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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.

  • Thousands of Syrians fled into the eastern Lebanese border town of Arsal over the past days as government forces attack the western town of Qarah, near the Lebanese border [AP]

    Children stand near their tent at the refugee camp in Arsal [AP] 
    Women stand in line to collect aid from relief agencies [AP] 
    Refugees gather inside a restaurant [AP]
    Refugees gather around the fireplace inside the restaurant [AP] 
    Thousands of tents were erected in the camp for the refugees [AP] 

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  • Russia is seeing more "realism" from the Syrian opposition, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday, as Moscow  pressed on with efforts to set up elusive peace talks between the warring sides.

    Speaking in an interview to Moscow's Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper, Lavrov praised some steps by the opposition, but said that no "constructive platform" has yet been found to unite all those opposing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    "When all of the demands... will go on the table from both sides, it will be possible to put together some compromise agreements based on mutual concessions," Lavrov was quoted as saying. 

    "However, we are not at that stage yet, since, although there are more and more signs of realism in the ranks of the opposition, no (opposition) delegation has yet been formed... that would be representative and would represent the entire spectrum of Syrian society."

    "We welcome efforts of the (National) Coalition to start dialogue with the internal opposition, including Kurdish organisations," Lavrov said, although he also criticised the coalition's attempts to "monopolise" the process of forming such a delegation.

  • According to Syrian official TV: Syria strongly condemns Beirut blasts.

    Read more of the breaking news here.

  • Syrian troops on Tuesday captured the village of Qara in the mountainous Qalamoun region along a key supply route between Damascus and Homs, a military source told AFP news agency.

    The reported capture came after days of air strikes on the region near the Lebanese border, which is also a key smuggling route for rebels battling to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    "After three days of fighting, the Syrian army has taken full control of Qara," some 100km north of the capital, the Syrian military source said, adding that a "large number of terrorists" had been killed, referring to the rebels.

  • Russia has urged the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government to  cooperate with the opposition in fighting "terrorists" and encouraged the regime to speed up the deliveries of the humanitarian aid to the population, a call that reflects Moscow's attempt to position itself as a mediator in Syria peace talks.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also issued a rare compliment to the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group, praising its agreement to come to the Russian capital for talks that would also involve other opposition forces.

  • A handout photo made available by Syria's Arab News Agency /SANA/ shows Syrian President Bashar Assad (right) meeting with members of the General Secretariat of the Arab Parties in Damascus, Syria on 19 November 2013. According to media reports, Assad said the erosion of the Arab parties' active role in their societies over the past years has given a room for alien ideas and movements to enter our societies [EPA]

  • The United Nations General Assembly is voting on a draft resolution that condemns the Syrian government for human rights violations and also calls for the convening of the Geneva II conference which aims to draw the conflict to an end.

    [Al Jazeera]

  • A spokesman for the global chemical weapons watchdog says destroying Syria's
    stockpile of poison gas and nerve agents at 
    sea is a possible alternative to
    finding a country willing to host the 

    OPCW spokesman Christian Chartier said Wednesday the alternative
    destruction at sea, on a boat or floating rig, is a "feasible" possibility. Chartier told The Associated Press, "All options are on the

    - AP
  • Four suicide car bombs struck Syrian regime targets in the Qalamoun region near Lebanon, killing at least seven soldiers, a monitor and state news agency SANA said.

    Wednesday’s attacks come a day after troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad made gains in the Qalamoun area north of Damascus.

  • Government shelling on the town of Maaret al-Numaan in Idlib has left several children injured. Activists posted the following video from a field hospital in the town.

  • A Jordanian jihadist died on Wednesday of gunfire wounds he suffered as he tried to cross into the kingdom from war-torn Syria, a security official said.

    "Ahmad Fakhuri, a jihadist, was wounded by gunfire from the Syrian side as he tried to return to Jordan from Syria on Sunday night," the official told AFP.

    "He died in hospital today of wounds in the stomach and chest. Fellow jihadist Belal Feisal, who was wounded in the same shooting, is still in hospital."

    Home to more than half a million refugees from Syria, Jordan has tightened its northern border and detained scores of men, mostly jihadists, for entering the war-ravaged country or trying to go to fight alongside rebels.

  • Turkey accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of exploiting delays to planned US and Russian-backed peace talks by stepping up attacks on the opposition and said the conference must take place quickly if it was to be of use.

    Russia, which strongly backs Assad, and the US announced in May they would try to bring Syria's government and opposition together at the so-called Geneva 2 peace talks, but a date has so far proved elusive.

    "The (Assad) regime is orchestrating an absolute human tragedy by ramping up its bombings recently and leaving its people starving through a siege," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference in Istanbul.

    "Geneva 2 should convene, produce results ... and the calendar should not be allowed to be exploited," he said.

    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday he hoped the conference could be convened in mid-December but he could not yet give an exact date.

    More than two and half years into Syria's civil war, the balance of power has tilted in favour of Assad and against the increasingly fragmented rebels.

  • Bulgaria pushed for an EU-wide refugee strategy as it struggles to cope with a mass influx of asylum-seekers, the majority of them Syrian.

    "We have repeatedly highlighted the need for a common European refugee system that would allow flexible resource management and the possibility for refugee relocation within the bloc on the basis of objective criteria,"

    Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev said after a national security council on the refugee issue.

    Bulgaria - the poorest country in the bloc and its outermost border to the southeast - has found itself grossly unprepared to welcome the more than 10,000 refugees, including Syrians fleeing conflict at home, who have entered the country illegally so far this year from Turkey.

    The cash-strapped country's limited shelters are overflowing, with refugees housed instead in deserted schools, dilapidated army barracks, metal containers or tents, and a humanitarian crisis looming as winter draws near.

  • Destroying Syria's stockpile of poison gas and nerve agents at sea is a possible alternative to finding a country willing to host the destruction, a spokesman for the global chemical weapons watchdog said.

    The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons aims to destroy some 1,300 metric tons of Syrian toxic agents by mid-2014, but the plan was dealt a blow last week when Albania rejected a US request to host destruction.

    Authorities in Belgium and Norway also have ruled their countries out as locations for the risky operation.

    OPCW spokesman Christian Chartier said the alternative of destruction at sea, on a boat or floating rig, is a feasible possibility.

    Chartier told The Associated Press, ``All options are on the table.'' No further details have been released.

  • The Syrian opposition called on the international community on UN Children's Day on Wednesday to step up efforts to protect youngsters caught up in the 32-month conflict.

    "More than 10,000 children have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the revolution," the main opposition alliance, the National Coalition, said.

    "Dozens of children have been subjected to horrific acts of torture. Some of them died, others have become permanently disabled.

    "Four million children have been affected and 40 percent of Syria's children are deprived of education.

    "The Syrian National Coalition calls on all international organisations involved in child protection to work to end the human suffering, which has affected all aspects of life for Syrian children and threatens their future."

    The UN says half of Syria's more than 2.2 million refugees are children.


  • Syria's war threatens peace in Lebanon
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube

  • A Free Syrian Army fighter throws a homemade bomb towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the old city of Aleppo [Reuters]

  • The exodus out of Syria continues:

  • The global chemical weapons watchdog is inviting private companies to bid to get involved in destroying Syria's stockpile of toxic agents and precursor chemicals.

    The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is posting a request for "expressions of interest" from companies who want a role in "the treatment and disposal of hazardous and non- hazardous organic and inorganic chemicals".

    The agency, which won the Nobel Peace Prize this year, has been directed by the United Nations to oversee the destruction of the Syrian government's chemical weapons. The unprecedented disarmament in the midst of a civil war now in its third year was launched following an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds of civilians.

    The US and Western allies accused the Syrian government of being responsible for that attack, while Damascus blames the rebels. Syria joined the OPCW and agreed to dismantle its chemical arsenal to ward off possible US military strikes.

    What needs to be destroyed involves a wide range of chemical agents. A senior OPCW official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the issue publicly, said Thursday that more than 700 tonnes of Syrian chemicals listed can be destroyed at regular commercial facilities.

    The most toxic and weaponised chemicals in the Syrian stockpile will still have to be destroyed at a secure facility under OPCW supervision.

    The OPCW is considering the option of destroying the most toxic parts of Syria's stockpile at sea on a mobile destruction facility on a large ship or barge.

    That option gained momentum after Albania last week refused a US request to host the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal, a serious blow to efforts to destroy that stockpile by mid-2014.

  • Paris-based Union de Banques Arabes Francaises (UBAF) said on Thursday it had agreed to release Syrian funds to pay for food deals, suggesting Damascus is making headway in its complex moves to finance imports of staple supplies.

    Western countries have imposed sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad's government, but these do not apply to food and France has cleared the use of frozen Syrian assets as part of a European Union scheme that allows funds to be used for humanitarian ends.

    Assad had hoped to achieve self-sufficiency in food to help sidestep the sanctions, but the war has caused the worst harvest in nearly three decades, leaving Syria's population increasingly reliant on food aid.

    The United Nations said it delivered food to a record 3.3 million people in October, up from 2.7 million the previous month, and that civilians were going hungry in besieged areas.

    "At the request of trading house clients who had previously obtained an export permit from the French Economy and Finance Ministry, UBAF has accepted, in this context, to conduct the payment of humanitarian/food products destined for Syria," UBAF said in an emailed response to Reuters news agency.

    "To this end, the Economy and Finance Ministry has authorised the use of frozen funds of Syrian banks that are in our books," said the bank, whose core activity is trade finance, mostly in relation to Arab countries.

    UBAF's statement confirmed comments made by the head of Syria's General Foreign Trade Organisation to Reuters on Sunday, saying the bank had agreed to release funds.
  • German President Joachim Gauck, while visiting Syrian refugees in Friedland:

    "We have heard the things that we've heard on the TV, the radio, that we've read in newspapers - of destroyed houses, extinguished human life, damage, trauma. But when you look into the faces of people, then it's different from just reading the numbers of victims. Then you feel very clearly what the country needs for refugees, for people in need: an open heart and open arms, too". 

    "I praise heartily our readiness to take in refugees and to bring asylum seekers into the asylum process. But I also say, in the face of this humanitarian catastrophe, that we can also do more". 

    by Basma Atassi edited by Yermi Brenner 11/21/2013 4:19:00 PM
  • Fighting for a key military base outside Syria's main northern city of Aleppo killed at least 15 pro-regime militiamen on Thursday, a monitoring group said.

    "Fifteen members of the National Defence Forces were killed in fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Al-Nusra Front and Islamist groups in the east of Aleppo province and near Base 80," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    Both ISIL and Al-Nusra are loyal to Al-Qaeda and have played a major role in operations on the ground, to the concern of the opposition's Western supporters.

    The army recaptured Base 80, which had provided the garrison for Aleppo's military and civilian airports, at the weekend after months of fighting.

    It was one of a series of setbacks for the rebels in recent weeks around Syria's main cities of Damascus and Aleppo.

  • Saudi Arabia's embassy in Beirut has called on citizens to leave Lebanon because of the dangerous situation, its ambassador said on Thursday, after some media linked the kingdom to deadly blasts.

    "The Saudi embassy sent a text message to (Saudi) citizens in Lebanon advising them to leave, considering the danger of the situation and out of concern for their safety," the ambassador, Awad Assiri, told AFP.

    The warning comes two days after a twin suicide bombings killed 25 people near the Beirut embassy of Saudi's regional rival Iran, which is located in the stronghold of powerful Tehran ally Hezbollah.

    The text messages sent to Saudis in Lebanon read: "Considering the security situation at the moment and the media campaign, the embassy advises citizens to return home, and advises caution."

  • An al Qaeda affiliate has captured a northern Syrian town on the border with Turkey after ousting a moderate Islamist rebel unit and detained its leader, activists said on Thursday.

    The fall of the town of Atma, a crossing point for weapons and for Syrian rebels, signals disarray among some of the rebel groups, which are ceding ground to hardline Islamist units.

    Some of these groups are now playing a lesser role on the battlefield in the war against President Bashar al-Assad's forces, opposition sources said.

    The rise of al Qaeda in Syria has helped change the international diplomatic calculus and tempered Western calls for Assad's removal from power.


  • Aleppo, between the battles:


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  • Rebels in Syria seized a key town in Qalamoun province that has been under army control since the outbreak of the conflict, a monitoring group and the opposition said.

    Hundreds of rebels now control most of Deir Attiyeh, with the exception of the Bassel hospital and a small hill, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    The town was seized by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Al-Nusra Front, as well as other Islamist fighters, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers on the ground for its reports.

    The opposition National Coalition welcomed the capture of Deir Attiyeh.

    "After fierce fighting lasting several days, the (mainstream rebel) Free Syrian Army in Damascus province has successfully liberated the town of Deir Attiyeh in the Qalamoun area," the Coalition said in a statement.

    "It is a success that exposes the lies of the regime (of President Bashar al-Assad) about fictitious victories," the opposition added.

    The rebel advance comes three days after the army took Qara, which for many months had been under opposition control.

  • Consequences of the war in Syria continue to affect neighbouring Jordan. The Jordanian education ministry says it has 100,000 Syrian students enrolled at its state-run schools, but it can barely cope.

    As Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh reports, some of the schools are having to run double shifts.

  • Seven major Islamist rebel groups battling President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria have announced a merger to form an "Islamic Front" and pledged to build an Islamic state in a post-Assad Syria.

    Friday's merger is dubbed as the largest between different groupings and blocs. The new front represents "a full fusion" of groups and not merely a coordination body, rebels told Al Jazeera.

    Click here to read the full story.
  • Syrian mediator Lakhdar Brahimi held talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday on a planned international conference aimed at ending Syria's civil war, Brahimi's spokeswoman said.

    "They discussed preparations for 'Geneva 2' in general, not specifically Iran's participation," Khawla Mattar told Reuters in Geneva where they met at the United Nations complex. "They were catching up."

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who flew to Geneva on Friday to join talks between six major powers and Iran on curbing its nuclear programme, was expected to meet Brahimi later in the day or on Saturday, according to diplomats and a source in the Russian delegation to the Iran negotiations.

  • Major Syrian rebel groups join forces
    by OfficialJazeera via YouTube

  • El Ikhbariya television said the car of Ali Haidar, the Minister of National Reconciliation Affairs, was targeted while driving on a highway in Tartous province - a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad.

    It did not go into further details on the nature of the assault.

    Haidar is part of what Assad's government has called the "patriotic opposition" - political groups that consider themselves to be rivals to the president's ruling Baath Party but do not support the 2-1/2-year revolt against his rule.


  • Islamist rebels led by al Qaeda-linked fighters seized the largest oil field in eastern Syria on Saturday, activists said, a raid which would cut off President Bashar al-Assad's access to almost all local crude reserves.

    There was no immediate comment from the government. Losing the al-Omar oil field would mean Assad's forces would be almost completely reliant on imported oil in their highly mechanised military campaign to put down a 2-1/2-year uprising.


  • The main Western-backed Syrian opposition group says it has sent a delegation to Geneva for consultations ahead of proposed peace talks.

    An official with the Syrian National Coalition said on Saturday that the small delegation plans to meet with US and Russian diplomats, as well as the United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

    The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorised to speak on the record.

    Earlier this month, the SNC conditionally agreed to attend the Geneva talks that the U.S. and Russia plan to hold by the end of the year.

    Top US and Russian diplomats are already in Geneva for talks with Iran on its nuclear programme.

  • Air strikes around the northern Syrian city of Aleppo killed at least 40 people on Saturday, most of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    The pro-opposition monitoring group said there were at least six strikes on the outskirts of Aleppo and nearby towns. Dozens of people were wounded, it said.

    "Some of the strikes in the neighbourhood of Tareeq al-Bab appeared to be targeting rebel headquarters but instead the rockets fell in a busy street and caused heavy civilian casualties," Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Observatory, said by telephone.

  • An activist doctor in Egypt says 35 detained Syrian refugees are on a hunger strike to protest their captivity in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

    Taher Mokhtar, a member of the Alexandria doctors' syndicate, said the refugees he visited in a police station on Saturday demanded to be released or to be granted asylum in Europe.

    Mokhtar said they started the hunger strike on Friday.

    An official from the United Nations Refugee Agency in Egypt, Mohamed Dayri, said authorities currently detain 128 Syrian refugees who tried to travel illegally to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.

    Dayri said they usually are held until they buy a ticket to leave Egypt.

    Syrian refugees complain of difficult living conditions in Egypt after some were accused of supporting ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

  • A fierce two-day battle in the eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus has killed more than 160 rebel and regime forces, activists said on Sunday. FULL STORY

  • Ongoing clashes for the 5th day along the Homs-Damascus motor way in Al Qalamoun North Damascus according to SHOR and activists 
    by المركز لاعلامي السوري... via YouTube

  • Denmark's security service said on Sunday it suspects around 80 people have travelled from Denmark to Syria to join the civil war since mid-2012.

    In a report, the service known as PET said those who travel to Syria are mainly Sunni Muslim men aged between 16 and 25. At least seven were killed in Syria and around 40 have returned to Denmark again, PET said.

    The Syria conflict has attracted hundreds of foreign fighters from European countries, many of whom have joined rebel groups. 

    The Norwegian intelligence service PST has said an estimated 30 to 40 people and possibly more - have left from Norway, including two teenage sisters aged 16 and 19 who made headlines last month.

    The Danish recruits are mainly from "Islamist environments," and criminal gangs, PET said. It also warned that the number of those with ties to criminal gangs that join Islamist circles is increasing.

    It said there is active recruitment in Denmark of young, socially vulnerable people and that the recruiters approach their targets directly and through social media.

    "The threat and the security risks tied to the increasing number of people from Denmark that participate in the armed conflict in Syria is PET's highest priority right now," PET chief Jakob Scharf said.

    "It is our assessment that among those who have traveled there are a number of people who have joined groups in Syria that share al-Qaeda's global, militant Islamist ideology," the head of PET's center for terror analysis, Soeren Jensen added. [AP]

  • Aftermath of an air strike targeted al-Nabk 
    by المركز لاعلامي السوري... via YouTube

  • Syria's opposition group Liwa Dawad published several videos of Iranian fighters, which they claim to have obtained from a cameraman who was filming the Iranians in southern Aleppo.

    لواء داوود تجمع القوات الايرانية في احد المقرات
    by لواء داوود via YouTube
    لواء داوود قائد القوات الايرانية في سيارته
    by لواء داوود via YouTube

  • Heavy clashes between Syrian troops and rebels trying to break a government siege in the suburbs of Damascus have killed at least 160 fighters over two days, activists said on Sunday.

    Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have laid siege for months to rebel strongholds in the Ghouta area east of Damascus, preventing food, clean water, medicine and other supplies from entering in a bid to crush resistance.

    The tactic, which activists say has led to famine, has helped government troops capture a string of rebel-held areas over the past month on Damascus' doorstep.

    The government push around the capital has coincided with gains by Assad's forces around the northern city of Aleppo as well as a new offensive in the rugged Qalamoun region north of Damascus. [AP]

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