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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.


  • US opens door to Iranian participation in Syria peace conference

    The United States said it would be more open to Iran taking part in a long-delayed peace conference on Syria if Iran publicly backed the original Geneva Communique, a statement calling for a transitional government in Syria.

    "We've been clear, multiple times, about Iran's destructive role in the Syrian crisis and our expectation that any party that [is] included in Geneva II must accept and publicly support the Geneva communique," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Monday.

    "If, and this is an if, Iran were to endorse and embrace the Geneva communique publicly, we would view the possibility of their participation more openly," Harf said, later adding the United States would then view its taking part more "favourably." [Reuters]
  • Ban Ki-moon addresses destruction of Syria chemical weapons in letter to Security Council

    In a letter to the UN body, the Secretary-General suggested that approximately 100 experts form a Joint Mission from representatives of both the OPCW and the UN.

    The Joint Mission will be deployed to Syria from their headquarters in Cyprus in a dangerous mission to oversee the "complete elimination of Syrian chemical weapons material and equipment by the first half of 2014," he wrote in the letter on Monday, adding that "the Joint Mission will seek to conduct an operation the likes of which, quite simply, have never been tried before."

    Read more here.
  • More highlights from Ban Ki-Moon's letter

    According to the letter, the operation would accomplish its objectives in three phases:
    Phase I: To "establish an initial presence in Damascus and develop an initial operating capability". The Joint advance team has already begun some of these activities.

    Phase II: Through November 1, OPCW must complete initial inspections and "oversee the destruction by [Syria] of all chemical weapons production and mixing and filling equipment. 

    Phase III: What Ban termed the "most difficult and challenging phase," would entail from November 1 2013-June 30 2014 the Joint Mission "to support, monitor and verify the destruction of a complex chemical weapons programme involving multiple sites spread over a country engulfed in violent conflict", including "approximately 1,000 metric tons" of chemical weapons material. As neither the UN nor the OPCW is mandated to conduct actual destruction activities, "it is highly probable" that member states will have to help in the form of technical, operational or security assistance.

    Ban noted that the time frame is "ambitious under the most peaceful and benign of circumstances," and expressed his desire for the UN to make investments in safety to provide the "highest possible level of safety and security" for the Joint Mission personnel.

    Read more here.
  • Russia and the United States agree on how to eliminate chemical weapons in
    Syria, 
    Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday after meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry.

    "We have a common understanding of what needs to be done and 
    how. I am very glad that President (Barack) Obama is occupying this position (on chemical arms)," Putin told reporters at the end of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.

    [Source: Reuters]
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Moscow would welcome
    Indonesia joining Syria peace talks scheduled  
    to take place in Geneva later
    this year.


    "We believe it is possible to expand the number of (conference)
    participants by including such big Muslim states like Indonesia," Putin said
    on
    the sidelines of an APEC summit in Indonesia. "In my opinion, it would be
    quite
    natural and we'd welcome it," he was quoted as saying by state news
    agency.
     

    [Source: AFP]
  • The global chemical weapons watchdog has said that it would send more inspectors to Syria
    to help destroy President Bashar al-Assad's vast stockpile of toxic munitions.

    The head of the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ahmet Uzumcu, said on Tuesday that Syria had made "a constructive beginning for what will nonetheless be a long and difficult process."

    - Reuters
  • Read the full story here: aje.me

  • Fighting continues in Idlib on Tuesday

    There has been a rebel attempt to take over a government military base in Northern Syria. 

    Al Jazeera's Imran Khan reports.

    Watch here.

  • Diplomatic momentum is building to bring Syria's warring parties together for peace talks, but with Bashar al-Assad in no mood for concessions and his opponents still deeply divided there is little prospect for an early end to the catastrophic civil war.

    Hopes that the long-delayed talks may finally go ahead in Geneva next month have been boosted by the rare sight of Washington and Moscow cooperating to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons and hints of a US thaw with Assad's ally Iran.

    President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia and the United States had a common understanding on disarming Syria's chemical arsenal - a sharp change in language about a 2-1/2 year conflict which has revived Cold War antagonisms.

    ...

    - Reuters (Dominic Evans)
  • Iran rejects any conditions for taking part in a long-delayed peace conference on Syria, Iranian media reported, in effect dismissing a US suggestion that Tehran back a call for a transitional government in Damascus.

    The US State Department said on Monday Washington would be open to Iran taking part in a "Geneva 2" conference seeking an end to the war if Iran publicly supported a 2012 statement calling for a transitional authority to rule Syria.

    But Iran rejected any conditions being placed on it to participate in diplomatic efforts on Syria, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said on Tuesday evening.

    "If our participation is in the interest of achieving a solution, it will be unacceptable to set conditions for inviting the Islamic Republic of Iran, and we accept no conditions," Afkham said, according to the state-run Press TV.

    - Reuters

  • by AJE Staff
    UN disarmament inspectors continue to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. The OPCW team embarked on their field work on October 6 after a series of meetings with Syrian government officials. The government's chemical arsenal is to be completely eliminated by mid-2014, under a US-Russian disarmament plan backed by a UN Security Council resolution. 
  • Nicolas Henin, reporter, and Pierre Torres, reporter-photographer, have been detained in Syria.

    To respect the wishes of their families, the announcement of their kidnapping has been delayed until now and kept confidential. At the moment of their kidnapping on 22 june, Henin was preparing a report for Le Point magazine and the TV channel Arte. Pierre Torres was covering the elections organised by the municipality of Raqqa.

    As for Didier Francvois and Edouard Elias, kidnapped on 6 June, all the means of the state are mobilised to secure their liberation. Their families have been kept informed by the French government about the efforts to secure their release.
  • Second team of arms inspectors arrive in Syria

    A second team of international inspectors arrived in Damascus on Thursday to help supervise the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal under the terms of a UN resolution.

    Three UN vehicles carrying inspectors earlier departed from their Damascus hotel en route to an undisclosed location, as the dangerous mission to eradicate chemical arms in the hostile environment of a civil war continued.

    Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, said 12 new experts arrived, bringing the total number to 27.

    He said an "advance team" of 19 arrived last week but that four had since returned to The Hague.

    "They completed (a) third site visit yesterday... presumably they have more site visits today," he said.

    - AFP
  • The Pentagon is suggesting that the world's chemical weapons watchdog uses a US-made mobile destruction unit in Syria to neutralise the country's toxic stockpile, officials have told Reuters news agency.

    It gave a briefing on the unit on Tuesday to officials at the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, who are deciding what technology to use for the ambitious chemical weapons destruction plan, two officials said.

    Syria and the OPCW must make a decision on what technology will be used by Nov. 15.

  • Air raids on rebel position in Aleppo and Deraa provinces killed at least 30 people, including civilians.

    The latest lines from the Syrian Observatory for Human
    Rights at 20:00 GMT on Thursday, October 10.

    • Fighting has raged in Aleppo - the air raid on Thursday killed 16 people, including a woman and two children in the eastern village of Safira, which is controlled by armed groups including the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)
    • Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of Britain-based monitoring group, says that the regime "bombarded Safira for two days in order to relieve pressure of the supply route to Aleppo".
    • The route is used not only to ferry weapons and reinforcements to troops at the front, but also to deliver food and medical supplies to civilians in regime-controlled areas.
    • Another six people, including a woman and child, were killed in air raids on Menbej, a village east of Aleppo controlled by ISIL and other armed groups.
    • In the Deraa, eight people, including two children were killed in air raids on Nawa village between the army and rebels.
    • The General Commission of the Syrian Revolution said that there were many people wounded and in serious condition, indicating that the toll would rise.
    • Fierce fighting broke out at another front close to Damascus, pitting government troops backed by the Lebanese Hezbollah and pro-regime fighters against rebels in Bueida and Dyebiye.
    • The State news agency, SANA, said that the army was able to seize control of Dyebiye and Husseiniyah, another nearby district. 
    • Troops had also seized nearby villages of Sheikh Amro and Bassatine.
    - AFP
  • Hezbollah 'execution' video sparks online outrage

    A gory online video that appears to show Hezbollah fighters executing gravely wounded Syrian rebels has sparked outrage and threatens to worsen sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

    The video shows armed men in fatigues, at least one wearing the yellow arm band sported by the Lebanese Shiite movement, dragging several bloodied men out of a van and shooting them dead.

    The men speak in the Lebanese dialect of Arabic, and at the end of the video one man calls them over, saying: "One moment, one moment. We are doing our duty, not avenging ourselves."

    The others call out: "For the sake of God, for the sake of God." The one minute, 40 second video's authenticity could not be confirmed, and it was unclear when or where it might have been shot.

    Hezbollah has declined to comment on it.

    Al-Arabiya television said it may have been filmed during the battle for Qusayr, a strategic Syrian town near the Lebanese border that Syrian troops recaptured from rebels with the help of Hezbollah earlier this year.

    Lebanese media largely steered clear of the video, either because they were unable to confirm it or for fear of worsening tensions.

    But the video triggered outrage on Twitter, with many observers comparing Hezbollah to Sunni rebel groups.

    - AFP
  • Photo: Reuters
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    UNICEF: Child refugees face exploitation


    UNICEF has said that the child refugees who fled Syria's war are vulnerable to exploitation including early marriage, domestic violence and child labour, despite efforts to keep them in school.

    More than one million children, some without parents or close relatives, are among 2.1 million refugees who have crossed mainly into Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey since March 2011, the agency said on Thursday.

    Jordan hosts 540,000 Syrian refugees, straining health and education services and already scarce water resources, said Michele Servadei, UNICEF's deputy representative in Jordan.

    Most Syrians live in host communities in the north, while 120,000 are at the teeming Zaatari camp in the Jordanian desert.

    "In host communities they are much more exposed to child labour, to early marriage, to exploitation in general," Servadei told a news briefing in Geneva.

    Some 200,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan are school-age, but only 80,000 are enrolled in education, often in classrooms with double shifts. Adolescents aged 14 to 17, many of whom had dropped out of school, were especially at risk, he said.

    "The main coping mechanism that these children have in many cases is withdrawal... we noticed that actually many children don't go out of the house," he said.

    "But the problem is that the house is not the safest place always. There is a high level of domestic violence among communities, definitely because of the war situation, but also because of the protracted displacement and the sense of frustration that it brings."

    Jordan lacks enough shelters for battered women, he added. 

    UNICEF operates 80 child-friendly spaces in Jordan, offering activities and psycho-social support to young Syrian refugees, some of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

    An estimated 30,000 Syrian child refugees are working in Jordan, Servadei said. A UNICEF assessment in the Jordan Valley in April identified 3,500 child labourers, mainly seasonal.

    "They were working mainly on the farms, in many cases also hard labour, let's say 10 hours a day using pesticides," he said. Other children work in family bakeries or as mechanics.

    UNICEF is providing cash assistance - 30 Jordanian dinars or about $45 per month - for families to remove a Syrian child from work and return him to school, according to Servadei.

    "We monitor the attendance, when the attendance is no longer there, the cash assistance gets stopped," he said. "But we are checking if that is going to be enough because actually most of these children are earning much more working, unfortunately."

    In 2012, 18 percent of the registered marriages of Syrians in Jordan involved under-18-year-olds, up from 12 percent a year before, he said. Imams have the authority to approve marriages for youths over 16, but these often go unregistered, he said.

    Syrian rebels are also alleged to have infiltrated refugee camps in Jordan seeking to recruit young people to fight in their homeland, Servadei said, declining to give specifics.

    - Reuters
  • International chemical weapons inspectors have so far visited three sites linked to Syria's chemical weapons program, a spokesman said on Thursday.

    A regime-controlled military complex believed to include chemical weapons facilities is located near the rebel-held town of Safira, which was bombed in an air-strike earlier in the day.

    Operating on rare consensus, the UN has mandated the OPCW to rid Syria of its stockpile by mid-2014 - the tightest deadline ever given to the OPCW.

    At some point, the 27-member team may have to cross rebel-held territory to reach other locations linked to Syria's chemical weapons program. The UN hopes to organize cease-fires between rebels and government forces to ensure safe passage.

    - Associated Press
  • The UN Security Council met behind closed doors on Thursday afternoon to discuss an 11-page letter from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with recommendations on how to destroy Syria's chemical weapons by the target date.

    Ban recommended that a joint mission be established by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, with a total staff of approximately 100, to carry out what he described as a dangerous and unprecedented operation, "the likes of which, quite simply, have never been tried before."

    Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters as he headed into the meeting that a new resolution isn't necessary, and he expects the council to agree to the recommendations in a letter to the secretary-general, adding that the US also supports a letter.

    - Associated Press



  • by Rahul Radhakrishnan
    by Rahul Radhakrishnan
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    In Beirut on Thursday, a lucky few Syrians flew to Germany, where they were accepted for temporary resettlement.

    They were 106 of the 4,000 refugees that Germany has accepted to receive on two-year visas, said Roberta Russo of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

    Russo called on donor countries to provide more aid to Syria's neighbours, who are hosting over 97 percent of refugees.

    She says they have only received one-third of the $1.7 billion in aid the UN is asking for to help refugees, particularly in Lebanon.

    - Associated Press | All Photos: Associated Press
  • NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that he does not anticipate "any further role" for the military alliance in Syria.

    "There is no military solution to the conflict in Syria," Rasmussen told a press conference on Thursday in Athens with Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos, emphasising that a political solution is required to end the Syrian conflict.

    The NATO chief voiced support for a long-mooted international conference hosted by the United States and Russia that would seek to negotiate a deal between the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad and opposition groups.

    "I urge the government and opposition in Syria to participate in this conference that hopefully will pave the way for a sustainable solution," he said.

    Rasmussen had called for "a firm international response" to the chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21 which killed hundreds, and did not rule out a military option before the Russian-brokered deal to destroy Assad's chemical weapons cache was struck in late September. [AFP]
  • Syrian rebels killed at least 190 civilians and took more than 200 hostage during an offensive in Latakia province in August, Human Rights Watch said on Friday, in what it calls the first evidence of crimes against humanity by opposition forces.

    HRW said many of the dead had been executed by armed groups, some linked to al-Qaeda, who overran army positions at dawn on August 4 and then moved into 10 villages nearby where members of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect lived.

    In its first government-sanctioned trip into Syria during the two-and-a-half-year conflict, New York-based HRW has documented a series of sectarian mass killings by Assad's foes during a broader campaign in which Western-backed rebels took part.

    In some cases, entire families were executed or gunned down as they fled, according to a report titled "You Can Still See Their Blood". [Reuters]

  • Rebel groups come under criticism for allegedly killing civilians and taking hostages
    by Tamila Varshalomidze


  • The Pentagon is suggesting the world's chemical weapons watchdog use a US-made mobile destruction unit in Syria to neutralise the country's toxic stockpile, officials told Reuters.

    It gave a briefing on the unit on Tuesday to officials at the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, who are deciding what technology to use for the ambitious chemical weapons destruction plan, two officials said. [Reuters]
  • A French Muslim, fighting alongside armed rebels against the Syrian regime, has carried out a suicide bombing against an army position in Aleppo province, a monitoring group said on Friday.

    The man killed 10 soldiers in the bombing during a Wednesday attack on the village of Al-Hamam, southeast of the northern city of Aleppo, Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.

    The attack was carried out by Al-Qaeda-linked groups - the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Al-Nusra Front.

    It was not clear whether the bomber - nicknamed Abu al-Qaaqaa after one of the companions of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed - was a French convert to Islam or a French citizen originally from a Muslim country. [AFP]
  • Chemical-weapons watchdog OPCW has been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for work that it is conducting in Syria, Nobel committee in Oslo said.
  • The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is overseeing the destruction's of Syria's arsenal, has won the Nobel Peace Prize, according to the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

    Experts from the Hague-based global chemical-weapons watchdog, supported by the UN, are working to destroy Syria's massive chemical-weapons stockpile after a sarin-gas strike in the suburbs of Damascus killed more than 1,400 people in August.

    The $1.25m prize will be presented in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will. [Reuters]
  • Human Rights Watch has conducted an investigation into an opposition offensive in Latakia province in August. It says Syrian rebels killed at least 190 civilians and took more than 200 hostages during the operation around Alawite villages. 

    Al Jazeera talked to Lama Fakih, Human Rights Watch researcher.

    Rights group says Syrian rebels killed civilians
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube on 12:48 PM


  • Syrian army troops and Shia fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad captured two southern suburbs of Damascus on Friday, killing at least 70 people, opposition activists said.

    The fighters, including some from the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah and Iraqi Shias backed by Syrian army tanks, searched al-Thiabiya and Husseiniya, a Palestinian refugee camp, for pockets of resistance after overrunning them, the sources said.

    The capture of the two districts, located between the two main highways leading to Jordan, strengthens Assad's hold on major supply lines and puts pressure on rebel brigades under siege for months in areas adjacent to the centre of Damascus. [Reuters]

  • Chemical arms watchdog wins Nobel Peace Prize
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube on 3:37 PM

  • The UN Security Council has formally approved a first joint mission with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to destroy Syria's weapons on Friday.

    The UN and OPCW have a team of 60 experts and support staff in Syria destroying chemical production facilities.

    The 15-member Security Council sent a letter to Ban on Friday backing his plan to fully eradication of Syria's banned chemical arms.

    Ban was to name Sigrid Kaag of the Netherlands as head of the joint mission, UN sources told AFP news agency. Kaag is a UN assistant secretary general working at the UN Development Program.

    "This recognition occurs nearly 100 years after the first chemical attack -- and 50 days after the appalling use of chemical weapons in Syria. Far from being a relic of the past, chemical weapons remain a clear and present danger," Ban said.

    Ban said in a draft plan sent to the Security Council that up to 100 experts will be needed to destroy Syria's sarin, mustard gas and other chemical weapons by the middle of 2014.

    The mission will have bases in Damascus and Cyprus, where most inspectors will stay unless they are on site visits.

    - AFP
  • UN to boost Syria chemical-weapons team | Read full story: aje.me


  • Firefighters extinguish a burning vehicle after two mortar rounds struck the Abu Roumaneh area in Damascus [AP] 
    by Tamila Varshalomidze

    Syria's state news agency says two mortar rounds struck an upscale neighborhood in the Syrian capital of Damascus, killing a child and injuring 11 people.

    The Abu Roumaneh area where the mortars struck on Saturday is several hundred metres from a hotel where international inspectors are based during their mission to destroy Syria's chemical weapons.

    The SANA agency says one shell hit near a school and the other on the roof of a building. It says the child killed in the attack was eight years old and that the shells damaged several shops and cars.

    Rebels fighting to topple the Syrian regime routinely fire mortar shells from the outskirts of Damascus at neighborhoods controlled by the government of President Bashar Assad. [AP]
  • Mortar shells have landed near the hotel where the Syria chemical weapons inspectors are staying, the Associated Press has reported. They are reporting that one child has been killed and are citing state media and witnesses.

    More to follow.
  • Syria maintains its spending in 2014 budget despite heavy war losses. The government has agreed to a 8.18bn budget, Reuters reports citing Syria's state news agency SANA. This is a small increase in spending despite the financial devastation wrought by more than two years of civil war.
    More here.
  • A Russian photographer has been abducted by a group of Syrian rebels who accuse him of being a spy, AFP has said citing the Russian foreign ministry. Konstantin Zhuravlev is being held by the group Liwa al-Tawhid having being seized in Aleppo.

    The 32-year-old entered Syria hitchhiked from Siberia, entering Syria via Turkey. The rebels claim that Zhuravlev is a "spy" for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and promise to broadcast a video with his confession, in a message posted on social networks.
  • Could the unintended consequences of the Syrian uprising prove a cautionary tale for other aspiring revolutionaries around the world? An interesting analysis over on our main site.

    And don't forget the in depth coverage on our Syria spotlight page.

  • An activist group says shelling by Syrian regime forces has killed at least 11 people, including women and children, in a southern city.

    The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least three children and four women were among those killed when government forces struck a building in in the southern city of Daraa.

    The Observatory's chief, Rami Abdul-Rahman, says the attack happened late on Saturday.

    There have been frequent clashes lately in the city and province of Daraa between President Bashar Assad's troops and the mostly Sunni rebels fighting to overthrow his regime. [AP]


  • Iraqi Kurdistan is prepared to strike rebel fighters anywhere, including in neighbouring Syria, but must avoid being drawn into its civil war, the autonomous region's president Massud Barzani told AFP.

    Barzani's remarks came after armed fighters carried out a late-September attack on a security service headquarters in the Kurdish region's capital Arbil, killing seven people, a rare occurrence in an area usually spared the violence plaguing other parts of Iraq.

    "We will not hesitate in directing strikes (against) the terrorist criminals in any place," Barzani said in an exclusive interview with AFP, when asked about the possibility of Kurdish action against militants in Iraq or Syria. [AFP]
  • A key group within the Syrian opposition National Coalition said on Sunday it would not attend proposed peace talks in Geneva and would quit the Coalition if it participated.

    "The Syrian National Council, which is the biggest bloc in the Coalition, has taken the firm decision [...] not to go to Geneva, under the present circumstances (on the ground)," Council president George Sabra, told AFP.

    "This means that we will not stay in the Coalition if it goes" to the peace talks in Geneva, he added.

    He invoked the ongoing suffering of Syrians on the ground and said his group would not negotiate before the fall of the regime.

    The international community, led by Russia and the United States, has been pushing for the Syrian regime and rebels to attend a peace conference dubbed Geneva 2 to find a political solution to the conflict. [AFP]
  • Britain said on Sunday it will give Jordan £12m ($19m, €14m) to help local communities in the country cope with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

    "Jordan will receive urgently needed support to keep essential public services running and prevent tensions between local people and growing numbers of Syrian refugees," British International Development Secretary Justine Greening said.

    "Competition for jobs is increasing, houses built for refugees require electricity and water, and rubbish is piling up. British support will help to maintain road construction and maintenance, waste collection, street lighting, pest control and water supplies," the statement said. [AFP]




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