Posts Tagged ‘Syria’
On Friday, prior to the disclosure of the leaked documents, a Syrian mortar barrage landed in the downtown of a Turkish city on the border with Syria, damaging homes and workplaces. The barrage came from inside Syria, where Syrian troops and opposition forces have been fighting.
Turkey has deployed dozens of armored vehicles to the region near the Syrian border and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu threatened military action: “I would like the public to know that if such breaches towards our borders continue we are reserving our rights and we are exercising our rights.”
If I’m not mistaken, Davutoglu has issued exactly the same statement dozens of times in the last 18 months. Zaman (Istanbul)Share on Facebook
John Cantlie said the fighter told him he had taken two years’ leave from a London hospital to travel to the Middle East for holy war.
The medic was said to have described his hospital experience in detail and carried NHS medical kit, saying he planned to return to the UK to become a trauma consultant in A&E, according to Mr Cantlie’s account to a newspaper.
Last night, MI6 was said to be trying to track down the doctor.
Mr Cantlie, 41, and Dutch colleague Jeroen Oerlemans were held captive at a camp two miles inside the Syrian border last month before being rescued by Syrian rebels.
“I asked him for his help as we were both from London. But he refused to even send a text to my girlfriend to say we were alive. He said he would be beheaded if he did.
“When we asked his name he said ‘Just call me the doctor. I’m the only one here.’ He told us he had a wife and a child in London.
“He spoke with a south London accent and said he had taken two years out from his work as an NHS doctor to fight jihad.”
The doctor, believed to be 28 and of Pakistani descent, was apparently one of ten to 15 Britons at the camp – many of them from London.
The captors belonged to the al Absi organisation, a small group of militants trying to use the revolt in Syria to convert the country to a sharia law state.
According to Mr Cantlie, the doctor said that “treating jihadists wounded in battle” was good training for his future career as a trauma specialist in the UK.
The man treated the photographers’ injuries when they were shot trying to escape but seemed disappointed when two others, who were Syrian, were not beheaded, saying they were “definitely spies”, it was claimed.Share on Facebook
The U.S. says it fears a “massacre” may be imminent in the Syrian city of Aleppo, as reports indicate tank units are heading for the area. The Syrian military is currently bombarding the city with helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, and mortars. The assault on Syria’s biggest city follows the assassination of two of Bashar al-Assad‘s top security officials on July 18. 34 people were reportedly killed in the Aleppo area on Thursday.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Thursday that his government would not allow the Kurdish terrorist group PKK to operate in Northern Syria. Kurdish groups affiliated with the PKK, which has fought a decades-long insurgency in Southeastern Turkey, has reportedly established control over several northern Syrian towns as government troops have redeployed to Damascus.
Turkey has largely turned a blind eye to Syrian rebels operating on its territory and according to reports, has set up a secret “nerve center” near the border with help Qatar and Saudi Arabia to direct aid to the anti-Assad forces.Share on Facebook
Russia will not deliver new weapons to Syria so long as the situation in that country is unstable, an official at the body in charge of monitoring Russia’s arms trade said Monday, state media reported.
“Russia, as well as other countries, is concerned by the situation in Syria,” said Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, deputy head of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, RIA Novosti reported. “We are not talking about new arms supplies to that country.”
“Until the situation stabilizes we will not deliver any new weapons (to Syria),” said Dzirkaln.
He specifically said Russia would not supply Syria with Yak-130 aircraft. Russia has signed a $550 million contract for the delivery of three dozen such planes, RIA Novosti said.
Still, it was not clear whether the official was saying Russia would discontinue the delivery of all arms, or whether it was stopping just the supply of “new weapons.” The report seemed to leave open the possibility that Russia could continue to deliver some arms to Syria under existing contracts.
Russia has been the long-time principal supplier of arms to Syria since the days when it was the Soviet Union. The weapons sales have more than doubled in recent years. According to Congressional Research Service, Russia sold Syria $4.7 billion in arms from 2007 to 2010, compared with $2.1 billion from 2003 to 2006.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last month the continued supply of arms from Russia has strengthened al-Assad’s regime, despite denials by Russian President Vladimir Putin that any munitions it was providing to Syria were being used against its own people.
Also last month, a shipment of refurbished Russian helicopters headed for Syria had to turn around and return to Russia after its British insurance company dropped coverage on the ship carrying the helicopters.
News of the suspended shipments comes the same day the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria said al-Assad has agreed on “an approach” to ending the bloodshed in Syria.
Kofi Annan made the statement after meeting with al-Assad in Damascus. He then flew to Tehran for meetings with Iranian leaders about the Syrian conflict.
Annan gave no details of the “approach” al-Assad agreed to but said he vowed to share it with the “armed opposition.”
Annan also said al-Assad “reassured me of the government’s commitment” to Annan’s six-point peace plan, brokered in March, which has done nothing to stop the deadly violence.
Syria said the two men discussed a recent gathering of world leaders in Geneva, Switzerland, aimed at taking steps to bring peace to Syria, “with emphasis on the need for dialogue to be among Syrians and led by Syrians” — a phrase emphasizing Syria’s resistance to foreign intervention of any sort in the conflict.
Later, Annan announced he was in Tehran “to discuss the situation in Syria” and “to see how we can work together to help settle the situation.”
Iran’s state-run Press TV said he planned to “hold talks with senior officials.”
Even as Annan was in Syria, al-Assad’s regime reported it had conducted live-fire training exercises that simulated a defense against foreign attacks. Throughout the 16-month uprising, the regime has blamed violence on armed terrorist groups involving people from outside Syria.
At least 41 people were killed Monday as the Syrian regime continued its crackdown, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria opposition group. It said at least 60 people were killed in fighting Sunday.
Monday’s violence included house-to-house raids and arrests in Daraa and “very intense shelling” in Homs, with helicopters flying overhead, the LCC said. Eighteen of the deaths were in Idlib, the LCC said.
Gruesome video from the town of Areeha in Idlib showed blood-soaked bodies being dumped onto pickup trucks amid apparent destruction.
A man is heard yelling, “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) and calling the dead “victims of the indiscriminate shelling.”
As with so many other videos that have emerged from the conflict, it was impossible to know the full story behind the images.
Heavy gunfire also erupted Monday in the northern Lebanese state of Akkar near the border with Syria, the official Lebanese news agency reported. A number of shells fell inside Lebanese territory, it said.
CNN can not independently confirm reports of violence as Syria has severely limited the access of international journalists.
Syrian state-run TV, meanwhile, broadcast what it called “confessions of four terrorists who admitted to committing murder, rape, abduction and robbery, in addition to smuggling weapons and gunmen, in Homs’ countryside.” The so-called confessions aired Sunday, state-run news agency SANA reported Monday.
It said one of the terrorists “started off by being part of a group that attempted to incite people to protest, and his job was to transport protesters from mosques to squares in the town of al-Qseir.”
SANA reported that on Monday, authorities “clashed with an armed terrorist group” on the outskirts of Aleppo.
The United Nations says more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the violence in Syria. Opposition groups give an even higher figure.
The violence erupted in March 2011 when Syrian forces launched a brutal crackdown on anti-government demonstrations, part of the Arab Spring that swept through several countries.
While members of the U.N. Security Council, which includes the United States, have called for an end to the violence and for al-Assad to step aside, efforts to adopt a resolution that would allow for aid to the rebels have been blocked by Russia and China, key Syrian trade partners.
Russia and China are strongly opposed to armed intervention, saying the outcome in Syria should be decided by its people.Share on Facebook
Pro-regime militiamen swept through farmlands in central Syria slaughtering dozens including women and children, activists said Thursday, sparking opposition calls for increased military raids by armed rebels.
The latest massacre came as Washington demanded a full transfer of power in Syria, setting the stage for a renewed diplomatic stand-off after Russia and China said they were strongly against intervention and regime change.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 55 people were killed in Wednesday’s assault on the Al-Kubeir area of the central province of Hama, and added that UN observers were rushing to the site to check on the massacre.
“There are 49 confirmed and identified victims in Al-Kubeir, the majority of them from the Al-Yateem family,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory.
“Among the dead are 18 women and children,” he said, adding that six other people were also killed on Wednesday in a village near Al-Kubeir, which is in a farming area northwest of Hama city.
Earlier tolls from opposition groups had put the death toll at between 87 and 100.
They and activists, citing survivors and witnesses, said the militiamen stormed into the small settlement on Wednesday afternoon armed with guns and knives after regime forces had earlier pounded it with shells.
They then went on a killing spree, hacking, stabbing and shooting residents as they tried to flee.
A video posted on YouTube showed bodies of several children, including babies, wrapped in blankets and white plastic body bags, apparently victims of the massacre. Some were charred beyond recognition.
Each body had a label, and the video, whose authenticity could not immediately be verified, shows the faces of several dead infants. Dried blood can be seen on the face of one child.
The Syrian government denied responsibility, saying in a televised statement: “What a few media have reported on what happened in Al-Kubeir, in the Hama region, is completely false.”
“A terrorist group committed a heinous crime in the Hama region which claimed nine victims. The reports by the media are contributing to spilling the blood of Syrians,” the statement said.
The opposition called for stepped up military assaults against regime forces in the wake of the reported massacre.
“The Syrian National Council calls on the (rebel) Free Syrian Army to step up military assaults on regime forces to break the siege against the civilian population and protect civilians throughout the country,” Mohammed Sermini, spokesman for the coalition, told AFP.
In a statement, the SNC also urged demonstrations on Thursday and Friday to denounce the killings.
The Al-Kubeir incident comes after at least 108 people were killed in a two-day massacre that began on May 25 near the central town of Houla, most of them women and children who were summarily executed, according to the United Nations.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said in reaction to news of the latest “brutal and sickening” killings that the international community has to do more to isolate Damascus.
“We need to do much more to isolate Syria, to isolate the regime, to put the pressure on and to demonstrate that the whole world wants to see a political transition from this illegitimate regime to actually see one that can take care of its people,” Cameron told reporters during a quick stop in Oslo.
In Beijing on Thursday, leaders of a grouping led by Russia and China issued a statement opposing military intervention in the Middle East.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) also called for a “peaceful resolution of the Syrian problem through political dialogue” in a statement released at the end of a two-day summit.
“Member states are against military intervention into this region’s affairs, forcing a ‘handover of power’ or using unilateral sanctions,” it said, referring to the Middle East and North Africa.
Russia and China have vetoed two Security Council resolutions against Assad’s regime, but backed UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan’s blueprint to end the conflict in which more than 13,500 people have died since March 2011, according to the Observatory.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has voiced mounting frustration with the Chinese and Russian positions, sought to mobilise support in Turkey, calling on the international community to “close off the regime’s economic life lines.”
“We can’t break faith with the Syrian people who want real change,” said a State Department official who briefed reporters late on Wednesday on Clinton’s meeting in Istanbul with officials from 16 regional and European powers.
Clinton set forth “essential elements and principles that we believe should guide that post-Assad transition strategy, including Assad’s full transfer of power,” the official said.
The Annan plan was supposed to begin with a ceasefire from April 12 but doubts have emerged about its effectiveness as violence has raged on despite the deployment of nearly 300 UN observers.Share on Facebook
The Syrian government on Sunday denied responsibility for an assault on villages that left more than 100 people dead, blaming the killings on “hundreds of heavily armed gunmen” who also attacked soldiers in the area.
Friday’s assault on the central area of Houla was one of the bloodiest single events in Syria’s 15-month-old uprising, and gruesome images of dozens of children killed in the attacks prompted a wave of international outrage.
The United Nations said that dozens of children under the age of 10 were among the dead and issued a statement appearing to hold the Syrian regime responsible.
The Security Council issued a press statement Sunday that “condemned in the strongest possible terms” the killings in Houla. It blamed Syrian forces for artillery and tank shelling of residential areas. It also condemned the killings of civilians “by shooting at close range and by severe physical abuse,” but avoided saying who was responsible for these attacks.
Britain and France had proposed issuing a press statement condemning the attack on civilians and pointing the finger at the Syrian government for Friday’s massacre. But Russia called for an emergency council meeting, saying it first wanted a briefing by Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the unarmed U.N. observer mission.
Persistent violence has cast doubt about the future of international efforts to halt bloodshed between the regime and forces fighting against it.
The brutality of the killings became clear in amateur videos posted online that showed scores of bodies, many of them young children, in neat rows and covered with blood and deep wounds. A later video showed the bodies, wrapped in white sheets, being placed in a sprawling mass grave.
Gen. Mood told the Security Council that U.N. observers at the scene now estimate 108 people were killed in Houla, U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters outside the council chamber. The U.N. counted 49 children and 34 women among the dead.
“We categorically deny the responsibility of government forces for the massacre,” Mr. Makdissi said Sunday during a news conference in Damascus.
Mr. Makdissi said “hundreds of heavily armed gunmen carrying machine guns, mortars and anti-tank missiles” launched a simultaneous attack against five army positions from several locations, starting about 2 p.m. and continuing for nine hours.
Three soldiers were killed and 16 were wounded, he said.
“There were no Syrian tanks or artillery in the vicinity,” Mr. Makdissi said, adding that gunmen used anti-tank missiles and “Syrian troops retaliated in defense of their positions.”Share on Facebook
Tens of thousands of Syrians braved tear gas and gunfire to protest across the country Friday, vowing to storm the capital Damascus to oust President Bashar Assad as the European Union ramped up pressure on the regime by imposing sanctions on his wife and other close relatives.
Security forces deployed in many cities to disperse protests, but opposition groups reported fewer protester deaths than in past weeks. Activists said more than 20 people were killed nationwide in army attacks on opposition areas or clashes with armed rebels.
International condemnation and high-level diplomacy have failed to stop the year-old Syria crisis, which the U.N. says has killed more than 8,000 people, many of them civilian protesters.
Friday’s sanctions bring to 13 the sets imposed by the EU to try to compel the regime to halt its violent crackdown on dissent. The U.S. and others have also imposed sanctions. Previous measures were aimed at Syrian companies and Assad himself.
Those imposed Friday targeted Asma Assad, Syria’s British-born first lady, banning her from traveling to EU countries and freezing any assets she may have there. They also included the president’s mother, sister, sister-in-law and eight government ministers.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said sanctions were weakening the regime.
“Their economic situation becomes ever more difficult. Syria has few reserves,” he said. “We think its economic situation will become untenable.”
While the measures have hurt Syria’s economy, they appear to have had little effect on the regime’s actions. It has regularly deployed troops, pro-government thugs and snipers to attack anti-regime protests. Human rights groups accuse the regime of shelling civilian areas and torturing and killing detainees in its push to stop the uprising, which it blames on terrorists carrying out a foreign conspiracy.
In Geneva, the U.N. Human Rights Council blasted Syria’s crackdown and extended the mandate of a U.N. expert panel tasked with reporting on alleged abuses in the country.
A resolution passed by the 47-member body condemned “widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms perpetrated” by Syrian authorities, including summary executions, torture and sexual abuse of detainees and children.
Also Friday, UNICEF said at least 500 children have been killed in the conflict, while hundreds more have been injured, detained or abused. The U.N. children’s agency said schools have closed and health centers have shut down or become too dangerous for many families to reach.
Throughout the conflict, China and Russia have protected Syria from censure by the U.N. Security Council, fearing a strongly worded resolution condemning Assad could pave the way for military intervention, as happened in Libya last year.
Russia, however, softened its stance Thursday by calling for Assad to pull his troops out of Syrian cities. The U.N. has been trying to secure a cease-fire so all parties could hold a dialogue on a political solution to end the conflict. So far, both sides have refused talks.
Regime forces continued to pound oppositions areas Friday, and activists reported major shelling and fire with heavy machine-guns in the provinces of Homs in central Syria, Idlib in the north and Daraa.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 23 civilians were killed in government attacks Friday. Government troops and armed rebels clashed in a number of places, with at 13 soldiers and three rebel fighter killed, the group said.
Another group, the Local Coordination Committees, said government troops killed 36 civilians on Friday. It did not provide details on each civilian killed.
Activists reported dozens of anti-regime protests in towns and cities across Syria under the banner “Damascus, we are coming.” Security forces broke up many of them with gunfire and tear gas, and there were reports of wounded.
Activists reported fewer protester deaths and Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Observatory, said he had yet to confirm a single protester death on Friday, remarking that this was unusual.
“We hope it happens like this every time because we don’t want anyone to die,” he said.
The Syrian government has barred most media from working in the country, and activist accounts could not be independently verified.
Syria’s state news agency said hundreds marched in a pro-Assad demonstration in the capital Damascus and published photos of them carrying Syrian flags and Assad photos.
In Jordan’s capital Amman, blind Syrian cleric Ahmad al-Sayasneh called on a congregation of 1,000 Syrians to “remain steadfast until our tyrant leadership is ousted.”
It was the cleric’s first public appearance since fleeing Syria two months ago. Al-Sayasneh rose to prominence though his fiery sermons calling for civil disobedience at a mosque in the southern Syrian town of Daraa, considered the uprising’s birthplace.Share on Facebook
In comments today to Russian media, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has accused unnamed Western states of secretly sending arms and advising the Syrian rebel factions, warning the move was fueling a crisis.
Ryabkov also condemned NATO and the Arab League for attempting to use the UN Security Council to facilitate a regime change in Syria, saying the council was “not a tool for intervention in internal affairs” and threatening “drastic measures” if the policy continues. Though there is as of yet no solid proof of any nation arming any rebel factions, the Turkish government has openly backed the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and is providing media access to its leadership through the Turkish Foreign Ministry.Share on Facebook
Scotland Yard said six people were arrested on suspicion of public order offences this afternoon when a chanting crowd used missiles to smash several of the building’s windows.
It came hours after five were detained for storming the embassy in protest against the brutal crackdown of the Syrian uprising and another on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.
Tensions were fuelled by an assault by Syrian security forces against the southern city of Homs overnight which was reported to have killed upwards of 250 people.
Angry scenes in central London were mirrored in cities across Europe and the Middle East – including Libya and Tunisia where Arab Spring uprisings have already succeeded in removing regimes.
Tunisia announced that it would withdraw its recognition of President Bashar Assad’s leadership and expel the Syrian ambassador.
But the Homs bombardment, the bloodiest episode so far in the 11-month battle between Assad and pro-democracy protesters, did not unlock a diplomatic stand-off over UN action.
Britain accused China and Russia of encouraging Assad’s “killing machine” after they vetoed a draft resolution aimed at ending the violence and securing a peaceful transfer of power.
Intense lobbying at a rare weekend session of the UN in New York failed to end the two countries’ resistance – sparking bitter international condemnation.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the twin veto was “an hour of shame” for the UN and that Russia and China had sided with the regime over the people of Syria and the Arab League.
“Their approach lets the Syrian people down, and will only encourage President Assad’s brutal regime to increase the killing, as it has done in Homs over the past 24 hours,” he said.
The draft resolution, tabled by Morocco, did not impose sanctions or open the door to military action and contained nothing that warranted opposition, he said.
It repeated conditions set down by Arab League foreign ministers last month for a Syrian-led political transition in which Assad would delegate his powers to a deputy.
Mr Hague said the assault on Homs – which has been at the centre of the pro-democracy protests – was “all the more chilling” as it came on the 30th anniversary of the Hama massacre.
Around 20,000 people died in the 1982 operation by the Syrian army – then under the orders of president Hafez Assad – the father of the present leader.
The UN says around 6,000 people have died so far in the latest crackdown and Mr Hague said 2,000 had died since the last time the two countries exercised the veto.
“How many more need to die before Russia and China allow the UN Security Council to act?”
Russia and China were condemned in a series of outspoken attacks by the other members of the Security Council – the US saying it was “disgusted”.
The UK’s ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, said: “They have failed in their responsibility as permanent members of the Security Council and they have done so on the most shameful day of the Syrian killing machine’s 300 days of repression.”
A crowd of around 150 tried to storm the London embassy in the early hours and a similar-sized crowd demanding the closure of the diplomatic post and throwing missiles returned later on.
As passions flared, protesters climbed on top of barriers before police reinforcements arrived in large vans and the demonstrators were driven back across the road.
After some confusion and a brief confrontation with officers who had their sticks drawn, the group was penned in behind barriers across the road from the embassy.
At least one police officer was taken to hospital with minor injuries.
The British Foreign Office condemned the violence and said security was being reviewed by Scotland Yard which would take “appropriate action to ensure the safety of the building”.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell joined the calls for the Syrian ambassador to be expelled.
“It is intolerable that we allow the Syrian ambassador to remain in London after this latest massacre of civilians by his government,” he said.Share on Facebook