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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

  • The White House said on Thursday that Syria must intensify its efforts to transport chemical weapons to the port of Latakia after a report that less than 5 percent of the arsenal had been delivered and that work to destroy the weapons has fallen behind schedule.

    "It is the Assad regime's responsibility to transport those chemicals to facilitate removal. We expect them to meet their obligation to do so," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One.

  • The United States is concerned that the Syrian government is behind schedule in removing chemical weapons materials that are due to be destroyed under an international deal, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday.

    "The United States is concerned that the Syrian government is behind in delivering these chemical weapons precursor materials on time with the schedule that was agreed to," Hagel told reporters during a visit to Poland.

  • US suggests #syria may be stalling over chemical weapons removal. This is important
  • United States Ambassador Robert Mikulak delivered a rather strong statement to the 38th meeting of the OPCW's Executive Council's on Syria's failure to stick to the schedule set for removing and destroying its chemical weapons:

    Today we are one month past the 31 December completion date set by the Council. Almost none of the Priority One chemicals have been removed, and the Syrian government will not commit to a specific schedule for removal. This situation will soon be compounded by Syria's failure to meet the February 5th completion date set by this Council for the removal of all Priority Two chemicals. Syria has said that its delay in transporting these chemicals has been caused by "security concerns" and insisted on additional equipment – armored jackets for shipping containers, electronic countermeasures, and detectors for improvised explosive devices. These demands are without merit, and display a "bargaining mentality" rather than a security mentality.

    The Joint Mission and the OPCW Technical Secretariat have rightly concluded that the additional equipment demanded by Syria is not needed for the safe transport of the chemicals to Latakia. And let us not forget that that these chemicals have often been moved during the ongoing conflict without such equipment, demonstrating that Syria has been able to ensure sufficient protection to date with its current capabilities, and without this additional "wish list" of equipment. As Secretary-General Ban said recently, "...the Syrian Arab Republic has sufficient material and equipment necessary to carry out multiple ground movements to ensure the expeditious removal of chemical weapons material." Secretary-General Ban added that " is imperative that the Syrian Arab Republic now examines the situation, intensifies its efforts to expedite in-country movements of chemical weapons material, and continues to meet its obligations." under UN Security Council Resolution 2118 and the OPCW Executive Council decisions.

    Mr. Chairman,

    Syria's requests for equipment and open-ended delaying of the removal operation could ultimately jeopardize the carefully timed and coordinated multi-state removal and destruction effort. For our part, the international community is ready to go, and the international operation to remove the chemicals is fully in place and ready to proceed once Syria fulfills its obligation to transport the chemicals to Latakia. On Monday, the U.S. ship Cape Ray set sail from Norfolk, Virginia, and will be in the Mediterranean shortly. The delay by Syria is increasing the costs to nations that have made donations for shipping, escort, and other services related to the removal effort.

    Mr. Chairman,

    The United States is deeply concerned about the failure of the Government of Syria to transport to Latakia all of the chemical agent and precursors as mandated by OPCW Executive Council decisions.

    Click here to read the full statement
  • The White House has called on Syria to intensify its efforts to transport chemical weapons to port so they can be destroyed, according to Reuters. 
  • Defense Secretary Hagel says the United States is 'concerned' that Syria is behind in removing its chemical weapons material, Reuters reported Thursday morning. 

    Hagel says he has asked his Russian counterpart to influence Syria to comply with the chemical weapons deal, adding that the chemical weapons effort could still get back on track, according to Reuters.
  • The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has updated its Frequently Asked Questions about the Syria Mission webpage:

    How will the chemicals be destroyed?

    Some priority chemicals will be destroyed through a two-step process. The first step, hydrolysis, will occur at sea on board the MV Cape Ray. The chemicals will not be dumped or buried in the sea at any stage; there will be no release of chemicals into the environment. The US Department of Defense has installed two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems  on board the MV Cape Ray. The FDHS has been designed on the basis of technology that has been safely used over many years in the US chemical weapons destruction programme to hydrolyse chemical warfare agents. The FDHS uses water, sodium hydroxide (NaOH), sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl) and heat to hydrolyse the chemicals with 99.9 percent effectiveness. The effluent resulting from the hydrolysis process will be safely stored on board the MV Cape Ray. 

    Will any chemicals be dumped in the sea?

    During the entire removal and destruction process, no chemicals will be dumped in the sea. Destruction of the chemicals at sea will be in full accordance with international laws, including applicable requirements prohibiting the dumping or other discharge of pollutants into ocean waters. In addition, the dumping of chemical weapons in any body of water is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. Part IV(A), para 13 of the Convention’s Verification Annex prohibits “dumping in any body of water, land burial or open pit burning”. 

    Furthermore, paragraph 10 of Article IV states that “Each State Party, during transportation, sampling, storage and destruction of chemical weapons, shall assign the highest priority to ensuring the safety of people and to protecting the environment.  Each State Party shall transport, sample, store and destroy chemical weapons in accordance with its national standards for safety and emissions.  Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses, and combat new threats like cyberattacks.  And as we reform our defense budget, we will have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform, and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions.  American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated.

    Click here for the full set of questions
  • #French FM @LaurentFabius says powers must be extremely vigilant 2 ensure #Syria meets its chemical weapons commitments after signs of delay
  • The two Syrian delegations came together in Geneva Thursday to observe a minute of silence for all of the victims of the country's three-year civil war, Reuters reports. 

    From Reuters: 

    Opposing sides in Syria's civil war stood together to observe a minute of silence on Thursday in honor of the tens of thousands killed in the three-year conflict, a rare symbol of harmony a week into peace talks that have so far yielded no compromise.

    The first talks between President Bashar al-Assad's government and his foes have been mired in rhetoric since they began last Friday. The two sides took a first tentative step forward on Wednesday by agreeing to use the same 2012 roadmap as the basis of discussions to end the civil war, although they disagreed about how talks should proceed.

    U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday he does not expect to achieve anything substantive in the first round which ends on Friday, but hopes for more progress in a second round starting about a week later.

    Opposition delegate Ahmad Jakal said his delegation's head, Hadi al-Bahra, proposed the minute of silence and all sides stood up, including Assad's delegation and Brahimi's team.

    "All stood up for the souls of the martyrs. Symbolically it was good," Jakal told Reuters.

  • The U.N. and a Palestinian official say hundreds of food parcels have been delivered to a besieged, rebel-held refugee camp in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

    The supplies for Yarmouk came a day after activists said at least 85 people have died in the camp since mid-2013 as a result of starvation and illnesses exacerbated by hunger or the lack of medical aid in the hard-hit Palestinian camp.

    U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness said a convoy carrying 900 food parcels entered Yarmouk on Thursday morning.

    Gunness says that despite "chaotic scenes, by noon," 600 parcels had been distributed.

    Anwar Raja, a Palestinian official in Syria, said a number of elderly people will be evacuated from Yarmouk later in the day.

    Hundreds of parcels were also sent into Yarmouk earlier this month.

    [The Associated Press]
  • Report: Syrian government demolishes neighborhoods in quest for control

    While Western diplomats and Syrian rebel leaders squabble in Geneva, and the internationally backed Organization to Prevent Chemical Weapons starts removing the Syrian government’s chemical stockpiles, the ground war for control of the country still rages on Syria's streets.

    According to a new report, a low-tech weapon in that war has been discovered: the leveling of buildings and even entire neighborhoods with bombs and bulldozers.

    The report, released by Human Rights Watch on Thursday, says that the Syrian government has destroyed no less than 350 acres of buildings in at least seven neighborhoods around Syria since July 2012 in an effort to wrest control from Syrian rebels. The report says the tactic has caused widespread destruction and exacerbated Syria’s already critical refugee crisis. It also says President Bashar al-Assad’s government doesn’t plan to stop.

    Human Rights Watch analyzed 15 commercial satellite images, conducted interviews with 16 witnesses and homeowners who had their homes destroyed in Syria, and relied on media reports, government officials and videos posted to YouTube to compile the report.

    The organization found that in neighborhoods around Damascus and Hama, widespread demolition had taken place in the last year-and-a-half. The Syrian government said these demolitions were necessary to clear the areas of poorly built houses and make way for urban planning and public works projects. But according to the HRW review, all of the demolished areas were either rebel strongholds or considered high-value targets for the military. And HRW says each demolition was carried out by military forces, and often right after fights with rebels.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • The United Kingdom will prioritize Syrian refugees this year, according to Al Jazeera English. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said at a press conference Thursday that his country is preparing to accept the most vulnerable Syrian refugees, according to Al Jazeera English.
  • Syria has given up less than five percent of its chemical weapons arsenal and will miss next week's deadline to send all toxic agents abroad for destruction, Reuters reports, citing sources familiar with the matter.

    The deliveries to the northern Syrian port of Latakia totaled 4.1 percent of the roughly 1,300 metric tons of toxic agents Damascus reported to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

    The internationally backed operation, overseen by a joint OPCW-United Nations mission, is now 6-8 weeks behind schedule. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report to the Security Council this week that shipments had been unnecessarily delayed and urged the government of President Bashar al-Assad to speed up the process.

    Read more at Reuters
  • As meetings continue in Geneva, Senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee held a hearing on worldwide security threats and, predictably, Syria was mentioned quite often.

    Director of National Intelligence James Clapper mentioned the country quite often as an attractive ground for terrorists.
  • #Syria govt wants to start discussions on political transition but the starting pt should be clause 1 which calls for ending violence
  • As peace talks continue, Pres. Obama only briefly mentioned Syria during his State of the Union address Tuesday night — prompting mixed reviews from both sides of the aisle, BuzzFeed reports. 

    From BuzzFeed:

     Lawmakers from both parties criticized President Obama’s minimal comments on the violence in Syria in his State of the Union address, while reaction to the president’s praise for the Iran interim nuclear deal fell more along party lines.

    “The president really was disconnected from the serious dangers in the Mideast,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, calling the interim nuclear deal with Iran “terrible.

    Graham said he was “shocked” that Obama didn’t devote more of his speech to Syria, which he called a “contagion” that would destabilize the region.

    Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, said, “I’ve been pretty blunt with regard to the administration in the respect that they need to very clearly spell out what our strategy is going to be going forward” in Syria.

    “They’ve got to do a much better job, even if they have a strategy, that they can clearly articulate that they’ve got to be able to communicate that,” Casey said.

  • Regime:"coalition hasn’t read any part of Geneva1 except 8th item... nothing can be started from the middle"…
  • #Syria Geneva Syrian government accepts Geneva1 communique with some reservation more details needed on the form of the transitional govt
  • United States Ambassador Ford has released a video message to the Syrian people on the Geneva peace talks, according to Al Jazeera America's Nick Schifrin. He delivered his statement via Orient TV, an opposition TV station.

    Below is the text of that message:

    Good Evening,  just wanted to give our friends in Syria a summary about the latest updates on Geneva. 

    First, The international efforts are continuing in a bid to deliver humanitarian aid to the old city of Homs. We strongly condemn the Syrian regime’s refusal to let humanitarian aid in for weeks and months. In our opinion, this refusal is unjustified and it could constitute a war crime. But our efforts are continuing in coordination with the United Nations, Russia, and other international organizations. These discussions are of course taking place here in Geneva, and continue up until this moment.

    The negotiation topics here in Geneva are not only on approving the convoys to deliver humanitarian aid to  the besieged neighborhoods, it is actually on the full implementation of the Geneva communique. One of the important items of the Geneva communique is the release of the detainees and the allowance of  humanitarian aid to all areas without exception, but the most important item is the establishment of a transitional governing body. Discussions on this last topic have just begun, and the regime has refused to engage in any serious discussions in this regard.

    In our opinion, the invite sent by the UN Secretary General was very clear that the subject of the negotiations is the full implementation of the Geneva communique, including the establishment of a transitional governing body. So, the regime’s delegation has to accept to discuss this topic and to engage in a serious negotiation.

    We commend the efforts exerted by the UN Representative Lakhdar Brahimi and hope that the Syrian regime will eventually work seriously with the international community and with the Opposition Coalition’s delegation  to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Thank You.

    Ford's message was delivered in Arabic. What is posted above is the English translation. As Schifrin notes, Ford's message isn't quite as hostile as some other statements released by State Department spokespeople. However, Ford does use the term 'war crime' when describing the humanitarian aid situation.

    The video is available on the U.S. Embassy Damascus' Facebook page.
  • #Homs governor says large scale military operation underway since Monday to oust rebels from town of Zara west of city #Syria
  • Brahimi's press conference has ended. Tuesday's was a bit more abrupt than previous pressers. However, he seemed intent on reassuring the media that all hope has not been lost.
  • Brahimi: Convoy is ready & waiting to enter. Authorization has not been given. Haven't given up on that yet. #Geneva2 #Syria
  • Brahimi: In room we spoke of (terrorism) and have no doubt that we will be discussing it again. #Geneva2 #Syria
  • When asked about Iran, Brahimi said the presence of Iran would have been good and he believes they will try to speak and cooperate with Iran in the future. 
  • With regards with the opposition's paper, it was not circulated, Brahimi said, referencing a document the opposition submitted outlining its vision for the new Syria. 

    The opposition did make a presentation on how they think the Geneva communique can be implemented, Brahimi added.

    Brahimi said there is no one party to blame for the afternoon's sessions being canceled, stressing that it was his decision. 
  • 'Nobody is walking out, nobody is running away,' Brahimi assured the media.

    Brahimi acknowledged there have not been any breakthroughs but the two sides are still at, which is 'good enough.' The envoy also said he was the one to suggest the two delegations don't meet this afternoon, so as to better prepare themselves for Wednesday's morning session.

  • Brahimi: These are not easy negotiations. They haven't been easy today or past days. And probably won't be easy in coming days. #Geneva2
  • As Geneva 2 talks stall, Vocativ has a fascinating story about a former teacher who is using his expertise in electronics to design a machine that can save Syrians from live fire.

    From Vocativ:

    “The authorities think we’re building a machine for making chocolates,” Ahmad Heidar says with a laugh.

    We had just arrived at a nondescript building in this town along the Syrian border. Inside, a pair of large mechanical arms rested on the concrete floor. These machines, however, have nothing to do with confectionary. In fact, they’re part of a robot that Heidar hopes will rescue sniper victims in the Syrian civil war.

    Just a few miles away, that conflict continues to rage. Snipers loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad often deliberately shoot to injure, rather than kill, their targets, Heidar says. The motive isn’t simple sadism (though that happens, too); it’s human bait. The tactic is cruel but effective: Shoot one person, wait for his friends to come to the rescue, then kill the whole group.

    During the early days of the uprising, Heidar watched this scenario play out in his hometown of Aleppo. Many fighters and civilians died trying to use ropes, poles and a variety of makeshift tools to save their injured countrymen.

    Shocked at the cruelty of the regime, Heidar, a former teacher, decided roughly a year and a half ago to use his expertise in electronics and computer programming to design a way to safely rescue people from snipers. Working with a childhood friend who asked to be known only as Belal, he thought up a solution: a remote-controlled robot. Heidar named the robot Tena, after a Finnish woman he once sat next to on a plane and “fell in love with for an hour,” he says.

  • #Syria opposition presented document which outlines its vision of the new Syria; regime expected to respond tomorrow #Genevatalks
  • State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez has been quite outspoken in his demands for the Syrian government to improve humanitarian aid on the ground. And his latest statement, reported via Al Jazeera America's Nick Schifrin, is no exception: 

    As Secretary Kerry underscored in his remarks in Montreux, we continue to press all parties to take concrete steps to improve the humanitarian situation on the ground which may also improve the environment for the talks.  The areas are: (a) providing access for humanitarian aid to reach besieged communities (b) prisoner releases and exchanges, and (c) localized ceasefires.  These discussions with the UN, Russia, and the regime and opposition are ongoing.

    The Syrian regime is responsible for facilitating access to reach the 9.3 million people in desperate need of humanitarian aid in Syria, and could easily increase that access by approving convoy requests and streamlining procedures to enable humanitarian workers to do their jobs.  For example, the UN has trucks stocked with 500 tons of food and relief supplies ready to enter northeastern Syria to reach desperate families in Hasakeh and Deir az-Zor as soon as the regime gives its approval.  This assistance could save many lives, and it is just one of many steps the international community is ready and willing to make to get vital humanitarian aid to suffering people. It is up to the regime to say yes.   

    The UN, ICRC, NGOs, and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent risk their lives on a daily basis to deliver aid to those in need, but have been stymied at every step by the recalcitrance of this regime.  In the meantime, the regime has engaged in a public relations effort of late to portray itself as taking steps to provide humanitarian access.  As of now, we have not seen any significant steps by the regime to provide access to besieged areas and facilitate the delivery of even a small amount of relief to those suffering.  If anything, the regime is further harming the negotiating environment through its continued denial of food, water, and medical aid to the Syrian people.  

     Innocent women, children, and men are dying in Syria on a daily basis from preventable diseases and malnutrition-related causes.  It is unconscionable that the regime would block the work of humanitarian agencies that are ready and able to save those lives. 

     We want to take this opportunity to clarify what humanitarian agencies would consider progress in these areas versus what is simply just a façade by the regime:

    ·         Demanding opposition forces leave an area or put down their weapons before allowing the delivery of food and other much needed humanitarian assistance does not constitute an acceptable offer of humanitarian access.  We’ve seen the regime do this before, as part of its despicable “kneel or starve” campaign.  Residents of besieged communities cannot be forced to submit to regime control in order to receive humanitarian assistance.

    ·         Progress on humanitarian access must be decoupled from discussions over a ceasefire.  Civilians who are in need of food and other humanitarian assistance cannot wait until a ceasefire is worked out – which is a complicated and complex process.  These civilians need humanitarian assistance now, while negotiations on ceasefires are ongoing.

    ·         Humanitarian agencies need to be able to determine the safest routes to reach the intended destinations.  We have seen the regime claim a willingness to get assistance into Yarmouk while forcing the UN to take a more dangerous route to reach the camp, thereby ensuring the failure of the convoy.

    ·         Negotiations for a ceasefire must involve simultaneous actions by both parties.

    For these and other reasons, it is clear: Any claims that the regime is improving the atmosphere have no basis in fact and are preposterous.

    The regime has in its hands the ability to improve the environment for the conference as the best chance to end the civil war.  It needs to do so now.

    The United States will bring our full diplomatic weight to bear influence to make progress on humanitarian access. We call on the regime and the international community to do the same.  In this context, Russia has an important role to play in holding the Syrian regime accountable to its obligation to facilitate humanitarian access and alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people.

    If the regime is serious about making progress on humanitarian access, then it must: 

    ·         Immediately approve the full list of proposed convoy movements requested by the UN to the Old City of Homs, Mouadhamiyah, Douma, Yarmouk, Mliha, and Barzeh. 

    ·         Engage in serious discussions to pursue a humanitarian pause in certain areas.

    ·         Remove the requirement for 72 hours advance notice for convoy movements, which only further delays the delivery of urgently needed aid.

    ·         Allow humanitarian agencies to determine the safest routes to reach their intended destinations.

  • The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced Monday a second batch of toxic chemicals has been removed from Syria. 

    In response, OPCW Executive Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü has released a short statement, expressing his hope this development will help the mission regain lost momentum: 

  • "Unfortunately there is no agreement on a ceasefire or on the alleviation on the level of violence practiced in Syria," Brahimi said.
  • Brahimi: We are trying to implement the real Geneva plan that seeks to put an end to the war. #Geneva2 #Syria
  • When asked how he bridges the gap between the two parties stances on a transitional government, Brahimi hedged saying 'ideas, I take them with great pleasure.'
  • Brahimi: Glad that there is the will to continue these discussions. We never expected any miracle. #Geneva2 #Syria
  • I'm still begging, asking that something be done about these areas, whether they are under siege by government or armed groups, Brahimi said of humanitarian aid.

  • Brahimi: Humanitarian discussions haven't produced much unfortunately. #Geneva2 #Syria
  • Brahimi: Will talk about Geneva declaration itself tomorrow. #Geneva2 #Syria
  • Brahimi: I'm afraid there isn't much to report. In morning, discussed paper presented by gov. #Geneva2 #Syria
  • In the morning, Brahimi said they discussed the government's declaration of principles. They will discuss the Geneva declaration itself tomorrow.

    Moving on to the humanitarian aid, Brahimi said those discussions have not produced much. There has been no decision yet to let the convoy of food items and medical supplies in.
  • Brahimi started off his briefing by saying he thought there were too many leaks to the media. He also revealed the afternoon session took place in two separate rooms. However, he said Sunday that was a possibility.
  • Syrian envoy Lakhdar Brahimi began his press conference a little after 11:30 a.m., ET, or 5:30 p.m. local time.
  • Details of non-lethal aid resumed by US to Syria opposition in last 2 weeks: regular trucks, loading trucks, medical supplies, blankets.
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