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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.



  • A rebel fighter aims his weapon upwards in the southern suburb of Aleppo [Reuters] 
    Rebel inspects weapon in gun shop in Damascus' Duma neighbourhood [Reuters]



  • Syria's government and opposition leaders are scheduled to hold their first direct talks on Jan. 22 in Geneva in efforts to end the ongoing war in Syria, the United Nations said on Monday.

    The peace negotiations, known as "Geneva II", aim to establish a transitional governing body in Syria.

    Luai Safi, Syrian opposition spokesperson, told Al Jazeera opposition leaders would only attend the talks if the following conditions are met:

    • Establishment of humanitarian corridors in areas besieged by the Syrian army
    • Release of prisoners
    • Guarantees that the transitional governing body that will be agreed upon in Geneva takes all power away from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

    [Agencies]
  • Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut:

    The Syrian government seems to be very confident. They do have the upper hand on the ground militarily, and now they feel emboldened by the recent agreement between Iran, its major ally, and world powers. [The] Syrian government welcomed that deal. Now they feel that Iran is part of the international community, so they feel strengthened.

  • The United Nations has said it has brokered an agreement for Syrian government and opposition negotiators to meet for talks in January, the first such meeting since the start of the country's 32-month-old war.

    The organisation's secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said on Monday that the conference, to be held in Geneva on January 22, was "a mission of hope" to end the civil war. FULL STORY
  • The United Nations has said it has brokered an agreement for Syrian government and opposition negotiators to meet for talks in January.

    Al Jazeera's David Chater reports from Geneva, Zeina Khodr reports from Beirut, and James Bays reports from the United Nations in New York.

    UN brokers Syria peace talks for January
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube

  • Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from the United Nations in New York, said many questions remain over what the Geneva II conference will be able to achieve.

    Even if you got both sides to agree to a transitional government in Damascus... would that transitional government, if you ever were to get one, command any authority over those fighting on the ground?
  • Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, said Monday, about scheduled Geneva II peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition leaders:

    This is a mission of hope. We go with a clear understanding the Geneva conference is a vehicle for peaceful transition.

  • Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, said:

    The only way to truly end the violence and suffering is through an inclusive, Syrian-led political process. The war in Syria remains the world's biggest threat to international peace and security. It would be unforgivable not to seize this opportunity to bring an end to the suffering and destruction this has caused.

  • Lakhdar Brahimi, United Nations envoy on Syria, is expected to speak within the next half hour about Geneva II conference to end the war in Syria.
  • Lakhdar Brahimi, UN envoy on Syria, said in a press conference now in Geneva that the full list of participants to the Geneva II peace negotiations are still being decided.

    We are in touch both with the [Syrian] government and with the opposition. We are asking them to name their delegations as early as possible, hopefully before the end of the year, because I think it's important we meet them and speak to them and listen to them.

    This conference is really for the Syrians to come to Geneva to talk to one another and hopefully start a credible, workable, effective peace process for their country.

  • It is a huge opportunity for peace that shouldn't be wasted. This being so, we very strongly appeal to the Syrian government and to the opposition not to wait for the conference to do some confidence-building measures, diminish the violence, [and] release prisoners and detainees of all sorts.

    - Lakhdar Brahimi, UN envoy on Syria


  • Brahimi said he will meet with US and Russian representatives on December 20 to prepare for Geneva II talks, and hopes to have the full list of conference delegates before the end of the year.
  • At Geneva II, Syrian government and opposition leaders will be ironing out an agreement to implement the "Geneva Communique" from June 2012. FULL TEXT
  • Among other points, the "Geneva Communique" stipulates:
    • All parties must re-commit to a sustained cessation of armed violence
    • The Government must allow immediate and full humanitarian access to humanitarian organizations to all areas affected by the fighting
    • The establishment of a transitional governing body... [that] would exercise full executive powers
    Read the full Communique here.
  • The United States has expressed hope that Syrian peace talks announced Monday will bring new leadership to the war-torn country.

    White House spokesman Josh Earnest said removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the goal of the negotiations scheduled for January 22 in Geneva.

    Earnest told reporters traveling with US President Barack Obama Monday that the talks are "the best opportunity" to form a new transitional government and end the suffering of the Syrian people.

    Earnest stressed there are many challenges ahead and said the process will be "very difficult". [AP]
  • John Kerry, United States Secretary of State, said on Monday said the Geneva II peace conference is the best opportunity to form a transitional government to end the Syrian conflict.

    "We are well aware that the obstacles on the road to a political solution are many, and we will enter the Geneva conference on Syria with our eyes wide open," Kerry said in a statement.

    The US has opposed Iran attending the meeting because of its backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces. It wants Tehran to state its support for a political transition.

    "We will continue to work in concert with the U.N. and our partners on remaining issues, including which countries will be invited to attend and what the agenda will be," Kerry said. [Reuters]

  • Syrian children bearing brunt of violence
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube

    As war rages on in the country, Syrian children have been bearing a heavy cost. A new report has shown that more than 11,000 children have been killed in the conflict. 


    Al Jazeera's Stefanie Dekker reports. 
  • Two Swedish journalists have been abducted in Syria as they tried to leave the country, Sweden's Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

    The men were taken on Saturday as they were on their way out of the country spokeswoman Catarina Axelsson said but declined to give any other details.

    The ministry has not named the two men.

    Press advocacy groups say Syria has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists with kidnappings and abductions on the rise in the last few years.

    The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 30 journalists are being held and 52 have been killed since Syria's civil war began in early 2011.

    Most kidnappings since the summer have taken place in rebel-held territories, particularly in chaotic northern and eastern Syria, where militant al-Qaeda-linked groups hold influence.

    [AP]
  • Report shows Syria's economy has all but collapsed
    Photo:  Reuters/ Khali Ashawi

    Syria's foreign trade has all but collapsed since the outbreak of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad 31 months ago, according to a new government report just published.

    "Exports (including petroleum) dropped from $1.9bn in the first quarter of 2011 to $94.7 million in the same period of 2013," a fall of 95 percent, said the study by the Export Development Organisation on Wednesday.

    Imports, meanwhile, plunged by 88 percent - from $4.1 billion to $818  million.

    Imports of raw materials fell "significantly... because of the drop in  production," with only "essential needs" being imported now, the study said.

    Pro-regime daily Al-Watan blamed the collapse in trade to the economic  sanctions imposed on Syria's regime by Western countries, "which have directly affected the financing of foreign trade."

    It also blamed "the collapse of production processes."

    The war broke out after Assad's regime unleashed a brutal crackdown against dissent. 

    More than 120,000 people have been killed and millions more forced to flee their homes.- AFP


  • France insists Syria peace talks will take place without Assad 

    Laurent Fabius. Photo: Reuters 
    Long-delayed Syria peace talks due in January will take place without the presence of President Bashar al-Assad or radical  opposition groups, France's foreign minister has said.

    "The purpose of Geneva II is not to have an armchair discussion about Syria, it's to have mutual agreement between regime representatives - without Assad - and the moderate opposition in order to form a transitional government," Laurent Fabius told French radio on Tuesday.

    "It's very difficult, but it's the only solution that allows us at once not to have Mr Bashar al-Assad and not to have the terrorists," he said, referring to the Islamic extremist members of Syria's fractured opposition.

    Fabius spoke a day after the United States and Russia threw their weight behind the long-delayed Syria peace talks, dubbed Geneva II, which the United  Nations said would finally be held on January 22.

    International Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said a list of participants had yet to be drawn up for the negotiations, which will bring the Syrian government and opposition to the negotiating table for the first time since the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011.

    Foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said France wanted  the regime and the moderate opposition to send just one delegation each for the talks.

    "The National Coalition should be at the heart of the opposition delegation and lead it," he said, adding that the transitional government should be the only institution with "legitimacy and legality".


  • Syria opposition to take full possession of Arab League seat

    The opposition Syrian National Coalition will take full possession of the country's seat on the Arab League now  it has formed a provisional government, its chief said has in Cairo.

    Jarba, speaking at a news conference with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, also said the Coalition would hold a meeting sometime next month to discuss strategy ahead of a peace conference scheduled for January 22 in Geneva.

    The 22-member League suspended the government of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 after it unleashed a bloody crackdown on a pro-democracy movement that sparked a violent uprising.

    The League subsequently granted the seat to the Coalition, which assumed it at a ceremony in March, but postponed full participation in the body's activities until a provisional government was formed.

    That has now been accomplished, and Jarba said he would be making a formal speech in the coming days to coincide with the Coalition becoming fully active in the body.

    Turning to plans for a meeting ahead of the so-called Geneva II peace conference, Jarba did not say when or where this would be or what would be on the agenda, but he reiterated the Coalition's conditions that it will attend only if Assad has no role in any political  transition. - AFP

  • SNC yet to decide on Geneva peace talks attendance 

    Syria's main opposition group in exile has yet to make a final decision yet on whether it will take part in the Geneva II peace conference, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) has said. 

    Ahmad al-Jarba, chief of the SNC, said Tuesday that the international community must prove its seriousness by forcing Damascus to agree on trust-building measures.

    The comments illustrate the huge hurdles that lie ahead in bringing the warring sides together, even as world powers backing the conference announced January 22 as the date for the first face-to-face talks.

    "We did not make a final decision yet on our participation in the Geneva conference," Jarba said. 

    He said his group had indicated its desire to go.

    "But we think that the Syrian regime is the one which doesn't want to go to Geneva II, but the Russians are putting  pressure on them to attend." - AP

  • Syrian state TV reports deadly Damascus bomb blast
    Syrian State television has reported about 11 civilians have been killed and several other people injured after a suicide car bomb hit a bus station in the district of Al Somariya, east of Damascus. The video published below video by Syrian state TV purportedly shows the targeted location.  






  • Rights group reports children among Damascus blast dead

    A suicide bomber has blown up a vehicle at a bus stop west of Damascus, killing at least 15 people, state television has said.

    "The terrorist explosion in front of the bus stop in Somariyeh was caused by a suicide attacker," the broadcaster said in a news flash on Tuesday.

    "It killed at least 15 citizens and wounded more than 30."

    The Observatory for Human Rights said:

    Nine of those killed were civilians, while six were troops

    Somariyeh neighbourhood is home to "a complex housing families of soldiers fighting with the elite Fourth Division,"  Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

    "Nine of those killed were civilians, while six were troops," said the Britain-based rights group, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers on the ground for its reporting.

    The Fourth Division is commanded by President Bashar al-Assad's feared brother Maher- AFP
  • No ceasefire for Geneva talks, SNC commander tells Al Jazeera

    The commander of the main Syrian rebel group has said it will shun a planned peace conference in Switzerland in January and would pursue its fight to topple President Bashar al-Assad regardless.

    The stance of the Free Syrian Army (FSA)'s General Salim Idriss on Tuesday highlights how hard it will be for international mediators to get Syria's warring and divided parties to the negotiating table in Geneva.

    The Geneva II conference will convene on January 22, the United Nations said on Monday, with the stated goal of  agreeing a transitional government to end a 2-and-a-half-year-old conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions more. 

    "Conditions are not suitable for running the Geneva II talks at the given date and we, as a military and revolutionary force, will not participate in the conference," Idriss said.

    "We will not stop combat at all during the Geneva conference or after it, and what concerns us is getting needed weapons for our fighters," he told Al Jazeera television. - Reuters
  • Iran says no preconditions for joining Syria talks

    Iran, the main regional ally of the government in Damascus, has said it is ready to take part in a peace conference on Syria, but will not accept any preconditions.

    The conference, known as Geneva II and initiated by Russia and the United States, is scheduled to be held in the Swiss city on January 22 after a series  of delays. Its participants are still undecided.

    "Iran's presence at the Geneva II conference will be important for resolving the Syrian crisis and we are ready to participate in the negotiations without any preconditions," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, quoted by the official IRNA news agency on Tuesday.

    He was referring to a US demand that to win a place at the negotiations,  Iran must first sign up to an agreement reached in Geneva last year that envisaged the creation of a transitional government in Damascus.

    Tehran has never endorsed that plan, and has repeatedly ruled out the  possibility of Assad stepping aside before his current term expires in 2014.

    But Syria's main opposition bloc, the National Coalition, says it will only  attend the Geneva II talks on the condition President Bashar al-Assad has no role in the transitional phase.

    According to France and the United States, the second gathering could lead to the establishment of a transitional government.

  • Syria fighting hurting aid effort: UN 
    Photo: Reuters/ Khaled al-Hariri 

    The UN has said its aid convoys cannot reach around 250,000 people in areas besieged by Syrian government forces or rebels, despite "growing needs and intensifying conflict".

    The detailed assessment was included in a confidential paper that Valerie Amos, UN emergency relief co-ordinator, presented to a private, unannounced United Nations meeting in Geneva on Tuesday.

    "The response is continuing but falling short, especially in besieged and hard-to-reach areas," said the report, obtained by Reuters news agency. 

    "Besieged communities continue to be cut off."

    International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi announced on Monday that peace talks would be held on January 22, the first direct talks between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and
    opposition forces seeking to topple him. 

    The UN document, entitled Humanitarian Situation and Response in Syria, painted a grim picture, saying there were 900 armed clashes in Syria in October compared with 500 in May.

    It describes a "dangerous and difficult environment for humanitarian workers" and says 12 Ustaff and 32 volunteers or staff of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been killed since the conflict began in March 2011. Another 21 Ustaff members remain in detention, it said, without giving details.  - Reuters

  • AFP 
    Islamic Front hopes for Islamic state

    A newly formed rebel alliance, The Islamic Front, said it wants to replace Syria's regime with an "Islamic state" AFP has reported. The group said that the new state would protect minorities and not create an "oppressive, authoritarian system.

    The Islamic Front, Syria's largest armed opposition grouping, is battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad, and has spelled out its intention to play a role in politics. The group has written its intentions for the country in a new document, but has not provide a clear vision of a post-Assad Syria. Authors of the covenant are reluctant on delving into details that could possibly splinter the alliance of seven key Islamist groups which hopes to unify the fractured opposition. 

    [AFP] 
  • Syrian women increasingly targeted by violence 


    An estimated 6,000 Syrian women were raped in 2013, with kidnappings and arrests on the rise 

    Syrian women are increasingly targeted with violence and sexual assault by armed groups in the civil war between rebel groups and the government of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a new report.
    An estimated 6,000 Syrian women have been raped in 2013, according to the London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), of which the report’s co-author, Sema Nasar, is a member. Rape and sexual violence continue to be underreported due to the stigma associated with it in Syrian society, so the cases that are recorded tend to be from women who have sought medical or psychological care as a result, the authors wrote, as “women and girls stay in constant fear of sexual violence and arrests which prolongs their agony and pain.

  • Iran, Turkey call for ceasefire before Syria talks


     Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) gives a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu [ AFP ] 


    Iran's top diplomat said Wednesday that Tehran and Ankara would press for a ceasefire in Syria ahead of peace talks planned for January, the Mehr news agency reported.
    "All our efforts should be carried out to finish the conflict and reach a ceasefire even before Geneva 2," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said during a press conference with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu.

    "Iran and Turkey have similar standpoints on several issues, including that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis," said Zarif.Davutoglu also voiced support for efforts aimed at reaching a ceasefire in Syria. 

    The Syrian opposition accuses Tehran of providing military support on the ground to Assad's army.

    Iran denies this and says its aid to Damascus is only in the form of economic assistance while admitting to the presence of "advisers" inside Syria.

    [ AFP ] 
  • Assad regime vows no surrender of power

    Free Syrian Army says no ceasefire for Geneva peace talks [ AFP ]



    The Syrian government says Bashar al-Assad's position as president is not up for negotiation at peace talks, calling such demands by the opposition "delusions and dreams".

    The statement, issued by the foreign ministry via the SANA news agency on Wednesday, said a delegation would go to planned Geneva II talks in January, but Assad would not "surrender power".

    "The age of colonialism, with the installation and toppling of governments, is over. They must wake from their dreams," the statement said. "If they insist on these delusions, there is no need for them to attend Geneva II."

    "The official Syrian delegation is not going to Geneva to surrender power."

    The government delegation would convey "the wishes of the Syrian people, foremost among them the elimination of terrorism" - a reference rebels fighting Assad's regime.

    The Syrian statement was the first formal response from Damascus to this week's announcement of the talks.

  • The Obama administration is offering to destroy some of Syria's deadliest chemical weapons in international waters aboard a US government-owned ship, U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

    The plan, still subject to final approval, would involve destroying the weapons, likely aboard the MV Cape Ray in the Mediterranean Sea, with US Navy warships patrolling nearby.

    This approach would avoid the vexing diplomatic, environmental and security problems posed by disposing of the materials on any nation's soil.

    Officials said they expect a final decision soon and the operation would begin by the end of the year.

    [AP]
  • Rebels and loyalists clashed on two key fronts near Damascus, as a missile hit Raqa city in northern Syria early Thursday, killing six people and wounding 30, a monitor said.

    Raqa is the only provincial capital in Syria to have fallen out of regime hands since the start of the country's war more than 32 months ago.

    - AFP 



  • Free Syrian Army fighters heat up around an improvised oven on November 25, 2013 [Reuters]


  • The Stream - Syrian Kurds' moment of opportunity
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube



  • Syria's biggest oil field is now being run by fighters linked to al-Qaeda.

    They seized the al-Omar field after heavy fighting last week.

    Al Jazeera has visited the facility and talked to the rebels who say they have started operating parts of the installation.

  • The head of the United Nations refugee agency has called on European and Gulf Arab states to host Syrian refugees who fled the civil war.

    Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, says nearly 3 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries - mainly Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. He says an additional 6.5 million are displaced in their war-ravaged country.

    Guterres says of the nearly 3 million refugees in neighboring countries, some 2.3 million are registering with the UN refugee agency.

    Guterres met with Jordan's King Abdullah II on Thursday.

    After the meeting, Guterres said the refugee crisis "is alarming". He called for more financial support for countries hosting the refugees and warned a shortfall in funding may force host countries to become "unable to receive more refugees".

    [AP]
  • Syrian troops have recaptured the strategic town of Deir Attiyeh, less than a week after losing it, taking the advantage in their bid to crush rebels just north of Damascus.

    The seizure of Deir Attiyeh, on the Damascus-Homs highway, comes two weeks into an army offensive in the Qalamoun region, important to the regime for its proximity to the capital and to the rebels for the supply lines it offers to neighbouring Lebanon.

    Click here to read more: www.aljazeera.com
  • Several people have been killed and scores of others injured in what Syrian activists said was a Scud missle attack in the country’s east.

    The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is anti-Assad, said six civilians were killed and more than 30 injured by the surface-to-surface missile launched by Syrian government forces overnight on Thursday in Raqqa.

    A local activist network put the death toll in the attack on the Euphrates valley city at 35 people.

    Activists say the missile was fired from the Syrian Army’s Third Division military base in the suburbs of Damascus.

    [Reuters photo]

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