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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 UN Security Council on Friday added the names of six Islamic extremists to a sanctions list, citing their alleged ties to the so-called Islamic State or its rival the Al-Nusra Front. 

    Abdelrahman Muhamad Zafir al Jahani, Al-Qaeda envoy to Syria

    One of Saudi Arabia's most wanted men, Abdelrahman Mouhamad Zafir al Dabidi al Jahani traveled to Syria in mid-2013 as a senior al-Qaeda leader offering support to jihadists. According to US officials, he was named as part of a group seeking to reconcile extremists from the Al-Nusra Front and ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. He is listed for "participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating of acts or activities" by the Al-Nusra Front in Syria.

    Hajjaj Bin Fahd Al Ajmi - Al-Nusra financier 

    A Kuwaiti national already targeted by US sanctions, Hajjaj bin Fahd al Ajmi has been described as a funnel for financial aid to Al-Nusra in Syria. He is said to travel regularly to Syria from Kuwait to deliver money and installed Kuwaiti nationals in Al-Nusra leadership positions.

    Abu Mohammed al Adnani - ISIS spokesman

    As spokesman for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Adnani proclaimed the caliphate on June 29 and announced that it would be known simply as the Islamic State. He has also called on followers to take Baghdad in video recordings. 

    His real name is thought to be Taha Sobhi Falaha, born in 1977 in Banash, a village in near the Syrian city of Aleppo. He was first the spokesman of ISIS and was later appointed an emir.

    Said Arif, recruiter for Syria's battlefields

    Algerian-born Said Arif is said to be a leader in the recruitment of foreign fighters -- many from France -- to Syria. He was arrested in Damascus in 2003 and sent to France to face trial for terrorism-related crimes. He was convicted in 2007 but managed to flee in October 2012 while under house arrest in France. He is listed for his ties to Al-Nusra.

    Abdul Mohsen Abdallah Ibrahim al Sharekh, Al-Qaeda's man in Syria

    A Saudi national, Abdul Mohsen Abdallah Ibrahim al Sharekh is better know as Sanafi al Nasr and is allegedly the head of Al-Qaeda operations in Syria, with connections to Pakistan. He is listed for his involvement with the Al-Nusra Front in Syria.

    Hamid Hamad Hamid al-Ali, Al-Nusra financier

    Based in Kuwait, Hamid Hamad Hamid al-Ali has collected large donations from Kuwait to support Al-Nusra in Syria, most notably for purchases of arms and equipment. He also arranged travel for a number of foreign fighters to Syria.

    [AFP]
    Japan is looking into reports that a Japanese man may have been detained, possibly by fighters in Syria, the foreign ministry said.

    The government was still trying to confirm through the Japanese embassy in Damascus the reports that surfaced over the weekend, such as online posts showing a man being captured, allegedly in Syria, a spokeswoman said in a statement.

    His identity, why he was there and other details are not clear.

    The Japanese government has warned against travel in Syria, where fighting has been ongoing between Syrian government forces and the Islamic State group and other rebels that control northern Syria and parts of Iraq.

    [AP]
    More than 6,000 new fighters joined Islamic State in Syria last month in the group's fastest expansion to date, a body monitoring the war said on Tuesday.

    Islamic State, previously estimated to number some 15,000, has seized control of large areas of Syria and Iraq.

    Just over a thousand of the new recruits are foreign and the rest Syrian, Rami Abdelrahman, founder of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters. 

    The organisation says it gathers data from all sides of the Syrian conflict. 
    Fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah have killed a top leader from the Islamic State group in Syria who allegedly planned bloody attacks in Lebanon, a monitoring group said on Tuesday.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Hezbollah fighters had killed Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi in the Qalamun region in Syria, near the border with
    Lebanon.

    He "was one of the officials in the Islamic State in charge of preparing suicide attacks", the group said.

    "He was killed by a roadside bomb planted by Hezbollah that detonated as his vehicle passed by," the NGO added, saying three other jihadists were also killed in the blast.

    Hezbollah's Al-Manar television station meanwhile reported Iraqi's death, but said he had been killed by the Syrian army.

    "The Islamic State official Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi has been killed in a Syrian army operation in Qalamun," al-Manar said.

    "He was in charge of preparing suicide bombers and the cars used in bomb attacks including those carried out in Lebanon," the station said, broadcasting a photo said to be of Iraqi's bloodied head.

    [AFP]
    Twitter is trying to block the spread of gruesome images of the beheading of journalist James Foley by Islamic State militants, while a movement to deny his killers the publicity they crave is also gaining momentum.

    In a Tweet published late Tuesday California time, CEO Dick Costolo said his company ``is actively suspending accounts as we discover them related to this graphic imagery,'' and he gave a link to a New York Times story about Foley's killing.

    Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler confirmed Costolo's Tweet and referred further questions to a company policy page. Twitter allows immediate family members of someone who dies to request image removals, although the company weighs public interest against privacy concerns.

    Twitter users who oppose spreading the images are using the trending hashtag (hash)ISISMediaBlackout..

    [AP]
    The UN Security Council on Friday strongly condemned the "heinous and cowardly" murder of journalist James Foley by the Islamic State group fighters and called for the immediate release of all hostages.

    In a unanimous statement, the 15-member council said the murder "demonstrates the brutality of ISIL," the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has renamed itself the Islamic State.

    The members of the Security Council stressed that ISIL must be defeated and the intolerance, violence and hatred it espouses must be stamped out.
    [AFP] 

    Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate released a video on Saturday showing Lebanese policemen and a soldier captured by the group earlier this month, during the most serious cross-border attack since Syria's conflict began more than three years ago. 

    The captives said they will be killed if Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, which backs Syrian President Assad, does not withdraw its fighters from Syria. 

    The video showed nine bearded men, eight of them in police uniforms and one wearing military fatigues.

    Lebanese army commander Jean Kahwaji told An-Nahar newspaper that 20 soldiers remain missing. He defended his command decisions from criticism by local media, saying the soldiers' posts in border areas had been reinforced before the attack.

    Other soldiers and policemen are believed to be held by other rebel groups who took part in the August 2 attack on the Lebanese border town of Arsal, which is home to tens of thousands of
    Syrian refugees.

    [AP]
    Young Syrians are gravitating towards the Islamic State group due to a lack of prospects and the lure of financial support more than "ideological conviction", the pope's Syria envoy said.

    In an interview with Radio Vatican, Mario Zenari -- who has remained in Syria throughout the bloody conflict - said he believed that young men rushing to join their ranks did not as a rule do so out of "ideological conviction".

    "They are frustrated to see that ideals of democracy and freedom are not progressing, that the situation is deadlocked," he said.

    "They go to them because they (the Islamic State fighters) are more efficient and also sometimes because they get bigger economic support from them."

    [AFP]
    US Secretary of State, John Kerry, just released a statement expressing his gratitude after knowing American journalist, Peter Theo Curtis has been released on Sunday and is going home.

    "Particularly after a week marked by unspeakable tragedy, we are all relieved and grateful
    knowing that Theo Curtis is coming home after so much time held in the clutches
    of Jabhat Al-Nusra." 

    The US had reached out to several countries to help secure his release, Kerry said.

    "Over these last two years, the United States reached out to more than two dozen countries asking for urgent help from anyone who might have tools, influence, or leverage to help secure Theo's release and the release of any Americans held hostage in Syria."
    by Diana.AlRifai edited by Basma Atassi 8/24/2014 6:34:48 PM
    Syria warns US against unilateral airstrikes

    Muallem's comments marked the first public statement by a senior Assad official on the threat posed by the Islamic State group [Reuters] 

    The Syrian government says it must be involved in coordinating any air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria, after the US said it was considering extending the fight against the group into Syrian territory.

    Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, said air strikes alone would not be adequate to deal with Islamic State, which has taken control of large areas of Syria and neighbouring Iraq. 

    Moualem also said neighbouring states needed to exchange intelligence with Syria.
    [Reuters]
    Germany rules out reengaging with Assad due to IS threat

    Germany says it has no plans to rekindle ties with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has has no diplomatic contacts with the country because of the threat posed by the Islamic State group.

    "The regime of President Assad has committed unbelievable injustice in every form during the civil war that has been raging for 3-1/2 years. Nearly 200,000 people have died," spokesman for the German foreign ministry, Martin Schaefer, told a government news conference on Monday.

    "To be honest it is very difficult to imagine that all this can be ignored in the name of Realpolitik, that one says, now we have ISIS, which is worse than Assad, so now we have to get into bed with the one that isn't quite so bad," he added.

    "This is too simple. I am not aware of any thoughts or deliberations, whether in the fight against [the Islamic State group] or otherwise, about working with the regime of President Assad," Schaefer said. "I am not aware of any political or diplomatic contacts between Germany and the Syrian government."
    [Reuters]
    Australia steps up efforts against radicalisation

    The Australian government has announced a $60 million dollar package to help prevent youngsters from being radicalised and joining groups fighting in the Middle East.

    Prime Minister Tony Abbott said up to 60 Australians were fighting alongside the Islamic State group, while a reported 100 others were actively working to support the movement at home.

    "Recent images of brutal killings in Syria and the brazen presence of Australian citizens amongst the foreign fighters highlights the need for action to counter radicalisation," Abbott said, adding that IS was using "medieval barbarism allied to modern technology".

    "That's how serious and dangerous this movement is. Because of the Australians who are involved with this movement, what might otherwise be a problem in a far away country is a problem for us."

    The funding follows a warning from spy chief David Irvine this month that the bloody conflicts in Iraq and Syria are creating a new generation of militants.

    Abbott said the $60 million would help support community groups and security agencies, with the emphasis on preventing radicalisation and reducing the threat of home-grown terrorism.
    [AFP]
    The United States has begun reconnaissance flights over Syria to track Islamic State fighters but insisted it has "no plans" to coordinate with Syria on targeting the armed rebels.

    Numerous sources said foreign drones had been seen, with the Syrian
    Observatory for Human Rights reporting that "non-Syrian spy planes" had on
    Monday carried out surveillance of IS positions in the eastern province of Deir
    Ezzor.

    The surveillance is seen as a precursor to possible US airstrikes on positions held by Islamic State group, similar to those being carried out in neighbouring Iraq.

    It comes after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime said on Monday it was willing to work with the international community, including Washington, to tackle armed fighters.

    Source: AFP

    Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, of New Hope, Minnesota is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters. McCain, suspected of fighting alongside Islamic State group fighters has been killed in Syria, a US official has said.

    The United States has begun reconnaissance flights over Syria to track Islamic State fighters but insisted it has "no plans" to coordinate with Syria on targeting the armed rebels.

    Numerous sources said foreign drones had been seen, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting that "non-Syrian spy planes" had on Monday carried out surveillance of IS positions in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

    The surveillance is seen as a precursor to possible US airstrikes on positions held by Islamic State group, similar to those being carried out in neighbouring Iraq.

    Source: AFP
    Fifteen Australians, including two young suicide bombers, are believed to have died fighting in Syria and Iraq, intelligence chief David Irvine said on Wednesday.

    Canberra has expressed alarm that around 60 Australians have joined violent armed groups such as Islamic State (IS) overseas.

    One Islamic State fighter, Australian man Khaled Sharrouf, sparked outrage when an image of his Sydney-raised son posing with the rotting head of a Syrian soldier was reportedly posted on Twitter.

    "The draw of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq is significant and includes more Australians than any other previous extremist conflicts put together,"
    Irvine said.

    He said the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) believed the number of citizens posing a potential security threat had increased substantially as a result.

    Source: AFP
    Syrian airstrike reportedly kills Islamic State commanders

    A Syrian government airstrike has reportedly killed commanders of the Islamic State group in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, said.

    The Observatory, which says it gathers information from all sides in the Syrian conflict, reported that Syrian war jets had struck a building used as a headquarters by Islamic State while a meeting of its commanders including Syrians, Arabs and foreigners, was underway.

    Syrian state TV reported that the army "eliminated more than 10 terrorists" in an attack east of Deir al-Zor airport, including two men it named as Islamic State leaders in the province, and destroyed 14 armoured vehicles. 
    [Reuters]
    There are several reports of Islamic State fighters "waterboarding" western captives in Syria. Waterboarding is a torture technique which simulates drowning and was used by the CIA during the presidency of George W Bush. It was later ruled as "cruel and unusual punishment" and unconstitutional. You can read Al Jazeera's story here.


    Barack Obama has admitted the US has no strategy to deal with the Islamic State group in Syria. You can read Al Jazeera's story here.




    The UN says Syrian rebels have abducted 43 Fijian soldiers monitoring the demilitarised zone in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The US says fighters from the al-Qaeda affiliate group, the Nusra Front, are among those involved. You can read the story here.






    The Islamic State group has executed dozens of prisoners captured after the fall of Tabqa airbase. Al Jazeera's Rula Amin reports.
    Syrian rebels holding dozens of Fijian UN peacekeepers hostage attacked Filipino troops in the Golan Heights on
    Saturday, Philippine officials said.

    Philippine peacekeepers at one UN encampment were attacked, but those at another were "extricated", Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters in a series of text messages, adding that the attack started early Saturday Syrian time.

    Philippine military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala told reporters, "There is an ongoing firefight, but all Filipinos are safe."

    There were 40 Filipino troops in the encampment that came under attack, and 35 in the second, according to the Philippine military.

    Source: AP

    A member of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force carries binoculars at an observation post in the Golan Heights [Reuters]

    Several dozen Yazidi women kidnapped by Islamic State fighters in Iraq have been taken to Syria, forced to convert and sold into marriage to fighters, a monitoring group said Saturday.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Britain-based NGO, said it had confirmed that at least 27 Yazidi women had been sold for around $1,000 each to IS fighters.

    The group said it was aware that some 300 Yazidi women had been kidnapped and transported to Syria by the fighters, but it had so far documented the sale into marriage of 27.

    [AFP]
    Philippine UN peacekeepers safe after 'greatest escape'

    Dozens of Filipino UN peacekeepers performed the "greatest escape" from besieging Syrian rebels, slipping away under the cover of night after rebels rammed their Golan Heights outpost with armed trucks, the Philippine military said.

    All 75 soldiers serving with a United Nations peacekeeping force in the Middle East flashpoint zone reached safety after the rebels, some linked to al-Qaeda, surrounded them and demanded their weapons on Thursday, Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang said on Sunday.

    Catapang called it "the greatest escape" and praised the soldiers.

    "Although they were surrounded and outnumbered they held their ground," he told reporters.

    However the fate of 44 UN peacekeepers from Fiji remained unknown. [AFP]
    Israel fires at Syrian army position

    Israel has fired at a Syrian army position on Thursday, in response to a projectile from Syria landing in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

    In a statement, the Israeli military said it appeared the shooting from Syria was not deliberate but "errant fire from the internal fighting". 

    There were no immediate reports of casualties from either side.
    [Reuters]
    NATO leaders condemn the "barbaric and despicable acts" carried out by Islamic State extremists who have beheaded two US journalists, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday.

    "We are united in condemnation of these barbaric and despicable acts...Their threats will only harden our resolve to stand up for our values," Cameron said on the second day of a NATO summit.

    A NATO official said the 28 heads of state and government of the alliance's member states on Thursday discussed challenges including the threat of Islamic State.

    "Today leaders will focus on NATO's response," the official said, adding that the leaders would focus on "how to use all available tools".

    A Western diplomatic source said there could be a military coalition against IS but "we are not envisaging acting without a legal framework" in the UN.
    Residents of Ashara, in the mostly IS-controlled eastern province of Deir Ezzor, protested in front of an IS headquarters Thursday evening, hours after regime air strikes killed the two children, five women and a man, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

    The Observatory also said that, on Friday, the IS publicly executed and crucified a young man identified as Ali Khalaf, accusing him of "heresy and apostasy."

    [AFP]


    Al-Qaeda's Syria franchise on Friday released a video showing nine Lebanese army and police hostages it said could pay the price for the Shia group Hezbollah's military intervention in the Syrian conflict.

    The al-Nusra Front video, entitled "Who Will Pay the Price?", shows the abducted members of Lebanon's security forces condemning Hezbollah, which has fought alongside President Bashar al-Assad's regime against rebels.

    [AFP]
    Syrian film follows Syrian 'wedding' fleeing to Europe
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube




    At least 11 people have been killed in the latest barrel bomb attack by government forces in the city of Aleppo. Al Jazeera's Mereana Hond looks at devastating effect the use of the crude munition is having on the historic city.


    The Islamic State group has murdered a second Lebanese soldier from the 19 fighters captured after an assault on the Lebanese town of Arsal. Read our full report here.



    Nicolas Henin, a former hostage in Syria, says one of his captors was Mehdi Nemmouche, the French man accused of attacking a Jewish museum in Belgium.

    Al Jazeera's Nadim Baba reports.
    Iran accused the United States Sunday of not taking the threat from Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria seriously, and charged that US aid had previously helped the fighters.

    Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif levelled the accusations despite an expanding US air campaign in Iraq since August 8 that provided key support in relieving an IS siege of a Shia Turkmen town north of Baghdad late last month.

    Iran and the United States have a shared opposition to IS, which controls a swathe of both Iraq and neighbouring Syria, but both governments deny cooperating militarily against the fighters.

    "There is still no serious understanding about the threat and they (the United States) have as yet taken no serious action," Zarif was quoted as saying by Iran's Mehr news agency.
    Arab League chief Nabil el-Araby called for a comprehensive military and political confrontation with Islamic State fighters and other sides in the Syrian conflict on Sunday.

    El-Araby met the US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday and discussed taking action against the armed group which now controls swathes of Iraq and Syria.

    The Arab League will meet today in Cairo for their 142nd Arab League Foreign Ministers conference to discuss ongoing conflicts in the region.
    Syrian rebels have made fresh advances near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in Quneitra.

    "Rebels have since taken control of hills overlooking the border post, as well as several villages nearby, after battles that killed a large number of troops on both sides," Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman said Sunday.

    [AFP]
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that Syrian warplanes carried out several air strikes near the military airport of Deir Ezzor and surrounding towns killing 19 civilians .

    The Observatory also reported air strikes using barrel bombs on several towns near Homs , while an officer in the Syrian army was killed during clashes in the town of Mahin.

    Damage caused by the aerial bombardment today on al-Mayadin city in Der Ezzor province. A school inhabited by refugees was destroyed and at least 11 civilians killed, including a child, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

    Local Coordination Committees report two civilian deaths in al-Waer neighbourhood in Homs due to regime mortar shelling.
    Ahrar al-Sham announces new leadership

    Ahrar al-Sham, the powerful Syrian armed opposition organisation, has announced its new leadership after it lost its top brass during a bomb attack on a high-level meeting in Idlib province. 

    Hassan Abboud, the head of Ahrar al-Sham brigade, was among up to 45 people killed in an underground bunker near an ammunition dump outside Ram Hamdan on Tuesday.

    The organisation's new head is Hashim Al Sheikh, also known as Abu Jaber, while his deputy is Abu Saleh Tahan, the group announced on Wednesday. 

    Ahrar al-Sham announces new leader
    Al Jazeera English

    Deputy leader: Abu Saleh Tahan 





    Syria opposition backs US anti-IS plan, urges action on Assad

    Syria's opposition National Coalition welcomed a US plan to tackle the Islamic State group on Wednesday, but also urged action against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

    In a statement, the group said it backed a US plan for air strikes in Syria and training of rebel forces, but that a "stable and extremist-free region" required "degrading and ultimately removing the Assad repressive regime."

    Earlier, US President Barack Obama pledged a "relentless" war against the Islamic State, a group that has declared an Islamic "caliphate" in large tracts of territory in Syria and Iraq.

    The group has carried out abuses including beheadings and crucifixions, and faced a backlash from Syrian rebel groups opposed to its violations and harsh interpretation of Islam.

    Obama said he would "not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria," using a different acronym for the group, and pledged to strengthen Syria's opposition. [AFP]
    Obama outlines plan to target IS fighters
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube

    Arab states to back US in fight against IS

    Ten Arab countries agree to rally behind Washington in fight against Islamic State fighters following meeting in Jeddah.

    CIA triples number of Islamic State fighters

    Islamic State in Iraq and Syria now have about 20,000 to 31,500 members on the ground, US intelligence agency says.
    The Qatari government said it helped to secure the release of 45 Fijian peacekeepers kidnapped by Al-Qaeda linked Syrian rebels on the Golan Heights last month.

    "The efforts of the State of Qatar led to the successful release of the Fijian soldiers... who had been held for two weeks," the Gulf emirate said in a statement late Thursday.

    The United Nations announced the same day the release of the 45 peacekeepers, part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) which monitors a 1974 ceasefire agreement between Israel and Syria on the Golan.
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