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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

  • During a meeting between Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Lavrov said Iran should be involved in the upcoming Geneva 2 peace talks, Al Jazeera English reported early Wednesday morning.
  • Masked gunmen abducted a leading Syrian human rights lawyer and three other prominent activists in a rebel-held Damascus suburb Tuesday in a new sign that Al-Qaeda linked militants who have joined the fight against President Bashar al-Assad are trying to silence rivals in the opposition movement.

    Razan Zaytouni, one of the most outspoken critics of Assad as well as Islamic militants who have gained increasing sway over the fight to oust the government, was seized along with her husband and two other colleagues from her office in Douma.

    No group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but Zaytouni herself had publicly blamed Al-Qaeda linked rebels for kidnapping activists and colleagues said she had received indirect threats from extremists in recent days.

    [Associated Press]

  • Al Jazeera English is reporting that the families of the two kidnapped Spanish journalists in Syria have appealed for their release. Monica Prieto, the wife of kidnapped award-winning journalist Javier Espinosa, read out a statement regarding her husband and his colleague, also kidnapped:

    "I want to tell their kidnappers what their captives and what my family has done for Syria ever since the start of the revolution. From the first months of the uprising, we crossed the border illegally in order to report on the suffering of the population. Javier didn't only survive the bombardment of Baba Amr, which killed two of his colleagues right before his eyes, he even chose to stay in the neighborhood until the last civilian was evacuated.
    But you, as Syrians, also have a responsibility towards all those, Arabs and Westerners, who have defended you. Javier and Ricardo are not your enemy. Please, honor the revolution they protected and set them free."

    Read more at Al Jazeera English

  • Syrian National Coalition (SNC) chief Ahmed Jarba issued a plea to wealthy Gulf Arab states to set up an aid fund for Syrians at a high-profile summit in Kuwait.

    "The first step of aid is to support our people now with an aid fund ... and that will be under the supervision and management of the Syrian National Coalition," he said.

    "(A) human catastrophe is still ongoing in Syria which calls on us to redouble our efforts and work with the international community, particularly the U.N. Security Council which unfortunately has remained unable to play its role and put an end to this human catastrophe," said Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

    Donor countries meeting in Kuwait in January pledged more than $1.5 billion for Syrians affected by the civil war, with about $1 billion earmarked for other countries in the region hosting refugees and $500 million for humanitarian aid to Syrians displaced inside the country.

    Kuwait will host a second fund-raising conference next month.

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel briefed Qatari leaders on Tuesday about the effort to destroy Syria's chemical weapons, and he underscored U.S. support for Syria's moderate opposition.

    Hagel met with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad and Defense Minister Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah on the last day of a visit to the region to reassure Gulf Arab allies of continuing U.S. support, despite disagreements over Washington's policy toward Syria and its diplomatic overtures to Iran.

    Hagel told reporters at Al Udeid Air Base that he spoke with Qatari leaders about international efforts to destroy Syria's chemical weapons and the reasons Washington was focused on narrowly supporting the moderate Syrian opposition.

    Gulf Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been arming and helping rebel groups, though the extent of foreign influence over a constantly evolving rebel landscape is unclear.


    U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, is greeted by Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha, Qatar, Dec. 10, 2013. [Department of Defense]

  • Croatia is considering taking part in the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, but only if there is no opposition from the public, the Adriatic country's prime minister said Tuesday.

    Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said there are "consultations" throughout the Mediterranean states about Syrian weapons possibly being shipped to one of their ports before being reloaded and destroyed by the U.S. military, "probably somewhere in the Atlantic."

    Milanovic called for a "public debate" over the possible reloading project.

    "We can take part in the noble project, or we don't have to," Milanovic said. "But the Croatian public has to know what it's all about."

    Under a threat of public unrest, Albania last month refused a U.S. request to host the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal, a serious blow to efforts to destroy that stockpile by mid-2014.

    [Associated Press]

  • The OPCW has released a statement about accepting the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize: 

    Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü this afternoon accepted the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

    “This is the first time that the Peace Prize has been awarded to an organisation that is actively engaged in disarmament as a practical and ongoing reality,” Ambassador Üzümcü said in his acceptance speech. “For sixteen years now, the OPCW has been overseeing the elimination of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. Our task is to consign chemical weapons to history forever.

    Ambassador Üzümcü said that, with 190 States now party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), “we are hastening the vision of a world free of chemical weapons to reality.” Recalling that chemical weapons had been used with “brutal regularity” “from Ieper in Belgium to Sardasht in Iran, from Halabja in Iraq to Ghouta in Syria,” he also paid homage to all victims.

    The Director-General commended the “singular achievement” represented by conclusion of the CWC and the creation of the OPCW as its “arbiter and guardian.” “For the first time in the history of multilateral diplomacy, we were able to show that consensus-based decision-making can yield practical, effective and, above all, verifiable results in disarmament.

    The Director-General said that the OPCW had been “able to cross, and link, the wide space in disarmament between passion and practicality, between sentiment and action, between noble ambition and concrete achievements.”

  • UN to begin humanitarian airlift in Northern Syria

    The United Nations' first relief airlift to Syria from Iraq will deliver food and winter supplies to the mostly Kurdish northeast this week with the permission of both governments, the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said Tuesday.

    Beginning on Thursday, commercial cargo planes will deliver aid from Erbil in northern Iraq to Hassakeh. Up to 12 flights are scheduled through Sunday, said Amin Awad, director of the UNHCR's Middle East and North Africa Bureau.

    U.N. agencies have transported limited aid supplies into Syria from Iraq and Lebanon, but not via Turkey because of objections from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government based on Turkey's opposition to the Assad government.

    Syria gave permission about two weeks ago for the cross-border U.N. operation, which was initially envisaged as truck convoys traveling via the Yarubiya border crossing, a cheaper option, Awad said.

    "As the situation was very complicated, negotiating with many factions, we shifted to an airlift," said Awad, noting that one main Kurdish group in the area was pro-Syrian government and the other pro-Turkish.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Here is the lecture OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü gave Tuesday after formally accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.

    He mentioned Syria and the country's chemical weapons a handful of times.

    OPCW Nobel Lecture

  • Al Jazeera English has a profile on the Yasser Faisal, the journalist who was killed in Syria. 

    In the last photo we have of him alive, Yasser looks up into the horizon as if contemplating a bright future ahead of him. Behind him, on a red dirt road, is an abandoned Syrian village and endless sky.

    He'd left Baghdad at the end of November on a flight to Turkey with a new camera, new clothes and boundless confidence. If he'd told his family or friends he was crossing over into Syria they would have tried to stop him.

    Once across the Turkish border, a Syrian journalist took him into Idlib province and warned him not to go any further.

    "I told him this is not like Iraq – this is a whole other story," says Muhanad Dhugeim who took the photos of Yasser before they parted ways. "He said he could handle it."

    Yasser didn't tell anyone what story he was chasing when he borrowed money to buy an expensive new video camera and leave the country.

  • #NobelPrize for Peace “accepted with profound humility” says Director-General Ümzücü of the #opcw
  • The head of the OPCW, the chemical weapons watchdog in charge of destroying Syria's chemical weapons, officially accepted the Nobel Peace Prize Tuesday in Oslo, The Associated Press reported.
  • OPCW: destruction of #Syria chemical weapons on the US ship could begin in late January
  • #UN : The number of vulnerable in al Hassakeh estimated at 50,000-60,000. Hassakeh has been out of reach for a long time #Syria
  • #UN says airbridge to Hassakeh, #Syria from Erbil, Iraq, begins Thursday. First time aid goes through #Iraq
  • The United Nations Refugee Agency said the UN is launching the first airlift of aid supplies from Iraq to the Kurdistan region of North Syria with Damascus' permission, Reuters reported early Tuesday.

    The airlift aims to reach at 60,000 vulnerable Syrians in Hassakeh who have been out of reach, a UNHCR official told Reuters. A senior UNHCR official told Reuters the airlift to Hassakeh from Erbil, Iraq is scheduled to begin on Thursday. Up to 12 flights are scheduled through Sunday.
  • #Syria monitoring group: regime bombard outskirts Yabrud, the last opposition stronghold in strategic Qalamoun region north of #Damascus
  • 'Largest ever' polio vaccination campaign follows Syrian outbreak

    The World Health Organization and UNICEF have launched a massive polio vaccination campaign aimed at immunizing 23 million children in the Middle East after
     17 cases were discovered in Syria, the agencies announced Monday.

    It will be the largest-ever immunization response in the region, WHO and the U.N. children's fund said in a joint statement.  

    WHO has said the vaccinations would take place in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Turkey.

    Syrian refugees fleeing their country's conflict have taken shelter in surrounding states, particularly Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

    "As if children in Syria had not suffered enough, they now have to contend with yet another threat to their health and well-being," said Maria Calivis, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Spanish periodical El Mundo is reporting that two of their journalists were kidnapped [in Spanish] in September and are still missing. While trying to leave Syria after two weeks of reporting, journalist Javier Espinosa and freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia were kidnapped near the Turkish border in the province of Raqqa on September 16. According to El Mundo, the two journalists were kidnapped by the armed group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
  • Lebanese authorities are mobilizing to help Syrian refugees living in makeshift camps ahead of a winter storm expected to bring snow and heavy rain, the social affairs minister said Monday.

    "There are a large number of informal camps... and quick action is required with the approach of the storm," which is expected to arrive on Tuesday night, the minister added.

    Abu Faour said Lebanese authorities, working with the army and international aid agencies, had begun distributing plastic sheeting and wood planks to refugees living in informal camps, along with heaters and food aid.

    At least 835,000 registered Syrian refugees are living in Lebanon, some renting apartments, others living with Lebanese families and thousands sheltering in makeshift shelters in unofficial camps.

    The preparations come ahead of the expected arrival of "Alexa," a winter weather front that is forecast to bring several days of rain and snow for Lebanon, and a steep drop in temperature.

  • partition of #Syria will not work, Kurdish areas aren't geographically/demographically contiguous n too many sunnis fled 2coast #PeaceGame
  • Syrian troops seized the key opposition-held town of Nabek on Monday along a major north-south highway critical for transporting the government's chemical weapons stocks to a port where they could be shipped out for destruction by the international community.

    That road serves as a crucial link between the capital and northern Syria as well as government strongholds in the northwest along the Mediterranean.
    The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said last week it would consider using the road to transport the chemical weapons to the port of Latakia from where the arms would be shipped for destruction abroad or at sea.

    Troops reopened the highway Sunday, nearly 20 days after it was closed because of the fighting.
    On Monday, state media said President Bashar al-Assad's forces took full control of Nabek, which lies on the edge of the road.

    [Associated Press]
  • "So, armed groups w/competing interests is the dominant answer." to Q of what would be post-settlement Syria's biggest challenge. #PeaceGame
  • #Syria war figures discussed at #PeaceGame : 600,000 homes & 35,000 schools destroyed, 50% youth unemployment, >$80 billion in reconstruction
  • Aid agency @Oxfam raised $37 million for the #Syria crisis in 1 year, and nearly $50 million for #Philippines aid in 1 month #Haiyan #Aid
  • A deal w/ Iran alone could be enough to convince Assad to leave, says @USIP 's @kristin_lord #PeaceGame #Syria
  • USIP #Syria peace games:Can Russia, Iran be convinced to dump Assad & keep regime,or will extremist threat convince US that Assad must stay?
  • Zahar: Ties w/ #Iran had been affected by #Syria situation. #Hamas has withdrawn from Syria so it can't be identified with either side
  • #Hamas senior member Mahmoud Al Zahar says movement resumed relations with #Iran after a temporary falling out over #Syria conflict
  • #Lebanon authorities and aid agencies say mobilizing to help #Syria refugees living in makeshift camps with approach of storm
  • Italy: refugees fleeing the conflict in #Syria represents a security threat to EU; "potential terrorists could be among the displaced"
  • Russia official on CW: Transport, yes. The issue is being discussed. My understanding is #Syria authorities should protect shipments
  • Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov said his country could help provide transport of Syrian chemical arms to the port of Latakia for their removal and destruction at sea, Reuters reported Monday morning. 
  • Today is 1,000 days since Syrians took to the streets calling for freedom. It is time to end the conflict in #Syria

  • Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has written a rather controversial essay, posted by the London Review of Books, entitled 'Whose sarin?' in which he accused the Obama administration of having 'cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.'

    From the essay: 

    Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.

    You can read the full essay at the London Review of Books.

    Hersh's essay has predictably come under fire from government sources. While push back is expected, it is interesting to note where the essay was published, according to The Huffington Post's media section. Hersh's essay wasn't printed by The New Yorker — a publication he often writes for. 

    From HuffPost: 

    Hersh is a freelancer, but he's best known these days for his work in The New Yorker, where he helped break the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. While Hersh is not a New Yorker staff writer, it was notable that his 5,500-word investigative piece landed in the London Review of Books, a London literary and intellectual magazine, rather than the publication with which he's most closely associated.

    In an email, Hersh wrote that “there was little interest” for the story at The New Yorker.

    A New Yorker spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    More from HuffPost:

    A few weeks ago, Hersh sent the Syria story to editors at the London Review of Books, LRB Senior Editor Christian Lorentzen told HuffPost.

    Lorentzen said the piece was not only edited, but thoroughly fact checked by a former New Yorker fact checker who had worked with Hersh in the past.

    While The New Yorker is renowned for its fact-checking department, government officials have taken issue with Hersh's findings.

    Hersh also took his essay to The Washington Post, which at one point intended to publish it, according to HuffPost. 

    When asked about Hersh's essay, Shawn Turner — spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence — told BuzzFeed:

    “We were clear with the Washington Post and Mr. Hersh that the intelligence gathered about the 21 August chemical weapons attack indicated that the Assad regime and only the Assad regime could have been responsible."

    More from BuzzFeed: 

    Spokespeople for the White House and the State Department declined to comment on the broad outlines of the coming story, which was shared in advance and under embargo with BuzzFeed, Saturday. DNI spokesman Turner told Hersh that no American intelligence agency “assesses that the al-Nusra Front has succeeded in developing a capacity to manufacture sarin.

  • According to Reuters, the Syrian army has retaken control of a road need to ship chemical weapons out of the country.

    From Reuters: 

     Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces have taken control of a highway connecting Damascus to the coast that is needed to extract hundreds of tons of toxic chemicals for destruction, a monitoring group said on Monday.

    Fighting in Syria poses a hurdle to implementing an agreement between Damascus and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to remove the deadliest chemicals weapons by the end of the year to be destroyed.

    The army started an offensive in mid-November to secure the highway, which passes through the mountainous area of Qalamoun, roughly 50 km (30 miles) north of Damascus, stretches along the Lebanese border and hosts many military bases and outposts.

    The army has retaken the highway towns of Qara and Deir Attiyah from mostly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting to oust Assad, and has made inroads around the town of Nabak close to the road.

  • OPCW: "difficult" to remove all of #Syria most toxic CW from country by Dec. 31;mid-2014 deadline to destroy all weapons realistic
  • Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü gave a press conference Monday ahead of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony Tuesday. 

    The OPCW will be awarded the prize Tuesday in Oslo.

    During Monday's press conference, Üzümcü said eliminating Syria's chemical weapons will not end the country's civil war but he hopes doing so will pave the way for peace in Syria, adding that the 'country has been ruined' by the fighting. 

    Üzümcü said the international community's unified actions in regards to Syria were 'unexpected' but welcome and reiterated his hope that destroying the country's chemical weapons will be an important first step in achieving peace. 

    He also said he hopes to have Syria's chemical weapons destroyed according to the timetable already laid out by the organization. 
  • Ali Bazzi, top Hezbollah commander, was killed fighting in Syria today. Hezbollah fighters Ali Saleh and Qassem Ghamloosh were also killed
  • Syrian opposition will make final decision mid-December to attend or boycott UN-backed peace conference in Geneva-@AFP
  • Nabk located along highway; OPCW considering using highway to transport CW to Latakia port before taking out of #Syria for destruction.
  • #Syria monitoring group: regime forces made gains in key town Nabk as they try to cement control of territory linking Damascus to Homs
  • #Lebanon army captures 3 Syria gunmen near Arsal as they tried to cross the border to Qalamoun where fierce fighting underway #Syria
  • FSA clarifies report that the Islamic Front took over its bases in Bab Al Hawa; now says Front assisted after base attacked by "armed gang”
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