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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

  • Ban: With Brahimi's experience, thought we would be able to deliver. Bc of division within UN and region, not been able to make progress.
  • International Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi will step down from the role on May 31, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday.

    For more than a year, Brahimi has made no secret that he is contemplating stepping down from the post as the United Nations and Arab League joint special representative on Syria. Brahimi is due to brief the U.N. Security Council later on Tuesday.

  • Brahimi: Have absolutely no doubt that SG will do everything humanly possible to work with UNSC and neighbors of #syria to end crisis
  • Ban: Reiterate that there must be accountability for terrible crimes committed including starvation. #Syria
  • Ban accepts Brahimi's resignation. #Syria
  • Syria still using chemical weapons, human rights group says

    There is strong evidence that Syria's army used chlorine gas on rebel-held neighborhoods last month, dropping the canisters in crude bombs on residential areas, a leading international human rights group said on Tuesday.

    The claim by Human Rights Watch (HRW) adds to growing concerns that chemical weapons are still being used in Syria — months after an international deal to remove the country’s chemical weapons was reached following a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians last August

    HRW said forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad likely used chlorine gas on three towns in northern Syria in mid-April, according to interviews with 10 witnesses, video footage and photographs.

    "Evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government helicopters dropped barrel bombs embedded with cylinders of chlorine gas on three towns," said the group. "These attacks used an industrial chemical as a weapon, an act banned by the international treaty prohibiting chemical weapons that Syria joined in October 2013.”

    In late April, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a United Nations watchdog that won the Nobel Peace Prize for taking the lead to remove Syria’s stockpile last year, said it would investigate the new chlorine claims, but it has not commented further on the issue.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • According to the interior minister, French police arrested six suspected jihadists aiming to join Syria's civil war, The Associated Press reported a little before 3:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday.
  • A leading international human rights group said on Tuesday it has strong evidence that Syria's army used chlorine gas on rebel-held neighborhoods last month, dropping the canisters in crude bombs on residential areas.

    The statement by the New-York based Human Rights Watch adds to growing concerns that chemical weapons are still being used in Syria — months after a chemical attack killed hundreds of civilians last August.

    Human Rights Watch said forces loyal to President Bashar Assad likely used chlorine gas on three towns in northern Syria in mid-April, according to interviews with 10 witnesses, video footage and photographs.

    "Evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government helicopters dropped barrel bombs embedded with cylinders of chlorine gas on three towns," said the group.

    "These attacks used an industrial chemical as a weapon, an act banned by the international treaty prohibiting chemical weapons that Syria joined in October 2013," it added.

    In late April, the U.N.'s chemical watchdog said it will investigate the chlorine claims. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has not commented further on the issue.

    In one incident, the Syrian government blamed the al-Qaida group, the Nusra Front, for using chlorine gas on civilians in the rebel-held town of Kafrzeita. It has not commented on other attacks.

    An extensive Associated Press investigation in late April found consistent claims that chlorine gas had been used in Kafrzeita.

    Human Rights Watch said testimony from eye-witnesses indicated that chlorine canisters were embedded into crude explosive-laden barrels, which military helicopters dropped at the time on rebel-held areas.

    In Syria, only the pro-government forces have military aircraft, not opposition fighters. And though chlorine gas canisters are widely available, Human Rights Watch said their use as a weapon is prohibited under international law.

    The use of chlorine gas in bombs is not very effective as a weapon to kill people. However, HRW said it appeared the Syrian military was using the chlorine to terrorize residents into believing they had been gassed, even if many of the victims were not killed.

    The Syrian government narrowly avoided Western-backed airstrikes after the August attack in areas of rural Damascus that killed hundreds of civilians.

    Instead, the U.N.'s security council ordered Syria to dismantle its chemical weapons infrastructure and destroy its arsenal, by June.

    [The Associated Press]
  • State Dept: We've seen report about targeting of historic hotel in #Aleppo . Nothing to confirm. Reports say Islamic Front claimed resp
  • State Dept re $27m in new US aid for #Syria opp: It's nonlethal assistance, goes to range of resources on the ground.
  • Syria rebels begin evacuation of Homs, the revolution's 'capital'

    The evacuation of rebels from Homs began Wednesday, after two years of government siege on the city once known as the “capital of Syria's revolution.” The last remaining fighters and citizen holdouts were exhausted and depleted of food, medical supplies and public support for the rebellion.

    The evacuation, part of the first major deal struck between rebels and the regime since Syria’s war began three years ago, could mark the end of the rebellion in Syria’s third-largest city, which is now almost entirely back in the hands of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. If the deal is honored, rebels will exit the 13 neighborhoods in Homs’ historic Old City, now all but leveled by regime warplanes, where they had blockaded themselves during two years of grueling urban warfare.

    The loss of Homs has been painted as a devastating blow for the rebels, though their defeat had seemed inevitable for months.

    For their part, opposition activists said the fall of Homs came only after the international community failed the rebels. Morale had sunk after a short-lived cease-fire brokered at an international peace conference in Geneva in February swiftly fell apart, exposing both the inability of the rebels’ Western backers to pressure Assad as well as the cracks between the political opposition and the disjointed rebel factions on the ground in Syria.

    “The revolutionaries only withdrew after they were let down,” Kanan al-Homsi, a media activist on the outskirts of Homs told Al Jazeera, using a nom de guerre. “Their withdrawal is a loss but not a defeat.”

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • White House official says Obama is expected to see Syrian opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba while he's in Washington this week
  • State Dept announces $27 million in new aid, enhanced diplomatic status in effort to "reintroduce" Syrian opposition. #Syria
  • #Syria parliament: invitations to 11 "friendly countries" to send observers for the June presidential election- among them Russia &China
  • Upwards of 60,000 Syrians flee homes after fighting between rival Al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Reuters reports
  • According to Syrian state TV, at least 18 people were killed in twin car bombings in the central Hama province, Reuters reports
  • According to a monitoring group, at least 33 people were killed in an airstrike on a market in Syria's Aleppo province, Reuters reports.
  • #UN : Only 15 % of locations identified as in need of aid reached & only 12 % of Syrians in "hard to reach areas" received assistance #Syria
  • The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is undertaking a fact-finding mission in Syria over the alleged chlorine gas attacks, the organization has announced.

    From OPCW:

    At a meeting of the OPCW Executive Council held today, the Director-General announced the creation of an OPCW mission to establish facts surrounding allegations of use of chlorine in Syria.

    The Syrian government, which has agreed to accept this mission, has undertaken to provide security in areas under its control.  The mission will carry out its work in the most challenging circumstances. 

    Delegations speaking at today’s Executive Council meeting expressed their full support for this mission.  The UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon has also expressed his support and assured the assistance of the United Nations in meeting the significant security and logistical demands of this mission.

    The team is expected to depart for Syria soon.

  • According to Syrian state media, mortar rounds strike central Damascus and kill 12 people, The Associated Press reports.
  • State Dept briefing opens w/condemnation of "Assad regime's barrel bombing," of vegetable market.
  • The United States 'strongly condemns' the regime's bombing of a vegetable market, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at the start of her daily briefing Thursday.
  • Al Jazeera America has compiled a collection of heart-wrenching photos chronicling the journey Syrian refugees take to Lebanon:

    A Syrian man carries his newborn baby in his arms, left, as he and his wife, right, descend a mountain path from the 2,814-meter (9,232-foot) high Mount Hermon (Jabal el-Sheikh), into the town of Shebaa in southeast Lebanon. Violence forced them to flee their home in the Syrian village of Beit Jinn, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. (Hussein Malla/AP) 

    Samira Asrawi 45, right, and her daughter Marwa, 19, left, sit on the ground weeping next to their belongings as they wait to be vetted by Lebanese soldiers at an army check point after descending Mount Hermon. (Hussein Malla/AP) 

    Aid workers lift Kabalan from a horse after fleeing Beit Jinn in Syria, where no food and medicine has been allowed to reach thousands of trapped civilians. (Hussein Malla/AP) 

  • According to Al Jazeera English, 65 have died in Aleppo and the countryside as a result of a bombardment.
  • OPCW: Today’s operation brings total of chemical material removed and destroyed to 92.5%. #Syria
  • According to activists, government airstrikes on a vegetable market in norther Syria have killed at least 18 people, The Associated Press reports.
  • According to the OPCW, Syria has removed more of its chemicals stockpile:

    The Director-General of the OPCW welcomed delivery of a further consignment of chemicals to the port of Latakia by the Syrian government today.  The chemicals were immediately boarded onto cargo ships upon arrival at the port and removed from the country.

    This raises the overall portion of chemicals removed from Syria to 86.5% of the total, including 88.7 % of all Priority 1 chemicals. Today’s consignment was the 17th to date and the sixth consignment since 4 April, marking a significant acceleration in the pace of deliveries to Latakia this month. 

    “This latest consignment is encouraging," the Director-General said. “We hope that the remaining two or three consignments are delivered quickly to permit destruction operations to get underway in time to meet the mid-year deadline for destroying Syria’s chemical weapons."

  • State Department Jen Psaki said the State Department has indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine, in Syria this month, Reuters reports.

    The State Department says it is examining allegations the Syrian government is responsible for the use of chlorine, according to Reuters.
  • Is Geneva2 still alive? State Dept: Many tracks to our process...We're still working to determine what the next steps are. #Syria
  • The Assads have never held a credible, free or fair election, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said during the daily State Department briefing.
  • State Dept: #Syria elex neither addresses aspirations of ppl nor moves twd resolution.Regime "massacres" electorate it purports to represent
  • Republican Sen. Bob Corker made some pretty shocking statements Sunday about Syria, saying the 'wisest' thing President Assad did was 'kill 1,200 people with chemical weapons,' according to Business Insider's Brett LoGiurato.

    From Business Insider:

    Both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin are following a similar procedure that allows them to stretch the boundaries of legality without worrying about consequences from the United States, Republican Sen. Bob Corker said Sunday.

    Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blasted President Barack Obama's foreign policy on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, saying he just hopes they do nothing to overtly "embarrass" the U.S. He drew a connection between the current U.S. response to Russia's moves in Ukraine and the response to Assad's use of chemical weapons in Syria last August.

    "I've urged in every way that I can for this administration to go ahead and, again, push back now. It's going to be too late," said Corker, who argued Friday the U.S. should consider sending lethal aid to Ukraine in addition to their non-lethal steps.

    "Just like we did in Syria, where in essence, let's face it — I hate to say such a crass thing on Easter Sunday morning — the wisest thing that Assad did really was to kill 1,200 people with chemical weapons. Because, in essence, we said, 'Don't embarrass us anymore that way. You can go ahead and kill another 60,000 people with barrel bombs and by other means, but don't embarrass us.' 

  • When asked if she expects UN envoy on Syria Brahimi to resign, Psaki said he has served in a difficult role but she will let him speak to his future plans.
  • 'The situation on the ground is catastrophic' and all those who have influence should exert that, Psaki said when asked if the department thinks the Russians and Iranians could do more to end the bombings.
  • State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki opened her briefing by calling on 'all those with influence' on the Assad regime to get the regime to stop its current behavior in the country.
  • State Dept briefing opens with condemnation of the 'tragic,' 'dire' situation in #Homs . Says typical of Assad's starve, besiege approach
  • UN envoy: Homs evacuation deal has collapsed

    The deal that allowed some civilians to leave Syria’s besieged city of Homs has broken down, Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria, said Friday. The same day, a car bomb killed at least 9 people in a pro-government district of the city, according to activists and Syrian state television.

    The explosion, which Syrian state television said killed 14 and occurred outside a mosque, underlined the bleak state of affairs in Homs, which has seen constant shelling on remaining rebel-held pockets and spurts of violence around the city despite a U.N.-led diplomatic effort to pause the fighting and improve humanitarian access to areas that have been under siege for nearly two years.

    “It is a matter of deep regret that negotiations were brutally stopped and violence is now rife again when a comprehensive agreement seemed close at hand,” Brahimi said in a statement. “It is alarming that Homs, whose people have suffered so much throughout these past three years is again the theater of death and destruction.”

    The special envoy, who mediated two failed rounds of peace negotiations between the Syrian regime and representatives of a Western-backed rebel faction, called for talks to be resumed to lift the siege on Homs.

    Syrian troops and pro-regime militiamen have fought their way into several rebel-held neighborhoods this week, a development that has disheartened the opposition in the city considered the capital of the rebellion. Some of the biggest anti-government demonstrations first erupted in Homs three years ago.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Saudi Arabia replaces spy chief, architect of Syria policy

    Saudi Arabian intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the architect of Riyadh's attempts to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been removed from his post, state media reported Tuesday.

    His departure, months after he was quoted warning of a "major shift" from the United States over its Middle East policy, may help smooth relations with Washington as Riyadh pushes for more U.S. support for Syrian opposition fighters.

    "Prince Bandar was relieved of his post at his own request and General Youssef al-Idrissi was asked to carry out the duties of the head of general intelligence," state news agency SPA said, citing a royal decree.

    The decree did not say if Bandar would continue in his other position as head of the National Security Council. A former ambassador to the U.S., Bandar was appointed intelligence chief in July 2012, in charge of helping Syrian rebels bring down Assad — who is an ally of Riyadh's biggest regional rival, Iran.

    Saudi media reported that the Syrian dossier has been transferred to the interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who cracked down on Al-Qaeda following a wave of deadly attacks in the Gulf state between 2003 and 2006.

    Syrian state media in Lebanon have repeatedly lashed out at Bandar, accusing him of supporting Sunni Muslim radicals in Syria. He was also closely involved in Saudi support for Egypt's military rulers after they ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi last year, diplomatic sources in the Gulf have said.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Syrian army enters Homs

    Syrian army troops backed by pro-government militia members have entered rebel-held neighborhoods of the central city of Homs after laying siege to the districts for nearly two years.

    Homs is the last major rebel stronghold in central Syria, and the fight to take it underscores how Syrian forces have methodically taken back opposition-held areas, bolstered by fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia group.

    Activists on the ground and the Britain-based pro-opposition monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Tuesday both confirmed the operation.

    "The Syrian army and the National Defense Forces have achieved key successes in the Old City of Homs," Syrian state television said.

    It said troops were advancing in several besieged neighborhoods in the area, and had "killed a number of terrorists," a reference to rebel forces.

    "They have entered into one area, Wadi al-Sayeh, which lies between Juret al-Shiyah and the Old City," said Abu Bilal, an activist trapped inside the blockade, told the AFP news agency.

    Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used heavy machine-gun fire, tank fire and aircraft shelling to pound rebels holed up in the Old City, said an activist who uses the name Abu Bilal. He said Tuesday was the heaviest day of fighting Homs had experienced in months.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • According to Jordan state TV, the Jordanian airforce has hit and destroyed vehicles trying to cross from Syria, Reuters reports.
  • Security Council to see photos of Syria's war dead

    The United Nations Security Council is schedule to meet privately on Tuesday to view projected slides of the dead, who offer mute testimony to the savagery of a Syrian civil war in which more than 150,000 have died.

    France, which is hosting the closed-door meeting, says the photos to be displayed are part of a collection of 55,000 digital images of Syrians who were tortured and slain by Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. France says a majority of them were collected by a Syrian military police photographer code-named "Caesar," who smuggled them out on flash drives when he defected.

    Syria's Justice Ministry has dismissed the photos and accompanying report as "politicized and lacking objectiveness and professionalism," a "gathering of images of unidentified people, some of whom have turned out to be foreigners." The ministry said some of the people were militants killed in battle and others were killed by militant groups.

    The presentation at the Security Council is part of a process of documenting evidence of Syrian war crimes in the hope of eventually referring the perpetrators to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

    However, because Syria never accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC, the only way a case can be opened while Assad is in power is for the Security Council to order a referral.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Egypt has arrested a veteran of the Syrian civil war on suspicion of planning terrorist acts inside Egypt, the state news agency reported on Sunday.

    The Egyptian prosecutor's office in Suez City ordered the arrest of Wael Ahmed Abdel Fattah for 15 days, MENA reported, adding that he was suspected of working with Islamist militant groups.

    MENA said Abdel Fattah, a former oil company employee, battled in Syria alongside the Nusra Front, seen as the most effective rebel group fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    Since the army toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood last July, Islamist militants based in the Sinai Peninsula have stepped up attacks on police and soldiers, killing hundreds. The insurgency has spread to Cairo and other cities, where senior security officials have been targeted.

    The Egyptian state and militants are old foes. Islamist-leaning soldiers assassinated President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981, mainly because he signed a peace treaty with Israel.

    It took former president Hosni Mubarak years to put down an Islamist insurgency in the 1990s.

    Egypt's army-backed government says it will defeat Islamist militants, who carry out shootings and bombings.

    It's not clear how many Egyptian militants have fought in Syria but any serious numbers returning from the battlefield could complicate efforts to contain violence if they wage a holy war at home.

    Egyptian militants who fought in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation troops in the 1980s returned home and eventually trained their weapons on Mubarak's pro-Western government.

  • Syrian government media and rebel forces said Saturday that poison gas had been used in a central village, injuring scores of people, while blaming each other for the attack.

    The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said the poison gas attack Friday hurt dozens of people in the village of Kfar Zeita in the central province of Hama. It did not say what type of gas was used.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that people suffered from suffocation and breathing problems after the attack, apparently conducted during air raids that left heavy smoke over the area. It gave no further details.

    State-run Syrian television blamed members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front for using chlorine gas at Kfar Zeita, killing two people and injuring more than 100.

    The TV report claimed the Nusra Front is preparing for another chemical attack against the Wadi Deif area in the northern province of Idlib, as well as another area in Hama. It did not explain how it knew the Nusra Front's plans.

    Activists in the village could not be reached Saturday.

    An activist from Hama who is currently in Turkey and is on contact with activists and residents told The Associated Press that the attack occurred around sunset Friday. The man, who goes with the name Amir al-Basha, said the air raids on the rebel-held village came as nearby areas including Morek and Khan Sheikhoun have been witnessing intense clashes between troops and opposition fighters.

    An amateur video posted online by opposition activists showed a hospital room in Kfar Zeita that was packed with men and children, some of whom breathing through oxygen masks. On one bed, the video showed six children on a bed, some appearing to have difficulty breathing while others cried.

    The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the attack.

    Chemical weapons have been used before in Syria's 3-year-old conflict. In August, a chemical attack near the capital, Damascus, killed hundreds of people. The U.S. and its allies blamed the Syrian government for that attack, which nearly sparked Western airstrikes against President Bashar Assad's forces. Damascus denied the charges and blamed rebels of staging the incident.

    The Syrian National Coalition called on the United Nations to conduct a "quick investigation into the developments related to the use of poisonous gas against civilians in Syria." The coalition claimed that another chemical weapons attack Friday struck the Damascus suburb of Harasta, though state media did not report on it.

    An international coalition aims to remove and destroy 1,300 metric tons of chemicals held by the Assad government by June 30 in the wake of the August attack. Syria's government missed a Dec. 31 deadline to remove the most dangerous chemicals in its stockpile and a Feb. 5 deadline to give up its entire stockpile of chemical weapons. Assad's government cited security concerns and the lack of some equipment but has repeated that it remains fully committed to the process.

    In the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest and one-time commercial center, the Observatory and state television reported intense clashes Saturday, mostly near a main intelligence office in the city's contested neighborhood of Zahra.

    Syrian state news agency SANA reported earlier Saturday that several mortar shells hit the government-held neighborhoods of Hamidiyeh and Khaldiyeh, killing at least six people and wounding 15.

    Aleppo became a key front in the country's civil war after rebels launched an offensive there in July 2012.

    [The Associated Press]
  • According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the ceasefire in Syria allows the first aid into an Aleppo neighbor in nearly a year.

    From UNHCR:

    The UN refugee agency and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), with agreement from the government and opposition forces, have delivered the first humanitarian aid into a besieged area of Aleppo since last June.

    The ceasefire, agreed for the duration of the operation, was fully respected as two truck-loads of supplies were moved by hand into the Boustan al Qaser neighbourhood of eastern Aleppo.

    The food, medicine, blankets, plastic sheeting, hygiene kits and kitchen sets were unloaded at the last checkpoint on the outskirts of the city. The aid -- moved the final 1.5 km to a SARC warehouse using 54 pull-carts and 75 workers in 270 separate trips -- will now be distributed to the population.

    UNHCR staff had seen the dire humanitarian situation inside eastern Aleppo, reporting acute shortages of food, water and basic supplies. No humanitarian aid has reached the population since UNHCR last accessed the area in June 2013.

    It is estimated that some 6.5 million of Syria's 22 million people have been displaced inside the country, while another 2.6 million are now refugees, mainly in neighbouring countries. The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate.

  • According to the Syria state news agency, two car bombs in central city of Homs kill 25 people and wound 107, The Associated Press reports.
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