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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

  • Israel acknowledged on Tuesday that it has been funneling food and emergency supplies to Syrian villages across its borders for months now, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. 

    "We can't sit by and watch the humanitarian difficulties on the other side," Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said. "We've transferred water, food, including baby food, taking into consideration that these villages are besieged and they don't have access to any other place."

    Meanwhile, Saudi Interior Minister Muhammad bin Naif approved new relief programs for Syrian refugees at a total cost of $8.5 million (SR 32 million), according to Arab News. The relief programs plan to supply 3,000 new tents, 300,000 blankets, 200,000 jackets, 600,000 sweaters and other winter-time gear for the refugees. Since the Saudi National Campaign for Syrians began, which bin Naif heads, it has spent more than $141 million (SR 530 million) on relief programs for Syrians.

    Both Saudi Arabia and Israel are highly critical of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
  • In a letter dated November 27 but only recently made public, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says that he is "deeply concerned" about personnel on the ground in Syria undertaking the chemical disarmament of government forces.

    Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy discusses the contents of the letter:

    Ban voiced his concerns in a letter to the U.N. Security Council, which provides fresh details on international plans for the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons. A copy of the letter, which had not been made public yet, was posted on the web site of a reporter from Arab language broadcaster Al Hurra. Sigrid Kaag, a Danish national who heads the U.N.-backed joint mission overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, will brief the Security Council on Wednesday on Ban's letter.

    The joint mission, comprised of 15 experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and 48 U.N. personnel, is preparing the ground for the latest and most perilous phase of the operation: transporting large quantities of chemical agent through a war zone to the Syrian port of Latakia, where they will be shipped by Norwegian and Danish vessels, and then transferred to American vessels for destruction at sea, according to diplomats.

    Ban said the U.N. has received assurances from the warring parties to cooperate in the transport of chemical materials. The Syrian government, which will take the lead in packing and trucking the toxic materials to the port, has continued its "constructive cooperation" with the mission while "representatives of the Syrian opposition based in Istanbul have also indicated their support for the safe transportation of convoys containing chemical material."

    "Nevertheless, recent fighting in the Syrian Arab Republic shows that the security situation is volatile, unpredictable and highly dangerous," Ban's letter adds. "The Director General of the OPCW and I remain deeply concerned about the safety and security of the joint mission personnel."


    Read more at Foreign Policy

    Read Ban Ki-moon's letter

  • With over a hundred twenty thousand dead - 11,420 of which are children - in Syria over the past three years, some are likening it to a "World War II scenario" that is affecting the entire society. "It's like a World War II scenario, with heavy bombardments at positions held by opposing forces. We have entire neighborhoods being shot up," said Hamit Dardagan, co-author of a new report on Syrian casualties by the Oxford Research Group (ORG).

    The article in Deutsche Welle continues to discuss the scope of the brutality:

    "The number of children is an indicator of the number of civilians who must have been affected by the war," Dardagan added. "It just gives you a sense of how pervasive the war is. It's not just about government forces fighting rebel forces, it's affecting their entire society."

    Mohammed Aly Sergie, a Syrian journalist who spent four months in the country this year, thinks the level of violence there is unprecedented this century. He recalls the well-documented Houla massacre in May 2012, when the United Nations reported that "shabiha" militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed dozens of people, including children, at close range.

    "Bodies were found with close gunshot and stab wounds," Sergie told DW. "You don't see this in normal conflicts, even in Iraq, or Pakistan, or Afghanistan. You don't hear about this bloodlust on such a large scale."


    Read more at Deutsche Welle
  • Syrian refugees staying in Egypt have started to make their way to Europe, often being smuggled in illegally:

    Salem, the owner of a small market in this Cairo suburb, knows all the Syrian refugees living in a neighbourhood that has come to be known as "Little Damascus".

    He wears a "Free Syria" bracelet like many other Syrians in this area. "You see that guy over there? His brother went to Italy by boat two weeks ago. He arrived safely and now he wants to go too," whispered Salem, who asked that his real name not be used in this article.

    There are 128,158 Syrians registered as living in Egypt, but according to Salem, lots of them began leaving three months ago, after the overthrow of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Last week, Salem said, around 50 people from Sixth of October City made the journey to Sicily, via the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria. Because it is difficult for most Syrians to get a visa to European Union countries, there is no option but to travel there illegally.

    According to Salem, hundreds of Syrians in Little Damascus have made arrangements to leave on smugglers' boats in the past few months. "Almost everybody thinks about leaving Egypt. Syrians are really fed up with the situation after Morsi's ouster," he explained. "They don't get any help, prices are rising and the Egyptian media is blaming Syrians for basically everything that went wrong in this country."


    Read more at Al Jazeera English
  • Michelle Dockery, star of the post-Edwardian British period drama Downton Abbey, visited Syrian refugees living in Jordan on Tuesday, launching aid agency Oxfam's 12 Days of Giving appeal to help raise $1.6 million for the emergency response to the ongoing crisis in Syria.

    Dockery said:

    "What I have seen and heard on my trip is hard to put into words. I met families who have had to leave the homes they have been building for years, mothers who have fled with their children leaving husbands and loved ones behind, unsure when they will be reunited. All of the refugees I met were experiencing a terrible suffering which is hard to comprehend.

    "I met families living in sprawling camps, tents on the side of the road and rented accommodation in horrific conditions with the damp so extreme it is making children and the elderly sick. Mothers told me their children are already unable to sleep because of the cold and it is only going to get worse."


    Read more about Oxfam's 12 Days of Giving
  • Opposition fighters abducted 12 nuns from a Christian village overrun by rebels, Syria's Greek Orthodox patriarch and the head of a convent said Tuesday, adding to fears that hard-line Muslim rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad were increasingly targeting Christians.

    The nuns join two bishops and a priest who were previously kidnapped by rebels.

    Greek Orthodox Patriarch John Yazigi made a fervent plea for the release of the women, as well as some two dozen orphans the nuns care for at the convent, although it could not be immediately confirmed that the children were also taken.

    "We appeal to the seed of conscience that God planted in all humans, including the kidnappers, to release our sisters safely," he said in a statement.

    "We call upon the international community and world governments to (help secure the) release of nuns of Mar Takla convent and the orphans who are being held since yesterday."

    [Associated Press]
  • The Washington Institute has released a new report on Syria called 'Rebels Consolidating Strength in Syria: The Islamic Front.'

    From the report: 

    The latest umbrella organization for key rebel factions in Syria may not include U.S.-designated terrorist groups, but it does oppose many U.S. objectives.

    The recent merger of several Syrian rebel groups into the Islamic Front (IF) is one of the war's most important developments. Although the political and military opposition has long been fragmented, the new umbrella organization brings seven groups and their combined force of 45,000-60,000 fighters under one command. It also links the fight in the north and the south. Most notably, though, it affirms the troubles Washington will have setting policy in Syria going forward.

    WHO ARE THEY?

    Formally announced on November 22, the IF includes groups from three prior umbrella organizations: the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF), and the Kurdish Islamic Front (KIF). From the SIF, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya (HASI), Kataib Ansar al-Sham, and Liwa al-Haqq joined, as did the KIF as a whole and former SILF brigades Suqur al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, and Jaish al-Islam. None of these groups has been designated by the U.S. government as a foreign terrorist organization.


    The Institute focuses on US policy in the Middle East. It states its mission is to ' advance a balanced and realistic understanding of American interests in the Middle East and to promote the policies that secure them.'

    Read the rest of the Institute's report here.
  • During her daily briefing, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said she was aware of reports nuns had been kidnapped in Syria but did not have any additional information. 

    However, she urged all sides to respect places of worship. 




  • Amos said she has seen an increase in the number of convoys that have been approved by the government. However, this is 'still far too few' to meet the needs of the people. 
  • During a press conference Tuesday, Valerie Amos — the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator — demurred when asked about Navi Pillay's claims Assad is implicated in war crimes. Amos said that falls under Pillay's purview. 



  • UN's @ValerieAmos says 250,000 people in #Syria are in besieged communities and cannot receive aid. 2.5 million are in hard to reach areas.
  • Amos says on protection of civilians, demilitarization of schools & hospitals & access of hard to reach areas, there has been no progress.
  • Amos says on protection of civilians, demilitarization of schools & hospitals & access of hard to reach areas, there has been no progress.
  • Valerie Amos after briefing UNSC on #Syria says "modest progress" on humanitarian access in the country.
  • The United Nations has again fallen short of its monthly aid target for feeding hungry Syrians, Reuters reported Tuesday. 

    From Reuters:

    The United Nations said on Tuesday it had delivered food to 3.4 million people in Syria in November, falling short again of its monthly target of 4 million as heavy fighting kept it from reaching hungry people in contested areas.

    As winter bites, the number of children in Syria deemed vulnerable and in need of assistance has nearly quadrupled from a year ago to 4.3 million, the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said.

    "The scale of the humanitarian response needed for the looming winter is unprecedented," it said in a statement.

    U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos was to brief the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria later on Tuesday amid deep concerns about lack of access to besieged civilians.

    A U.N. document obtained by Reuters last week said around 250,000 people were beyond the reach of its aid convoys, in areas besieged by Syrian government forces or rebels.


  • .@Raniaab on what Syrians in rebel areas think about Geneva process: They just want to go to the bakery w/out being hit by a warplane.
  • .@Raniaab : Jordan is building another camp for Syrians. 'Nobody expects them to go home anytime soon.' #Refugees
  • .@Raniaab : Ba'ath system in #Syria broke tribal structure, unlike in #Iraq . Some talk now of reconstituting tribal structure.
  • .@Raniaab gives horrific picture of wartime #Syria . Buildings 'sliced open,' no vaccines, ankle-high rubble, kids in surgery w/no anesthesia
  • .@Raniaab : Syrians have resentment, anger, growing belief that US wants Assad to stay, sense of abandonment, cynicism about CW deal
  • .@Raniaab : last trip to #Syria , in August, had to go in with Nusra and Salafis from Ahrar al Sham bec of rise in journo kidnappings
  • .@Raniaab : millions of Syrians are suffering. Electricity off for a year in some areas, inflation rampant, water shortages, random shelling
  • .@Raniaab : Non-Islamist Syrian rebels feel disillusioned, stuck between regime & ISIS. Some sitting out this phase bec it's 'too dirty.'
  • .@Raniaab : foreign fighters didn't only fight w/ Nusra/Isis, some fought w/Free Syrian Army too
  • .@Raniaab : from moment Nusra appeared, many Syrian rebels rejected the ideology but 'appreciated the assistance,' 'marriage of convenience'
  • A treat to hear old friend @Raniaab talk about her superb #Syria reporting w/ @leilahilal of New America #DC http://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bakd7QPCQAAulen.jpg

  • .@marcorubio says Obama administration never made clear what 'success' would have meant in a #Syria intervention #CHEvents
  • Speaking at the American Leadership and the Future of the Transatlantic Alliance conference, Sen. Marco Rubio said he did not support Pres. Obama's initial plan for responding to Syria.

    'How would we measure success in such a strike?' he said. 


    While Rubio said he thought it was 'wise' Obama came before the Senate, he said he didn't think the president legally had to take such an action. 

  • The mother superior of a Syrian convent says opposition fighters have abducted nuns, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. 

    From the AP: 

    Opposition fighters have abducted 12 nuns from a predominantly Christian village near Damascus and taken them to a rebel-held town, the mother superior of a Syrian convent said Tuesday.

    The statement by Febronia Nabhan, Mother Superior at Saidnaya Convent, came as Syria's state TV reported that a suicide attacker set off his explosive vest in an unspecified government institution in Damascus, killing four and wounding 17. The TV gave no further details about the blast in the central Jisr Abyad neighborhood.

    Such blasts in Damascus are not uncommon. Some have killed scores of people in the city.

    Nabhan said Tuesday that the nuns and three other women were taken the day before from another convent in the predominantly Christian village of Maaloula to the nearby town of Yabroud.


  • Though peace talks in Geneva are scheduled to go ahead next month, it is still urgent to act immediately in regards to the well-being of civilians caught up in the fighting, says Politico's Ole Solvang:

    The political negotiations over Syria, now set to continue next month in Geneva, will be tortuous and lengthy at best, while the Syrian government and certain opposition groups continue to commit horrible abuses against innocent civilians. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing the international community can do in the meantime—especially to ease the plight of civilians suffering at the hands of their own government.

    ...

    There is no time for delay. The fast-approaching winter will make the situation in besieged and hard-to-reach areas even more dire, placing the civilian population in a desperate situation. The U.N. humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, is set to brief the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria again on Dec. 3, and she is likely to report some progress. But incremental improvements should not distract the Security Council from the underlying humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.

    Unless humanitarian organizations are able to access all areas in need by the time of the briefing, the Security Council should show Syria it is serious by adopting a binding resolution to show there will be consequences for defying the council’s authority.

    Read more at Politico

  • UN human rights chief targets Assad in war crimes probe

    A growing body of evidence collected by U.N. investigators points to the involvement of senior Syrian officials, including President Bashar al-Assad, in crimes against humanity and war crimes, the United Nations' top human rights official said Monday.

    The statement by Navi Pillay, who heads the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, adds to the pressure on Syria for action ahead of a key peace conference planned for Geneva in January. The conference, brought on by combined U.N., U.S. and Russian diplomacy, would for the first time bring the Assad government and opponents together for face-to-face negotiations.

    "As we look around the world at the end of 2013, we see examples of situations where that readiness of the international community to act in time is already being sorely tested," Pillay told a news conference that touched on trouble spots around the world.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has appealed for about $215 million (194 million CHF) in emergency aid in order to assist Syrians ravaged by civil war, as winter sets in:

    Almost three years after the beginning of the crisis in Syria, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is increasing its support to assist over 6 million people. To reflect growing needs and the arrival of winter, the IFRC has revised its three emergency appeals for Syria, Syria’s neighbouring countries (Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon) and Turkey with a total budget of 194 million CHF.

    Read the full appeal at the IFRC
  • Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad warned Monday that efforts to rid his country of chemical weapons could fail if the international community does not contribute money and equipment.

    "Without these resources it will be difficult if not impossible for Syria and for all OPCW to implement the decisions," he said.

    United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also said in a letter to the Security Council that the mission needs an "unprecedented effort" by the world.

    The OPCW is aiming to destroy Syria's entire chemical weapons program by mid-2014. It is the first time the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization has attempted such a disarmament effort in the midst of a civil war.

    Syria only joined the organization late this year to ward off possible airstrikes by Washington, which blamed President Bashar Assad's regime for an Aug. 21 sarin attack on a Damascus suburb. Assad denies responsibility.

    [Associated Press]
  • A least a million Syrians are going hungry, as fighting and checkpoints prevent aid deliveries, the international Red Cross warned on Monday.

    "A conservative estimate is a million people without food," said Simon Eccleshall, crisis management chief at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

    The IFRC's local member, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), is the key player in international operations in Syria, where around one third of the pre-war population of 21 million now relies on aid to survive.

    But aid efforts have been hit by fighting, which has claimed the lives of 32 of the SARC's 3,000 volunteers, while multiple checkpoints by both sides raise repeated hurdles.

    "There are many areas that have not been supplied for months due to the conflict and suburbs around Damascus for almost a year," IFRC spokesman Benoit Carpentier told AFP.

    [AFP]

  • Head of Salafist movement in #Lebanon Shahal criticizes decision to place army in charge of security; "decision targets Sunni community"
  • #CRC : access to about 85 percent of territory in #Syria on a regular basis; able to provide regular supplies to just half of 6 million IDPs
  • #ICRC :A least a million Syrians are going hungry, as fighting and checkpoints prevent aid deliveries #Syria
  • United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay says the UN's evidence on Syrian war crimes implicates President Bashar al-Assad, according to Reuters. 

    From Reuters: 

    Evidence collected by U.N. investigators probing Syrian war crimes implicates President Bashar al-Assad, United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Monday.

    Pillay later denied having direct knowledge of their secret list of suspects, but her revealing remarks about the head of state were at odds with a policy of keeping the identity of alleged perpetrators under wraps pending any judicial process.

    The U.N. investigators, who collect testimony in utmost secrecy and independently from Pillay, have previously said the evidence points to the highest levels of Syria's government, but have not named Assad or any other officials publicly.

    They have compiled secret lists of suspects and handed them to Pillay for safe storage, in hope that one day suspects will face trial for violations including torture and mass killings.

    "They point to the fact that the evidence indicates responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state," Pillay told a news conference.


  • Bloomberg News issued a set of bullet points Monday about the situation in Syria:

    “Terrorists” stormed into Mar Taqla convent in Maaloula and captured nuns, state-run SANA says.

    Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups wrested control of old part of city from troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad today, Rami Abdurrahman, head of U.K.-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says by phone

    NOTE: Islamist groups previously overran Maaloula, a city 35 miles northeast of Damascus where residents still speak a version of Aramaic, for a few days in September before troops expelled them.
  • Israel said it returned fire into Syria on occupied Golan Heights, Reuters reported Monday

    From Reuters: 

     The Israeli army fired into Syria on Monday after its troops were shot at on the occupied Golan Heights, the military said.

    "Gunfire was opened from Syria towards IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers in the central Golan Heights. The force retaliated towards the threat and a hit was confirmed," a military statement said.

    There were no Israeli casualties in the incident.

    An Israeli military source said that the brief exchange of fire happened near the Quneitra border crossing and that the Israeli troops said they were fired on by a Syrian soldier.

  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters the death toll in the country's civil war has exceeded 125,000, the news service reported Monday. 

    From Reuters: 

    The death toll in Syria's civil war has risen to at least 125,835, more than a third of them civilians, but the real figure is probably much higher, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday.

    The pro-opposition monitoring group also appealed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and "all people in the international community who have a conscience" to increase their efforts to end the 2-1/2 year war.

    The conflict began as peaceful protests against four decades of rule by President Bashar al-Assad's family, but under a fierce security force crackdown, turned into an armed insurgency whose sectarian dimensions have echoed across the Middle East.

    The Observatory, based in Britain but with a network of activists across Syria, put the number of children killed in the conflict so far at 6,627.


  • #Spain 's Ambassador to #Jordan ahead of the opening of new disability services for Syrians supported by @AECID_es http://pbs.twimg.com/media/BadU_2pCQAAr6TY.jpg

  • The Syrian opposition continues to be splintered ahead of the upcoming Geneva 2 peace talks, The Associated Press reported early Monday. 

    From the AP:

    Within minutes of opening a Twitter account this past week, the leader of Syria's main Western-backed opposition group received an onslaught of criticism.

    "Welcome to Twitter Mr. Western Puppet," one comment to Ahmad al-Jarba read. Others called him a Saudi stooge and scorned the opposition's perceived ineffectiveness.

    The comments reflect the deep disillusionment and distrust that many Syrians have come to feel toward the Syrian National Coalition, Syria's main opposition group in exile. They also underline the predicament of who will represent the Syrian opposition at an upcoming peace conference in Geneva marking the first face-to-face meeting between Syria's warring sides.


  • The Associated Press has a heartwarming story about how clowns visited Syrian refugee children.

    From the AP:

    At this sprawling desert camp in Jordan, home to thousands of children who fled Syria's civil war, a few found a moment to smile Sunday watching a troop of clowns.

    Five European comedians working for Mabsutins, a private circus and clown group in Spain affiliated with the U.S.-based group Clowns Without Borders, performed for some 60 children. More than 100,000 people live at the wind-swept camp, only 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the Syrian border, and for the children lucky enough to see the performance, it helped them forget about the challenges they face.

    "It was best thing I have seen in my life," said 10-year-old Rana Ziad, who fled from her restive southern border town of Daraa with her parents and six brothers and sisters a year ago. "It was very much fun and I loved it."


  • “My first wish would be to go back to Syria and have my father released, then for things to go back to the way they were” #FutureofSyria
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