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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

  • Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), briefed member states Tuesday on the chemical watchdog's efforts to rid Syria of chemical weapons arsenal.

    Uzumcu addressed the group's 41-nation Executive Council at the start of a four-day meeting in The Hague as inspectors continued their mission in Syria to destroy the country's estimated 1,000-ton chemical arsenal.

    A group of experts arrived in Syria last week has already returned to the OPCW headquarters to report on their talks with officials from President Bashar Assad's regime in Damascus.

    [AP]
  • Russia and the United States agree on how to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday after meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry.

    "We have a common understanding of what needs to be done and how. I am very glad that President (Barack) Obama is occupying this position (on chemical arms)," Putin told reporters at the end of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.

    Putin added that Moscow would welcome Indonesia joining Syria peace talks scheduled to take place in Geneva later this year.

    "We believe it is possible to expand the number of (conference) participants by including such big Muslim states like Indonesia," Putin said. "In my opinion, it would be quite natural and we'd welcome it," he was quoted as saying by state news agency."

    [Reuters, AFP]
  • Letter from Ban Ki-moon to UNSC on Syria



    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent a letter on October 7 to the president of the Security Council regarding the ongoing situation in Syria.
  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has told Turkey it will pay a heavy price for backing rebels fighting to oust him, accusing it of harboring "terrorists" along its border who, he said, would soon turn on their hosts. In an interview with Turkey's Halk TV due to be broadcast later on Friday, Assad called Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan "bigoted" and said Ankara was allowing terrorists to cross into Syria to attack the army and Syrian civilians.

    "It is not possible to put terrorism in your pocket and use it as a card because it is like a scorpion which won't hesitate to sting you at the first opportunity," Assad said, according to a transcript from Halk TV, which is close to Turkey's opposition.

    "In the near future, these terrorists will have an impact on Turkey and Turkey will pay a heavy price for it."

    [Reuters]
  • Tens of thousands of people who peacefully demonstrated against President Bashar al-Assad languish in Syrian jails and are subject to torture, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

    Citing testimony from former prisoners, HRW said in a report that detainees have been raped and abused, including with electric shocks to the genitals, and beaten with batons, cables, metal rods, and wires. The report said rebel forces now fighting to overthrow Assad have also committed abuses by detaining journalists, humanitarian workers and civilian activists, and that they had executed some prisoners.

    "Behind the awful brutality of the fighting in Syria is the unseen abuse of political detainees - arrested, tortured, and even killed for peacefully criticising the government or helping people in need," said Joe Stork, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

    The report said the use of torture appeared to be systematic and there was "strong evidence" that it constitutes state policy and a crime against humanity. Most detainees have been men but women and children "have not been spared", it said.

    [Reuters]
  • Joint work with the Syrian authorities has begun on securing the sites where the team will operate.

    In addition, planning continues for one of the team's immediate tasks, disabling Syria's chemical weapons production facilities, which should begin soon."

    The above is a statement released by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN as experts begin overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons cache.
  • Saudi Arabia's frustration at international inaction over Syria and the Palestinians led it to cancel its speech at the United Nations General Assembly for the first time ever this week, a diplomatic source said.

    Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal had been scheduled to deliver an address to the general assembly on Tuesday afternoon.

    By the standards of the world's top oil exporter and birthplace of Islam, which usually expresses diplomatic concerns only in private, the decision represented an unprecedented statement of discontent.

    "The Saudi decision... reflects the kingdom's dissatisfaction with the position of the UN on Arab and Islamic issues, particularly the issue of Palestine that the UN has not been able to solve in more than 60 years, as well as the Syrian crisis," said the source.

    The conservative Islamic kingdom is one of the main backers of rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people in two and a half years.

    It has repeatedly called for the international community to intervene on behalf of the rebels, whom it provides with weapons, and has said Assad must be toppled because Syrian government forces have bombarded civilian areas.

    [Reuters]
  • The UN Security Council issued an urgent appeal on Wednesday to Syria, asking for immediate access to all areas of the country and to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid to millions of civilians that have endured the 2 1/2-year-old conflict.

    The council adopted a presidential statement addressing what it described as "the significant and rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria" five days after unanimously approving its first legally binding action since violence erupted in Syria — a resolution ordering the elimination of its chemical weapons.

    The statement, aimed at helping the nearly 7 million Syrians affected by the fighting, urges the Syrian government to facilitate "safe and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need through the most effective ways, including across conflict lines and, where appropriate, across borders from neighboring countries."

    Without urgent increased humanitarian action, the council warned that millions of Syrians "will be at risk."

    A presidential statement is a step below a resolution. Some diplomats consider presidential statements legally binding but others do not.

    UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos praised the council for addressing "the horrifying humanitarian situation in Syria."

    Although the adoption of the presidential statement is a good first step, she still hopes the council will pass a resolution.

    "If the commitments and practical steps in this statement are implemented, humanitarian workers will be able to reach over two million people who have been unreachable for many months," Amos said. "Our operations will be faster and more effective, delivering more supplies — like lifesaving medicines, food for children, and chlorination tablets to provide clean water — to more people in need."

    [AP]
  • The UN chemical weapons inspectors have crossed into Syria from neighboring Lebanon.

    Twenty inspectors from a Netherlands-based chemical weapons watchdog are traveling to Damascus to begin a complex mission of finding and dismantling an estimated 1,000-ton chemical arsenal as the civil war rages in Syria.

    The inspectors have about nine months to complete their task to have the Syrian regime destroy its chemical stockpile by mid-2014.

    The first group of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons entered Syria Tuesday through the Masnaa border crossing with Lebanon.

    They are expected to meet with Syrian Foreign Ministry officials on arrival in the capital, Damascus. [AP]
  • Syria's President Bashar al-Assad will remain in office, and has the right to decide to run for reelection next year, Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi has said.

    "Syria is staying put: the state, the nation, the people and the president. This is the Syrians' choice," Zohbi told journalists on Tuesday.

    "All the people call for President Bashar al-Assad to be president of this state, whatever the opposition, the Americans and the traitors say," he added.

    Zohbi said it is "the president's right to take a decision" on whether he will run for a new term in mid-2014, when his mandate is set to expire.

    In Tuesday's speech, Zohbi said the opposition "does not have the courage to go to the polls", and that "had it had the courage, we would not have reached this point".

    [AFP]
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that it is unclear whether western nations will be able to bring representatives of the Syrian opposition to a planned international peace conference by a target date of mid-November.

    Syria's pledge to abandon its chemical arsenal has rekindled hopes that an international conference proposed by Russia and the United States in May could materialize, and UN Security Council powers hope it can be held in mid-November.

    [Reuters]
  • China has said a mortar shell that landed in its embassy compound in Syria's capital Damascus has injured a Syrian employee and caused a small amount of damage to the property.

    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei also said on Tuesday that "China is shocked at the attack and strongly condemns" it.

    The attack came days after shells hit the Iraqi and Russian missions in central Damascus. The governments of China, Russia and Iraq are strong backers of Assad's government.

    Hong says that
  • A disarmament team is to reach Damascus on a mission to destroy Syria's chemical arsenal, a day after UN experts wrapped up their investigation of alleged gas attacks.

    The team of 20 inspectors from The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is implementing a UN resolution that ordered the elimination of Syria's chemical arms starting from Tuesday.

    The operation to rid Syria of chemical weapons by a target date of mid-2014 will be one of the largest and most dangerous of its kind.

    The arsenal is believed to include more than 1,000 tonnes of sarin, mustard gas and other banned chemicals stored at an estimated 45 sites across the war-torn country. [AFP]
  • Russia wants to revive plans for a conference on ridding the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction now that Syria has pledged to abandon its chemical arms, according to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

    "We will seek to have this conference take place," Lavrov said in an interview on Monday with the Russian daily Kommersant. Lavrov said Syria's agreement to destroy its chemical weapons by next June should trigger a broader effort.

    Such a move could put Moscow at odds with Washington which announced the conference would be delayed last year. Analysts said it feared the event would be used to criticize its ally Israel, believed to be the region's only nuclear-armed state.

    [Reuters]
  • Inspectors vow to first disable Syria's chemical weapons facilities

    Inspectors who will oversee Syria's destruction of its chemical weapons said their first priority is to help the country scrap its ability to manufacture such arms by a Nov. 1 deadline — using every means possible.

    This may include smashing mixing equipment with sledgehammers, blowing up delivery missiles, driving tanks over empty shells or filling them with concrete and running machines without lubricant so they seize up and become inoperable, the weapons inspectors said.

    On Friday, the U.N. Security Council ordered the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to help Syria destroy its estimated 1,000-ton chemical weapons arsenal by mid-2014. It also calls for consequences if Syria fails to comply, though the Security Council would have to pass another resolution to impose any penalties.

    "This isn't just extraordinary for the OPCW," Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the organization, said. "This hasn't been done before: an international mission to go into a country which is involved in a state of conflict and amid that conflict oversee the destruction of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction which it possesses. This is definitely a historical first."

    Read more.
  • The UN chemical weapons inspectors charged with investigating allegations of chemical and biological weapons use during Syria's civil war left Damascus Monday after their second mission in two months, witnesses told Reuters. These investigators are responsible for starting the process of verifying and destroying Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.

    A convoy of four United Nations vehicles carrying the team departed from a central Damascus hotel around 1.30 p.m. (6:30 a.m. ET), and was expected to arrive in Beirut later in the day. Another team of UN experts landed in Beirut on Monday. About 20 of them arrived on a private flight from the Netherlands and are expected to continue on to Damascus this week.

    [Reuters]


  • The 64th annual meeting of United Nations Refugee Agency's Executive committee is expected “to focus on expanding international support for countries hosting large Syrian refugee populations”.

    Ahead of the meeting, the UNHCR released this stock footage of Syrian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.

    [UN via Storyful]
  • Al Jazeera's Whitney Hurst reports that the UN Security Council will meet at expert level in closed consultations at 3pm on Monday to discuss a draft statement on humanitarian access in Syria. There will be no ambassadors present, just Syria experts and deputy ambassadors from participating countries.

    The draft statement requests that the Syrian government remove bureaucratic hurdles to cross-border access and open humanitarian routes for aid workers.

    The feeling is that the Russians are supportive of this statement. Diplomats say that after progress on Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, the Russians may be more open to the humanitarian statement that they have in the past resisted.

    The statement will not be passed today but possibly Tuesday or later this week.
  • UN experts have wrapped up their investigation of seven alleged chemical attacks in Syria as disarmament teams prepared to visit the country to inspect its arsenal of the banned weapons.

    Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has insisted his country will comply with a UN resolution under which his regime must turn over its chemical weapons for destruction.

    But the violence on the ground continued, with at least 16 people - 10 of them students - killed when a regime air raid hit a high school in the northern rebel-held city of Raqa.

    The UN's six-person team of chemical weapons experts, which is on its second mission to Syria to investigate alleged attacks, is scheduled to leave the country on Monday.

    The team has said it hopes to present a final report on the alleged attacks by late October, following an interim report submitted this month which confirmed the use of the nerve agent sarin in an August 21 attack in the suburbs of Damascus.

    [AFP]
  • Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has met the President of the National Coalition for
    the Syrian opposition forces, the UN has said.

    The UN said in a written statement issued on Saturday that Ban underlined to Ahmad al-Jarba the the suffering of the Syrian people on all sides, as a result of the conflict, and also the hardship of the neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees.

    The Secretary-General welcomed al-Jarba's commitment to send a delegation to the Geneva Conference, and urged the National Coalition to reach out to other opposition groups and agree on a representative and united delegation.

    The UN statement said that Ban stressed the paramount importance of embarking on serious dialogue as soon as possible, as well as the need to ensure accountability for war crimes.
  • Reuters reports that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) world's chemical weapons watchdog will begin inspecting Syria's chemical weapons arsenal by Tuesday.

    The announcement follows an OPCW decision adopted by the watchdog's Executive Council on Friday. The agreement enables the U
    Security Council to vote on a draft resolution on eradicating Syria's chemical arsenal.

    The 41-member executive council of the OPCW passed the agreement in meetings that ran past midnight. "It's done and dusted," spokesman Michael Luhan to Reuters. "It passed by consensus."

    An OPCW official told Reuters an advance team would head for Syria on Monday.


  • The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has adopted a decision on the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons. Here's the OPCW statement


    The OPCW Executive Council today adopted a historic decision on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.  


    In a special session, the 41-member body agreed on an accelerated programme for achieving the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014.  The decision requires inspections in Syria to commence from 1 October 2013. 

    The decision also calls for ambitious milestones for destruction which will be set by the Council by 15 November.

    The Executive Council decision was informed by the Framework Agreement reached by the Russian Federation and the United States of America in Geneva on 14 September.  It also facilitates the request by Syria that the Convention be applied ahead of its formal entry into force for Syria on 14 October.

    The OPCW Director-General warmly welcomed the decision by the Council. He assured States Parties of the Technical Secretariat’s readiness to commence its work in Syria immediately.  

    “This decision sends an unmistakable message that the international community is coming together to work for peace in Syria, beginning with the elimination of chemical weapons in that country.”

    “I assure the Council that I and my colleagues are ready to take up this historic responsibility. A few days ago, I stated that we approach this mission with a sense of destiny. What this means is that we will not allow the significant challenges to obscure the vision of peace and security that is embedded in this noble undertaking.” 

    “We have known all along that an OPCW mission of this extraordinary character will require the support of the United Nations. I look forward to working closely with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-moon.

  • Iran wants to "actively" take part in any new Syria peace conference, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Friday.

    "For Geneva or any other international gathering ... should Iran participate, it will actively accept that invitation and participate for the sake of the Syrian people," Rouhani told a press conference on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

    [AFP]
  • A car bomb killed at least 30 people on Friday in the town of Rankus north of Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It added that regime forces shelled the area afterwards.

    Rankus, about 18 miles north of Damascus, is a Sunni town that backs the Sunni-dominated opposition to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Local activists called on residents to avoid gathering for fear of additional attacks in the town, which has regularly been the scene of fighting between rebels and regime forces.

    [AFP]


  • Another FSA commander appeared to turn his back on the Syrian National Coalition in a video statement released on September 26. This video was posted to a Facebook page representing Col Ammar al-Wawi. It shows al-Wawi reading a statement rejecting the SNC’s authority. It follow a similar video statement from other rebel brigades released on September 24.

    Al-Wawi says that “the Syrian people demand the simplest rights of freedom and fair democracy”. He declares a “lack of recognition of the National Coalition”.

    [Video via Storyful]
  • Assad to Venezuelan TV: Obama lying to American people

    In a lengthy interview with Venezuelan state television, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fired back at U.S. President Barack Obama's Tuesday speech to the U.N. General Assembly, accusing the Obama administration of "lying to the American people" about the Syrian regime's alleged use of chemical weapons that has formed the basis for a proposed U.S.-led strike.

    Assad also told Telesur reporter William Parra that he believed the military strike was still a very real threat, despite the U.N. Security Council making progress this week on a resolution that would place Syria's chemical weapons under international supervision, staving off U.S. military intervention.
    "His speech [Tuesday] was more of the same – full of allegations based on fabrications and lies," Assad said, according to a transcript released Thursday by the official Syrian news agency.

    In the interview, Assad detailed for the first time the evidence his government provided to Russia that he alleged implicates the rebels in a March attack that killed roughly 30 people in the Aleppo suburb of Khan al-Assal.

    The U.S., along with Security Council allies France and Britain, allege that the Syrian government was behind a chemical weapons attack in August that the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people in the Damascus suburbs.

    Assad told Telesur that his Army handed Russia soil samples, blood samples from victims, and pieces from the projectiles used to carry the neurotoxic agent during the attack. Syrian television had previously broadcast apparent confessions from rebels who said they transported chemical agents into Syria.

    Read more.
  • French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he hopes the five permanent members of the UN Security Council will be able to set a date on Friday for so-called Geneva 2 peace talks on the Syrian conflict.

    The five - France, Britain, Russia, China and the United States - are due to meet with UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon and international Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi later on Friday on the sidelines of the annual U.N. gathering of world leaders.

    "I hope that we will be able to fix a date this evening for Geneva 2," Fabius said.

    [Reuters]
  • A car bomb killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens more on Friday when it exploded in Rankus, a town 30 km north of the Syrian capital Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    Activists in a nearby town said the blast occurred in front of a mosque soon after Friday prayers. They gave a higher death toll of 37 dead and said more than 100 had been wounded.

    One of the activists told Reuters news agency that government forces began shelling the same area soon after the explosion occurred, causing at least one more death.
  • UN experts currently on the ground in Syria will visit seven sites of alleged chemical weapons attacks around the country, the UN has announced.

    The experts aim to prepare a comprehensive report "by late October" that would be "based on a number of allegations... of which seven have been found to warrant investigation," it said in a statement.

    It will complete its work in Syria by Monday, the statement said.

  • A senior State Department official praised the UN accord on Syria's chemical weapons as "a breakthrough arrived at through hard-fought diplomacy." 

    Just two weeks ago, no one thought this was in the vicinity of possible. After close consultation with the P3, the Russians have agreed to support a strong, binding and enforceable resolution that unites the pressure and focus of the international community on the Syrian regime to ensure the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons. 
     
    This is historic and unprecedented because it puts oversight of the Assad regime's compliance under international control and it's the first UNSCR to declare that the use of chemical weapons is a threat to peace and security.   Equally as important, it makes absolutely clear that failure of the Assad regime to comply will have consequences. Later this evening there will be a full consultation with the UNSC to discuss text.


  • Britain's UN ambassador says key powers reach accord on UN resolution on Syria weapons.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov tells Reuters that Russia has reached an understanding with the US on the UN Security Council's Syria resolution.

    The Security Council will hold closed-door consultations on the Syria chemical weapons draft resolution at 8pm ET, according to the French UN mission
  • The head of the opposition Syrian Supreme Military Council cut short a visit to France on Thursday and said he would head to Syria for talks with rebel brigades that broke with the Western-backed coalition.

    General Salim Idris, who commands the coalition's military wing known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said he would travel to Syria on Friday to meet fighters from the 13 groups which rejected on Tuesday the authority of the Turkey-based coalition.

    The rebel groups, including at least three considered to be under the FSA umbrella, called on Tuesday for the rebel forces to be reorganised under an Islamic framework and to be run only by groups fighting inside Syria.

    "We should deal wisely with their statement. I returned from France so as to follow up with the field commanders and work toward unifying all the ranks," Idriss told Reuters by telephone after arriving in Istanbul.

    FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad said Idriss hoped to solve the grievances of the dissident rebels, who have long been wary of accepting leadership by figures who have spent much of Syria's two-and-a-half-year civil war outside the country.

    "He will meet the brigades that rejected the coalition who are losing hope," Meqdad said. "The coalition maybe were not connected to the ground but now they will communicate and try to resolve this."

    Rebel brigades battling President Bashar Al-Assad are fragmented and increasingly fighting internal conflicts.

    [Reuters]


  • Watch: French President Francois Hollande addresses the United Nations General Assembly.
  • French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday the UN Security Council had to make a threat of eventual "coercive" measures against Syria if it does not hand over its chemical weapons.

    Hollande told the UN General Assembly that a resolution being discussed must "foresee coercive measures" under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and for those responsible for chemical weapon attacks in Syria to be "held accountable in the justice system."
  • Turkish President Abdullah Gul addressed the UN in New York on Tuesday, and said the international community was responsible for ending the conflict in Syria.

    "This conflict has evolved into a real threat to regional peace and security," he said. "Any recurrence of the proxy wars of the Cold-War era will plunge Syria into further chaos."

    Gul said Turkey welcomed a US-Russian agreement to remove Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, but said the world must not allow Assad's government to "avoid responsibility for its other crimes.""This conflict neither began with the use of chemical weapons, nor will it end with an agreement to eliminate them," he added.

    He criticized what he called "balance-of-power politics" that had helped to prolong the war, and called for a strategy led by world powers and Syria's neighbors to end the civil war.

    "In short, we cannot and shall not leave the Syrian people to their fate," he said. "The burden of ending Syria's plight now rests on the shoulders of the international community. Strong words of support must now be matched by real deeds." [Reuters]
  • The United Nations team investigating the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria will return to the country Wednesday to complete its investigation, spokesperson said today. Here's the UN statement:

    "Formally known as the Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, the team – led by Swedish scientist Dr. Åke Sellström – was established by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in March of this year.

    The team, assisted by experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), visited the country last month and found “clear and convincing evidence” that Sarin gas was used in an incident that occurred on 21 August in the Ghouta area on the outskirts of Damascus in which hundreds of people were reportedly killed.

    In recent weeks, Syria has acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention. As for information about Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, the UN spokesperson noted that OPCW has not shared such information with the UN investigation team.

    The responsibility of verifying the inventory and elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles belongs with the OPCW, the spokesperson stated, adding that this task is beyond the scope of the UN team’s mandate, which is to investigate allegations of the use of chemical weapons.
    "
  • Speaking before the UN General Assembly, President Obama outlined the United States's current stance on the conflict in Syria:

    With respect to Syria, we believe that as a starting point the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons.

    When I stated my willingness to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly. I did so because I believe it is in the national security interests of the United States and in the interest of the world to meaningfully enforce a prohibition whose origins are older than the United Nations itself.

    The ban against the use of chemical weapons, even in war, has been agreed to by 98 percent of humanity. It is strengthened by the searing memories of soldiers suffocated in the trenches, Jews slaughtered in gas chambers, Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.

    The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood and landed in opposition neighborhoods.

    It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.

    Now, I know that in the immediate aftermath of the attack there were those who questioned the legitimacy of even a limited strike in the absence of a clear mandate from the Security Council. But without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all.

    However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been a diplomatic resolution to this issue. And in the past several weeks, the United States, Russia and our allies have reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and then to destroy them.

    The Syrian government took a first step by giving an accounting of its stockpiles. Now, there must be a strong Security Council resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments. And there must be consequences if they fail to do so. If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the United Nations is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws.

    On the other hand, if we succeed, it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century and that this body means what it says. Our agreement on chemical weapons should energize a larger diplomatic effort to reach a political settlement within Syria.

    I do not believe that military action by those within Syria or by external powers can achieve a lasting peace. Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria. That is for the Syrian people to decide.

    Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country. The notion that Syria can somehow return to a pre- war status quo is a fantasy. It’s time for Russia and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome that they fear: An increasingly violent space for extremists to operate.

    In turn, those of us who continue to support the moderate opposition must persuade them the Syrian people can’t afford a collapse of state institutions, and that a political settlement cannot be reached without addressing the legitimate fears and concerns of Alawites and other minorities.

    We are committed to working this political trek. And, as we pursue a settlement, let’s remember this is not a zero sum endeavor. We’re no longer in a cold war. There’s no great game to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the well being of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons and insuring that it does not become a safe haven for terrorists.


    Read the full transcript of President Obama's remarks before the UN General Assembly


  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on major powers to stop sending weapons to all sides in Syria, as he opened the annual UN General Assembly summit.

    "I appeal to all states to stop fuelling the bloodshed and to end the arms flows to all parties," Ban told world leaders at the UNGA opening in New York on Tuesday.

    The UN chief also called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition - and "all those in this hall with influence over them" - to work immediately to arrange a second Geneva conference aimed at reaching a political solution to the crisis that has wracked Syria for more than two years.

    "Military victory is an illusion. The only answer is a political settlement," he said.

    Ban said the response to last month's "heinous use of chemical weapons" outside Damascus "has created diplomatic momentum - the first signs of unity in far too long".

    Read more.

  • The government says it will grant special visas to Syrians who want to leave their conflict-wracked nation and travel to Brazil.

    The government's official gazette says Tuesday that the foreign ministry has been authorized to issue the visas for "humanitarian reasons," allowing Syrians affected by the conflict and the "deterioration of living conditions" to enter.

    Brazil has a Syrian immigrant community estimated at about 3 million. [AP]
  • Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) meets Russian deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Damascus, in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA on September 18, 2013. (Reuters/Sana/Handout via Reuters

  • Russia is concerned that talks with the United States on Syria are not going very smoothly and says the chemical weapons deal may have only delayed US military action.

    "Unfortunately it's necessary to note that in contacts with the Americans, things are not going so smoothly...they are not quite going in the direction they should," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in parliament on Tuesday.

    Ryabkov said Russia hopes the UN Security Council will reach agreement this week on a resolution supporting a deal for Syria to abandon its chemical weapons, but there is no guarantee.

    Read more.
  • The head of Lebanon's Shiite group Hezbollah, a staunch ally of Damascus, on Monday urged Saudi Arabia and other supporters of Syrian rebel forces to instead back a political settlement.

    "I want to extend a sincere and honest invitation, in light of the political realities and facts on the ground in Syria... to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, Turkey and the rest of the Arab and Islamic states," Hassan Nasrallah
    said in a televised address.

    "Review your positions. The situation has begun to take on very serious dimensions in Syria," he said. "You are betting on a failed military option... The solution is political, and political dialogue."

    Nasrallah's group is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is battling an armed revolt which has the support of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Turkey and much of the international community.

    Hezbollah has sent fighters to assist Assad's troops against the rebels.

    Nasrallah, in his first address since an August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that prompted threats of US military action, warned against foreign intervention in Syria.

    [AFP]
  • France said on Monday it expected the Security Council to agree on a resolution to enforce a chemical weapons deal with Syria and appeared to give up on its previous calls to have a resolution threatening force against President Assad.

    Some UN diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, had expressed concern about whether agreement on a resolution could be reached. However, speaking to reporters in New York French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius appeared to back down.

    "We should take exactly what was foreseen in Geneva," Fabius said. "On that basis we should come to an agreement."

    Fabius appeared to confirm France's willingness to accept Russia's demand that the current draft resolution not be enforceable under Chapter 7.

    [Reuters]
  • A Libyan commander and a dozen other fighters from al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have been killed in clashes with rival rebel forces in northern Syria, a monitoring group said, in the latest spate of internecine rebel violence.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said six local fighters were also killed in Sunday's battle with ISIL in Hazano, west of the city of Aleppo and close to the border with Turkey.

    Clashes pitting the al Qaeda-linked ISIL and Nusra Front brigades against less effective but more moderate rebel forces have been intensifying recently, especially in opposition-held territory along Syria's northern and eastern borders.

    The infighting has undermined the rebel military campaign against President Bashar al-Assad. Their uprising began as peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule but degenerated into a war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

    Western powers have said the disarray of rebel forces and growing influence of radical armed groups have made them wary of intervening directly in the civil war.

    [Source: Reuters]
  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he was "not concerned" about a draft resolution that the US, the UK and France have submitted to the UN Security Council to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control, China's state broadcaster said on Monday.

    Assad was quoted as saying to state television CCTV in an interview that by submitting the draft, "the US, France, and Britain are just trying to make themselves winners in a war against a Syria which is their imaginary enemy".

    Assad also said China and Russia "are playing a positive role in the UN Security Council to ensure any excuse for military action against Syria will not stand".
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