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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.


  • Smoke rises from an oil field in Al-Rmelan, Qamshli province November 11, 2013. With a string of military gains across northeastern Syria, a Kurdish militia is solidifying a geographic and political presence in the war-torn country, posing a dilemma for regional powers. Long oppressed under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his father before him, Kurds view the civil war as an opportunity to gain the kind of autonomy enjoyed by their ethnic kin in neighbouring Iraq [Reuters]

  • Residents inspect a huge hole in the ground at a site hit by what activists say was a Scud missile from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Raqqa, eastern Syria November 28, 2013. View slideshow:

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  • Roberta Russo, a UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that over 200,000 Syrian refugee children don't attend school in Lebanon.

    Some children are forced to work to support their families, while others don't attend classes because of a lack of school capacity and funding, Russo said.

    "For a child to be in school it means being a child and having the chance of forgetting what their day look likes as a refugee in this country and having a chance of being with their peers, learning, using their time constructively and eventually to use what they learn at school to rebuild their country in the future," Russo said.

    Roberta Russo, UNHCR spokesperson: Over 200,000 Syrian refugee children currently don't attend school in Lebanon.


  • Approximately 1,500 Syrian refugee children arrive to Lebanon daily with severe psychological trauma, according to UN refugee agency spokesperson Roberta Russo.

    She told Al Jazeera:

    "Some of them are literally speechless because they have seen horrors that affected them so much... they can't get it out of their mind, and they are highly traumatized."

    by Jillian Kestler-D'Amours edited by Yermi Brenner 11/29/2013 9:40:40 AM
  • Syria's prime minister arrived in Tehran for talks with the leaders of close ally Iran ahead of a peace conference aimed at ending his country's civil war , the state broadcaster reported.

    During his three-day stay, Wael al-Halqi will meet President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and National Supreme Security Council chief Ali Shamkhani, the report said.

    On arriving, Halqi said he would discuss the Syrian crisis as well as bilateral issues, such as cooperation in the fields of energy, electricity, oil exports, infrastructure and health.

    The visit comes a day after Syria said its delegates would attend the so-called Geneva 2 conference, scheduled for January 22.

    Contrary to demands by rebels, Damascus insists that the departure of President Bashar al-Assad will not be up for discussion.

    [AFP]
  • More than two dozen companies have expressed interest in destroying Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, sources at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) told Reuters news agency.

    The global chemical weapons watchdog is seeking commercial firms to destroy toxins from Syria's poison gas arsenal, and is trying to find a Mediterranean port where the deadliest can be processed offshore after Albania abruptly backed out of its offer to have it done on its territory.

    Last week the OPCW asked companies to indicate whether they could destroy nearly 800 tonnes of chemicals and 7.7 million litres of effluent, or liquid waste, and set a deadline of November 29 for expressions of interest.

    [Reuters]
  • Mortar fire in front of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, one of the oldest mosques in the world, has left four people dead and 26 wounded, Syrian state media has reported.

    The shells fell on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer when people traditionally go to mosque at noon for the weekly sermon.

    "Mortars fired by terrorists in front of the Umayyad mosque have killed four people and injured 26," state television said in a breaking news alert.

    The shelling near the mosque in the old quarter of the capital came 10 days after a mortar shell hit its wall, causing casualties.

    Click here to read the story: www.aljazeera.com

    Getty Images Photo

  • A ceremony for Islamist fighters took place in eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus November 28, 2013.

    The newly graduated fighters, who went through military training, will operate under the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham brigade.

    During the ceremony, the fighters demonstrated what they had learned throughout the course. Photographer Diaa Al-Din of Reuters news agency documented the performance.

     [Reuters]
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  • Winter misery for Iraq's Syrian refugees
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube

    by Yermi Brenner edited by Jillian Kestler-D'Amours 11/30/2013 7:01:12 AM
  • Thousands of Syrian refugees are facing the misery of another freezing winter. Many have been living in tents for more than a year. But in the biggest refugee camp in Jordan, better shelter is finally arriving.

    Syrian refugees prepare for Jordan winter
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube

  • The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons says the United States has offered to help destroy some of the most lethal parts of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.

    The organization's Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in a statement Saturday the U.S. government has offered to contribute "a destruction technology, full operational support and financing to neutralize" the weapons offshore, most likely on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea.

    The operation is to be completed with Syrian assistance by the end of 2013. Read the OPCW press release here.

  • BREAKING: There has been an air strike in Al Bab in north east Syria. Death toll is now 12, expected to rise.
    by Yermi Brenner edited by Basma Atassi 11/30/2013 12:00:54 PM
  • Syrian opposition fighters have re-entered the historic Christian town of Maalula north of Damascus, as they battle regime troops in the surrounding Qalamoun region, a monitoring group said on Saturday.

    "Fierce clashes are under way between rebel fighters, including the Al-Nusra Front, and regime troops in Maalula, which the rebels have entered and are trying to gain control of," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

    Government forces repelled a rebel advance into Maalula in September, after heavy fighting that prompted most of the town's residents to leave.

    The picturesque town is considered a symbol of the ancient Christian presence in Syria, and its 5,000 residents are among the few in the world who speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ.
    The renewed clashes in the town come as the regime battles to gain control of a string of strategic towns and villages along the Damascus-Homs highway, north of the capital.

    It has recaptured the town of Qara and Deir Attiyeh, and government troops are now battling rebels for control of Nabak.

    On Saturday, the Observatory said fighting was continuing in Nabak, and that regime forces had launched several air strikes on the town, as well as on nearby Yabroud and its environs.

    [AFP]
  • Syrian troops shelled a marketplace near Aleppo on Saturday, killing at least six in what appeared to preparations for a government push to clear the northern city of rebels, activists said.

    The shelling hit the Nafasin market in the rebel-held town of al-Bab.

    Activists posted videos on social media showing residents trying to recover bodies from the rubble.

  • Syrian Prime Minister, Wael al-Halqi met Iranian officials on Saturday, as part of his three-day visit to Tehran.

    Al-Halqi met with Iranian parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, and secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, in separate meetings.

    Earlier on Saturday, Al-Halqi met Iran's first vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri.

    Upon arriving in Tehran on Friday, al-Halqi said he visited Iran to congratulate the government on its success in achieving an historic nuclear agreement in Geneva earlier this month.

    Iran agreed to freeze parts of its nuclear programme in return for the easing of Western sanctions.

    Iran said its nuclear programme was used only for peaceful purposes, like power generation and medical research, but Western powers worry that it could be used to build an atomic bomb.

    Al-Halqi also expressed his hope that Iran's success would be followed by the victory of the Syrian regime against "international terrorism".

    He is also expected to meet President Hassan Rouhani on his visit to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries.

    [AP]
  • A mortar hit the French school in the Syrian capital Damascus on Sunday, while classes were in session, but caused no injuries.

    "A mortar shell landed on the chimney of a classroom around 9:00 a. m. (0700 GMT). No one was hurt but the windows shattered and the walls cracked," Bashir Oneiz said.

    [AFP]

  • A resident walks past a damaged building in Dura, a neighborhood of Damascus, on November 30, 2013. [Reuters]


  • The death toll from a Syrian helicopter strike on a rebel-held town near the northern city of Aleppo has risen to 26, activists said on Sunday.

    President Bashar al-Assad's forces have been hitting rebel-held areas in the north hard in recent days, according to activists. They say such strikes often precede government offensives.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the aircraft targeted a compound of the rebel group known as the Tawhid Brigade in the town of al-Bab.

    The bombs missed their target and hit the Nafasin market instead, killing 26 people, most of them civilians and including four children.

    Three of those who died in the attack were rebel fighters, said Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Observatory.

    A government offensive in the north would be the latest push by Assad's forces to recapture territory ahead of peace talks planned for January in Geneva.

    The opposition currently holds large swathes of territory in the north, including along the border with Turkey, and districts of Aleppo, Syria's largest city and its commercial center.

    The Tawhid Brigade is one of Syria's best known and powerful rebel groups, with an estimated 10,000 fighters. It's particularly strong in Aleppo province.

    Assad's troops have also been battling opposition fighters in central Syria's rugged Qalamoun region near the Lebanese border in order to cut off rebel supply routes and stem the flow of fighters from its neighbor.

    Also on Sunday, the Observatory said troops fought rebels, including members of the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, inside the predominantly Christian town of Maaloula near Damascus. 

    Heavy clashes were concentrated in the town's old quarter and there were casualties on both sides, Abdurrahman said. He could not provide the number of those killed and wounded in the fighting.

    Maaloula lies on the edge of Qalamoun, about 60 kilometers northeast of the capital.

    [AFP]
  • Ten people, including a woman and an off-duty soldier, have been killed in two days of sectarian clashes in northern Lebanon linked to the war in neighbouring Syria, a security source said on Sunday.

    The fighting in the northern port city of Tripoli also wounded 49 people, including 11 soldiers, the source told AFP.

    On Sunday four people were killed, two of whom were in a truck when they were shot dead by a sniper, while the third was the off-duty soldier and the last victim a woman who died of injuries sustained the previous day.

    Also on Sunday, an explosion caused a three-storey building in the Alawite area of Jabal Mohsen to collapse, said the security source and an official from the area.

    According to Abdel Latif Saleh, spokesman for the Arab Democratic Party, which supports Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, "the blast came after militiamen from (the Sunni, anti-Assad) Bab  el-Tebbaneh neighbourhood planted explosives in the building."

    No one was injured, as the building was uninhabited.

    The developments come after a day of fierce clashes that lasted into Saturday night, leaving six dead.

    The fighting pits residents of the city's Alawite Jabal Mohsen district against Sunni residents of the neighbouring Bab el-Tebbaneh.

    The security source said fires had broken out in buildings along the dividing line between the  neighbourhoods as a result of the fierce clashes, during which rocket-propelled grenades were also used.

    [AFP]
  • Photo: Reuters/ Mohamed Abdullah 

    Syria appeals for chemical arms aid

    Syria's deputy foreign minister has warned that efforts to rid his country of chemical weapons could fail if the international community does not contribute money and equipment including armored cars to the mission.

    Faisal Mekdad told reporters Monday at a meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons his country needs armored vehicles and other resources to move chemicals out of Syria for destruction.

    "Without these resources it will be difficult if not impossible for Syria and for all OPCW to implement the decisions,'' he said.

    The OPCW is aiming to destroy Syria's entire chemical weapons program by mid-2014. [AP]
  • Lebanese villagers set Syrian refugee tents alight

    Residents of a village in eastern Lebanon have forced hundreds of Syrian refugees
    from an informal campsite, 
    torching tents after accusing them of raping a mentally-disabled man.

    But a doctor who examined the man said there was no evidence he was  attacked, and one villager  said the alleged rape was a pretext to drive the refugees from the site.

    The incident comes amid warnings from the Lebanese government and aid  agencies about tensions between Lebanese communities and the more than  800,000  Syrian refugees who have fled to the small country.

    The informal camp in the eastern Bekaa village of Qsar Naba housed some 400 refugees in about 100 tents and shelters.

    Many of the refugees dismantled their shelters after the attack and spent Sunday night sleeping in the open.

    The refugees said t
    he residents returned on Monday, setting fire to at least 15 tents and knocking down others.

    "There's not a  single tent left for us," said Ahmed Abdul Mahmud, a 33-year-old refugee, weeping. - AFP


  • UN says evidence implicates Assad in war crimes
    Photo: Reuters/ Denis Balibouse


    Evidence collected by UN investigators probing Syrian war crimes implicates President Bashar al-Assad, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has said.

    Pillay denied having direct knowledge of their secret list of suspects later on Monday, but her revealing remarks about the head of state were at odds with a policy of keeping the identity of alleged perpetrators under wraps pending any judicial process.

    The UN investigators, who collect testimony in utmost secrecy and independently from Pillay, have previously said the evidence points to the highest levels of Syria's government, but have not named Assad or any other officials publicly.

    They have compiled secret lists of suspects and handed them to Pillay for safe storage, in hope that one day suspects will face trial for violations including torture and mass killings. [Reuters]


  • Clashes at historic Christian town Maaloula

    Syrian rebels have moved into the centre of Maaloula, a historic Christian town, after sending explosive-filled tyres hurtling down on security forces deployed there, a security source has said.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, confirmed on Monday that rebels had seized part of the picturesque town - where a centuries-old Christian community still speaks Aramaic, the ancient language spoken by Jesus Christ - after five days of fighting.

    The rebels abducted 12 Syrian and Lebanese Orthodox nuns from their convent after moving into Maaloula, Vatican Radio reported, citing Mario Zenari, the nuncio [ambassador] of the Holy See in Syria.

    The renewed clashes in the town come as the Assad regime battles to gain control of a string of nearby towns and villages along the strategic Damascus-Homs highway north of Damascus.

  • Police say they have arrested the alleged Australian ringleader of a criminal network that has been sending Australians to fight in Syria, the Associated Press has reported.

    Police estimate that approximately 100 Australian residents and citizens have gone to Syria to fight with armed groups.

    Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Peter Drennan said Tuesday that two Sydney men were the first arrests in an investigation into Australians attempting to travel to Syrian to fight in the civil war.

    The 39-year-old suspected ringleader and a 23-year-old suspected recruit are to appear in Sydney courts Tuesday charged under the Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act. The sentence carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

    [AP]

  • Obama administration 'contradicts' Iranian foreign minister
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube

    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif says Iran wants to be fully integrated in the world community but also wants to protect its own interests.

    Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan reports from Washington DC.
  • This video, uploaded to YouTube, purportedly shows opposition fighters targeting several military posts in the northern countryside of Hama: www.youtube.com
  • Inside Syria - Is the balance of power shifting in Syria?

  • UN thwarted in Syria aid efforts, as winter bites


    Photo: Reuters/ Khaled al-Hariri  



    The United Nations has said it had delivered food to 3.4 million people in Syria in November, falling short again of its monthly target of four million as heavy fighting kept it from reaching hungry people in contested areas.

    As winter bites, the number of children in Syria deemed vulnerable and in need of assistance has nearly quadrupled from a year ago to 4.3  million, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.

    Polio has also broken out, Syria's first polio outbreak since 1999, and people in besieged areas may face malnutrition, but violence and red tape have obstructed aid efforts. 

    "The scale of the humanitarian response needed for the looming winter is unprecedented," UNICEF  said in a written statement.

    UN aid chief Valerie Amos was to brief the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria later on Tuesday amid deep concerns about lack of access to besieged civilians. [Reuters]

  • Israel says it now provides humanitarian aid to Syrians


    Israel has acknowledged for the first time that it is providing humanitarian aid to civil war victims in nearby Syria.

    Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Tuesday that Israel was transferring food, including baby food, water and other basic needs to Syria. 

    He spoke during a visit to the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan Heights along the Syrian frontier. 

    His office said aid was delivered via a third party and had been going on for a few months.

    Israel and Syria are bitter enemies and fought several wars. 

    While Israel has avoided taking sides in the Syrian civil war, Israeli hospitals have treated dozens of people wounded in the fighting.

    Violence from the Syrian fighting, mostly errant fire, sometimes spills over into Israeli border communities. [AP]
  • Damascus blast kills four as rebels take Christian town

    Photo: Reuters 

    Four people have been killed on Tuesday in a suicide bombing in central Damascus, hours after rebels  seized a historic Christian town north of the capital.

    State television said the suicide attack in the Jisr al-Abyad neighbourhood killed four and injured 17, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it  appeared to have targeted a government
    building.

    An AFP photographer at the scene said the bomber had blown himself  up at the entrance of an administrative building belonging to the army, which was used to facilitate aid to the families of soldiers killed in combat.

    North of the capital, rebels exchanged fire with government troops outside Maalula, a day after opposition forces captured the Christian hamlet in the strategic Qalamoun region.

    The small town is renowned as a symbol of the long Christian presence in Syria and is
    famous for the fact that many residents still speak the ancient
    language Aramaic, which Jesus Christ is believed to have spoken.

    "There are some exchanges of fire with army forces outside the town, but there is no major fighting and the opposition controls Maalula," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said. [AFP]


  • Photo: AFP/ Joseph Eid 

    Militias battle anew in Lebanon's Tripoli, as army arrests 21 fighters

    Clashes have resumed between Lebanese fighters who back opposing sides of Syria's war, as the army arrested 21 fighters as it pursued a six-month-long mandate to end bloodshed battering the city of Tripoli.

    The conflict between the majority Sunni Muslim Bab al-Tabbaneh district and the adjacent Alawite neighbourhood of Jebel Mohsen in Tripoli has killed more than 100 people this year.

    But residents, fighters and a local politician told Reuters on Tueaday it was unlikely to end soon despite army efforts.

    The two neighbourhoods have been in on-off conflict since the 1980s but the
    2-1/2-year-old civil war in neighbouring Syria 
    pitting Alawite President Bashar al-Assad against majority Sunni rebels has opened old wounds on both  sides in Tripoli, and fighting has become more frequent and intense.

    "They (Alawites) are using big mortar bombs now," a teenage fighter from Bab al-Tabbaneh said on Tuesday, showing pictures on his mobile of himself holding assault rifles with Sunni slogans written behind him.

    The 19-year-old refused to give his name while sheltering from the rain in the Taqwa mosque, one of two Sunni religious compounds hit by bombs in August  that killed 42 people and angered Sunni fighters even more.  [Reuters]
  • Listening Post - Syria: The propaganda blitz

  • Syria: why it matters to US: from the Inside, Thursday, 7:30pm: Fr Dan Groody, Kenan Rahmani, Baklava, & Coffee. http://pbs.twimg.com/media/BaieowiCEAATz7Z.jpg




  • As aid workers prepare for a crippling winter, thousands of Syrians still do not have access to the aid they need. Read the story 
    here.  

  • The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah has called on all countries with influence on events in Syria to support a political solution. 

    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said he told a Qatari envoy that a military option was
    "pointless" in Syria and called for a political 
    solution.

    More soon.

    [Al Jazeera and Agencies]

  • Syria's Bashar al-Assad will remain president and lead any transition agreed upon in Geneva peace talks planned for next month, a government minister has insisted.

    "If anyone thinks we are going to Geneva II to hand the keys to Damascus over [to the opposition], then he might as well not go," Omran al-Zohbi, the information minister said on Wednesday, in remarks carried by the official SANA news agency.

    "The decision rests with President Assad. He will lead the period of transition, if there is one. He is the leader of Syria... And he will remain the president of Syria," he added.


  • Read the full story here. 

    The UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are awaiting approval from an unnamed country to use its port to load Syria's deadly chemicals onto a US ship for destruction offshore. 


  • Inside Syria - The lost generation


  • Photo: Reuters/ Molhem Barakat  

    Young and old Syrians have taken up arms to fight in the civil war that has raged for more than two-and-a-half years.
    Abu Mohamed, a 70-year-old injured Free Syrian Army fighter, took up his position in Sheikh Saeed neighbourhood on Wednesday. 

  • Inside Syria - SNC: The challenges ahead

  • Rights group reports Syria fighters have kidnapped 50 Kurds

    Fighters in northern Syria have kidnapped more than 50 Kurds in the past three days, in the second such case of mass hostage-taking since July, a monitoring group has said.

    The kidnappings come months into major battles for control of several parts  of northern Syria that have pitted Kurdish fighters against jihadists, chiefly  the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

    "In the past three days, ISIL has kidnapped at least 51 Kurds in the towns of Minbej and Jarablus," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Thursday.

    Among the hostages were nine children and a woman, said the Britain-based group, adding that there was no information on where they had been taken.

    Minbej and Jarablus are located in Aleppo province, which is home to a  Kurdish minority. [AFP]
  • British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Friday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must stand down to allow for any peaceful settlement to the 33-month-old conflict in his country.

    "We have always been very clear that a peaceful solution in Syria must require the departure of President Assad," Hague told a press conference in Kuwait's capital after talks with his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah.

    "It is impossible to imagine after so many deaths, so much destruction, a regime oppressing and murdering its own people on this scale" should remain in power, Britain's chief diplomat said.

    "It is impossible to imagine, I think, President Assad could remain on the scene in Syria in the future," Hague said.

    The reiteration of Britain's call for Assad's ouster came just weeks ahead of an international peace conference on Syria slated for January 22.

    [AFP]
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