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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 United Nations estimates that around 9.3 million people in Syria or about 40 percent of the population need humanitarian assistance due to the country's two-and-a-half-year, the UN humanitarian office said on Monday.

    "The humanitarian situation in Syria continues to deteriorate rapidly and inexorably," UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told the UN Security Council behind closed doors, according to her spokeswoman Amanda Pitt.

    "The number of people we estimate to be in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria has now risen to some 9.3 million," Pitt said, summarizing Amos' remarks to the 15-nation council. "Of them, 6.5 million people are displaced from their homes, within the country."

    The population of Syria is around 23 million.

    "Amos continues to press the council for their help and influence over those parties who can ensure the protection of civilians and civilian facilities; the safe passage of medical personnel and supplies; the safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance; and can facilitate progress in expanding critical, life-saving relief operations," Pitt said. [Reuters]
  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Syrians look at damages after a missile hit the eastern countryside of Homs on Monday, November 4. [AP]

    by Tamila Varshalomidze

  • A young Free Syrian Army fighter sits in Old Aleppo on November 4 [Reuters] 
    by Tamila Varshalomidze

  • A father reacts while trying to search for his daughters under the rubble at a site hit by what activists say was an air strike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus November 4 [Reuters]

    by Tamila Varshalomidze

  • Six Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups in the Northern countryside of Aleppo have pledged their allegiance to a-l Qaeda arm in Syria Jabhat al-Nusra, according to new reports.

    Local activists told Al Jazeera that small opposition groups find themselves forced to join bigger and stronger battalions to guarantee protection, especially after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, another al-Qaeda-affiliated group, declared war on several FSA battalions.

  • Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said that Saudi Arabia is "responsible for the destruction" of his country.

    In comments to Syrian state television, carried by SANA news agency, al-Zoubi said that Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal is "leading the Saudi policy to failure and eventually to a deadlock".

    He said "the Saudi aspirations reflect the Israeli policy in the region," according to SANA, adding that Riyadh's diplomacy was doomed to failure regardless of whether the Geneva peace talks take place or not.

    "We are not going to Geneva to hand power as al-Faisal wishes," al-Zoubi said.
  • A senior Syrian official vowed Monday that authorities would vaccinate the country's children against polio after 10 cases emerged in the northeast, saying the government would work with international organisations to ensure even rebel-held areas were reached.

    A week earlier, the United Nations health agency confirmed the first outbreak of the disease in the country in 14 years, raising a risk of it spreading throughout the region.

    The confirmed cases are among babies and toddlers who were "under-immunised," according to the World Health Organisation.

    "We intend to vaccinate each Syrian child regardless of the area they are present in, whether it is a hotspot or a place where the Syrian Arab Army is present," deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad told reporters in Damascus.

    "We promise that we will give humanitarian organisations the opportunity to reach every Syrian child," he added.

    Mekdad did not say, however, when the vaccination campaign would begin or how exactly it would reach rebel-held areas.

    Aid groups have called for cease-fires to allow immunisation campaigns.

    Syria's warring parties have held truces before to allow civilians to flee and aid to enter some areas.

  • The UN-Arab League envoy to Syria will meet with senior diplomats in Geneva on Tuesday in a new bid to prepare a long-delayed peace conference amidst continued dispute over who will take part.

    Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will first hold talks with Russian deputy foreign ministers Gennady Gatilov and Mikhail Bogdanov and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman early Tuesday.

    Later in the day, the meeting will be broadened to include representatives of the three other permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France and Britain.

    The talks in the Swiss city aim to pave the way for a new international conference focused on ending the spiraling 31-month conflict in Syria, which has killed more than 120,000 people and forced millions more to flee their homes.

    Hoping to build on the momentum of a US-Russia accord reached in September to destroy Syria's chemical arsenal by mid-2014, Brahimi has been criss-crossing the region to rally support for the conference, dubbed "Geneva II."


  • Russia insisted on Tuesday that Iran must be invited to peace negotiations on Syria that world powers hope to hold in Geneva later this month.

    "All those who affect the situation must be invited to the conference. This includes all of Syria's neighbours, this includes almost all countries of the Persian Gulf including, of course, not only the Arab countries but also Iran," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.


  • A mortar round hit the Vatican embassy in  Damascus on Tuesday morning, damaging the building but causing no casualties, a  diplomat told AFP.

    "A  mortar round fell this morning on the embassy rooftop, causing only material damage," said the counselor at the papal nunciature.

  • The UN estimates that about 9.3 million people in Syria, or about 40 percent of the population, need humanitarian assistance owing to the country's ongoing civil conflict.

  • The international body tasked with eliminating Syria's chemical weapons has raised only enough money so far to fund its mission through this month, and more cash will have to be found soon to pay for the destruction of poison gas stocks next year.

    The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which won the Nobel Peace Prize last month, is overseeing the destruction of Syria's nerve agent stocks under a US-Russian agreement reached in September.

    It has so far raised about $13.5 million for the task.

    "It is the assessment of the Secretariat that its existing personnel resources are sufficient for operations to be conducted in October and November 2013," said an October 25 OPCW document seen by [Reuters].

  • There have been 35 more cases of polio documented by a group belonging to the Syrian coalition and Doctors Without Borders in Deir Zor province in Syria.

    This is the first time polio outbreak has occurred in Syria since 1999 and there are fears it could continue to spread. Faisal Muqdad, deputy foreign minister on Monday told reporters that one reason for the outbreak was that rebels were "blocking access to basic sanitation services and even to the vaccine." Though the United States has accused Syrian authority of blocking deliveries of humanitarian aid.

    Valerie Ramos, United Nations aid chief, called on the Security Council to put "sustained pressure" on both Damascus and rebel group to let in desperately needed humanitarian assistance.

    She said that on top of well over 100,000 war dead, diseases, including feared new cases of polio, are spreading quickly and many people are dying "silently" from cancer and diabetes because of lack of treatment.

  • A mortar shell has slammed into a Damascus building that houses the Vatican's embassy, eyewitnesses told The Associated Press.

    It is not clear whether the embassy was specifically targeted in the early morning attack on Tuesday. No casualties were reported.

    "There was damage but no one was injured. The mortar hit a wing of the embassy that is currently not being used," said Father Ciro Benedettini said from the Vatican City.

    The building is located on the edge of the upscale Damascus district of Abu Roummaneh. The embassy, which is still operating in the embattled city, had been hit by eight to ten times by mortar bombs since July, he said.

    Rebels fighting to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad regularly launch mortar fire at government-held areas inside Damascus.

  • "Out of 5,000 doctors who worked in the city of Aleppo before the conflict [in Syria] now only 36 remain," US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said a press conference on Tuesday.
  • UN-Arab Leave envoy to Syria has said that the peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel groups will not take place in November as planned, but does remain hopeful that the talks will happen before the end of the year.

    More here.  
  • The United States is reviewing intelligence suggesting Syrian President Bashar al Assad's government may try to keep some chemical weapons instead of turning them all over for destruction, a US official said.

    Under a Russian-US proposal, Syria agreed in September to destroy its chemical weapons program by mid-2014.

    "There are indications the Syrians may be intending to hold some of their stockpile in reserve," the US official said on condition of anonymity on Tuesday.

    The official said it was important that the international community keep the Syrian government's "feet to the fire" to ensure that all Syrian chemical weapons are declared and destroyed.

    "This development is not surprising. ... At this point, it's not derailing the diplomatic process," the official said.

  • Russian representatives and members of the Syrian opposition are set to meet in Geneva, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov has told Russian media.

    "We will hold a whole series of contacts with the Syrian opposition," he was quoted as saying late on Tuesday by the Russian Interfax news agency.

    "A large number of its representatives came here specifically to meet a delegation of Russians," he said, adding that the discussions would circle around preparations for a hoped-for peace conference for war-ravaged Syria.

    Gatilov, whose country has long been one of the Syrian government's staunchest allies, did not say who the Russian diplomats would meet nor which opposition groups they represented.

    His comments came after UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and a wide range of senior diplomats, including Gatilov, met for intense discussions on Tuesday but failed to set a date for a long-delayed peace conference, dubbed Geneva II.


  • Among those seeking shelter in Syria's neighbouring countries are hundreds of thousands of Syrian Christians persecuted for their beliefs by armed opposition groups.

    Many are too scared of speaking out for fear of endangering their relatives who remain in the country.

    Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid reports from Beirut, Lebanon.

  • This video shows an attack in which anti-government activists say several school students were injured, after a mortar shell landed at a school in the Zaheraa district of southern Damascus. Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the authenticity of the footage.

  • Activists reported government shelling targeting al-Huiqa in Deir el-Zour. Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the footage.
  • Russia is ready to host informal talks between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and the opposition, news agencies quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying on Wednesday.

    "Our offer for informal contacts to be held in Moscow as part of preparations for the Geneva 2 [peace conference] is important from the standpoint of creating a beneficial atmosphere, so that people could meet and discuss existing problems," Interfax quoted Bogdanov as saying.

  • US fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken has closed the doors of its last remaining branch in Syria due to economic and supply problems, shopkeepers in Damascus told AFP news agency.

    The branch in the upscale Abu Rummaneh neighbourhood of Damascus is the last of seven KFCs in Syria to have shuttered.

    "Closed. Please leave your number if you are interested in buying this establishment," a sign posted on the branch's window now reads.

    KFC was the first US fast-food restaurant to set up shop in Syria in 2006, with Kuwaiti businessman Nasser Khurafi bringing the chain to the country.

    Unlike other chains, it remained open despite the sanctions imposed against Syria by the United States in response to the regime's crackdown on an uprising that began in March 2011.

    "The business was facing multiple problems" including in procuring supplies, a local businessman told AFP.

    The conflict that began with an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime has ravaged Syria's agricultural sector while fighting has made delivery of products to market increasingly difficult.

    The violence has also caused the value of the Syrian pound to plunge and produced increasing poverty among Syrians, making the cost of a KFC meal beyond the reach of most.

  • A bomb explosion rocked the heart of the Syrian capital on Wednesday, killing at least eight people and wounding 50 others, state media reported.

    The blast came as rebels seized parts of a key arms depot in the central province of Homs and regime forces recaptured most of the Kurdish town of Tal-Aran in the northern province of Aleppo, a monitor said.

    Also in Aleppo, fighters from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized a major power plant, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

    The blast in central Damascus hit Al-Hijaz Square, killing eight people including two women.

    State news agency SANA said it was caused by a bomb placed at the entrance to the Hijaz railroad company and that more than 50 people had been wounded, among them women and children.


  • A bomb exploded in the Syrian capital, Damascus, killing at least eight people and wounding 50 others [AFP/Ho-Sana] 
    by Safeeyah Kharsany
  • Syria's key opposition National Coalition on Wednesday urged UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to remain neutral, after he cited opposition divisions over new delays to peace talks.

    The statement comes a day after Brahimi said intensive talks on a mooted peace conference in Geneva had failed to produce a final date for the long-planned discussions.

    "The Syrian National Coalition confirms that the mission of the joint UN-Arab League envoy - as understood by the Syrian people - is to seek to achieve their legitimate aspirations and lift their suffering, or to remain neutral at the very least," the Coalition said a statement.

    The statement accused Brahimi of seeking to "blame" the opposition for his failure to convene the conference, urging him to "adhere to neutrality and not stray from what is acceptable in political discourse".

    The comments come after Brahimi announced that no date had been set for peace talks despite renewed suggestions that a conference could take place in November.

  • Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday compared his country's war against rebels, whom he describes as "terrorists", to the conflict that devastated Algeria for an entire decade.

    "The Algerian people's position on the Syrian conflict is not surprising, considering they had to undergo a challenge that was similar to the Syrian people's, which is currently facing terrorism," Assad said during a visit by an Algerian delegation to Damascus.

    When an anti-Assad revolt broke out in March 2011, Damascus branded opponents as "terrorists", even before the movement took up arms.

    Algeria has systematically abstained in Arab League votes that have resulted in decisions to punish the Assad regime.

    The Algerian civil war in the 1990s killed 200,000 people, according to official figures.

    It erupted after the army suspended an electoral process when the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won the first round of a parliamentary vote in 1991.

  • Syrian government forces have opened a new front near Aleppo. The army is trying to break a rebel siege after making rare advances in the country's mostly rebel-held north. Some rebel commanders are blaming the growing rifts in their ranks for the army's successes.

    Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr reports from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon.

    Syrian army advances in rebel-held north
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube on 9:49 AM

  • Homs, Syria, November 2013.

  • 'All but one' of Syria's chemical sites have been checked, according to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

  • Rebels in the Homs suburb of Mheen captured an important weapons depot, reportedly the country's second largest. They say they seized a large quantity of arms from there.

    Activist Hadi al-Abdallah documented the two-week operation, carried out by fighters from both the Free Syrian Army and Jabhat al-Nusra.

    The footage include an interview with one self-described Nusra member. The activist asks the fighter if the al-Qaeda-affiliated group has reservations when it comes to coordinating with fighters from the Free Syrian Army and other Islamic battalions.

    The Nusra member responds that, his group, contrary to the general perception, is willing to cooperate with the different opposition factions operating on the ground.

    "The interest of Islam is more important than the interest of Islamic factions," the Nusra fighter said, speaking in Arabic.

    "Based on agreement with the different groups, a military operation room was created to expand the work [on the ground]".

  • US Secretary of State, John Kerry, speaking at a press conference in Amman, says that he is confident that a date for a Syria peace conference will be set 'within the next days'
  • US Secretary of State John Kerry called on Thursday for more international aid to help cash-strapped Jordan cope with hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

    "The United States will continue to assist Jordan in dealing with the crisis of Syrian refugees," a palace statement quoted Kerry as telling Jordan's King Abdullah II at a meeting in Amman.

    "The United States will also continue to encourage the international community to have a bigger role and face its responsibilities in this issue," said Kerry, on a regional tour to push for Middle East peace.

    Jordan is home to around 500,000 Syrian refugees - equal to eight percent of the population - including more than 100,000 at the desert Zaatari camp near the border.

    The United Nations has estimated the cost of hosting the refugees in Jordan for this year and 2014 at $5.3bn (3.9bn euros).

    Amman says the influx has placed a huge burden on already overstretched water and power supplies as well as housing and education, while unemployed Jordanians face tough competition from Syrians for jobs.

    The king said on Sunday the problem is depleting Jordan of its scarce natural resources, and called for international assistance.

    During a visit to Jordan in March, US President Barack Obama announced an aid package of $200m for Jordan to help the kingdom care for Syrian refugees.

  • US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) mets with Jordan's King Abdullah II in the capital Amman in his latest push for Middle East peace between the Palestinians and Israel. [AFP/Jason Reed] 
    by Safeeyah Kharsany

    In a press conference following the meeting Kerry also addressed the crisis in Syria.
    He said that Jordan was key to resolving the crisis in Syria and also commended the country for it's humanitarian efforts in taking in swaths of Syrian refugees. 

    He pointed to the 78,000 Syrian children that are in Jordanian schools. He also said that he was confident that a date for a peace conference would be set "within the next days". 

    Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, speaking from Istanbul, said that while Kerry was optimistic about a collaborative and constructive relationship with Jordan, Jordan was not the position to do anything other than wield charity in the region. 

    "It certainly does not wield the sort of power that Saudi Arabia does is in the region," she said.

    "On this particular trip America has had to do a great deal to mend fences with Saudi Arabia which is still annoyed with the US for its decision not to go ahead with airstrikes against Syria during the period that lead to the chemical weapons agreement with America and Russia."

    She added that a lot of issues are at stake here with a lot of regional dynamics at play.

    Kerry has also extended his trip in the region. 

    by Safeeyah Kharsany edited by Amna Bagadi 11/7/2013 1:48:14 PM
  • Russia has again said that it is trying to broker talks in Moscow between the Syrian government and the opposition.

    The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that representatives of the opposition, who met with Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in Geneva, "responded positively" to the Russian offer to host "informal contacts in Moscow for the entire spectrum of Syria's social and political forces." 

    It did not say when the talks could take place. 
    Bogdanov said on Wednesday after his talks with Syrian opposition leaders that the Moscow talks could focus on humanitarian problems as well as some political issues.

    A Syrian opposition official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the opposition National Coalition was sending experts to discuss humanitarian corridors with the Syrian government.

    by Safeeyah Kharsany edited by Amna Bagadi 11/7/2013 2:29:29 PM
  • Thousands of Kurds protested on Thursday against Turkish plans to build a wall along the Syrian border, calling it a move to stop Kurdish communities strengthening cross-frontier ties as Syria splinters from civil war.

    The rally underscored the sectarian strains spilling over from Syria's war, which grew out of a 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad and has fragmented into a patchwork of antagonistic ethnic and sectarian pockets that risk destabilising neighbouring Middle Eastern countries.

    Riot police tolerated the protests, organised by Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), for much of the day but fired tear gas to disperse groups of demonstrators as sit-down protest began following the main speeches.

    Crowds of mostly young men, many waving red, yellow and green Kurdish flags, gathered in the Turkish town of Nusaybin, separated from the Syrian town of Qamishli by a strip of no-man's land and barbed wire fencing.

    Officials said last month that Turkey would build a two-metre high wall to stop people bypassing checkpoints and prevent smuggling near Qamishli, where Kurdish fighters, Syrian rebel units and  Arab tribes have regularly clashed.

    by Safeeyah Kharsany edited by Amna Bagadi 11/7/2013 5:47:22 PM
  • Vaccinating only Syrian refugees against polio may not be enough to prevent the crippling viral disease from re-infecting Europe where it has not been seen for decades, German scientists warned on Friday.

    Writing in The Lancet medical journal, they said the risk to Europe from a re-emergence of polio in Syria was partly due to the type of vaccine generally used in regions that have not had the disease for many years.

    Polio, caused by a virus transmitted via contaminated food or water, was confirmed among young children in northeast Syria last month - its first appearance there in 14 years.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the virus probably spread from Pakistan - one of three countries where polio is still endemic - and warned that Syria's outbreak posed a threat to millions of children across the Middle East.

    Polio passes easily from person to person and can spread rapidly among children, especially in the kind of unsanitary conditions endured by displaced people in Syria or in crowded refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

  • Billionaire financier George Soros is pledging $1 million for humanitarian efforts in war-ravaged Syria.

    Soros announced the pledge to the International Rescue Committee on Wednesday night after receiving its Freedom Award in recognition of his lifelong support for human rights and an open society.

    Soros said people are starving and will soon be freezing in Syria as winter arrives and malnutrition among children is increasing.

    "This situation has arisen because both the government and the rebels use the denial of humanitarian aid as a tool of war,'' Soros said.


  • Clashes erupted between police and demonstrators in southeastern Turkey late on Thursday following a protest against the construction of a wall between Turkey and Syria.

    Riot police in Cizre deployed tear gas and fired live ammunition into the air in an effort to disperse dozens of demonstrators, who responded by hurling Molotov cocktails and detonating firecrackers to fend off security forces.

    Earlier, demonstrators in the predominantly Kurdish city of Cizre protested against government plans to build a controversial wall between Turkey and Syria that would straddle parts of the 910-kilometre (565-mile) border.

    Ankara says the structure is to provide security but detractors say it is a divisive measure intended to separate Kurds in Syria from those in Turkey.

    Cizre is some 100 kilometres away from the actual construction site which straddles Qamishli in Syria and Nusaybin in Turkey, both heavily populated by Kurds with ties between the two communities dating back decades.

    Many have families on both sides of the frontier.

    A mass rally also took place Thursday in Nusaybin where some 5,000 people gathered at the site to demonstrate against the wall.

    That, too, erupted in clashes.

    Kurds make up 20 percent of Turkey's nearly 75 million citizens and tensions between the minority group and the government are long-standing.

  • Backed by tanks and artillery, Syrian regime troops have unleashed what residents in Aleppo called "the heaviest barrage in more than a year" on rebel-held areas around Aleppo's International airport.

    Assad forces, stationed at the airport, concentrated their assault on the nearby rebel-held "Brigade 80" base in an attempt to retake it. The brigade was an air defence force with the main task to protect the international airport and Nairab air base.

    Government victory there would mean cutting the rebel's route between Aleppo city and the opposition-controlled town of al-Bab, about 30km from the Turkish border.

    The assault began at about 5:30 local time (3.30 GMT).

    "We did not see it coming. The attack came as a real shock to us," a rebel fighter, who is based 3km from the airport, told Al Jazeera.

    "There is an insane campaign going on. The regime is employing a scorched earth policy."
  • Russia's Foreign Ministry says Syria's main Western-backed opposition group is refusing to 
    participate in talks in Moscow.

    Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on Friday that the Syrian National Coalition is ``blocking and refusing to participate'' in the talks, which would focus on resolving the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

    Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov earlier said that the opposition had ``responded positively'' to the proposal.

    Russian officials had hoped the talks would bolster prospects for a proposed peace conference the United States and Russia are trying to convene in Geneva.


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