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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.

  • Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that he hoped the Syrian government's chemical weapons will be rapidly consolidated into one location, put on a ship and removed from the region.

    Kerry said in an interview with National Public Radio that the locations of the weapons have been declared and are being secured.

    On Tuesday, Kerry will meet in London with ministers of 10 other nations who back the opposition in Syria and are trying to hold an international conference in Geneva to set up a transition government and end the bloody civil war in Syria, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

    He also will be meeting in London with opposition leaders. The main alliance of political opposition groups has said it will only negotiate if it is agreed from the start that Syrian President Bashar Assad will leave power at the end of a transition period.

    On Monday, Kerry will be in Paris to meet with representatives of the Arab League and update them on peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and see Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

    After London, Kerry will travel to Rome to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

  • A handout undated picture obtained by AFP news agency shows Major General Jameh Jameh at an undisclosed location. [AFP]
    by AJE Staff

  • Canadian in Syria freed after eight months in captivity

    A Canadian lawyer working for a UN peacekeeping mission in Syria has escaped from rebel fighters who held him for eight months, the Syrian government said.

    State television showed Carl Campeau being handed on Thursday over to the senior UN official in Damascus, Yacoub El-Hillo, by deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

    A rebel source said at the time of Campeau's disappearance that he was being held for ransom by a rival brigade of Syrian rebels battling to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

    Mekdad congratulated Campeau for managing to escape from "these criminal gangs" and said the Syrian government "left no stone unturned to bring him back to the United Nations, his family and his people".

    Campeau, a legal adviser to the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), went missing in mid-February. [Reuters]
  • Syria weapons inspectors hail 'significant progress'

    Chemical inspectors have visited half the facilities to make them inoperable, but face difficulty reaching rebel areas.

    Weapons inspectors hail progress in removing Syria chemical weapons
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube on 2:58 AM

  • At least 12 people were killed on Friday in government shelling of a Syrian Kurdish town in the northern province of Aleppo, a monitoring group said.

    "Twelve Kurdish citizens, including six children ... were killed in government shelling of an area in the town of Tal-Aran," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said, adding that at least 11 other people were wounded.

    The town is east of Aleppo city, and near the town of Sfeireh, which is largely controlled by jihadist fighters and has been a key target for the regime in recent weeks.

    The Observatory said another nine people had been killed in shelling on Tal-Aran and the surrounding area on Thursday, including five children, bringing the toll in 24 hours to 21 people.

    Tal-Aran is considered strategic because of its location on the main road between Aleppo city and Sfeireh, which is near a regime military site that is believed to hold some of Syria's chemical arms.

    In eastern Syria, meanwhile, rebels advanced in the city of Deir Ezzor after fierce clashes with regime troops overnight. 

    "Clashes took place overnight between rebels and regime forces in several neighbourhoods in the city of Deir Ezzor," the Observatory said.

    The Britain-based group also reported regime air strikes and clashes in the city of Deir Ezzor, which lies in the eastern province of the same name, on Friday morning.

    The strikes left people wounded and destroyed several houses.

    The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers on the ground, said initial reports suggested rebels had taken an area near the Rashdiya district that had been under government control.

    Al Jazeera cannot independent confirm the Observatory’s reports because of restrictions on reporting from within Syria.

    [Source: AFP]

  • The Red Cross in Syria on Friday launched a video appeal for the immediate release of three kidnapped staff, warning the aid organisation's ability to help locals would be compromised.

    "It's a very, very simple appeal. I appeal from my heart in the name of humanity, on behalf of the families to release our colleagues safe and sound and unharmed," says Magne Barth, the head of the Syrian arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in the video.

    "It is clear if this situation is not resolved, it will affect negatively the aid we are trying to bring to the Syrian people.

    "We need safety and security for our staff to be able to reach out, whether it is in the field of water, or health or food to the people who need us," he said.

    Six aid workers and one Red Crescent volunteer were abducted on October 13 as their convoy drove back to the capital Damascus from delivering medical aid in the northwestern Idlib province.

  • Nine Lebanese citizens held in Syria have been released after Qatari mediation, according to the Qatar's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohamed al-Attiyah.

    Eleven Lebanese Shia were seized last year by the Northern Storm brigade while on their way home from a pilgrimage to Shia religious sites in Iran, their families said. Two were later released.

    Sunni rebels have for more than two years been fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is from the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.

    The civil war has acquired a sectarian dimension, as Shia Iran backs Assad and the Shia Lebanese Hezbollah militia fights alongside the Syrian army against the rebellion.

    The families of the nine Lebanese say they were religious pilgrims but their kidnappers accused them of belonging to Hezbollah.
  • Chemical inspectors have checked 14 out of more than 20 sites in Syria, the world's chemical weapons watchdog said on Friday as a top UN official appointed to lead the mission headed for The Hague.

    "The number of sites visited where inspection activities have been conducted has increased to 14," the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement.

    Damascus has identified a total of 20 sites but the OPCW has not provided an exact number, saying only that "more than 20 sites" are affected by the ongoing inspection.

    The Hague-based organisation said on Thursday that it had completed "nearly 50 percent" of the inspection of Syria's chemical arsenal, which has to be destroyed by mid-2014. A day earlier, it had said that 11 sites had already been inspected.

    Despite the progress made, an OPCW political advisor on Syria told journalists on Thursday that security remained a concern for the unprecedented mission in the war-torn country.

  • Syrian air force jets bombarded the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Friday after heavy overnight clashes and the killing of one of President Bashar al-Assad's top military intelligence officers, activists said.

    General Jameh Jameh was shot dead on Thursday by snipers in the midst of a battle with rebels including forces linked to al-Qaeda, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    His death, celebrated by rebels and opposition activists, marked a significant setback for Assad's bid to retain a hold over the city, capital of the eastern oil-producing province.

    A death notice published on Facebook said Jameh's body was being flown back for burial on Friday in his home village of Zama in the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean - the heartland of Assad's Alawite sect.

  • For more on the story about the Lebanese hostages' release click here

    by Amna Bagadi

  • A deadly blast has struck a suburb of Damascus with a majority Christian population on Saturday, Syria's state-run SANA news agency reported.

    The attack was carried out by "terrorists" at the entrance to Jaramana which lies adjacent to the rebel-held town of Mleha, the agency said.

    - AFP
  • Associated Press, citing SANA, reports that a number of people have been killed and wounded in Jaramana.

    Rebels have previously targeted Jaramana, a Christian and Druse area mostly loyal to President Assad, with bombings and mortar rounds.

    Assad has drawn support from Syria's ethnic and religious minorities,including Christians and members of his Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam. 

    The rebel movement is dominated by Sunni Muslims, who are a majority in Syria.
  • According to local Lebanese TV, the nine Lebanese released hostages will return to Lebanon on board a private Qatari jet, accompanied by the Qatari foreign minister and the head of Lebanon general security Abbass Ibrahim. 
  • Shelling and explosions can be heard here at the checkpoint between Jaramana and Mleha in this you tube video

    by Amna Bagadi
  • The Syrian Observatory for Human rights says that heavy clashes are also taking place between rebels and the government in several neighbourhoods in Deir Az Zor. 

    Government forces are shelling the area with fighter jets. Casualties have been reported.

    by Amna Bagadi

  • This activist video shows the aftermath of an airstrike on the neighbourhood of Jazmati in Aleppo city on Saturday. 

    by Amna Bagadi

  • Nine Shia pilgrims from Lebanon abducted in Syria last year have been freed as part of a negotiated deal, officials have said.

    "The Turks and Lebanese expect the return of the Lebanese pilgrims and the release of the captured Turkish pilots all within the next 24 to 48 hours," Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons said reporting from Beirut.

    [Al Jazeera and agencies]
  • Syrian rebels have assaulted a checkpoint in a pro-government suburb of Damascus Saturday, setting off a suicide car bomb that has killed at least 16 soldiers, AFP reports citing activists.

    The bomb was set off while rebels assaulted a checkpoint near the town of Mleiha adjoining the suburb of Jarmana, the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights said.

    Rebels control much of the countryside around Damascus but Jaramana, a Christian and Druse area, is mostly loyal to President Bashar Assad. Opposition fighters have previously targeted it with bombings and mortar rounds.

    - AP
  • The Turkish Airline pilots have been released and are on their way to Turkey as confirmed by the Lebanese Interior Ministry, Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons reports from Beirut.

    The other nine hostages are expected to arrive in Lebanon within the hour. The hostages were part of group of eleven Lebanese people seized 16 months ago.

    - Al Jazeera
  • Many of Qatar's websites shut down by a group of hackers supporting Syria's government. The group behind the attack is said to be the Syrian Electronic Army.

    - Al Jazeera
  • The nine hostages which were recently released by rebels are expected to arrive in Lebanon soon. Al Jazeera has obtained photos of the individuals on the flight over.

  • The nine hostages which were recently released by rebels are expected to arrive in Lebanon soon. Al Jazeera has obtained photos of the individuals on the flight over.

  • Syrian snipers appear to be targeting pregnant women, a British surgeon told the Times newspaper after returning from the conflict zone.

    The gunshot wounds he treated indicated that bored snipers were targeting particular parts of civilians' bodies in a bid to entertain themselves, AFP has reported.

    On a particular day, two consecutive gunshot patients were heavily pregnant women, both of whom lost their babies.

    "The women were all shot through the uterus, so that must have been where they were aiming for," he told The Times. "I can't even begin to tell you how awful it was. Usually, civilians are caught in the crossfire. This is the first time I've ever seen anything like this. This was deliberate. It was hell beyond hell."

    - AFP
  • The plane carrying the nine hostages have arrived at Beirut's international airport.

    More to follow.

    - Al Jazeera

  • Rami Abdel Rahman, the founder the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, spoke out against, what he called, the hypocrisy of the international community in focusing on chemical weapons and overlooking the "endless bloodbath" in Syria.

    Day after day, from a base in the drab central English city of Coventry, the exiled Rahman and his volunteers have counted the human toll of Syria's civil war ever since the conflict erupted in March 2011.

    "In Syria, out of more than 120,000 people killed, 500 were killed with chemical weapons. Are these more horrendous deaths than the others?" Rahman told AFP news agency in London.

    "Nothing has changed at all. The clashes continue. Blood continues to be spilled and the intensity of the conflict increases," said the 40-year old, through an Arabic translator.

    "With the focus on chemical weapons, we forget about the daily deaths of the Syrian people by shelling, tank fire, gunfire, car bombs, mortars falling on civilian areas."

    Rahman says that according to his figures the conflict is still killing 4,000 to 5,000 people a month, from soldiers, pro-government militia and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters to rebels, and civilians.

    "The regime commits dozens of atrocities every day," says Rahman, but he adds that the other side is also responsible for war crimes, as Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the al-Nusra front try to establish an "alternative dictatorship".
  • On Sunday, Lakhdar Brahimi kept up his regional push for peace talks on Syria.

    AFP news agency reported that Brahimi met with Egypt's foreign minister Saturday, saying "intense efforts" were under way to convene a Syrian peace conference in Geneva next month. 
  • A suicide car bombing and assault on a key Damascus checkpoint killed 16 Syrian soldiers in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana.

    Fighting raged for much of Saturday, with rebel mortar fire hitting Jaramana and regime aircraft striking back, according to the Syrian Observatory, which said at least 15 fighters were also killed.

    - AFP

  • Nine Lebanese men held hostage in Syria for 17 months arrived in Beirut late on Saturday.

    The nine Shias were snatched in northern Syria by the Northern Storm brigade rebels group in May 2012. Their families said they were returning overland after visiting holy sites in Iran.

    The rebels accused them of belonging to Hezbollah, which backs the Damascus regime.

    Oobay Shahbander, a Syrian opposition activist from New York, told Al Jazeera that he believes the hostages were probably foreign fighters.

    Here's what he had to say:

    These supposed pilgrims were in no shape or form innocent pilgrims that just happened to be in Syria on the front lines of the war - more than likely, they were Lebanese Hezbollah operatives working on behalf of the Iranian revolutionary guard. 

    There is no definitive proof, but we have to look at the circumstances and we have to look at the historical context where the Iranian revolutionary guards and the Lebanese Hezbollah have used operatives previously under the guise of pilgrims. 

    First of all, in the midst of a war between the Syrian revolutionary forces and the Assad regime and their allies, the fact that these supposed individuals just happened to be on a pilgrimage to some undisclosed holy site in Northern Syria, in Aleppo province, is an incredible fantastical story and one that really defies belief and logic. 

    Oobay Shahbander, Syrian opposition activist 
    by Rahul Radhakrishnan

  • No word yet on the release of more than a hundred women prisoners being held in Syria.

  • Lebanese and Turkish hostages arrive home

  • Activists are reporting a large explosion in Hama. The explosion seems to have targeted a
    government checkpoint Al Sinaa highway.
    Clashes are ongoing in the area and
    gunfire can be heard.
    Ambulances were seen rushing to the scene.

    Syrian State TV say the blast was a result of a car bomb and are reporting deaths and injuries. 

    More soon.

  • Activist video shows a cloud of smoke from the area where the blast reportedly took place.

    Al Jazeera cannot independently verify these reports, but Syrian State TV and activists say that the blast was from a car-bomb targeting a government checkpoint. 

    More soon. 
    Screen grab from video posted by Facebook user ابو قيس 
    by Rahul Radhakrishnan

  • Regime force warplanes launched two air strikes targeting Tameco complex as they attempted to retake the complex

    Al Jazeera cannot independently verify this activist video.

  • Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said on Sunday that peace talks aimed at ending the conflict in Syria would take place on Nov. 23 in Geneva. 

    "I discussed the Syria file with Lakhdar Brahimi and it was decided that the Geneva meeting would take place on November 23 and arrangements are being made to prepare for this conference," Elaraby told reporters in Cairo after a meeting with Brahimi.

    Brahimi, however, said at the same news conference that "the date has not been officially set".

    - AP

  • There were two airstrikes on Tafas town, 10 km north of Daraa city. No casualties reported yet.

    Al Jazeera cannot independently verify this activist video.

  • Shelling on al-Rastan town, a rebel stronghold in the northern countryside of Homs, no causalities reported as residents from the area have fled.

    Al Jazeera cannot independently verify this activist video.

  • Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said Sunday that a key international conference aimed at ending Syria's civil war will be held in Geneva. The announcement comes after talks with Arab League UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi who has been touring the region in a communication effort that hopes to bring different voices and sides to the table.

    "The conference cannot take place without the presence of the opposition which represents the majority of the Syrian people who oppose the regime," Brahimi added.

    The Geneva conference will attempt to get opposing sides to agree on a transitional government in Syria based on a plan adopted in June 2012.

    - AP
  • A suicide bomber blew up a truck packed with explosives at an army checkpoint in Syria's central city of Hama. At least 30 people have been killed.

    "At least 31 people, including regime troops, were killed when a man detonated a truck laden with explosives at a checkpoint near an agricultural vehicles company on the road linking Hama to Salamiyeh," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    More here.

  • UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will visit Tehran next week for talks to prepare for a proposed peace conference on Syria, Iranian state media reports.

    The official IRNA news agency reported that Brahimi would arrive in Iran on Saturday to "prepare the ground" for Syrian peace talks that could be held in Geneva next month.

  • Residents run from a fire at a petrol and oil shop in Aleppo's Bustan Al-Qasr neighbourhood on October 20, 2013. Witnesses said the fire was caused by a bullet fired by a sniper loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing, a passageway separating Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr, which is under the rebels' control and Al-Masharqa neighborhood, an area controlled by the regime. [REUTERS]
    by Tamila Varshalomidze
    Residents try to extinguish a fire in a petrol and oil shop in Aleppo's Bustan Al-Qasr neighbourhood on October 20, 2013. Witnesses said the fire was caused by a bullet fired by a sniper loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing, a passageway separating Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr, which is under the rebels' control and Al-Masharqa neighborhood, an area controlled by the regime. [REUTERS] 
    by Tamila Varshalomidze
    Residents try to extinguish a fire in a petrol and oil shop in Aleppo's Bustan Al-Qasr neighbourhood on October 20, 2013. Witnesses said the fire was caused by a bullet fired by a sniper loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing, a passageway separating Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr, which is under the rebels' control and Al-Masharqa neighborhood, an area controlled by the regime. [REUTERS] 
    by Tamila Varshalomidze

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  • Lebanese ex-hostage Ali Termos says his Syrian rebel captors moved him 13 times during his 17-month ordeal, constantly stringing him along with the lie that freedom was hours away.

    "My nerves were wrecked. I counted that we were moved 13 times, maybe more," he said in his living room, hours after his release and return home late on Saturday via Turkey.

    "They told us we would be freed 100 times. But they were lying, they would move us and then there was no release. It tormented our morale," he told AFP.

    Termos was among 11 Shia men abducted by rebel fighters in northern Syria in May 2012 as they were returning from a pilgrimage to a Shia sacred site in Iran along with female relatives. [AFP]

  • The UN-Arab League envoy for Syria says peace talks are in doubt unless a "credible opposition" takes part, overcoming rifts among its factions, as dozens are killed in a truck bombing in the Syrian city of Hama.

    Lakhdar Brahimi refused to give a firm date for a new round of talks in Geneva as he spoke to reporters in Cairo Sunday alongside Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, who had said preparations were under way for November 23. 

    Brahimi cautioned that the meeting would only go ahead in the presence of a "credible opposition representing an important segment of the Syrian people" opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

    "There is an agreement to attempt to hold Geneva 2 in November, but the date has not been officially set," he said. "The final date of the conference will be announced at a later time... and we hope it will take place in November."

    Both officials acknowledged the obstacles to a peace conference as Arab and Western diplomats, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, were preparing for a Friends of Syria meeting with opposition leaders on Tuesday in London. [AFP]
    Lakhdar Brahimi (left) and Nabil al-Arabi (right) talked to media in Cairo on Sunday 
    by Tamila Varshalomidze

  • Freed Lebanese hostage speaks out
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube on 9:33 AM

  • European Union foreign ministers have arrived in Luxembourg for talks that will have the Syria conflict high on its agenda.

    Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said on Monday that the delegates will discuss how the bloc should act on the issue of Syria's chemical weapons, political developments and humanitarian crisis. FULL STORY

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