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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

  • Winter delivers further grief, anguish for beleaguered Syrian refugees

    The breathtaking beauty of the surrounding snow-covered mountains offers no consolation for the misery that winter has brought for thousands of Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley. In farmland repurposed as an unofficial refugee camp for those fleeing Syria’s war, snow dumped by Lebanon’s first storm of the season melts when the temperature rises a few degrees above freezing during the day, turning the narrow paths between tents into shin-deep patches of mud.

    Thursday found children standing shivering by a puddle, their rubber sandals sinking into the mud and their pajama pants rolled up in a futile attempt to keep them clean.

    “These children have no clothes — how can they not get sick?” said a refugee who identified himself by a nickname, Abu Ali. Like many refugees in Lebanon, he was afraid to disclose his real name.

    At least 80,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon are living at winter’s mercy in tent settlements like this one, according to Dana Sleiman, a public-information officer with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Hundreds of thousands more are living in unfinished buildings, garages and other structures offering insufficient protection against winter’s bite.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Amnesty International lashes out at EU response to Syrian refugees

    European leaders should "hang their heads with shame" over their treatment of Syrian refugees fleeing the country's brutal conflict, rights group Amnesty International said Friday.

    In a briefing titled: "An international failure: The Syrian refugee crisis," the rights group stated that European Union member states have only offered around 12,000 places to Syrian refugees as part of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee's goal of securing 30,000 places.

    "The EU has miserably failed to play its part in providing a safe haven to the refugees who have lost all but their lives," said Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty. "The number of those it's prepared to resettle is truly pitiful."

    He called upon EU leaders to open their borders, provide safe passage to those seeking refuge, and refrain from "unlawful push-back operations" currently being employed to stop refugees entering the continent.

    Only 10 EU member states offered resettlement or humanitarian admission places to refugees from Syria, according to the report. Of the 12,000 places offered, 10,000 have been pledged by Germany. France has offered 500 places and Spain 30.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • On Dec. 19, the diplomatic missions of France, the United Kingdom, Norway and Canada will sponsor an event on the role women can play in solving the Syrian crisis, according to the French mission's translated website. 

    From the website: 

  • A child refugee from the northern province of Raqaa in Syria, reacts from the cold weather in a Syrian refugee camp beside the Lebanese border town of Arsal, in eastern Bekaa Valley on December 12, 2013 (Alia Haju/Reuters)

  • Active and meaningful participation of #Syrian women is essential to effective peace building @UN_Women @foreignoffice @UKMissionGeneva
  • UN chief receives final report on alleged Syria chemical weapons attacks

    The chief U.N chemical weapons inspector handed his final report on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria Thursday to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

    "The use of chemical weapons is a grave violation of international law and an affront to our shared humanity," Ban said. "We need to remain vigilant to ensure that these awful weapons are eliminated, not only in Syria, but everywhere."

    Experts found evidence of chemical weapons use, probably in several locations, the report said.

    Ake Sellstrom, a Swedish professor and head of the U.N. chemical inspections team, presented the report to Ban in his office at U.N. headquarters, and it is then being sent to members of the Security Council.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Photo: Syrian refugees gather around a fire to keep warm in a refugee camp in Lebanon (@Reuters )

  • Human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) criticized European leaders over their reluctance to resettle Syrian refugees. In a report issued Thursday titled "An International Failure: The Syrian Refugee Crisis," AI calls on Europeanj nations to do more to provide assistance and protection to refugees fleeing the crisis, and to "share the responsibility for hosting refugees more equally."

    "The EU has miserably failed to play its part in providing a safe haven to the refugees who have lost all but their lives. The number of those it’s prepared to resettle is truly pitiful. Across the board European leaders should hang their heads in shame," said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
    The AI briefing breaks down the figures:

    Only 10 EU member states offered resettlement or humanitarian admission places to refugees from Syria.

     is by far the most generous – pledging to take 10,000 refugees or 80 percent of total EU pledges.

    Excluding Germany, the remaining 27 EU member states have offered to take a mere 2,340 refugees from Syria.

     offered just 500 places or 0.02 per cent of the total number of people who have fled Syria.

     agreed to take just 30 or 0.001 per cent of refugees from Syria.

    Eighteen EU member states – including the UK and Italy – offered no places at all.
  • Prof. Ake Sellström, head of the U.N. mission to investigate allegations of the use of chemical weapons in the Syria, hands U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon a report on the investigation on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

  • Chemical weapons were likely used in five out of seven attacks investigated by U.N. experts in Syria, where a 2 1/2-year civil war has killed more than 100,000 people, according to the final report of a U.N. inquiry published on Thursday.

    U.N. investigators said the deadly nerve agent sarin was likely used in four incidents, in one case on a large scale.

    The report noted that in several cases the victims included government soldiers and civilians, though it was not always possible to establish with certainty any direct links between the attacks, the victims and the alleged sites of the incidents.

    "The United Nations Mission concludes that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic," the final report by chief U.N. investigator Ake Sellstrom said.

    The inquiry was only looking at whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them. The Syrian government and the opposition have accused each other of using chemical weapons, and both have denied it.

    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established the Sellstrom investigation after the Syrian government wrote to Ban accusing the rebels of carrying out the chemical weapons attack in Khan al-Assal.

    Sellstrom delivered the final report to Ban on Thursday. Ban will brief the U.N. General Assembly on the report on Friday and the U.N. Security Council on Monday.

    "The use of chemical weapons is a grave violation of international law and an affront to our shared humanity," Ban said. "We need to remain vigilant to ensure that these awful weapons are eliminated, not only in Syria, but everywhere."

  • The Spokesperson for the Secretary-General can confirm the following:

    The Final Report by the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic has been turned over today, Thursday, 12 December, to the Secretary-General by Professor Åke Sellström, the Head of the Mission.

    On Friday, 13 December, the Secretary-General will brief the General Assembly on the report in a closed session at 3:00 pm.

    Following that briefing, at 4:30 pm, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Angela Kane; Head of the United Nations Mission; Professor Sellström; and the team leaders, Mr. Scott Cairns from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and Dr. Maurizio Barbeschi from the World Health Organization, will brief the press.

    The Secretary-General will brief the Security Council on the report on Monday, 16 December 2013.

  • UN: In several Syria chemical attacks investigators could not establish direct links between the attack, the site and the victims-@Reuters
  • The final report of the United Nations investigation into alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria was just released today:

    Final report to the UN Director General

  • The UN has released its final report into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. Experts found evidence of probably chemical weapons use in five our of seven attacks investigated.
  • The State Department has just released the following statement regarding the massacre of civilians in Syria:

    We condemn in the strongest possible terms the recent massacres of Syrian civilians in the Qalamoun region and elsewhere. Scores of civilians, many of them children, have again fallen victim to brutal violence, and we are outraged at the alarming reports, including reports of invasive house raids, kidnappings, and extrajudicial killings. We also note and condemn the latest report of a massacre of civilians in Adra.

    As we strongly condemn these atrocities against the civilian population, we also reinforce our solidarity with the Syrian people. This violence is a stark reminder that civilians bear the greatest sacrifice in their fight for a free Syria. Direct attacks on civilians not taking part in hostilities breach the most basic principles of dignity and freedom from oppression that have characterized the Syrian people's struggle.

    We have long said that those responsible for perpetrating atrocities in Syria – especially the latest vicious violence against innocent civilians – must be held accountable. Toward this end, we continue to work with Syrian activists and civil society to develop a sound understanding of different transitional justice tools and discuss future transitional justice processes, such as a tribunal. We are also supporting international and Syrian documentation efforts, including efforts to train Syrian investigators. These efforts are critical in building an evidence base that will contribute to ensuring the justice and accountability that the Syrian people, especially victims, deserve. We remain committed to help ensure those responsible for these atrocities are held accountable.

    It is particularly troubling to us that these atrocities have been committed in many areas where the regime has denied humanitarian access to suffering Syrians. The severe winter storm and cold conditions are only adding to the hardships faced by those in need. We reiterate our calls for the Syrian Government and other parties to the conflict to facilitate humanitarian access to all those in need and to work to end the needless suffering of the Syrian people.
  • The list of participants to take part in a Syria peace conference next month in Switzerland is not yet finalized, the UN said Thursday.

    UN chief Ban Ki-moon spoke on the subject early Thursday with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

    UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will meet in in Geneva on December 20 with Russian and American officials to further prepare for the conference, Nesirky said.

    "Ultimately it is the secretary general who will be issuing the invitations," he added.

    "It will happen in short order after the December 20 meeting."

    According to diplomats, Iran and Saudi Arabia, which back opposite sides in Syria's war, are among more than 30 countries slated to attend the conference, which will last only 24 hours.

    "At the moment there are 32 countries invited, but that number may increase because everyone wants to come," an Arab diplomat told AFP.

    Most countries will be represented by their top diplomats and "each minister can speak for five minutes," the Arab diplomat said.

    The regime and the opposition will each send delegations to the meeting, and will hold bilateral talks hosted by Brahimi on January 24 in Geneva.

  • When asked how much nonlethal assistance the US has given to the Syrian opposition, the Department of State said that they are providing nearly $260 million in nonlethal support to the Syrian opposition and the Supreme Military Council (SMC).
  • The United States is concerned about troubles facing Syria's Western-backed opposition but it will keep supporting Free Syrian Army leader General Salim Idris and the moderate opposition, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday.

    The opposition to President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday said its military arm had invited Islamist fighters to secure its weapons depots on the Turkish frontier after an attack by Al Qaeda militants.

    "What has occurred here in the last couple of days is a clear reflection on how complicated and dangerous this situation is and how unpredictable it is," Hagel told a Pentagon news conference.

    "But this is a problem, what has occurred here, a big problem. And we're going to have to work through it and manage through it with General Idris and the moderate opposition."

    The opposition's inability to control its own storehouses without help from Islamist groups has exposed its military weakness.

    Asked what the solution might be, Hagel said: "When the moderate opposition is set back, that's not good. But that's what we deal with."

    "But we take it straight up, work with the moderate opposition, with our allies in the area, and we'll continue to do that," he added.

  • State Dept: Gen Idriss was in Turkey when warehouse seized, in Turkey now. I think he may have been in Doha.SMC can "outline his movements.'
  • United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi has set a deadline for all Syrian sides to name their delegations to the upcoming Geneva 2 peace talks, Reuters reported Thursday.

    From Reuters:

    International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has given Syria's warring sides until December 27 to name their delegations to planned peace negotiations next month, officials said on Thursday.

    About 30 ministers from big powers, regional countries and others are due to gather in the resort of Montreux on January 22 to give their blessing to the negotiations between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and rebels fighting to oust him.

    Then Brahimi will broker the first face-to-face Syrian talks in Geneva from January 23. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is to confirm the Montreux ministerial venue shortly - Geneva hotels will be full at the time due to an annual luxury watch fair.

    The stated goal is to agree a transitional government with full powers to end a 1,000-day-old conflict that has killed well over 100,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.

    Brahimi has set a deadline for Damascus and the opposition to name their teams to the "Geneva 2 conference", which follows one held by his predecessor Kofi Annan in June 2012. Those talks did not formally involve the Syrian government and its foes.

    The envoy's spokeswoman, Khawla Mattar, said Brahimi wanted the delegations named by December 27. "That is the deadline by which Mr Brahimi should receive the names of the Syrian delegations and who is leading them," she said.

  • The Supreme Military Council has released a statement refuting reports that General Salim Idriss was forced to flee to a Gulf country. 

    The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Idriss was forced to flee to Turkey and eventually flew to Doha after the Islamic Front ran him out of his headquarters and took over key warehouses holding U.S. military gear.

    Read the full statement below. Note: The first page is in Arabic, the second page is the English translation. 

    SMC Statement

  • A Syrian refugee carrying a child runs for cover from the snow during a winter storm in Zahle town, in the Bekaa Valley December 11, 2013. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters) 

  • Syria's Western-backed opposition said on Thursday it had invited Islamist fighters to secure its depots on the Turkish frontier after an attack by al Qaeda militants.

    The United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to northern Syria after reports that Islamic Front forces had taken buildings belonging to the coalition's Syrian Military Council (SMC) in Bab al-Hawa on the border with Turkey.

    But the opposition Syrian National Coalition said it had in fact asked the Islamic Front, a union of six major rebel groups, to defend the premises against fighters from the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

    "The SMC warehouses were overrun by ISIL ... As a result of that, (SMC leader) General Salim Idris sent a request to the Islamic Front to protect these warehouses," coalition spokesman Khaled Saleh said in Istanbul.

    "The Islamic Front came in and managed to push ISIL back and they are waiting for General Idris's group to come and take control of their warehouses," he said.

    Saleh did not say whether the warehouses contained weapons.

    The U.S. and British aid cut-off underlined a crisis in the rebel leadership, which seeks international backing to reinforce its credibility and stop fighters joining al Qaeda-backed groups now leading the struggle against President Bashar al-Assad.

    The SMC's inability to control its own storehouses without help from Islamist groups has exposed its military weakness.

    SMC spokesman Louay Mekdad said Idris was meeting Islamic Front brigade leaders near the border to try resolve the issue.

    Abu Talha, an Islamic Front leader, confirmed his fighters had been responding to the SMC's plea for help. "In truth, the call came a bit late," he told al Jazeera television.

    "There was more than one case of theft or looting from the Command and unfortunately the Supreme Command doesn't have the power yet to defend its weapons depots and its bases," he said, referring to the SMC, which the West has tried to build up as the body in overall command of the campaign to topple Assad.

    For months rebel leaders have discussed how to restructure the SMC into a more organized body. But with hundreds of brigades to be consulted, progress has been slow, with the Bab al-Hawa standoff a new hindrance, rebel sources said.

  • A spokesman for Syria's main Western-backed rebel group has criticized the decision by the United States and Britain to suspend nonlethal aid to opposition fighters in northern Syria.

    The U.S.-British decision reflected Western fears of the growing strength of al-Qaida-linked forces among the rebels. It came after some of the aid was seized by Islamic militants.

    The rebel spokesman, Loay al-Mikdad, said Thursday that Free Syrian Army commanders would contact U.S. and British officials to clear up the "misunderstanding."

    He says he hopes the decision would be reconsidered because it would impact negatively on the Syrian people, not just the rebel FSA.

    Wednesday's suspension was another blow to the rebels amid diminished international support for their struggle and recent losses on the battlefield against President Bashar Assad's troops.

    [Associated Press]
  • According to the Wall Street Journal, the top US-backed opposition commander in Syria was run out of his headquarters over the weekend, fleeing to Turkey, then Doha:

    "He fled as a result of the Islamic Front taking over his headquarters," a senior U.S. official said.

    The U.S. is urging Gen. Idris, who left Syria for Turkey then Doha over the weekend, to return to Syria, the officials said.

    Two senior officials said the warehouses that were taken over by the Islamic Front appeared to contain a range of lethal and nonlethal equipment. The U.S. and Britain announced Wednesday that they were freezing the delivery of nonlethal equipment into northern Syria.

    U.S. officials declined to comment on whether American weapons were in the warehouses. The Central Intelligence Agency has been providing small amounts of arms to handpicked moderate rebels. Gen. Idris also receives weapons from other countries, including Saudi Arabia.

    Read more at the Wall Street Journal
  • Winter weather threatens Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan

    A blustery storm dropped torrential rain and snow on Lebanon and Jordan on Wednesday, as aid agencies scrambled to distribute desperately needed winter supplies like blankets and plastic tarps to Syrian refugees who have sought safe haven in the countries.

    Temperatures dropped below freezing in northern Lebanon and some areas of the Bekaa Valley, which is dotted with informal refugee settlements made largely from tents not built to withstand the harsh weather.

    The winter weather heaped another layer of misery on the already grim existence of many of the estimated 1.4 million Syrians in Lebanon who fled the civil war raging in their homeland.

    "We are extremely concerned for the refugees this winter that promises to be very harsh," Dana Sleiman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees told The Associated Press.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America

    The winter storm brought high winds and freezing temperatures to the embattled region. Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

  • International news organizations called on Syrian rebel leaders on Wednesday to stop armed groups kidnapping journalists, saying dozens of abductions were preventing full media coverage of the civil war.

    In a letter to the opposition leadership, 13 major news organizations said they estimated that more than 30 journalists were being held in Syria: "As a result of these kidnappings, a growing number of news organizations no longer feel that it is safe for their reporters and photographers to enter Syria and many have decided to limit their coverage of the war," they added.

    Asking opposition leaders to secure the release of journalists, the organizations said their staff accepted the risk of injury and death in reporting from war zones: "But the risk of kidnapping is unacceptable," they said. "And the leadership is in a position to reduce and eliminate that risk."

    Kidnappings are common in rebel-held northern areas around Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa. The Committee to Protect Journalists called the letter [PDF] an "unprecedented step". The CPJ has recorded the deaths of more than 50 journalists in Syria since 2011 and it said there had been at least seven abductions in the past two months alone.

  • Q. Need to rethink support for opposition? State Dept: "We remain firmly committed to the SMC" but certainly event like this is concerning
  • State: We do engage w/a broad section of grps, from many parties. SMC continues to be the group we work through. (Q on would US work w/IF)
  • State Dept: Warehouses & a HQ previous run by the SMC were seized, and that's concerning. #Syria #SMC
  • State Dept: 'This has nothing to do with our support for the SMC, nothing to do w/ our support for the opposition." #Syria
  • State Dept: Nonlethal assistance incl MREs, laptops, etc. No eval yet of what was in that warehouse in Atmeh #Syria
  • State Dept: IF not designated terrorists. At same time, we work w/SMC as coordinating grp for military assistance. We're evaluating impact
  • .@statedeptspox at briefing: We're working closely w/Gen Idriss & SMC staff to inventory US supplies provided to SMC. Suspension in meantime
  • State Department spokesman Jen Psaki began her daily briefing by taking questions about halting non-lethal aid to Syria. 

    She stressed that the move isn't a halting of aid but the US is concerned about Islamic Front forces seizing SMC buildings. 

    The fact that the warehouse and headquarters have been taken over is 'certainly concerning,' Pskai said.

    The US still evaluating what happened on the ground, Psaki in response to a question about what the incident says about the SMC. The AP's Matt Lee said there are reports the SMC just ran away, asking what that means about their future as a fighting force in Syria. 

    'The SMC is the group we're working with,' Psaki stressed, adding that is the group America is encouraging the international community to work with as well. 

    When asked what this incident means in the larger scope of the civil war, Psaki demurred, saying the State Department wasn't prepared right now to make a statement about what the larger impact is. 

    Psaki was pressed on where the Geneva 2 peace talks will be held, since they can't actually be held in Geneva. However, she said no final decision on location or delegations have been made. But Psaki did announce the next trilateral meeting is scheduled for Dec. 20. 

    Delegations for all sides, including the various opposition groups, have not yet been chosen. During her briefing, Psaki said it's 'too early to say' how events will impact who will attend the upcoming peace talks, but the State Department is still working with the opposition on a 'representative delegation.'
  • White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest addressed the US suspending deliveries of non-lethal aid to Syria during Wednesday's press briefing.

    A significant portion of America's policy toward Syria has been providing support toward the moderate elements of the opposition, Earnest said, adding that the US is 'trying to coordinate and lift up' the moderate elements.

    While Earnest did confirm that the US has halted non-lethal aid, he stressed that humanitarian aid is not affected.

    Earnest added that he concerned about reports that Islamic Front forces seized buildings belonging to Syria's Supreme Military Council. 
  • US #Syria arc: Assad's days numbered. Talk only w/unarmed opp. OK w/moderate rebels. CW deal. Stop nonlethal aid we didn't deliver. Geneva.
  • A massive snowstorm has hit Lebanon, negatively affecting the scores of Syrian refugees seeking shelter in the country, The Associated Press reported Wednesday. 

    From the AP:

    A blustery storm dropped torrential rain and snow on Lebanon and Jordan on Wednesday, forcing aid agencies to scramble to distribute desperately needed winter supplies like blankets and plastic tarps to Syrian refugees who have sought safe haven in the countries.

    The storm, dubbed Alexa, pushed temperatures below freezing in northern Lebanon and some areas of the Bekaa Valley, which is dotted with informal refugee settlements. The winter weather heaped another layer of misery on the already grim existence of many of the estimated 1.4 million Syrians in Lebanon who fled the civil war raging in their homeland.

    "We are extremely concerned for the refugees this winter that promises to be very harsh," Dana Sleiman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees told The Associated Press.

  • Britain has also suspended aid to northern Syria, according to Reuters. The latest development follows an announcement the US was doing the same after Islamic Front forces seized buildings belonging to the opposition.

    From Reuters: 

    The United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to northern Syria after Islamist fighters seized Western-backed rebel weapons warehouses, highlighting fears that supplies could end up in the wrong hands and the general chaos engulfing the nation.

    The rebel Free Syrian Army fighting President Bashar al-Assad said the U.S. and British moves were rushed and mistaken. "We hope our friends will rethink and wait for a few days when things will be clearer," FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad said.

    The suspension underlines a crisis for the FSA leadership which needs international backing to reinforce its credibility and to stop its fighters joining powerful al Qaeda-backed Islamist militants who now dominate the war with Assad.

    Read more at Reuters. The Associated Press also reported Wednesday that the UK is suspending nonlethal aid deliveries to Syria until it can ensure the safe delivery of equipment. 
  • Family tents en route to @ZaatariCamp These will be home for #Syria ’n refugees for the foreseeable future

  • UNHCR said worried for thousands of Syrians living in more than 200 informal camps in central &north #Lebanon ; "It's really cold in Bekaa"
  • Gunmen in Syria abduct leading human rights lawyer

    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 groups 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 Assad as well as Islamic armed groups 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.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • #US suspends non-lethal aid to northern #Syria after Islamic Front forces seized FSA headquarters and warehouses at Bab Al Hawa border
  • The United States has suspended all non-lethal assistance into northern Syria after Islamic Front forces seized headquarters and warehouses belonging to the opposition's Supreme Military Council (SMC), a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Ankara said.

    Fighters from the Islamic Front, a union of six major rebel groups, took control of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) bases at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on Syria's northwestern border with Turkey late on Friday.

    Turkey shut its side of the border crossing, in Hatay province, due to a reported increase in clashes on the Syrian side, customs sources told Reuters. There was no immediate confirmation from Turkish officials.

    Infighting among Syrian rebels has weakened their efforts to bring down President Bashar al-Assad in the conflict which began as peaceful protests against his rule in March 2011 and has descended into civil war.

    It was unclear why the Islamic Front had seized the SMC premises and it was not known if any stock had gone missing.

    "As a result of this situation, the United States has suspended all further deliveries of non-lethal assistance into northern Syria," the spokesman said, adding humanitarian assistance was not impacted because it is distributed through international and non-governmental organizations.

    FSA representatives could not be reached for comment and the U.S. Embassy spokesman said the situation was being investigated "to inventory the status of U.S. equipment and supplies provided to the SMC."

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