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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.

  • Syrian TV says Vice Premier Qadri Jamil who met U.S. officials over the weekend has been sacked for "overstepping'' his duties.

    Tuesday's announcement, based on a presidential decree, came several days after Jamil held talks with U.S. officials in Geneva, The Associated Press has reported.

    A UN official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Jamil was discussing the possibility of Syria peace talks in Geneva but no breakthroughs were reported to have come out of the talks.


  • While many Syrians flee the violence, there are millions more inside the country in desperate need of help.

    Aid agencies have been unable to get unhindered access to most areas but that has not stopped local community groups from stepping in.

    In the suburbs of the capital Damascus, one local group is organising activities for children and giving them trauma counselling.

    Al Jazeera spoke to Um Mohammad, one of the women working there.

  • UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will meet Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Wednesday morning, a diplomatic source told AFP news agency.

    It will be the first meeting between the pair since Brahimi's last visit to war-torn Syria in December last year.

  • Mohamed Rida Shibani, the Iranian ambassador to Syria, says his country is willing to attend the Geneva talks:

    For the presence of the Islamic Republic of Iran, we are ready to attend the Geneva II meeting. Everybody knows the efforts Iran is making in order to help in the political solution in Syria. 

    The absence of Iran in this meeting will not be beneficial to the meeting. The presence of the Islamic Republic of Iran will be useful in the meeting in order to reach to a political solution as soon as possible.

  • Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy, has met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, in an effort to shore up support for faltering peace talks.

    Wednesday's meeting is the first direct contact between the men since Brahimi angered the Syrian leader in December by saying the Assad family's more-than-40-year rule of Syria was "too long".
  • UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi hopes rebel backer Saudi Arabia will take part in proposed peace talks to end the raging conflict, his spokeswoman said.

    Brahimi "appreciates the role the [Saudi] kingdom can play in giving the peace process the push it needs," Khawla Matar told AFP news agency.

    The statement came as Brahimi met with the ambassador of Saudi arch-rival Iran in Damascus.

    The envoy had previously called on Iran, which backs Damascus, to take part in a US-Russian peace initiative for Syria dubbed Geneva II.

    He "hopes (Saudi Arabia) will take part in the Geneva II conference", which has tentatively been scheduled for November 23.

    Arab media have reported tension between Saudi authorities and Brahimi over Geneva II, and that Riyadh had refused to welcome the envoy during his regional tour to garner support for the talks.

  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was quoted on state television on Wednesday as saying "the success of any political solution is tied to stopping support for terrorist groups and pressuring
    their patron states".
  • Walid al-Mualem, Syrian foreign minister, said on Tuesday that Syria would attend the planned peace talks "...but also set some conditions. He said it was up to the Syrians to decide among themselves their fate and the fate of the country. He also said that they would not accept any kind of foreign intervention," Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid reported from neighbouring Lebanon.
  • Some 800 women, children and elderly civilians trapped in the besieged town of Moadamiyet al-Sham, southwest of Damascus, have been evacuated, activists said Wednesday.

    Supervised by the Red Crescent, they were escorted from the rebel-held town a day earlier in coordination with the regime.Television footage showed the families clutching personal belongings as they walked out of town along a dusty avenue, with Red Crescent staff.

    Rights groups and activists have reported widespread malnutrition there, particularly among children, because of a total blockade on the entry of food and other vital goods.

    Activists there issued a statement saying they would have preferred humanitarian assistance to be brought in instead, "but we did not have a choice," they said to AFP.

  • International powers are unlikely to meet their goal of convening peace talks on Syria in Geneva next month as differences emerge between Washington and Moscow over opposition representation, Arab and Western officials said.

    Failure of the main Syrian National Coalition to take a clear stance over the talks, which aim to find a political solution to Syria's two and a half year civil war, are also expected to contribute to a delay of up to one month, the officials told Reuters.

    "A clearer picture will emerge when the United States and Russia meet next week, but all indications show that the Nov. 23 goal will be difficult to meet," said one of the officials involved in preparing for the talks.


  • Short ceasefire saves lives near Damascus
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube on 9:47 PM

    The Red Cross has brokered a deal allowing some people to leave a besieged suburb on the outskirts of Damascus.

    Moudamiya is completely surrounded by Syrian forces - and the opposition say thousands face starvation. Some people have managed to leave the area during a brief ceasfire.

    But the UN says there are still about one million people trapped without aid across the country.

    Al Jazeera's Imran Khan reports.

  • Jordan criticised for Syrian refugee camps
    by Amna Bagadi on Oct 31, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    Amnesty International has criticised conditions in Jordan for those displaced by the Syrian conflict.

    Jordan hosts more than half a million refugees and says its resources and facilities are stretched to breaking point. 

    On Thursday the rights organisation urged world support to help Jordan and other countries hosting Syrian refugees end border restrictions on those fleeing the conflict, saying hundreds are being turned back.

    Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh reports from the Zaatari camp.

  • Polish photojournalist Marcin Suder, who was kidnapped in Syria in July, has been freed and is back home, Poland's foreign minister announced on Thursday.

    "Marcin Suder is already back home," Radoslaw Sikorski said on his official Twitter account.

    - AFP
  • BREAKING: Reuters reports that Syria has completed the destruction of equipment for producing chemical weapons, meeting its disarmament programme deadline.

    More soon...
  • The international watchdog OPCW says all equipment and sites for producing chemical weapons have been rendered unusable. Read our story here.

    by Amna Bagadi

  • Marcin Suder is seen here in January 2010 at an exhibition of his works from Afghanistan in Warsaw [AFP] 
    by Amna Bagadi

    AFP is reporting that the Polish photojournalist Marcin Suder, escaped his captors in Syria. 

    Polish officials did not reveal any details about his time in captivity nor how he was able to flee. 

    "He was very lucky, he managed to escape," foreign ministry spokesman Marcin Wojciechowski told AFP.

    Masked gunmen abducted the 34-year-old freelancer, who worked for the Corbis agency and other outlets, on July 24 during a raid on a media centre in Saraqeb in the northwestern province of Idlib.

    No reason was given for his kidnapping and no one had publicly claimed responsibility for the

    Press watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says Syria is the most dangerous country for media to work in, with around 15 foreign journalists still missing or held hostage there.

    At least 25 professional journalists and 70 citizen journalists have been killed since the start of the Syrian revolt in March 2011, it said.

  • Reuters has published an interesting article about starvation being used as a tactic in Syria.
    Click here to read the full report.

    by Amna Bagadi

  • Israel strikes hit Syrian military base

    Israel has launched air strikes against a Syrian airbase in the northern province of Latakia, according to media reports and officials.

    A US official confirmed that "there was an Israeli strike" on Thursday but gave no detail on the location or the target, according to the AFP news agency.

    Citing unnamed "exclusive sources", Saudi Arabian news network Al-Arabiya said on its website that "Israel was behind a series of explosions that rocked a Syrian airbase in the northern Latakia province".

    "The bombing targeted a shipment of surface-to-air missiles [SAM] that was headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon," the report said.

    Al Jazeera's Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Jerusalem, said that Israel has refused to comment on the attack, but that attacks such as this are "not unusual", citing previous Israeli strikes on Syrian convoys near Damascus in January and May, as well as the destruction of a missile storage facility near Latakia in July.

    Read more here.
  • The destruction of Syria's chemical weapons programme has been top of the agenda in Washington DC.  In the US Senate, America's envoy to Syria faced tough questions over the suffering of the Syrian people.  Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan reports from Washington DC.

    Syria chemical weapons destruction tops agenda in US
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube on 3:26 AM

  • Fighting has continued at a high pace across many parts of Syria, including in the town of Safira, in northern Aleppo province, on Thursday.

    Experts say the town is home to a chemical weapons production facility, as well as storage sites.

    Activists said troops were advancing in the town, capturing several neighborhoods and causing casualties on both sides.

    Also on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based Syria watchdog, said more than 120,000 people have been killed since the start of the country's conflict nearly three years ago. 

    In July, the UN estimated 100,000 have died in the conflict since March 2011. It has not updated that figure since. [AP]
    Brahimi is in Damascus to meet Syrian officials in an effort to shore up support for the faltering peace talks [Reuters]
    by Amna Bagadi

    Al Jazeera's Hoda Hamid said the UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi at a press conference today in Damascus said that all parties need to head to the Geneva 2 conference in a few weeks time.

    He didn't blame the opposition but said it would be better if the opposition was less fragmented, particularly between those based in Damascus and overseas such as the Syria National Coalition (SNC), which is recognised by much of the international community.

    Brahimi said the SNC continues to refuse to attend if there is no mention of the resignation of President Assad.

  • Russia has been Assad's strongest backer during the Syrian conflict [Reuters] 
    by Amna Bagadi

    Russia hopes an international peace conference on Syria will be held before the end of this year, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said, despite reported differences with the United States over opposition representation.

    He appealed to both sides in Syria's civil war to compromise and criticised the opposition for demanding assurances of President Assad's departure as a condition for the talks.

    "I think that the ideas that are sometimes put forward - let's exclude President Assad and then agree on everything - are unrealistic as long as Assad is in power," Medvedev said.

    "He's not mad. He must receive some kind of guarantees or, in any case, some kind of proposals on the development of political dialogue in Syria itself, on possible elections, on his personal fate."

    Assad suggested last month that he could seek re-election in a vote scheduled for next year.

    Medvedev said Assad might be worried by the fates suffered by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak - who was overthrown and put on trial - and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, who met a grisly death after being ousted from power.

    "You have to agree that when he recalls the fate of President Mubarak or Colonel Muammar Gaddafi ... his mood probably doesn't get any better," Medvedev said. 

    "So you can't just say 'get out and then we'll agree everything'."

    - Reuters

  • Syrian government forces have captured a northern town located near a site linked to the country's chemical weapons programme after days of  heavy fighting, a monitoring group said.

    The town, Safira, is also located on a strategic road that could be used to relieve government-controlled areas of Aleppo, a major nearby city. It had been controlled by rebels including some from units linked to al Qaeda.

    "Government forces took control of the strategic Safira city after days of clashes and heavy
    shelling," the Britain-based 
    Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    The Observatory, which has a network of sources across Syria, did not give further details and there was no immediate comment on the reports in Syrian state media.

    - Reuters
  • Russia believes most of Syria's chemical arsenal should be removed from the country rather than destroyed there, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying on Friday.

    Ryabkov spoke after meeting Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint United Nations-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) mission to destroy Syria's chemical weapons.

    "Much speaks in favour of the overwhelming portion of poisonous substances in Syria being removed beyond its borders," state-run news agency RIA quoted Ryabkov as saying. 

    He did not explain the reasons for that view. 

    - Reuters
  • Israel said it would not allow advanced weapons to fall into the hands of Hezbollah, after a raid on Syria that opposition sources said had hit an air force garrison believed to be holding Russian-made missiles destined for the militant group.

    On Friday officials said that Israel has a clear policy on Syria and will continue to enforce it, after US and European sources said Israel had launched a new attack on its warring neighbour.

    Israel declined to comment on leaks to US media that its planes had hit a Syrian base near the port of Latakia, targeting missiles that it thought were destined for its Lebanese enemy, Hezbollah.

    - Reuters
  • In the midst of a conflict rife with sectarianism, a giant bronze statue of Jesus has gone up on a Syrian mountain, apparently under cover of a truce among three factions in the country's civil war.

    Jesus stands, arms outstretched, on the Cherubim mountain, overlooking a route pilgrims took from Constantinople to Jerusalem in ancient times. The statue is 12.3 metres tall and stands on a base that brings its height to 32 metres, organisers of the project estimate.

    The statue made it to Syria and went up without incident on October 14. The project took eight years and was set back by the civil war that followed the March 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

    Christians and other minorities are all targets in the conflict, and the statue's safety is by no means guaranteed. It stands among villages where some fighters, linked to al-Qaeda, have little sympathy for Christians. [AP]

  • Bashar al-Assad (right) speaks with Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus on October 30 [AP/SANA]
    by Tamila Varshalomidze on Nov 2, 2013 at 6:41 PM

    Syria's government newspaper called UN-Arab League envoy "one-eyed and many-tongued" on Saturday, a day after he left Damascus on a trip aimed at building consensus for a peace conference.

    An editorial in Ath-Thawra also lashed out at Lakhdar Brahimi's efforts to hold the so-called Geneva II between the regime and rebels within weeks, saying he was acting with "unnecessary haste."

    The veteran Algerian diplomat has said he hoped the conference would be held "in the coming weeks, not next year."

    But as soon as he left Syria Friday, Damascus accused him of being overly diplomatic.

    The envoy "has played both sides, as though he wants to please all parties in the same way, forgetting that his role as an international mediator requires him to be neutral," the newspaper said.

    He has said Geneva II cannot happen without the participation of the opposition.

    The editorial comes two days after the ruling Baath party mouthpiece had described Brahimi's visit as "positive."

    Brahimi's renewed bid for peace talks aimed at resolving the 31-month conflict comes after last month's US-Russian accord on dismantling Syria's chemical arsenal.

    He met with President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday for an hour. [AFP]
  • Syria's air force struck Sbeineh south of Damascus on Saturday, as loyalists pressed a fierce bid to crush rebel bastions around the capital, a monitoring group said.

    "Warplanes struck areas of Sbeineh... as regime troops shelled the town," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

    Rebels on the capital's southern front were battling government troops backed by both pro-regime armed rebels and fighters from the Lebanese Shia movement.

    "The strike was part of the regime's offensive against rebel areas in and around southern Damascus," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

    There has been a marked escalation in recent days along Damascus' southern belt, which has been under a suffocating siege for months, giving rise to
    widespread malnutrition especially among children. [AFP]

  • Nabil al-Arabi (centre) meets leaders of National Coalition (not pictured) [Reuters] 
    by Tamila Varshalomidze

    Top officials from the main Syrian opposition group have met with the head of the Arab League to discuss a proposed peace conference to end the country's civil war.

    Saturday's talks in Cairo came a day before foreign ministers from the League's member states were to meet to discuss the two-and-a-half-year crisis.

    The meeting between leaders of the Syrian National Coalition and Nabil al-Arabi came as UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi voiced uncertainty about the proposed Geneva peace conference scheduled for later this month.

    The Syrian opposition is made up of different factions, many of them exiled politicians, the majority of whom are part of the coalition demanding President Bashar al-Assad to step down. [AP]
  • Kurdish fighters have pressed an advance against the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the majority Kurdish province of Hasake, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

    On Saturday, they took over several villages and military positions surrounding Ras al-Ain, which borders Turkey. According to the Observatory, Kurdish militia are now in control of a stretch of 25km along the Syrian-Turkish border, to the west of Ras al-Ain. 

    The advance comes less than a week after Kurdish fighters took over the Yaarubiyeh border crossing with Iraq.

    Elsewhere, in the Christian village of Sadad in central Homs province, rebels fought to seize massive government arms warehouses, and the bodies of six civilians were found in a well, among them two children, said the Observatory.

    The latest documented deaths took the total number of dead found in Sadad to 45, including 15 women, since clashes in the area began on October 21, the monitoring group said.

    In the northern province of Aleppo, meanwhile, regime troops took over the village of Aziziyeh, days after seizing the strategic town of Sfeira from rebel hands, according to the Aleppo Media Centre, a network of activists. [AFP]
  • King Abdullah II said on Sunday that the influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees is depleting Jordan's scarce natural resources, and called for international assistance to deal with the problem.

    "Jordan currently hosts around 600,000 Syrian refugees - an issue that depletes our already limited resources and puts enormous pressure on our infrastructure," the king said in a speech to parliament.

    "If the international community does not move quickly to help us shoulder the burdens of the Syrian crisis... Jordan is able to take measures to protect the interests of our people and country," he said without elaborating.

    - AFP
  • The Syrian opposition set terms on Sunday for attending peace talks to end the Syrian civil war, in a move that throws the proposed conference into further confusion after the international envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, said there should be no preconditions.

    The long-delayed talks, known as Geneva 2, are meant to bring Syria's warring sides to the negotiating table, but have
    been repeatedly delayed because of disputes between world powers, divisions among the opposition and irreconcilable positions of President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels.

    Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba said the opposition would not attend unless there was a clear timeframe for President Assad to leave power. He also said they could not accept the presence of Iran.

    "We have decided not to enter Geneva talks unless it is with dignity, and unless there is a successful transfer of power with a specific timeframe, and without the occupier Iran at the negotiating table," Jarba told an Arab League emergency meeting of foreign minister in Cairo.

    Lakhdar Brahimi has said he hoped the conference could still be held in the next few weeks despite obstacles. [Reuters]
  • Syria could become a "Mediterranean Afghanistan" if the international community does not act to end its civil war, Turkish president Abdullah Gul has warned in an interview published by The Guardian on Sunday.
    Gul, who was speaking to the British newspaper during a visit to the Scottish capital Edinburgh, called the world's response "very disappointing" and said the UN Security Council's reaction had been a "disgrace".
    The president warned he would react "in the strongest way possible" if the conflict spilled over his country's 900km border with Syria.
    Some 200,000 refugees are currently living in camps in Turkey, according to Gul.
    Gul accused allies of providing insufficient backing for Turkish efforts to negotiate with Assad at the start of the conflict.
    If he had been able to pursue talks with Assad, Gul believes that "100,000 people may not have died and Syria would not have faced so much destruction."
    He also suggested that Assad had agreed to a Russia-sponsored plan to destroy his chemical weapons stock in order to strengthen his position.
    "I think it is very disappointing to see the whole discussion reduced to a discussion solely on chemical weapons," he said. [AFP]
  •  Arab League foreign ministers gathered in Cairo  on Sunday to urge
    the Syrian opposition to attend the proposed Geneva II peace 
    by Maria Jan

  • An official in Syria has said that a suicide bomber has killed six people in a Syrian town Sabtiyeh, located east of Homs, The Associated Press has reported.

    Officials have said the bombing took place near a school compound and wounded more than a dozen people. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

  • Both the Syrian government and opposition have expressed their concerns about a proposed round of international peace talks aimed at ending the country's 31-month crisis, with the government saying any solution must come from Syrians only, while the opposition has demanded that Iran be declared an "occupier" of the country. 

    More here
  • Humanitarian organisation International Committee of the Red Cross provides pictures of Syrian children amid civil war.

  • A commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards has been killed in Syria after volunteering to defend a Shia shrine in Damascus, the Iranian Mehr news agency said on Monday.

    Commander Mohammad Jamalizadeh of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the southeastern province of Kerman was killed in the last few days by "Wahhabi terrorists", the agency said, giving no more details.

    The report could not be independently confirmed.

    Jamalizadeh was a veteran of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and then served in anti-smuggling units. He did not travel to Syria for the IRGC, but volunteered to defend the Sayyida Zainab mosque in the southern suburbs of Damascus, Mehr said.

    The area around the mosque revered by Shias as the burial site of a grand-daughter of the prophet Mohammad has been the scene of heavy fighting. [Reuters]

  • Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has vowed that authorities will vaccinate all Syrian children after cases of polio emerged in the country's northeast.

    Mekdad said the government will cooperate with UN agencies and aid groups to reach children, particularly those who live in rebel-held areas Mekdad's statements came days after the UN health agency confirmed 10 polio cases in northeast Syria, the first confirmed outbreak of the disease in the country in 14 years, raising a risk of it spreading. 

    He did not say when the vaccination campaign would occur, or how it would reach rebel-held areas.

    Mekdad spoke on Monday at a press conference in the Syrian capital Damascus. [AP]
  • Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said after meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday that any talks on the Syrian crisis could not go on indefinitely.

    "The kingdom realises the importance of negotiations to solve crises... But talks cannot go on indefinitely," he said, in reference to efforts to convene a US-Russian proposed peace conference to end Syria's 31-month-old conflict. [AFP]

    Prince Saud al-Faisal demanded that Iran leave Syria, saying Tehran was helping President Bashar al-Assad strike his own people.

    He said proposed talks to end Syria's civil war could not happen without the participation of an opposition coalition leading the struggle to oust Assad. [Reuters]
  • Al Jazeera's Syria desk has put together a list of events coming out of the country today:

    - Activists in Raqqah reported that 80 percent of Raqqah city is without electricity, because of three airstrikes that targeted the main electricity station and two other locations in the city. Airstrike video

    - Field medical clinics south of the capital Damascus conducted blood tests on children of the area and reported that 60 percent of children have anemia because of malnutrition. Video

    - Six People were killed (including three children) and 37 people injured after a car bomb exploded in al-Thabtiyeh village in the eastern suburb of Homs, according to Syrian news agency SANA. Activists said that the group called Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) claimed the responsibility for the suicide attack. Video

    - Activists say Kurdish fighters of Popular Protection Unites (YPG) took over of 19 villages south of the border town of Ras Al Ein in Al Hasakah province. The fighters can now reopen the road between Ras Al Ein and the town of Tel Tamer. Kurdish fighters have linked all of the main towns in Al Hasakah.

    - Syrian troops fighting alongside Hezbollah have taken control of the town of Aziziya in the Aleppo countryside.

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