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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

  • Syrian opposition defence minister Asaad Mustafa speaks about plans to form a support unit for the FSA that would accept aid for them
  • Syrian opposition PM Ahmed Tohmeh says ISIL is major obstacle, accuses it of taking over areas from FSA &cutting supply routes between towns
  • Syrian opposition PM Tohmeh says Ukraine protests had impact on Syria diplomatic track as Russia accuses US of aiding Ukrainian opposition
  • Syrian opposition PM Ahmad Tohmeh speaking to Syrians in Doha http://pbs.twimg.com/media/BcL0fEWIIAAmuLK.jpg

  • A great talk with veteran Syrian human rights activist Michel Kilo on Geneva 2, on the revolution and… instagram.com/p/iRXNhjC0B-/

  • The British government announced Friday that they would be providing an additional $49 million (£30 million) in aid to help needy Syrians cope with worsening winter weather:

    The UK will provide a further £30 million ($49 million) to help Syrians caught up in the ongoing crisis cope with the winter storms and plummeting temperatures that are sweeping the region, International Development Secretary Justine Greening announced today.

    Inside Syria, this will see 15,000 blankets distributed and will ensure that at least 30,000 families get essential food rations. It will also deliver hygiene kits to 30,000 households and help to ensure that people displaced by the fighting have access to clean water and basic shelter equipment, including plastic sheeting and ropes to keep off the worst of the elements.

    In particular, this new assistance will focus on hard to reach areas inside Syria, to help people there get through the winter.

  • More than 300 people have been killed in a week of air raids on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo and nearby towns by President Bashar al-Assad's forces, a monitoring group said on Monday.

    Many of the casualties, who included scores of women and children, were killed by so-called barrel bombs dropped from helicopters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    Syrian authorities say they are battling rebels who have controlled parts of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city, and most of the surrounding countryside for the past 18 months.

    But human rights group have condemned the use of the improvised bombs - oil drums or cylinders which are packed with explosives and metal fragments, often rolled out of the aircraft cargo bay - as an indiscriminate form of bombardment.

    Rami Abdulrahman, director of the British-based pro-opposition Observatory, said 87 children and 30 women were among the 301 people killed in the Aleppo air raids since Dec. 15.

    Human Rights Watch said in a report at the weekend that barrel bomb attacks in Aleppo had hit residential and shopping areas, describing the air raids as illegal.

    "The Syrian air force is either criminally incompetent, doesn't care whether it kills scores of civilians, or deliberately targets civilian areas," HRW senior emergency researcher Ole Solvang said in the report.

    Rebels also appeared to have violated international law by indiscriminately launching rockets and mortar bombs at civilian areas in the government-controlled part of Aleppo, HRW said.

    It said on Dec. 4 they fired at least 10 surface-to-surface rockets into residential areas, killing at least 19 civilians. 

    [Reuters]
  • Syrian activists have raised to 65 the death toll from airstrikes around a market area in the northern city of Aleppo the previous day.

    The British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights says mostly civilians were killed when government helicopters dumped explosives-laden barrel bombs around the Masaken Hanano market on Sunday.

    It was one of the worst bombings in the Syrian military's nine-day air offensive against Aleppo and its surroundings.

    Earlier, the Observatory said that 47 people were killed. The Observatory, which gathers information from a network of activists on the ground, said the death toll was raised after it was able to identify more victims.

    Another activist group, the Aleppo Media Center, said Monday that 83 people were killed. Such conflicting figures are common in the aftermath of large bombings.

    [Associated Press]
  • Russia has sent 25 armored trucks and 50 other vehicles to Syria to help transport toxins that are to be destroyed under an international agreement to rid the nation of its chemical arsenal, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Monday.

    In a report to President Vladimir Putin, Shoigu said Russian aircraft delivered 50 Kamaz trucks and 25 Ural armored trucks to the Syrian port city of Latakia on December 18-20 along with other equipment, state-run news agency RIA reported.

    "The Defense Ministry has very swiftly implemented actions to deliver to Syria equipment and materiel to provide for the removal of Syrian chemical weapons and their destruction," Shoigu was quoted as saying.

    [Reuters]

  • Former US president Carter proposes 3 principles as basis for #Syria talks: free elections, respect for results &deployment of peacekeepers
  • HC Guterres: we expect the number of Syrian refugees to rise as high as 4.1 million by the end of 2014 #refugees2014 rfg.ee/rXfPO
  • Body of doctor who died in Syrian custody has been returned to Britain for post-mortem-@AP
  • Syrian airstrikes pound rebel-held areas

    Syrian aircraft pummeled an opposition neighborhood in the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, killing at least 25 people and extending the government's furious aerial bombardment of the rebel-held half of the divided city into an eighth consecutive day.

    Since it began on Dec. 15, the government's unusually heavy air campaign in Aleppo has killed more than 200 people, smashed residential buildings and overwhelmed the city's hospitals with casualties. The timing of the assault — a month ahead of planned peace talks in Switzerland— suggested that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could be trying to strengthen his position and expose the opposition's weaknesses before sitting down at the negotiating table.

    Syria's civil war, now into its third year, has killed more than 120,000 people, according to activists. Millions have fled their homes because of the fighting.

  • Activists say that Syrian government airstrikes on a rebel-held neighborhood in the northern city of Aleppo have killed at least 25 people.

    Sunday marks the eighth consecutive day that the Syrian air force has bombed opposition areas of the divided city.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Sunday's air raids hit the Masaken Hanano district, including a second-hand market in the neighborhood.

    Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman says at least 25 people were killed. He says the death toll could rise because 17 of the wounded are in critical condition.

    Another activist group, the Aleppo Media Center, put the death toll at 32. It published a list of the names of the dead on its Facebook page.

    [Associated Press]

  • Activists say death toll from Syrian government airstrikes on Aleppo rises to at least 25-@AP
  • There are half a million injured people in Syria, ICRC says, many of them lack basic medical treatment supplies
  • Over 100 barrel bombs have been dropped on #Aleppo in the past 7 days. #Syria
  • A suicide bomber detonated his explosive-laden car near a primary school in a Syrian Shia town, killing at least six people Sunday, activists and state media reported.

    The blast occurred outside a compound of schools in the town of Umm al-Amed in the eastern province of Homs, an official from the governor's office said. He said the blast destroyed a series of buildings, and that rescue operations were continuing in the area.

    The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't allowed to speak to journalists.

    Rami Abdurrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least six people, including children, were killed in the blast. He said he couldn't confirm how many children.

    The governor's office official said at least 10 people died in the blast, including five students. It wasn't possible to immediately reconcile the conflicting death tolls. The Observatory obtains its information from a network of activists on the ground.

    [Associated Press]

  • Our colleagues at Al Jazeera English spoke to the leader of the most powerful rebel group in Syria, Ahrar al-Sham. Their leader, Hassan Aboud, said the group would "absolutely not" take part in the talks in Switzerland, planned for January 22:

    Asked if his group would abide by an agreement, Hassan Aboud said: "Whatever comes out of it, is binding only on the Syrian National Coalition", referring to the main political opposition bloc.

    "As far as we are concerned, we will continue the revolution until we restore our rights and our dignity."

    Aboud said the groups that have agreed to attend the Geneva conference have "no leverage on the ground".

  • Photos from yesterday's #Syria talks on the #SyriaUNConf between @UN , Russia and US available here: ow.ly/rXoSu
  • Fatima Khan, mother of the British surgeon who died in a Syrian prison, reacts after seeing the body of her son Abbas Khan in the Hotel-Dieu de France Hospital in Beirut. REUTERS/Hasan Shaaban

  • Molhem Barakat, 17 year old photographer in Aleppo, was killed today while covering the battles at Al-Kendi Hospital. http://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bb-I9OGCYAAiqbK.jpg

  • A Syrian photographer who took pictures for Reuters on a freelance basis has been killed while covering fighting in Aleppo, activists said.

    Molhem Barakat died on Friday as he took photographs of a battle over a hospital between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. Rebels had accused government forces of turning the Kindi Hospital into a barracks.

    As well as covering the conflict, Barakat took pictures showing the life of ordinary Syrians in the divided city, which used to be Syria's commercial hub.

    Barakat had sent Reuters dozens of pictures since May this year. Many of those pictures appeared in publications around the world.

    [Reuters]

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced today that the Syrian government returned the body of a British doctor who Syrian officials claim committed suicide - a claim contested by his family. In a statement, the ICRC said:

    The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) today returned the body of Dr. Abbas Khan to British officials in Lebanon. Mr. Khan died recently while detained in Syria.
     
    An ICRC convoy left Damascus today at 11am and returned the body of Dr. Khan to Beirut, Lebanon, where United Kingdom officials received it. The British Embassy in Lebanon is expected to rapidly fly the body to London, where it will be received by the family.
     
    Mr. Khan's family as well as Syrian and British authorities requested the ICRC to assist with the transportation of the body to ensure its rapid return to the United Kingdom. Two days before the repatriation, Syrian authorities had asked the ICRC to be present during a medical examination of Dr. Khan's body.
     
    The ICRC acted on a strictly humanitarian basis at the family’s request and is not conducting an inquiry into Mr. Khan's death.
     
    The ICRC does not visit detainees in Syria despite repeated requests to Syrian authorities to be granted access to places of detention in the country. It therefore never visited Dr. Khan during his detention in Syria.

  • HRW: December 15 to 18 saw the most intense aerial attacks in #Aleppo to date #Syria
  • Syrian rebels have gained control of a strategic hospital in the city of Aleppo despite days of relentless barrel bombings of opposition-held areas in the northern city, activists said.

    The shattered remains of the five-story Kindi hospital is close to Aleppo's besieged central prison, which rebels have been trying to capture for months to free their comrades.

    The rebels captured the hospital on Friday, according to two activist groups — the Aleppo Media Center and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Aleppo-based activist Abu al-Hassan Marea said the rebels who overran the ruins of the hospital included both conservative Muslim groups and al-Qaeda linked factions.

    At least 35 rebels were killed in the battle for Kindi, the activists said, a relatively high toll for a single day that spoke to the intensity of the fighting even by the brutal standards of Syria's three-year civil war, said the Observatory, which has a network of activists on the ground. It was not clear how many soldiers were killed.

    An 18-year-old Syrian photographer was also killed in the fighting, said the activists. Marea said the photographer was shot but that the circumstances of his death were not immediately clear. He said the photographer's brother, a rebel fighter, was also killed in the same battle.

    [Associated Press]

  • UK to aid in destroying Syria chemical weapons stockpile

    The U.K. will help the international mission to destroy chemicals from Syria's cache that have allegedly been used to build chemical weapons, officials said Friday, joining a complex operation with prominent roles for the U.S., Denmark and Norway.

    Britain's Foreign Office said it has agreed to destroy 150 tons of two industrial-grade chemicals from Syria's stockpile at a commercial facility. The chemicals will be shipped to the U.K. before being transferred to a commercial site to be incinerated and destroyed, it said in a statement.

    "It is important to stress that these are chemicals, not chemical weapons," the Foreign Office said, explaining that the two chemicals only become highly toxic when mixed together to make a nerve agent.

    The commitment adds another layer to the complex and unprecedented operation to destroy Syria's chemical stockpile, which comes after the confirmed use of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on Aug. 21, which the U.S. government says killed 1,400 people. 

  • An Internet video surfaced this week depicting a masked man in Syria with a working-class British accent, urging British Muslims to travel there and join one of the most radical Islamist rebel militias fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

    In the three-minute video, the man, wearing a black hood with eyeholes, loads what he says is a Glock 19 pistol with bullets he says come from the Free Syrian Army, a more moderate rebel group supported by the West.

    "Where are you when they are slaughtering our children and our fathers?," the man says during the course of a diatribe in which he taunts fellow British Muslims and encourages them to go into battle.

    After firing a burst of gunfire into the air, the video ends with the man saying: "I also invite you all over to the land of jihad."

    The video, posted on YouTube on Dec. 17 and being studied by Western intelligence agencies, highlights what security officials say is an increasingly large role played in the Syrian conflict by foreign fighters, including Europeans.

    U.S. and British officials say the number of British citizens who have traveled to Syria to join anti-government rebels - often the most radical factions - is in the "low hundreds," and that as many as 100 Britons are in Syria fighting with militants at any given time.

    Earlier this week, British broadcaster Sky News aired a report featuring interviews with members of what it described as a "previously unknown brigade of British jihadists" fighting with anti-government rebels in northern Syria, near the Turkish border.

    UK officials are particularly concerned that Britons who have fought with militants in Syria will return more radicalized, with both new paramilitary skills and with direct contacts to Al-Qaeda or its affiliates.

    British authorities are believed to be investigating at least a handful of potential terrorism plots involving former foreign fighters in Syria.

    The video, which could not be independently authenticated, was posted by a group called Rayat al-Tawheed. The group claims to be the distributor of English-language materials produced by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), according to Laith Alkhouri of Flashpoint Partners, which monitors extremist websites for private and U.S. government clients.

    Alkhouri said the group that posted the latest video had surfaced for the first time this month, and much of the material it has circulated "is on the far radical side, including gruesome images of beheading and killing of Syrian soldiers."

    "The group has also posted images of dead 'Shia' fighters, in a slang referring to them as 'tourism photos'," Alkhouri said.

    The travels of British citizens and other Europeans to and from Syria are difficult for security agencies to track because there are many routes and limited border controls between nations that belong to the European Union. 

    [Reuters]
  • In Lebanon 140,000 very vulnerable #Syria 'ns in 28,000 substandard shelters are our #winter priority
  • .@UN #Syria Envoy #Brahimj tells the press "Syrian women's voices must be heard about the future of their country" http://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bb9XSXwIMAIh04k.jpg

  • #UN peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi expresses regret the #Syria conflict remains unresolved at the expense of citizens aje.me/1fMqV9I
  • The commander of Syria's main Western-backed rebel group appealed for unity in the insurgency's ranks Friday, trying to ease rifts with Islamic extremist rivals ahead of an international peace conference for Syria in January, over which the opposition is sharply divided.

    In a sign of the bitterness over the talks, the leader of one of the most powerful militant factions, the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, vowed to torpedo the talks and branded as a traitor anyone in the opposition who joins the gathering with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

    The contrasting rhetoric underscored the enormous difficulties that lie ahead even as officials meeting in Geneva confirmed attendance by both the opposition and Assad's government at the first face to face talks to try and end a savage, 3-year-old war that has killed over 120,000 people and uprooted millions of others.

    [Associated Press]
  • A total of 126 journalists and other media workers around the world have died on the job this year, with Syria the most dangerous place to work for the second year in a row, the International News Safety Institute said on Friday.

    That was 21 fewer than last year, but INSI said the incidence of kidnappings and disappearances was rising.

    The institute, which organizes safety courses for reporters and monitors risks in trouble spots, said 19 of the dead had lost their lives in Syria.

    In addition, at least 18 foreign and 20 Syrian journalists are believed to be missing in the country after being detained or kidnapped there, it said.

    The London-based INSI, whose report was officially released in Geneva, did not specify whether these were believed to be held by the Syrian government forces or by Islamist insurgents who are known to be responsible for at least some of the deaths.

    Overall the Syrian death total was down from 28 in 2012, but abductions of both foreign and local reporters increased, leading many international news organizations to stop sending journalists to cover the conflict.

    [Reuters]
  • At her daily press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki address Friday's trilaterial meeting in Geneva. 


    When asked why Iran's participation continues to be a problem, Psaki said the issue is that all countries that participate in Geneva 2 must have agreed to the Geneva Communique. 

    When pressed on why the United States is so insistent Assad not stay in power, Psaki said that 'as a brutal dictator,' America feels he needs to go.

    One reporter at the press briefing expressed pretty strong disbelief that the opposition will actually be ready in time for the Geneva 2 peace talks on Jan. 22, saying it seems like world leaders are forcing it at this time. However, Psaki pushed back, saying she didn't know. When asked about the delegations themselves, Psaki said it is still America's belief that there should be one delegation from each side.
  • A senior U.S. official said on Friday that it was "difficult to imagine" Iran attending Syrian peace talks next month as it had not endorsed the June 2012 communique calling for a transitional government and was providing military support to Damascus.

    The official said talks would continue with mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and other states on Iran's participation in the peace talks, but there were many ways for Tehran to take part and this was only the beginning of the process.

    "Iran in this instance is the only country that has put its own military people into the fight on the ground, that is a unique position," the senior U.S. official said.

    "I would hope that Iran would think about withdrawing its fighters and its support and allowing the Syrian opposition and the regime to in fact construct a transitional government with full executive powers by mutual consent, as Lakhdar Brahimi said, a new Syria."

    [Reuters]
  • The U.S. is blocking Iran's participation at the Syria peace conference planned for next month but the other delegations have been agreed up and will include other regional players such as Saudi Arabia, officials said Friday.

    The U.N.-Arab League's Syria envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, said about 30 nations would be invited to a day of speechmaking planned for Jan. 22 in the city of Montreux, and Iran's participation was the only sticking point, but was still a possibility. The Syrian opposition also has opposed Iran's involvement.

    "The U.S. is still not convinced Iran's participation would be the right thing to do," Brahimi told a news conference after a day of meetings with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. - and Syrian neighbors Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. "Iran is not off the list for the moment."

    Along with those nations, other invitees include Algeria, Brazil, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The actual negotiations between Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and opposition representatives begin on Jan. 24 at the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva.

    The meetings Friday included Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov, whose country is Syria's main ally, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Syrian neighbors who have been struggling to cope with the conflict and the more than 2.3 million Syrian refugees.

    Disputes over who should represent the Syrian opposition and government, and whether Iran, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers should be at the table, have blocked previous attempts to bring Syria's warring sides for peace talks.

    Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement that Bogdanov, who is the Russian president's special envoy for the Middle East, met Thursday with the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition's Secretary General Badr Jamous and other coalition officials.

    [The Associated Press]
  • A senior US official told Reuters Iran should withdraw its military personnel from Syria and stop financing militias there, including Lebanese Hezbollah, Reuters reported Friday. 
  • #Russia concerned over security of CW. storage facility in Sukkari area, Homs, warning clashes taking place meters away
  • Following Brahimi's comments earlier Friday, where he said Iran is not yet definitely participating in the upcoming Geneva 2 peace talks but the UN hopes the country will do so, a senior US official said it is 'difficult to imagine' Iran being at the peace talks as the country has not yet endorsed the June 2012 communique on transition, Reuters reported. 
  • Brahimi: Geneva 2 will be held without any prior conditions. Each party can submit topics they feel important.
  • Brahimi: Iran not off list at moment. Have been talking to Iranians, telling them that UN hopes they will participate.
  • Brahimi: Geneva 2 is not an event. 22 Jan will open up negotiations between 2 parties. Won't last 1, 2, or 3 days. Mtg will last longer.
  • In response to @baysontheroad #Brahimi says "I hope that it [#Geneva2 ] will be as representative as possible." aje.me/1fLHWRw
  • "We want this to be a #Syrian process, not an international process with Syrian participation." Lakhdar Brahimi aje.me/1bVc0bH
  • Brahimi: UN, P5, SG of League of Arab States, High Rep of EU, SG of OIC along with 26 countries will participate in Geneva 2 talks.
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