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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.


  • China will provide an escort for maritime transportation of Syria's chemical weapons, according to China state television.

    "In response to the call from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Chinese government decided to dispatch naval vessels to participate in the escort missions for the Syrian chemical weapons," Geng Yansheng, a Chinese defense ministry spokesman, said on Thursday.

    "China is keeping in close communications with the relevant parties to study the detailed plans for the escort missions," Yansheng said.

    Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons to avert potential United States military action, after the US blamed President Bashar al-Assad's government for a deadly sarin gas attack in August.

    A plan adopted by the OPCW in The Hague last month called for the most dangerous chemicals to be transported out of Syria by December 31 and destroyed by mid-March.

    All other declared chemical materials are set to be eliminated by June 30. [Reuters]
  • Five people, including an elderly man, a woman and a disabled man, have died of hunger in a besieged Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus, a monitoring group said Friday.

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops have sealed off several rebel-held areas ringing the capital, some for more than a year, prompting fears of a worsening humanitarian disaster as citizens run low on food and fuel.

    "Five people died, including an elderly man, a disabled man and a woman, as a result of malnutrition and the lack of the necessary treatment," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group relying on sources inside the war-torn country.

    Their deaths were "the result of the siege imposed by regime troops" on the Yarmuk refugee camp, it said.

    The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees and several rights groups have called on the Syrian regime to lift the siege of Yarmuk, and on both troops and rebels to allow aid into the camp.

    Last week, UNRWA chief Filippo Grandi warned: "The situation has progressively deteriorated: 20,000 remaining Palestinians have been trapped inside Yarmuk... If this situation is not addressed urgently, it may be too late to save the lives of thousands of people including children."

    The Syrian army has besieged several rebel areas, including Moadamiyet al-Sham southwest of the capital, where several people have reportedly starved to death.

    Extreme shortages of food led rebels in the town to announce a truce with the regime starting Wednesday, on condition that food was allowed in, but the ceasefire was broken a day later.

    On Friday, the local opposition council said that while "no food aid has yet entered the town... the parties to the truce remain committed to the agreement".

    It also said in a statement that relatives of people trapped in the siege were meeting in the Dama Rose hotel in the heart of the capital with regime representatives.

    "No details have yet been given for the delay in the arrival of humanitarian supplies," the council said.

    Syria's nearly three-year civil war has claimed an estimated 126,000 lives and displaced millions of people.

    [AFP]
  • Syrian government helicopters have dropped TNT-packed barrels on a vegetable market and next to a hospital in the northern city of Aleppo, killing at least 25 civilians, including children, activists reported.

    The Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of activists on the ground, described the bombing in Tareeq al-Bab district on Saturday as a "massacre".
  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sent Pope Francis a private message, the Vatican said on Saturday, without disclosing its contents.

    It was the first known time Assad has sent a direct message to the pontiff since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011.

    Pope Francis has made numerous appeals for an end to the conflict, the latest on Christmas Day.

    Vatican sources said the message likely included the Syrian government's position ahead of peace talks due to start on January 22 under UN auspices in Geneva.

    The Vatican, which has permanent observer status at the United Nations, also has a representative to U.N. organisations in Geneva.

    The Vatican said a delegation headed by Joseph Sweid, a Syrian minister of state, held talks in the Vatican with the pope's secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin and his foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.

    [Reuters]
  • Norwegian frigate arrived in Cyprus on Friday tasked with helping to transport away Syria's chemical arsenal from the country.

    It joined a Danish container ship and a frigate.

    The Norwegian-Danish mission will include two container ships and two frigates and the Norwegian container ship is expected in the next few days.

    The ships, moored in Limassol, are ready to be deployed at short notice as soon as the order is given, but the international effort to rid the nation of its deadly toxins will likely miss a December 31 deadline.

    Bad weather and shifting battlefronts in Syria's civil war have delayed the delivery of essential supplies to sites where the toxins are being prepared to be sent to Latakia port, the global chemical arms watchdog - the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) - said.|

    [Reuters]
  • The United Nations has warned of a disastrous humanitarian situation in Syria's Yarmouk Camp, a residential area home to Palestinian refugees and Syrians.

    There are reports that five people have starved to death in the neighbourhood.

    Yarmouk has been a stronghold for opposition forces for more than a year. The UN Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees has called for an immediate humanitarian corridor to access the people trapped inside.

    Al Jazeera's Stefanie Dekker reports.

  • Members the self-declared jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra man checkpoint on border crossing between Syria and Jordan in Daraa.

    The group claimed control of the post in the Syrian southern province on Thursday.

    [Reuters]

  • Residents search for survivors after air strikes by Assad forces in the Mayssar district of Aleppo [Reuters]

  • Syria is "unlikely" to meet a December 31 deadline to transport its most dangerous chemical arms out of the country, the United Nations acknowledged Saturday.

    The UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said "important progress" has been made on Syria's banned weapons, but called on President Bashar al-Assad's government to "intensify efforts" to meet internationally set deadlines to eliminate its arsenal.

    [AFP]
  • Residents in Muadamiyat al-Sham say food was being delivered for first time in more than a year after regime forces broke the siege over the rebel-held town following what they said was a "conditional truce" between the warring parties.
  • The UN says it's unlikely that it will meet the deadline to remove chemical
    weapons from Syria by the end of the month.


    It says the security situation is one of the reasons for the delay.

  • Bashar al-Assad has sent a message to Pope Francis Saturday,
    that state media said expressed his  
    determination to defend Syrians of all
    religions against hardline views
     held by some of the rebels.

    "The delegation brought a message from President Assad for the Holy Father and explained the position of the Syrian government," a statement
    said.


    The official Syrian Arab News Agency said Assad expressed his
    government's  
    "determination to exercise its right to defend all its
    citizens, whatever their
    religion, against the crimes committed by the
    takfiri (Sunni Muslim extremist)
    bands who attack them in their homes, in
    their places of worship and in their
    neighbourhoods."

  • Britain should take in refugees from the  brutal conflict in Syria, the leader of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party Nigel Farage said on Sunday.

    The comments are unexpected from Farage, who has led opposition to the lifting of limits on migrants from Bulgaria and Romania on January 1, 2014.

    British Prime Minister David Cameron's government has rejected calls from the United Nations and rights groups to resettle some of the most vulnerable of the estimated 2.3 million people who have fled the Syrian war.

    "I think refugees are a very different thing to economic migration and I think that this country should honour the spirit of the 1951 declaration on refugee status that was agreed," Farage told the BBC.

    "It was agreed with the UN and even through the European Court, which sadly has changed its role. But the original ideas of defining what a refugee is were good ones.
     
    "I think actually there is a responsibility on all of us in the free West to try and help some of those people in Syria fleeing literally in fear of their lives."

    Conservative leader Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat party leader Nick Clegg, and opposition Labour party leader Ed Miliband issued a rare joint statement earlier this week pledging more financial aid for Syrian refugees.

    [AFP]
  • Dire situation for Palestinian refugees

    [AP] 

    At least 15 Palestinians have died of starvation since September in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees told AFP news agency. 

    "The continued presence of armed groups that entered the area at the end of 2012 and its closure by government forces have thwarted all our humanitarian efforts," said UN Relief and Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness. 

    Some 20,000 Palestinians are trapped in the town with limited access to food and medical supplies, according to Gunness. 

    "If this situation is not addressed urgently, it may be too late to save the lives of thousands of people including children," Gunness warned.

    Nearly 500,000 Palestinian refugees live in Syria, according to AFP. 

    [AFP] 
  • Jordan will use UN seat to negotiate on Syria

  • Four people were killed and dozens injured after shelling targeted a crowded market in the rebel held town of Al Mleha in Damascus eastern countryside, according to activists.

    Al Jazeera cannot independently verify video of the aftermath:

  • Rebels claim to capture 3 Iraqi fighters in the ongoing fighting in Eastern countryside of Damascus, according to activist Hadi Abdullah.
    Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the following video:

  • The death toll from the nearly three-year long Syrian war has risen to more than 130 thousand.
    That's according to the latest tally by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
    It says civilians account for more than 46 thousand of the dead.
    And the number of Syrians who've escaped to neighbouring countries as refugees is above two million.
  • Inside Syria - Syria and the promise of 2014

  • Inside Syria - Syria: Too dangerous to cover?

  • More than 73,000 people were killed in Syria in 2013, the bloodiest year yet in the brutal civil war that began in March 2011, an NGO said on Wednesday.

    The tally from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights came as renewed regime air strikes in the northern city of Aleppo killed at least five people.

    The group said it considered the international community "a partner in the shedding of the blood of the Syrian people" because it had failed to take "serious action" to stop the war.

    The Britain-based group said it had documented the deaths of 73,455 people between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013, including 22,436 civilians.

    On Tuesday, the Observatory released an updated toll for the entire war, saying more than 130,000 people had been killed since it began.

    The group slammed the international community on Wednesday, saying it "failed to take serious action to stop the massacres that have been committed and continue to be committed".

    Instead, it said, the international community had focused on dismantling Syria's chemical weapons programme "and neglected dozens of massacres that killed thousands of Syrians".

    The loss of life continued on Wednesday, with the Observatory reporting an ongoing regime campaign of aerial bombardment in northern Aleppo province.

    [AFP]
  • Opposition fighters have launched an offensive in the western Syrian city of al Qusayr, according to activists.

    Fighters and activists refused to provide further details, citing security concerns.

    Government forces and Hezbollah fighters assumed control of the city in April 2013.

    This takeover was considered an important balance shift for the Syrian government.

  • Anti-polio vaccination campaign launches

    Children in Syrian refugee camps in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon received polio vaccinations in November of last year [AP] 

    An anti-polio vaccination campaign has launched in Aleppo and its countryside, according to Halab News Network.

    Turkey supplied the Polio vaccinations, which will be administered to two million children in Syria.
     
    The vaccinations will be delivered in seven provinces in opposition-controlled areas through Assistant Coordination Unite (ACU), local opposition councils, Syrian relief organisations and volunteers.

    [Halab News Network]
  • Deadly blast hits Beirut 

    A powerful explosion in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital Beirut - stronghold of the Shia armed group  Hezbollah - has killed at least five people and left another 20 wounded.

    The car bombing occurred during Thursday's rush hour in the Haret Hreik neighbourhood, but casualties were expected to be high given the size and the timing.

    "This is in the heart of the Hezbollah stronghold," Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, said. "This is a very busy area, commercial and residential."

    For up to date coverage of the blast, visit Al Jazeera's website
  • Turkey denies sending weapons to Syria

    Turkey has denied local media reports that its security forces have seized a truck laden with weapons bound for Syria. 

    "The truck was loaded with aid for the Turkmen community in Syria," Interior Minister Efkan Ala told reporters on Thursday.

    Hurriyet newspaper had reported earlier that security forces stopped a truck loaded with arms and ammunition on the Syrian border on Wednesday and arrested three people, including a Syrian.

    The article added that the truck's drivers claimed they were carrying aid on behalf of the pro-Islamic Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH).

    But the IHH denied these allegations, calling them "slanderous".

    "Our organisation has nothing to do with this case," a spokesman told AFP news agency.
     
    Turkey is a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has openly supported the rebels fighting his regime, but has always denied arming them.

    [AFP]


  • Contractors work on the The Field Deployable Hydrolysis System (FDHS) onboard the M/V Cape Ray in the cargo bay of the ship. [AFP / Jim Watson]

    by Safeeyah Kharsany edited by AJE Staff 1/3/2014 12:20:01 AM
  • The Field Deployable Hydrolysis System (FDHS) onboard the M/V Cape Ray stands in the cargo bay of the ship in Portsmouth, Virginia. The FDHS is a transportable modular demilitarisation system designed to render chemical warfare material into compounds not usable as weapons, and it will be used to destroy the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile [AFP/Jim Watson]

    by Safeeyah Kharsany edited by AJE Staff 1/3/2014 12:21:11 AM
  • Lebanon has been hit by a wave of bombings in recent months as the civil war in Syria increasingly spills over into its smaller neighbour. View the latest, in which a bomb explosion has hit the capital. Click here: www.aljazeera.com

    by Safeeyah Kharsany edited by AJE Staff 1/3/2014 12:29:56 AM
  • US unveils ship to destroy Syria's chemical weapons


  • Danish and Norwegian vessels have taken off towards Syria as planned to escort a shipment of chemical weapons for destruction, despite a missed deadline and delays in the international effort to rid the country of its arsenal.

    To read Al Jazeera's full report, click here.
  • Five staff members from Doctors without Borders (MSF) have been taken from a house in northern Syria by an unknown group, the medical NGO said.

    "MSF confirms that five members of its staff were taken yesterday night from an MSF house in the north of Syria by a group, apparently for questioning," spokeswoman Samantha Maurin said in a statement on Friday.

    MSF did not specify the nationality of the staff, their roles, or which group took them, but said it was "in contact with all the relevant stakeholders" and trying to re-establish contact with the staff.

    The organisation operates six hospitals and four health centres in the north of Syria. MSF also runs a programme from neighbouring countries to support 27 hospitals and 56 medical posts throughout Syria with drugs, medical equipment, and technical advice and support.

    In September 2013, a Syrian surgeon working for the group was killed in the north of the country, and aid workers operating in rebel-held parts of Syria have faced detention and kidnappings.

    [Reuters and AFP]
  • People protested in Aleppo today against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda-linked group fighting in Syria.

    This video was posted on YouTube on January 3, but Al Jazeera can not verify its veracity.

    مظاهرة في مدينة حلب تهتف الجيش الحر للابد دايس داعش و الأسد بتاريخ 3 1 2014 ‎
    by Ahlam Awham via YouTube

  • The SNC has said it will not attend Geneva II in a communique seen by Al Jazeera.

    "Syrian National Council has not found any clear or specific agenda that guarantees the success of the [Geneva II] conference that serves the goals of the Syrian revolution.

    "That's why we underline our previous decision [not to go] and we hold to what we have decided."
  • A Turkish photographer kidnapped while covering the civil war in neighbouring Syria has returned home after being freed from weeks in captivity, his newspaper said on Monday.

    Bunyamin Aygun, who works for the newspaper Milliyet, was taken hostage by armed fighters in mid-December during a reporting mission in the war-torn country.

    He was freed on Sunday and entered Turkish territory accompanied by eight members of the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), Milliyet said.

    "Every night, I had the same dream that I was being freed. I cannot believe that I am free now. It feels like a dream," he was quoted by the daily as saying. [AFP]
  • Bunyamin Aygun, Turkish photographer who was kept in captivity in Syria for weeks [AP]

  • Syrian activists say rebel groups have released several prisoners from the captivity of the al-Qaeda-linked rebel group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) after the Islamic Front group captured the area in Raqqa.

    by Tamila Varshalomidze via YouTube edited by AJE Staff 1/6/2014 9:08:29 AM
  • Rebel fighters were laying siege on Monday to al-Qaeda-linked group in their northern stronghold of Raqqa, managing to free 50 people they had detained, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

    Raqqa emerged as a new front Sunday in fighting among rebels battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad, with various groups joining forces against al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

    "The rebels have been laying siege to ISIL's headquarters in the city of Raqqa since last night. They released 50 Syrian prisoners held by ISIL in another building," said the Observatory.

    Raqqa is the only provincial capital to have fallen out of regime hands since the conflict erupted when regime opponents took up arms following a bloody crackdown by Assad's forces on protests in March 2011.

    But soon afterwards it fell into the grip of ISIL, which is said to be holding hundreds of prisoners in their now besieged headquarters in the heart of Raqqa. [AFP]
    by Tamila Varshalomidze edited by AJE Staff 1/6/2014 11:35:56 AM
  • Opposition members resign over Geneva 2

    Dozens of National Coalition members have resigned over participation in peace talks in Switzerland, among other things. The 39 members, who resigned at the General Assembly meeting in Istanbul on Monday, include representatives of the Syrian Business Council and some from the Supreme Military Council.

    The coalition has yet to vote on participation in the talks.
  • The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has executed media activists, relief workers and other civilians that were held captive by the al-Qaeda-linked group in Syria's Aleppo, according to activists and a rebel fighter.

    The prisoners, who were held in the ISIL detention centre in Qadi al-Askar district, were killed on Monday evening as clashes raged across Syria's opposition-held areas between the ISIL and several other rebel groups.

    Read our latest story for details:
  • Syrian Minister of Information Omran al-Zoubi reiterated his county's cooperative stance on taking chemical weapons out of Syria.

    The minister's remarks came during a press conference held in the capital Damascus on Tuesday.

    He said the Syrian government would follow all the rules and take positive measures on security and logistics to cooperate with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

    "First of all the Syrian government will follow the agreement with the OPCW. All the related logistics work is underway although we cannot disclose more details about it. But the UN, the OPCW and its working team spoke highly of Syrian government's cooperation," said Omran al-Zoubi.

    [Reuters]
  • The head of al-Qaeda in Syria has called for a ceasefire between opposition factions who have clashed for five days in the bloodiest bout of infighting since the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began.

    An audio recording from the leader of the powerful Nusra Front, who goes by the name Abu Mohammad al-Golani, also laid much of the blame for the fighting on an al-Qaeda splinter group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

    Click here for the details:

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/01/syria-al-qaeda-leader-urges-end-infighting-20141851246851997.html
  • Belgian waste management group Indaver is considering bidding in a tender to destroy Syria's chemical weapons arsenal and has formally expressed interest with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

    Syria has declared 1,300 tonnes of chemical weapons to the OPCW, which won the Nobel Peace Prize last year and is arranging for them to be destroyed abroad.

    "There is a tender and we are one of the companies that is looking at what is required," a spokesman for Mechelen-based Indaver said.

    "A bid can be made this month but we will only do that after approval of regional and federal authorities."

    The Flemish regional government was not immediately available for comment while the defence ministry declined to comment.

    Privately held Indaver, which has operations in Belgium and several other European countries, has 1,600 employees and has annual revenues of about 400 million euros ($544 million).

    [Reuters]
  • The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees has warned of "extreme human suffering" in Syria's Yarmouk camp.

    UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said on Thursday that food shortages continue in the camp, and an absence of medical care has led to women dying during childbirth.

    "The profound civilian suffering in Yarmuk deepens, with reports of widespread malnutrition and the absence of medical care, including for those who have severe conflict-related injuries and... women in childbirth, with fatal consequences for some women," he said.

    "Residents, including infants and children, have been subsisting for long periods on diets of such things as stale vegetables, animal feed and cooking spices dissolved in water."

    Since September, at least 15 people have died from hunger in Yarmouk, which has been under a tight government-imposed siege for about one year after the area was taken over by opposition groups.

    Yarmuk was once home to some 170,000 people, but tens of thousands have fled since fighting began in the camp.

    About 20,000 people are currently trapped in the camp.

    State television said an aid convoy was blocked by "terrorist gangs" on Thursday.

    "Terrorist gangs in the Yarmouk camp prevented the entry of an aid convoy carrying some 5,000 food parcels for those trapped in the camp," state TV said.

    Syria is officially home to about 500,000 Palestinian refugees. Nearly half of them have become refugees for a second time, after being displaced by the Syrian war that broke out in 2011. [AFP]
  • Two Swedish journalists have been released after having been held for almost two months in Syria.

    Niclas Hammarstrom and Magnus Falkehed spoke to reporters before boarding a flight from Paris to Stockholm to be reunited with their families.

    "We were held in a basement in a house with no electricity for most of the day. Little food, little water, few visits to the bathroom- once a day at the most. We were beaten sometimes, we were threatened with weapons and they threatened to kill us," Hammarstrom, a photographer, said.

    Falkehed added: "The situation is extremely risky in Syria today and we arrived just under an extremely intense military activity from [Syrian President] Bashar's [al-Assad] side... we came at a time when it was, and it still is, extremely, extremely difficult to work there."

    At least 25 journalists have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, and more than 30 are thought to be missing.

    Both the Syrian government and its opponents have been accused of abducting and killing journalists. [Reuters and AFP]

    Magnus Falkehed (L) and Niclas Hammarstrom [AFP PHOTO/JACQUES DEMARTHON]



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