and self-proclaimed jihadists near the Iraqi border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday.

    "The clashes began around midnight [21:00 GMT Wednesday] and lasted around 12 hours, with the Kurds advancing in the direction of Al-Yaarubia, an area controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] and other jihadist groups," the Britain-based monitor said.

    "The Kurds have managed to take two villages controlled by the jihadists but it will be difficult to capture Al-Yaarubia from ISIL," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

    The Al-Yaarubia border crossing with Iraq is seen as a key supply route for arms and fighters. ISIL has carried out attacks on both sides of the border.

    The Kurds and the jihadists have been fighting for control of northeastern Syria, an area rich in oil and wheat, for months.

    - AFP
  • The number of freed detainees is now 62, not 48. More here

    by Amna Bagadi


  • Activists say the Syrian government has released a total of 48 women detainees as part of a three-way prisoner exchange.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday that the women were freed over the past two days. 

    It said the figure of 48 included the 13 women whose release was previously reported.

    There was no immediate comment from Syrian officials.

    The Observatory says the release was part of a complicated hostage swap last week brokered by Qatar and the Palestinian Authority that saw Syrian rebels free nine Lebanese Shia Muslims, while Lebanese gunmen simultaneously released two Turkish pilots.

    Lebanese officials have said a third part of the deal called for the Syrian government to free a
    number of women detainees to meet the rebels' 
    demands.

    - AP
  • US officials are working hard behind the scenes to try to persuade the Syrian opposition to agree to join peace talks next month.

    US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, who has built up a close relationship with the opposition leaders over the past years, huddled with key figures in Istanbul on Wednesday seeking to coax them to the negotiating table.

    "Their participation is pivotal. We will continue encouraging them to attend, and that's why Ambassador Ford's on the ground talking to them right now in Istanbul," Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

    But the leaders of the National Coalition -- the main opposition umbrella group -- insisted they would not attend the talks slated to be held in Geneva in late November.

    "The only thing we are willing to negotiate is a transfer of all power and then the departure of the mass killer," said coalition head Ahmad Jarba, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 

    - AFP
  • Syria is set to hand over a detailed plan for the destruction of its chemical arsenal by Thursday, days ahead of a UN deadline, the international watchdog said.

    But prospects for a peace conference, which the world body is trying to convene in parallel with the disarmament process, looked dim after key opposition leaders spurned efforts by Western and Arab powers to persuade them to attend.

    And on the ground violence raged unabated, with a rebel attack on a gas pipeline causing power outages across Syria and a deadly car bombing and  shelling hitting Damascus.

    The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said on Wednesday that the Syrian government was expected to hand over its disarmament plan within the next 24 hours. 

    - AFP
    by Tamila Varshalomidze edited by Amna Bagadi 10/23/2013 8:53:33 PM
  • Syrian capital blacked out after blasts

  • Much of Syria, including the capital Damascus, was hit by a power cut late on Wednesday after rebels attacked a gas pipeline, state media said.

    "A terrorist attack on a gas pipeline that feeds a power station in the south has led to a power outage in the provinces and work to repair it is in progress," Electricity Minister Emad Khamis told state news agency SANA.

    A resident in the centre of Damascus who asked to remain anonymous said "the whole city just went dark" and she could see the glow of a fire near the international airport and hear heavy machinegun fire.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that reports on abuses and battlefield developments using sources on both sides of Syria's civil war, said the explosion was caused by rebel artillery that hit a gas pipeline near the airport. 

    The Observatory said the rebel shelling was aimed at the town of Ghasula, a few miles (km) from the airport. It said residents of other areas of Syria, including coastal cities in the west and parts of Aleppo province in the north, were also experiencing power cuts. 

    - Reuters
    by Tamila Varshalomidze edited by Amna Bagadi 10/23/2013 8:03:50 PM
  • Smoke rises after what activists said was a fire near Damascus International Airport October 23, 2013. [Reuters]



  • The Syrian capital Damascus was hit by a power cut late on Wednesday, shortly after an explosion near the international airport, residents said.

    "The whole city just went dark," said a resident who lives in the centre of the city and asked to remain anonymous. She said that she could see the "major glow of a fire" near the airport and the sound of heavy machinegun fire.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that reports on abuses and battlefield developments using sources from both sides of Syria's civil war, said the explosion was caused by rebel artillery that hit a gas pipeline near the airport. It was not immediately clear why power was cut to the city.

    The Observatory said the rebel shelling was aimed at the town of Ghasula, a few kilometres from the airport.

    - Reuters
    by Tamila Varshalomidze edited by Amna Bagadi 10/23/2013 7:39:21 PM
  • A Dutch court has found two men guilty of preparing to travel to Syria to fight with rebels battling to oust President Bashar Assad, verdicts prosecutors say will help other such cases in the future.

    Wednesday's convictions by a court in Rotterdam are the first in the Netherlands of suspects who wanted to join rebels in Syria's devastating civil war.

    The court convicted one suspect of making preparations for murder and another for preparing to detonate explosives.

    One of the suspects was sentenced to a year's imprisonment and the other was ordered to spend a year in a psychiatric hospital. Their full identities were not released.

    Prosecution spokesman Paul van der Zanden says the convictions clarify how best to prosecute people who want to travel to Syria to fight.

    - AP
    by Tamila Varshalomidze edited by Amna Bagadi 10/23/2013 4:13:45 PM
  • Local reports say Lakhdar Ibrahimi is meeting with Jordanian foreign minister Nasser Judeh at the foreign ministry in Amman right now.

    The meeting seems to be closed because it was not previously announced. 

    The reports suggest he's on a regional tour ahead of the second Geneva conference in November.

    The Jordanian foreign ministry says there is no media coverage of the Brahimi-Judeh meeting in Amman, but provided the following statement on the visit:

    "Brahimi described the Syrian conflict as the most dangerous crisis that threatens peace and stability. He added that there is almost full international consensus that there will be no military solution in Syria and that the only way to end this nightmare is through a negotiated political solution."

    - Al Jazeera
  • This video shows the aftermath of shelling on Al-Waar neighbourhood in Homs. Published October 22nd.

    Al Jazeera cannot independently verify this activist video.

  • Government warplane launches attacks on several neighbourhoods in the city of Deraa. Published October 23rd.

    Al Jazeera cannot independently verify this activist video.

  • Fierce clashes as opposition fighters try to break into a checkpoint in Al-Manshiyah neighbourhood in Deraa. Published on October 22nd.

    Al Jazeera cannot independently verify this activist video.

  • Al-Badiyah brigade fighters (also affiliated with the army of Islam) destroy a regime tank in Al-Sukhna city in Homs’s Eastern countryside, using a Konkurs missile published, on October 22nd.

    Al Jazeera cannot independently verify this activist video.

  • Fighters of Ansar Al-Sunna brigade (affiliated with the army of Islam) destroy a regime tank in Al-Safira city in Aleppo’s southern countryside, using a Konkurs missile.

    Al Jazeera cannot independently verify this activist video.

  • Major General Abbass Ibrahim is in Syria meeting with President Assad discussing the case of two Syrian Bishops that were kidnapped in Aleppo by armed rebels back in late April.
     
    Meanwhile, the head Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi was invited by Qatari Emir for a two day visit, the main discussion is the two Syrian Bishops return.
     
    Lebanese officials are pushing forward in helping secure their release. 

    - Al Jazeera
  • Two people were killed and 30 others wounded in a three-day gunfight in the Lebanese city of Tripoli between supporters and opponents of President Assad, a security official said on Wednesday.

    The violence has closed schools and sent families into flight.

    "Two people have been killed since Monday night. One of them was a 13-year-old child, the other a 32-year-old man. Thirty other people have been wounded," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

    The clashes broke out on Monday night as an interview with Assad was being aired on television.

    The 13-year-old was from Jabal Mohsen, a majority Alawite neighbourhood in the northern port city of Tripoli whose residents support Assad.

    The man killed was from Bab al-Tebbaneh, whose Sunni inhabitants support the anti-Assad revolt in neighbouring Syria.

    The violence forced families from both districts to flee their homes for other areas of Tripoli, said an AFP correspondent in Lebanon's second city.

    Early on Wednesday, "gunmen from the two sides tried storming each other's districts", said the official. "The army fought them off, in a battle that raged at around 3:00 am (0000 GMT)."

    All Tripoli's schools stayed closed on Wednesday because of the violence.

    - AFP

  • Syrian authorities have released 14 women detainees as part of a weekend hostage exchange but dozens of others are still being held, a prominent human rights activist said on Wednesday.

    Nine Lebanese Shia hostages held for 17 months by a rebel group in northern Syria were exchanged on Saturday for two Turkish pilots held in Lebanon since August.

    The release of scores of female detainees held in regime jails formed part of the deal brokered by Turkey, Qatar and Lebanon.

    "Fourteen of the women whose names were on the list" were freed late Tuesday, activist Sema Nassar told AFP. "For their own safety, they will have to leave the country."

    Among them was a cancer patient who had been imprisoned twice before and whose husband has been killed in Syria's 31-month-old conflict, said Nassar.

    "Another 128 women whose names were on the list have yet to be set free," she said.

    There has been no official comment in Damascus on the women detainees.

    - AFP
  • The UState Department says it has learned of a plot to abduct Western  journalists covering Syria's civil war and is warning those who travel there to take precautions.

    In a notice posted Tuesday to the website of the shuttered US Embassy in Damascus, the department said it "has information that there is a kidnapping plot directed at Western journalists traveling to central and southern Syria".

    The notice, titled "Risk of Kidnappings for Western Journalists'' and dated Monday, gave no additional details.

    It repeated advice for American citizens to leave Syria immediately and said that those who stay should maintain a high level of vigilance. 

    Several Western journalists are presumed to have been abducted in Syria, including at least one American and four Frenchmen.

    - AP

  • US Secretary John Kerry says Syria's officials are still weighing whether to enter negotiations with President Bashar al-Assad to create a new government and end the nation's bloody civil war.

    Kerry spoke after meeting with opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba on Tuesday and said he was hopeful that negotiations could begin as early as next month. Both Kerry and al-Jarba were in London meeting with diplomats from 11 Western and Mideast nations who are trying to reach a settlement.

    - AP
  • US Secretary John Kerry has said at a news conference there is no military solution for the Syria conflict, saying “I don’t know anybody including the Russians and others in the region who are not part of the support group who believe there is a military solution to this conflict. It is clear both sides will continue to fight, and to fight, and to fight.”

    - Al Jazeera
  • William Hague said at a news conference after the London talks Assad would play no role in the future government of Syria and has no role in a democratic and peaceful Syria.

    - Al Jazeera
  • Syria opposition chief Ahmad Jarba says he will not attend the Geneva peace talks unless the final objective is to have Assad leave power, Reuters has reported.






  • Syria's state media says mortar shells have struck a pro-government suburb on the outskirts of Damascus, killing two people.

    The state SANA news agency says the shells slammed into the Jaramana neighbourhood on Tuesday, an area where mostly minority Syrian Christians and Druse live.

    It wasn't immediately clear who was behind the shelling, but Jaramana has been a frequent target for the rebels. The suburb is near the town of Mleiha, where fighting has been raging for days between President Bashar Assad's troops and rebels trying to overthrow his rule.

    Assad has drawn support from Syria's ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians and members of his Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot, in the country's civil war, now in its third year. The rebels are dominated by Syria's Sunni Muslim majority. [AP]
  • The UK's The Telegraph is running an article on the worrisome rise in diseases including flesh-eating parasites due to the civil war:

    The World Health Organisation has recorded the first suspected outbreak of polio for 14 years in Syria, sparking renewed alarm at the collapse of health care caused by the country's civil war. 

    Doctors in Syria are also seeing a flare-up of typhoid, hepatitis, and the flesh-eating parasite, leishmaniasis, blamed partly on the inability to administer a proper vaccination programme and partly on poor living conditions and a much-reduced access to health care.


    Read more here.

  • The US has given 10 armoured vehicles to the United Nations to help support efforts to verify and destroy Syria's chemical weapons.

    The United States spent $1.55 million from the State Department's Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund to pay for the armoured vehicles, which were shipped recently.

    The State Department said Monday that the Royal Canadian Air Force provided an aircraft to transport the vehicles from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to the Middle East.

    So far, the US has provided nearly $6 million in financial and in-kind contributions to help rid Syria of chemical arms.

    Car bombs and mortar shells recently have exploded close to a Damascus hotel where inspectors with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are staying, underscoring the risky nature of their work.

    - AP
  • Not ready for peace talks [Reuters] 
    by Yermi Brenner
    Syria's president said the elements necessary to hold peace talks to end the
    country's conflict do not yet exist.


    Speaking to Lebanon's Al-Ayadeen television on Monday, Syrian President Bashar Assad said "the factors that would help in holding it are not in place if we want it to succeed.''

    He said it's not clear who would represent the opposition, or what credibility they would have inside Syria.

    He also said that no date has been set for the conference.

    - AP


  • The war in Syria is already causing a lot of problems for Turkey.

    But now as different armed groups including al-Qaeda continue to make gains along its border, Turkey’s security could be at risk.

    Al Jazeera's Omar Al Saleh reports from Kilis: http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2013/10/turkey-fears-spillover-from-syria-war-20131021155554500499.html

  • The Syrian president plans to run for re-election [Reuters] 
    by Yermi Brenner

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is fighting a 2-1/2-year revolt against his rule, said he saw no reason he could not run for the 2014 presidential elections, Al Mayadeen television station reported on Monday.

    "Personally, I don't see any obstacles to being nominated to run in the next
    presidential elections," the news channel quoted 
    him as saying in an
    interview.


    - Reuters
  • [Photo: Samar Hazboun] 
    by Yermi Brenner

    Dozens of Syrian refugees are living in a self-built camp near the French port town of Calais.

    Al-Jazeera contributor Sakhr Al-Makhadhi visited the camp and wrote this feature article: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/10/syrian-refugees-britain-dream-201310179396166775.html


  • [Photo: Dalia Khamissy for Al Jazeera America] 
    by Yermi Brenner

    The photo above is of a Jordanian named Abu Ahmad, left, with three Syrian refugees, whose tent stands in his garden.
    Rania Abouzeid wrote this report for Al Jazeera America: 


  • Lieutenant Colonel Yaser Abboud, the leader of the southern region in the Free Syrian Army, has died in fighting with Syrian government forces in the village of Tafass in Deraa province, according to rebel sources.

    There have been several attempts to assassinate him in the past. He lost his eye in one of them.

    He was among the first army generals to defect from the Syrian army.
  • The Syrian government has accused Turkey of supporting rebel fighters to advance its own interests, a charge that Turkey denies.

    Recent clashes on the ground have seen groups linked to al-Qaeda making gains along the border, and that is worrying the Turkish government.

    Al Jazeera's Omar Al Saleh reports from the border town of Kilis.


    Syria developments cause Turkish concern 
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube on 11:54 AM


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