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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

  • Diplomats in Geneva expect we will be back for round 3 in March - but say Brahimi has refused even in closed meetings to commit to date
  • After holding back from laying blame to stalling of talks, Brahimi finally says it is government refusing agenda
  • Brahimi revealed it was govt side that would NOT accept his order of agenda items for next round. #geneva
  • Thousands have fled a rebel-held town in Syria as a 'major assault' looms, according to Reuters. 

    From Reuters:

    Thousands of people have fled a rebel-held town inSyria after it was bombed and shelled in an operation that has prompted fears of a major assault by ground troops, the United Nations said on Friday.

    The fighting came as peace talks in Geneva neared the end of a second round with no sign of progress and with the government and opposition sides as far from agreement as ever, with both sticking to their known positions.

    Military action in the town of Yabroud, in western Syria near the border with Lebanon, would fit with the government's aim of securing a corridor linking Damascus with President Bashar al-Assad's heartland on the Mediterranean coast.

    "We have received reports from within Syria that there have been numerous aerial attacks and shelling along with a military build-up around the town, suggesting a major assault by land may be imminent," U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said.

    "We understand that there remains a large number of civilians in Yabroud, with some estimates suggesting as many as 40,000 to 50,000 people, with thousands of others fleeing over the last few days," he said

    Electricity was cut off on Wednesday and field hospitals are short of medical supplies as scores of people require urgent treatment, Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.

  • International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi plans to take Syrian peace talks into a third round, an opposition official said on Friday, as negotiations neared the end of a second round with no sign of progress.

    "Brahimi just told us the talks will continue and there will be a third round, but he did not set a date," opposition negotiator Ahmad Jakal told Reuters.

    Brahimi told the opposition that there would be a further session of talks on Saturday, but he did not say if he would meet the two delegations together or separately, Jakal added.

    Brahimi also said he would fly to New York "shortly" to meet U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Jakal said.

  • Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that President Barack Obama has asked for possible new policy options on Syria given the worsening humanitarian situation there.

    "He has asked all of us to think about various options that may or may not exist. The answer to the question: have they been presented? No, they have not. But that evaluation, by necessity, given the circumstances, is taking place at this time," Kerry told reporters during a visit to Beijing.

    "And when these options are ripe and when the president calls for it, there will undoubtedly be some discussion about them."

  • #UN : Damascus had a legal duty to allow civilians to leave; "major assault by land may be imminent on Yabroud town of 40,000-50,000 people"
  • The United Nations voiced concern on Friday at a military build-up near the rebel-held Syrian town of Yabroud, saying it feared a "major assault" by government forces and stressed that Damascus had a legal duty to allow civilians to leave.

    "We have received reports from within Syria that there have been numerous aerial attacks and shelling along with a military build-up around the town, suggesting a major assault by land may be imminent" on the town of 40,000-50,000 people, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing.

    Some 500-600 families have already fled and arrived in Arsal, Lebanon, citing "their fear of this attack" and the U.N. refugee agency is "bracing for a big influx" across the Lebanese border, UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told reporters.

  • Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said nations that brought the Syrian opposition to the ongoing peace talks in Geneva are set on 'regime change, but they must not focus solely on creating a transitional governing body, Reuters reported early Friday morning.

    Lavrov also said there are ongoing attempts to derail the peace talks and the opposition's warnings that peace talks cannot continue forever are not 'logical' after only two rounds, according to Reuters.
  • The Syrian opposition has said international mediator Brahimi plans to hold a third round of peace talks but has not yet set a date, according to Reuters
  • Brahimi - russia and us promise to help unblock the process
  • International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi is now briefing the media in Geneva after meeting with diplomats from the United States and Russia
  • The United States Mission Geneva has released some photos from Thursday's trilateral meeting between the United Nations, the United States and Russia

    The parties gather at the table for the trilateral meeting 

    International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi sits with the United Nations team 

    United States Under Secretary Wendy Sherman greets the Russian delegation 

  • According to The Wall Street Journal, President Bashar al-Assad has stepped in to try and bolster the humanitarian mission in Homs. 

    From the Journal: 

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has personally stepped in to try to salvage the faltering United Nations humanitarian mission here.

    Syrian allies Iran and Russia are pressing Mr. Assad to cooperate with U.N.-mediated peace talks in Geneva, a Western diplomat said. As part of the diplomacy, the allies also want the regime to build trust by easing suffering and allowing operations such as the one in Homs.

    The governor of Homs earlier this week indicated that he was under pressure from Geneva to not impede the relief effort, which has brought food to starving civilians in a rebel-held enclave of Homs that has been besieged by government forces for more than 18 months. It has also evacuated nearly 1,500 people since it began on Friday.

    But the mission has been beset by deadly violence, and concern is mounting over the fate of hundreds of men detained by the regime upon their evacuation because they were between the ages of 16-54 and presumed to be combatants.

    Representatives of the Assad regime and Syrian rebels met face to face in Geneva on Monday for the first time since a U.N. aid convoy came under attack in the besieged city of Homs. Via the Foreign Bureau, WSJ's global news update. Photo: AP

    One man evacuated on Wednesday conceded that he was scared about what would happen to him if he was detained.

    "I thought being shot in the head would be faster and more bearable than starving slowly to death," he said, explaining why he chose to come out.

  • UN&US officials try to lower expectations of journalists on significance of UN-US-Russia mtg now in Geneva-but diplomats say significant

  • Civilians stand near Syrian Arab Red Crescent and United Nations vehicles as they wait to be evacuated from a besieged area of Homs on Feb. 12 (Thaer Al Khalidiya/Reuters)

  • A humanitarian ceasefire in the Syrian city of Homs was extended on Thursday for three more days, the city's governor told Reuters.

    "The ceasefire has been extended for an additional three days, starting from today, to allow the evacuation of the remaining civilians," Talal al-Barazi, the governor, said by telephone.

    He added that a total of 1,400 people had been evacuated from the besieged Old City since last Friday, when the U.N.-brokered ceasefire began.

    Of those, 220 were still undergoing background checks, he said, meaning they were being detained for questioning.

  • According to Defense Department Spokesman Col. Steve Warren, The M/V Cape Ray has arrived at Rota, Spain for a port visit. When Syria has completed the removal of its chemical materials, the M/V Cape Ray will leave Rota and head to the transloading port in Italy to take the chemicals onboard, Warren said. 

    The U.S. Embassy in Madrid also released a statement on the M/V Cape Ray:

    February 13, 2014. Today, M/V Cape Ray made a routine port of call for rest and refueling at Rota, Spain. The M/V Cape Ray is a significant U.S. contribution to international efforts to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons program and will be used to neutralize the highest priority chemicals.

    By offering Rota for a port of call before M/V Cape Ray receives a load of chemical materials and embarks on the destruction phase of her mission, Spain is making a contribution to the United Nations (UN)-sanctioned multinational effort to rid Syria of its chemical weapons materials.

    When Syria has completed removal of the chemicals, M/V Cape Ray will depart Rota and proceed to the transloading port in Italy, where she will take the chemicals aboard. The United States plans to neutralize the chemicals at sea in international waters using proven hydrolysis technology. All waste from the hydrolysis process aboard M/V Cape Ray will be safely and properly stored on board M/V Cape Ray until it is disposed of at commercial facilities to be determined by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW.) No hydrolysis byproducts will be released into the sea or air. M/V Cape Ray will comply with all applicable international laws, regulations, and treaties.

    On September 27, 2013, the OPCW Executive Council adopted a consensus decision on Syrian chemical weapons and the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2118. Together, these actions set out an ambitious program and commitment by the international community to dismantle and destroy Syria's chemical weapons program. The United States is committed to this multinational effort and to ensuring that the hydrolysis of Syria's chemical materials prioritizes the safety of people, protects the environment, follows OPCW verification procedures, and is within applicable standards. In addition to lending our unique capabilities through specially outfitting a U.S. vessel, the United States has provided tens of millions of dollars in assistance to support the OPCW's efforts. Many other nations have also contributed to this effort.

  • The governor of Homs tells Reuters the humanitarian ceasefire for the city has been extended for three more days, the news organization reported early Thursday morning.

    The governor of Homs says 1,400 people have been evacuated since the ceasefire began, according to Reuters.
  • The Syrian opposition is urging Russia to take a more forceful stand with the Syrian government to help kickstart faltering peace talks in Geneva.

    Anas al-Abdeh, a member of the opposition's negotiating team in Geneva said Wednesday they expect Russia — a key ally of Syria's President Bashar Assad — to put pressure on the government delegation to show flexibility at the talks.

    The two sides have been unable to agree on a common agenda for the second round of talks that started Monday. The U.N. said that a meeting between senior U.S. and Russian officials — who are backing the process — with U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi will be held Thursday, a day before it was originally planned.

    [The Associated Press]
  • While the Syrian government and rebels have been at peace talks in Geneva, Syrians have been killed at the fastest rate since the country slid into conflict in 2011, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday.

    At least 4,959 people died in the three-week period between January 22, when the first round of 'Geneva 2' peace talks began, and February 11, the pro-opposition monitoring group said.

    "After reaching the highest death toll since the revolution started, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights calls for the Geneva 2 talks to be suspended if (the talks do) not include an immediate halt to all military operations," said the British-based group, which uses a network of sources across Syria.

    Rami Abdelrahman, the head of the Observatory, said an average of 236 people had died each day in that time period.

    "This is the highest average we have had. At other periods of time, we might have had a day with an extremely high toll, but the next day would be lower," he told Reuters by telephone.

    The Observatory estimated that nearly a third of those killed were civilians - at least 515 of those were women and children killed in air raids and artillery strikes.

    Syria's nearly three-year conflict began as peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad's rule but turned into an armed insurgency under a security force crackdown.

    The fighting has since descended into civil war that has killed more than 130,000 people and forced more than 6 million to flee their homes.

  • Mekdad insists that they will 'fight terrorism' - refusing to discuss transitional governing body as was requested by Brahimi today
  • Mekdad says any 'diversion from order in Geneva talks is a recipe for disaster'
  • first group of people are being prepared to be evacuated now #Homs
  • Mekdad says 'solution to political crisis is working through Geneva communique in order'
  • Mekdad says govt 'presented paper to respond to lies of opposition' on humanitarian situation
  • Syrian Deputy FM Mekdad taking questions from pro-Government journalists after ending of session with Brahimi
  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports 4,959 people have been killed since the start of the Geneva 2 peace talks on Jan. 22.
  • According to Syrian state TV, the Syrian government delegation says it is 'fruitless' to have parallel track talks on terrorism and a transitional government, Reuters reported early Wednesday.

    The Syrian government in Geneva says, according to Syrian state TV, that discussing terrorism must come before any other issues at the peace talks, Reuters reports.
  • No progress from new round of Syria peace talks

    Syrian government and opposition negotiators met face-to-face for the first time during a second round of Geneva talks but the two sides made little progress, U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who mediated the talks, said on Tuesday.

    After a tumultuous first stab at peace talks, which wrapped up late last month, negotiations resumed this week in Geneva to end Syria's nearly three-year war, which has killed over 130,000 people and displaced millions more.

    "The beginning of this week is as laborious as it was in the first week. We are not making much progress," he told a news conference in Geneva after a joint meeting between the two sides.

    The Syrian Red Crescent meanwhile said on Tuesday that it was preparing to re-enter the Old City area of Homs, a day after it had announced 1,200 people had been evacuated from rebel-held areas that have been under siege and cut off from aid for nearly two years.

    After attacks on aid convoys into the city delayed the operation, the United Nations said the delivery process would be extended to Wednesday night.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • During a joint news conference with French President Hollande, President Obama said the two leaders are united on what needs to happen next in Syria.

    Moving forward, the country needs to be rid of its chemical weapons and Obama called on the international community to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Syria.

    Hollande called the Geneva talks a possible solution but said the international community must ensure the choice for the Syrian people isn't between a dictatorship and chaos.
  • The Syrian government and the opposition met face to face on Tuesday and observed a minute of silence for people killed in the three year conflict after a first round of talks last month failed to make significant progress, delegates said.

    "I hope that the minute of silence will signal an improvement in the atmosphere this time," opposition delegate Ahmed Jakal told Reuters.

    He said that international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi proposed that the two sides discuss ending the violence on Tuesday and the formation of a transitional governing body on Wednesday.

    The two issues have caused deep rifts between the warring parties and delayed negotiations.

    Syrian state news agency SANA said the morning's joint session started with a minute's silence "for the souls of the martyrs of the village of Maan in rural Hama."

    The authorities accused Sunni Muslim Islamist fighters of killing 42 people on Sunday in Maan, which is populated by members of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect.

    Monzer Akbik, a spokesman for the opposition National Coalition, said no civilians were killed in Maan.

    "There was a battle over there between (the rebel) Free Syrian Army and Assad forces. The village itself was evacuated of civilians more than six months ago. All people in that battle … were killed in action. No civilians were killed in that battle."

    He said that Tuesday's session was still focused on discussing what the schedule for the week should be and said the two sides were arguing over the length and number of meeting.

    "We will not go on and on with the regime games. People are dying and the regime is asking for a limited number of sessions - one session every day and a shortened session," he said, adding that the opposition wants to increase the number and length of the daily sessions.

    A main issue at the talks is the role of Assad in a transitional governing body. The government says it will not discuss his leaving power while the opposition wants no role for the man whose family has ruled Syria for more than four decades.

    A deep split in the international community over the conflict has entrenched those positions.

    In a clear bid to overcome that, Brahimi will meet U.S. and Russian officials on Friday.

  • UN refuses to name who shelled and fired on aid workers and civilians in Homs #Syria , announces agreement for another 3-day ceasefire.
  • According to a statement, the United Nations aid chief says Syrian parties agree to a three-day extension of humanitarian pause for the besieged city of Homs, Reuters reports.
  • According to a statement from the United Nations, International mediator Brahimi is slated to meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Gennady Gatilov and United States Under Secretary Wendy Sherman in Geneva on Friday, Reuters reports.
  • During 3-day humanitarian operation in Homs, UN convoys carrying aid in were shelled, snipers shot those leaving, 11 died, according to UN.
  • More than 800 people have been evacuated from Homs #Syria , where civilians have been besieged with no food and medical care for 600+ days.
  • As the two delegations and Brahimi recommence peace talks in Geneva, humanitarian aid delivery and evacuations continue in Homs. Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs, told Al Jazeera English roughly 100 civilians will be evacuated today — including some who are Christians.

    Barazi told Al Jazeera English those watching the situation in Homs should expect a higher number of evacuees in the next several days.
  • Brahimi no longer holding press conference - was expected this afternoon
  • A third shipment of chemical weapons materials left Syria on Monday, and some other chemical substances have been destroyed inside the country, the joint mission of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said.

    It did not detail the quantity of material shipped out or destroyed but called on Syrian authorities to "expedite systematic, predictable and high-volume movements to complete the safe removal of chemical materials".

    Syria failed to meet an OPCW target of Feb. 5 to move its declared chemical substances and precursors out of the country. But the UN-OPCW mission head said last week she did not believe the government was intentionally delaying the process.

  • The OPCW has released a statement confirming the third shipment of Syria's chemical weapons:

    10 February 2014


    A third shipment of chemical weapons material took place from the Syrian Arab Republic today. The material is on board a Norwegian cargo vessel accompanied by a naval escort from the People's Republic of China, Denmark, Norway, and the Russian Federation. The United Kingdom is participating in the naval escort in international waters. Finland is providing experts onboard the Danish vessel.

    The Joint Mission confirms that in-country destruction of some chemical materials has taken place alongside the removal of chemical weapons material, and welcomes progress to date. The Syrian Arab Republic is encouraged to expedite systematic, predictable and high-volume movements to complete the safe removal of chemical materials.

    The Joint Mission continues to work closely with the Syrian Arab Republic and Member States to achieve timely implementation of UNSC resolution 2118 (2013) and OPCW Executive Council decisions.

  • According to a statement from the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the third shipment of chemical weapons material from Syria has taken place, Reuters reports.
  • As of 11:18 a.m. ET, Al Jazeera English reports a total of 611 civilians have been evacuated from the Old City of Homs.
  • More than 500 civilians from the Old City Homs have been evacuated, Al Jazeera English reports. This number includes the 83 civilians evacuated on Friday. The majority of evacuees reportedly left the city in the last hour, Al Jazeera English reported a little before 11 a.m. ET on Sunday.
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