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Syria's War

Breaking news coverage of developments in Syria's War and the broader regional conflict, including allegations of the deadly use of chemical weapons and the international community's response

  • Analysis: Whether or not US strikes, Syria's regime looks set to survive

    President Barack Obama has insisted all along that the military strikes on Syria for which he now seeks congressional approval are not designed to pick a winner in that country's civil war. And that's bad news for those fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

    Two-and-a-half years into the rebellion, be it because of the military "facts on the ground" or the deadlock in the diplomatic arena, one point has become increasingly clear: the Assad regime is winning.

    It seems improbable that Assad is still in power, let alone prevailing on the battlefield, given his regime's ham-fisted handling of everything from a few boys writing anti-Assad graffiti in the backwater town of Dara’a in March 2011, to its alleged chemical weapons attacks in the suburbs of Damascus last week -- two events that bookend a war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives, cost some $85 billion, and laid waste to many of Syria's cities. But it's worth remembering that to win, all Assad needs to do is survive. By that measure, he may even be in less trouble today than he was two years ago.

    What's notable, in fact, is that despite its outrage over the gruesome death of some 1,400 people -- including more than 400 children -- in the suspected gas attack last week at Ghouta, the Obama administration is not even considering intervention on the scale necessary to bring down Assad -- something that rebel forces are clearly in no position to achieve without massive foreign military involvement.

    Read more.
  • In an interview with Russian state TV channel Rossiya 24, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad says he will send the documents required to join Chemical Weapons Convention over the next couple of days.

    Assad says that the threat of US intervention had no influence on his decision to relinquish Syria's chemical weapons, and if it wasn't for the Russian initiative Damascus would never have discussed the idea of turning over chemical weapons with anyone else.

    Assad added that any war against Syria would become a war that would destroy the entire region.
  • Assad: If it wasn't for the Russian initiative, we would never have discussed this [removing chemical weapons] with anyone else.
  • #Assad says Russian proposal, not threat of US intervention, influenced his decision to relinquish chemical weapons
  • President Obama spoke briefly about the US-Russia talks in Geneva today at the beginning of a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room:

    "John Kerry is overseas and meeting on the topic that we spent a lot of time on over the last several weeks, the situation in Syria and how we can make sure that chemical weapons are not used against innocent people," the president says. "I am hopeful that the discussions that Secretary Kerry has with Foreign Minister Lavrov as well as some of the other players in this can yield a concrete result and I know that he is going to be working very hard over the next several days over the possibilities there."
  • Assad tells Russian TV: This is a 2-way street and (any arrangement) should be based on the US removing the threat of force [trans]. #Syria
  • In an interview with Russian state TV channel Rossiya 24, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad says he expects to start handing over information on chemical weapons to international groups on month after Damascus joins the Chemical Weapons Convention. [Reuters]
  • Obama says he is hopeful that discussions on #Syria between Kerry, Russia's Lavrov will have positive result-@Reuters
  • Assad tells Russian TV: #Syria will follow the standard procedure for getting rid of chemical weapons. But this is not a one-sided process.
  • Assad tells Rossiya 24: We don't have trust in or relations with the US. Russia is the only country [that can bring about an agreement].

  • This video shows General Salim Idriss, the chief of staff of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), making a statement on a Russian proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under international control.

    In the video, Idriss declares the “unequivocal rejection of the Russian initiative”, according to the provided subtitles. However, he adds that the SMC is seeking the punishment of those responsible for using chemical weapons at the International Criminal Court in addition to the securing of the weapons.

    Source: Soori Hur via Storyful

  • In an interview with Russian state TV, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says his government has agreed to surrender its chemical weapons "in response to Russia's initiative and not because of the U.S. threat of attack", the Associated Press reports:

    Assad told Russia's state Rossiya 24 news channel in an interview that is set to be broadcast fully later Thursday that "Syria is transferring chemical weapons under international control because of Russia."

    He added that "the U.S. threats hadn't influenced" his government's decision.

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has published a an op-ed in the New York Times cautioning the US government against a military strike in Syria.  "Events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders," the president wrote. "It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies."

    Relations between us have passed through different stages.
    We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

    The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

    No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

    The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

    Read the rest at the New York Times

  • Political stalemate threatens Syria chemical weapons removal

    As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov prepare to meet in Geneva on Thursday, hoping to find a political path to avoiding military intervention in the Syrian civil war, a messy and complicated political stalemate could be looming.

    Russia has rejected U.S. and French demands for a binding U.N. resolution that would put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control -- an idea proposed by Russia -- and condemn their use by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, with "very severe consequences" for Syrian non-compliance.

    And in Damascus, a senior government official said the Russian proposal is a "broad headline" that still needs to be developed. He said Syria was ready to sign a chemical weapons convention, but not if such a move is forced by foreign powers.

    The Russian government -- eager to avoid U.S. intervention in Moscow's ally Syria -- has seized on a divided congress and American public, who do not have much appetite for engaging in another war and accuse President Barack Obama's administration of not paying more attention to more pressing domestic issues, such as the rising debt ceiling and immigration

    Read more.
  • Psaki: A (UN) resolution is certainly what we're pursuing - Live blog: #Syria

  • Psaki: Our willingness to go to Congress, President's willingness to put military action on table 'makes clear our disgust with the regime'
  • Psaki: We're not predetermining that we're going to approve of whatever proposal we talk through in the next several days #Syria
  • Psaki: Kerry expected to hold at least two days of talks in Geneva #Syria
  • Psaki: Kerry to meet UN #Syria envoy Brahimi in Geneva
  • Psaki: We have a number of tracks here and a range of options - Live blog: #Syria
  • Psaki, on Lavrov's comments: There's no question that was a positive step - Live blog: #Syria

  • Psaki: I can't predict what will or won't come out of the UN Security Council #Syria
  • UN Human Rights Council releases update to report on war crimes in #Syria - live blog
  • Psaki: We are working toward a binding UN Security Council resolution - Live blog: #Syria
  • Psaki on Russian initiative: In this stage, our goal is to test seriousness of the proposal, talk about specifics of how it would get done
  • The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, a group established on August 22 by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011, has released an update to its report on the ongoing crisis in Syria. 

    From the report summary: 

    Government and pro-government forces have continued to conduct widespread attacks on the civilian population, committing murder, torture, rape and enforce disappearance as crimes against humanity. They have laid siege to neighborhoods and subjected them to indiscriminate shelling. Government forces have committed gross violations of human rights and war crimes of torture, hostage taking, murder, execution without due process, rape, attacking projected objects and pillage.

    Anti-government armed groups have committee war crimes, including murder, execution without due process, torture, hostage taking and attacking protected objects. They have besieged and indiscriminately shelled civilian neighborhoods. 

    Anti-government and Kurdish armed groups have recruited and used child soldiers in hostilities.

    The perpetrators of these violations and crimes, on all sides, act in defiance of international law. They do not fear accountability. Referral to justice is imperative.

    There is no military solution to this conflict. Those who supply arms create but an illusion of victory. A political solution founded upon tenets of the Geneva communique is the only path to peace.

    Here's the Commission's statement

    The conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic has taken a dangerous turn. The majority of casualties result from unlawful attacks using conventional weapons. Nevertheless, the debate over what international action to take, if any, has assumed new urgency following the alleged use of chemical weapons in August. As stated by the Secretary-General in a press conference on 9 September, there is a need for accountability, “both to bring to justice those who used them – should Dr. Sellström confirm their use – and to deter anyone else from using these abhorrent methods of warfare”. 

    As detailed in the Commission’s most recent report, released today, with fighting raging between Government forces, pro-Government forces, anti-Government armed groups and Kurdish armed groups, it is civilians who continue to pay the price for the failure to negotiate an end to this conflict. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost. Over six million Syrians have fled their homes, each with a story of devastation and loss. Entire communities now live in tents or containers outside Syria’s borders, with millions more displaced inside Syria. A society has been ripped apart.

    Failure to bring about a political settlement has allowed the conflict not only to deepen in its intransigence but also to widen – expanding to new actors and to new, previously unimaginable crimes. For the Commission, charged with investigating violations of international law committed by all parties to the conflict, any response must be founded upon the protection of civilians. The nature of the war raging in Syria is such that the number of violations by all sides goes hand in hand with the intensity of the conflict itself. With the spectre of international military involvement, Syria – and the region – face further conflagration, leading to increased civilian suffering.

    Protection of human rights and respect for international humanitarian law are closely interlinked with the UN Charter, particularly with action by the Security Council. To help ensure compliance, the Security Council must be engaged as a forum to leverage the parties to the conflict in Syria as well as influential states on the issue of the protection of civilians.

    There is an urgent need for a cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiations, leading to a political settlement. To elect military action in Syria will not only intensify the suffering inside the country but will also serve to keep such a settlement beyond our collective reach.

  • Carney: There are going to be no boots on the ground involved in the Syrian civil war - Live blog:
  • #Timmermans to Al Jazeera: We have some institutions that can analyse CW so we are always prepared to help the OPCW... #Syria
  • #Timmermans to Al Jazeera: The OPCW (chemical weapons watchdog) is in The Hague so we have a lot of expertise in this area. #Syria
  • #Dutch FM Frans #Timmermans tells Al Jazeera his country is ready to help any effort to put Syrian CW under international control.
  • On #Syria, the President remains clear that we will preserve the decisive ability to exercise the military option if & when he orders it.
  • Here's the full text the of President Obama's remarks on the ongoing crisis in Syria, as transcribed by the Washington Post:

    My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk to you about Syria, why it matters and where we go from here.

    Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. Over 100,000 people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America’s worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition, and to shape a political settlement, but I have resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over 1,000 people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening: men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath, a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk.

    On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits, a crime against humanity and a violation of the laws of war.

    This was not always the case. In World War I, American G.I.s were among the many thousands killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe. In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust. Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them. And in 1997, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved an international agreement prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, now joined by 189 governments that represent 98 percent of humanity.

    On August 21st, these basic rules were violated, along with our sense of common humanity. No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria. The world saw thousands of videos, cell phone pictures, and social media accounts from the attack, and humanitarian organizations told stories of hospitals packed with people who had symptoms of poison gas.

    Moreover, we know the Assad regime was responsible. In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces. Shortly after those rockets landed, the gas spread, and hospitals filled with the dying and the wounded.

    We know senior figures in Assad’s military machine reviewed the results of the attack and the regime increased their shelling of the same neighborhoods in the days that followed. We’ve also studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site that tested positive for sarin.

    When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory, but these things happened. The facts cannot be denied.

    The question now is what the United States of America and the international community is prepared to do about it, because what happened to those people -- to those children -- is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security. Let me explain why.

    If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield, and it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons and to use them to attack civilians.

    If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel. And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path.

    This is not a world we should accept. This is what’s at stake. And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use.

    That’s my judgment as commander-in-chief, but I’m also the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. So even though I possess the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security to take this debate to Congress. I believe our democracy is stronger when the president acts with the support of Congress, and I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together. This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president and more and more burdens on the shoulders of our troops, while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.

    Now, I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of any military action -- no matter how limited -- is not going to be popular. After all, I’ve spent four-and-a-half years working to end wars, not to start them. Our troops are out of Iraq. Our troops are coming home from Afghanistan. And I know Americans want all of us in Washington -- especially me -- to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home, putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class. It’s no wonder then that you’re asking hard questions.

    So let me answer some of the most important questions that I’ve heard from members of Congress and that I’ve read in letters that you’ve sent to me. First, many of you have asked, won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are still recovering from our involvement in Iraq. A veteran put it more bluntly: This nation is sick and tired of war.

    My answer is simple. I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective, deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.

    Others have asked whether it’s worth acting if we don’t take out Assad. Now, some members of Congress have said there’s no point in simply doing a pinprick strike in Syria.

    Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.

    I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can makes Assad -- or any other dictator -- think twice before using chemical weapons.

    Other questions involve the dangers of retaliation. We don’t dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military. Any other -- any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day. Neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise, and our ally, Israel, can defend itself with overwhelming force, as well as the unshakable support of the United States of America.

    Many of you have asked a broader question: Why should we get involved at all in a place that’s so complicated and where, as one person wrote to me, those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights?

    It’s true that some of Assad’s opponents are extremists. But Al Qaida will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death.

    The majority of the Syrian people, and the Syrian opposition we work with, just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom. And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.

    Finally, many of you have asked, why not leave this to other countries or seek solutions short of force? As several people wrote to me, we should not be the world’s policemen.

    I agree. And I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions. Over the last two years, my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warnings and negotiations, but chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.

    However, over the last few days, we’ve seen some encouraging signs, in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action, as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin. The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitting that it has these weapons and even said they’d join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use.

    It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments, but this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.

    I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin.

    I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies -- France and the United Kingdom -- and we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.

    We’ll also give U.N. inspectors the opportunity to report their findings about what happened on August 21st, and we will continue to rally support from allies from Europe to the Americas, from Asia to the Middle East, who agree on the need for action.

    Meanwhile, I’ve ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails. And tonight I give thanks, again, to our military and their families for their incredible strength and sacrifices.

    My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements; it has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world’s a better place because we have borne them.

    And so to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with the failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.

    To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor, for sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.

    Indeed, I’d ask every member of Congress and those of you watching at home tonight to view those videos of the attack, and then ask, what kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way?

    Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideas and principles that we have cherished are challenged.”

    Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used.

    America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong, but when with modest effort and risk we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.

    That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

    Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

  • America, world to pause on #Syria. Fighting continues, refugees to keep suffering and the regional ground complexity gets more sectarian.
  • Bloomberg News's Gopal Ratnam and Margaret Talev see a potential problem for Russia' diplomatic initiative: securing Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons would be neither a short nor an easy process, and it could require a halt to the fighting to allow inspections:

    “These kind of disarmament agreements require a very intrusive inspection system; the natural assumption is Assad will cheat,” said Gary Samore, President Barack Obama’s former White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction. “I just don’t know how you can have that kind of inspection system in the middle of a civil war.

    Getting Assad to turn over his chemical weapons to international monitors has emerged as an alternative to a potential American military strike after Russia seized on comments in London by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about the possibility of Syria turning over its stockpile. Syria has agreed to the Russian proposal. Obama has said the Russian idea presented a chance for a breakthrough.

    Before inspections could even begin, though, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would have to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their production and possession and requires the destruction of a country’s stockpile on an agreed-upon schedule, experts say. Syria would then have to produce a detailed description of its arsenal and a team of international inspectors would verify that the accounting was complete and accurate and begin securing the chemicals.

    Read more at Bloomberg News

  • Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus released the following statement following the president’s address to the nation on Syria:

    The administration’s handling of the U.S. response to Syria has been so haphazard it’s disappointed even the president’s most ardent supporters,” said Chairman Priebus. “This rudderless diplomacy has embarrassed America on the world stage. For a president who campaigned on building American credibility abroad, the lack of leadership coming from the Oval Office is astounding.

  • Obama asks Congress to delay vote on use of force in Syria

    President Barack Obama told Americans Tuesday night that he has asked lawmakers to delay a vote on military strikes to punish Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons.

    However, he also said he has “ordered our military to maintain their current posture” in an attempt to keep pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose government is accused of using chemical weapons in an alleged attack near Damascus that killed more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of children.
    Obama's speech from the East Room of the White House comes amid heated debate his administration's push for a military response to the alleged poison gas attack in the country's two-year-old civil war, and just hours after the president signaled he would be receptive to United Nations talks about a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

    The diplomatic solution, suggested by Russia's President Vladimir Putin, would require Syria's government to destroy all of its chemical weapons or put the weapons under international control.

    Assad seemed receptive to the idea, but a planned closed-door meeting at the U.N. to discuss the plan was canceled Tuesday after Russia withdrew its request for the meeting.

    Read more
  • @AJAMStream In poor taste, Pres asking us to watch videos. There's many videos of children suffering and killed in wartime across the world
  • @AJAMStream I'm very pleased that diplomacy is being pursued as the first option as opposed to striking first & talking later
  • @AJAMStream My opinion on #Syria hasn't changed and I think we should only get involved if that's the last possible option.
  • @AJAMStream I thought President Obama threaded a very small needle, while still leaving options on the table.
  • @AJAMStream I like how he reassured Americans that troops would not be sent in. Nobody wants another ground war or prolonged intervention.
  • @AJAMStream @ajam The international community has essentially said that it's okay to slaughter your citizens as long as you don't use gas.
  • @AJAMStream I'm proud of him. He made strong statements and made it known that using chemical weapons will cause repercussions.
  • @AJAMStream @ajam Cannot put disappointment into words- #POTUS turned on everything I voted for in calling for #Syria strike. #Peace lost.
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