Syria's War | Al Jazeera America

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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

  • 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.
  • Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have recaptured the rebel-held Syrian border town of Rankous, military sources and state television say, consolidating their control over a former rebel supply line from neighbouring Lebanon.

    The capture of Rankous was the latest stage of an offensive by the army and fighters from Lebanese Shia armed group Hezbollah to seal off the border region and secure the main highway leading north from Damascus towards central Syria, Homs, and the Mediterranean coast.

    "Units of the Syrian army have now accomplished their operation in the Rankous area and restored security and stability after eliminating a large number of terrorists," Syrian state television said on Wednesday.

    Wednesday's advance took place less than a month after Hezbollah and the Syrian army recaptured the rebel stronghold of Yabroud, choking off the vital supply line into central Syria.

    Rankous is about 45 kilometres north of Damascus and was home to 20,000 people before the conflict in Syria began in March 2011.

    Backed by Shia fighters from Hezbollah and Iraq as well as Russian weapons and Iranian military commanders, Assad has regained territory around Damascus and central Syria leading to the coastal strongholds of his Alawite minority.

    The rebels still control a few smaller villages in the region, but have seen their supply lines across the border with Lebanon largely severed.

    Rebel fighters still control most of eastern Syria and the north, and are fighting Assad's forces in north of the coastal province of Latakia.

    [Al Jazeera English]
  • Drought could further strain already thin resources

    A looming drought in Syria could push millions more people into hunger and exacerbate a refugee crisis caused by years of civil war, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

    Syria's breadbasket northwestern region has received less than half of the average rainfall since September and, if it stays dry up to wheat harvest time in mid-May, the country – already reliant on aid for millions of people – will need to import even more food.

    "A drought could put the lives of millions more people at risk," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), told a news briefing.

    Based on rainfall data and satellite images, and with the smallest area planted with wheat in 15 years, output of the cereal is likely to be a record low of between 1.7 million and 2 million tons, as much as 29 percent less than last year and about half of pre-conflict levels, the WFP said.

    Barley and livestock production are also being hit.

    In addition to the worst drought since 2008, three years of civil war have ravaged infrastructure, leaving long-term damage to irrigation due to impaired pumps and canals, power failures and a lack of spare parts, the agency said.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • The State Department has released Secretary of State Kerry's opening remarks from the testimony he gave earlier Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

    Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman, very much, Ranking Member Corker, members of the committee. I’m very happy to be back here and appreciate enormously the committee’s indulgence to have shifted this hearing because it came at a critical moment just before I was asked by the President to meet with Lavrov relative to Ukraine. And so I also want to thank everybody on the committee for working so hard to move the nominations, which obviously is critical. I think our – it’s not the fault of the committee, but with a combination of vetting process and public process and so forth and the combination of the slowdown on the floor of the Senate, I think we’re averaging something like 220-some days and some people at 300 days and some over 365 days. So I have literally only in the last month gotten my top team in place one year in, and I’m very grateful to the committee. Mr. Chairman, you’ve worked really hard to make that happen, and the ranking member, great cooperation. Senator McCain, others, helped to intervene on that, and I’m – I want to thank you all for that.


    A lot of questions, Senator Corker, that you raised, and I really look forward to answering all of them because there is a cohesive approach. We’re living in an extremely complicated world unlike anything most of us grew up with. And we can talk about that here today because it really is critical to the question of how we deal, as the United States, in our budget and our own politics here and in our – in the choices we make.


    Obviously – Senator Corker just brought it up – the intense focus on Ukraine continues. And everything that we’ve seen in the last 48 hours from Russian provocateurs and agents operating in eastern Ukraine tells us that they’ve been sent there determined to create chaos. And that is absolutely unacceptable. These efforts are as ham-handed as they are transparent, frankly. And quite simply, what we see from Russia is an illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilize a sovereign state and create a contrived crisis with paid operatives across an international boundary engaged in this initiative.


    Russia’s clear and unmistakable involvement in destabilizing and engaging in separatist activities in the east of Ukraine is more than deeply disturbing. No one should be fooled, and believe me, no one is fooled by what could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea. It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalyst behind the chaos of the last 24 hours. Some have even been arrested and exposed. And equally as clear must be the reality that the United States and our allies will not hesitate to use 21st-century tools to hold Russia accountable for 19th-century behavior. We have stated again and again that our preference – and the preference of our friends and allies – is de-escalation and a diplomatic solution. But Russia should not for a single solitary second mistake the expression of that preference as an unwillingness to do what is necessary to stop any violation of the international order.


    At NATO last week and in all of my conversations of the past weeks, it is clear that the United States and our closest partners are united in this effort despite the costs and willing to put in effect tough new sanctions on those orchestrating this action and on key sectors of the Russian economy. In energy, banking, mining – they’re all on the table. And President Obama has already signed an executive order to implement these actions if Russia does not end its pressure and aggression on Ukraine.


    Now, let me make an equally important statement. It doesn’t have to be this way. But it will be this way if Russia continues down this provocative path. In my conversation yesterday with Foreign Minister Lavrov, we agreed to meet soon in Europe, next week, with Ukraine and our European partners to discuss de-escalation, demobilization, inclusivity, support for elections, and constitutional reform. And it is not, in our judgment, a small matter that Russia has agreed to sit in this four-party status with Ukraine at the table in an effort to try to forge a road ahead. Between now and then, we have made it clear that Russia needs to take concrete steps to disavow separatist actions in eastern Ukraine, pull back its forces outside the country, which they say they have begun to do with the movement of one battalion, and demonstrate that they are prepared to come to these discussions to do what is necessary to de-escalate.


    So Russia has a choice: to work with the international community to help build an independent Ukraine that could be a bridge between the East and West – not the object of a tug of war – that could meet the hopes and aspirations of all Ukrainians, or they could face greater isolation and pay the cost for their failure to see that the world is not a zero-sum game.


    Ukraine and so many other ongoing simultaneous challenges globally reinforce what I said a moment ago to all of you. I think the members of this committee have long appreciated it. That is that - this is not the bipolar, straightforward choice of the Cold War. We’re living in an incredibly challenging time where some of the things that the East-West order took for granted most of my life are suddenly finding a world in which American engagement is more critical. And in many ways it’s more complicated because of nation-state interests, balance of power, are the kinds of issues that are on the table.


    You all travel; all the members of this committee do that. And you see what I see in every place that I travel as Secretary. On issue after issue, people depend on American leadership to make a difference. That has been reinforced to me more than perhaps any other single thing in the year that I’ve been privileged to be Secretary, whether it’s South Sudan, a nation that many of you helped to give birth to and now a nation struggling to survive beyond its infancy; or Venezuela, where leaders are making dangerous choices at the expense of the people; or in Afghanistan, where this weekend millions defied the Taliban and went to the polls to choose a new president; or on the Korean Peninsula, where we are working with our allies and our partners to make sure that we can meet any threat and move towards the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. I think I’ve had five meetings with President Xi this year, and five trips to Asia already, in furtherance of our efforts to – and two of those meetings were with the president, with President Xi, in an effort to further our goals there.


    U.S. presence and leadership does matter, and that’s why our rebalance to the Asia Pacific has been supported and welcomed by people throughout the region.


    We also have great allies, great partners, but the fact remains that no other nation can give people the confidence to come together and confront some of the most difficult challenges in the same way as we are privileged to do. I say that without arrogance, I say it as a matter of privilege. We have this ability, and I hear this from leaders all over the world. I particularly hear it about the Middle East peace process. I read some who question why the Secretary of State is engaged or is intense as he might be, or why the United States should be doing this if the parties don’t want to do this. Well, the truth is the parties say they want to continue these talks. The truth is the parties are actually still talking to each other in an effort to try to see if they can get over this hurdle and make that happen.


    But I have one certainty in my mind: I have yet to meet any leader anywhere in the world who argues to me that it’s going to be easier next week or easier next month or easier next year or easier in the next five years to achieve a long sought after goal if the United States is not engaged now. There’s no foreign minister anywhere that I’ve met with, no leader – when I visited recently at the Vatican with His Eminence, the Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin. This is first and foremost in the minds of people all over the world. Prime Minister Abe, the prime minister of Indonesia, they ask you: Do we have a chance of making peace in the Middle East? Because everywhere it is a recruitment tool. Everywhere it is a concern. Everywhere it has an impact. And the fact is that everybody volunteers gratitude for the fact that the United States is engaged in that effort.


    So whether it was NATO this past week or the G7 last week or the Vatican itself, I’ve heard from minister after minister just how much the global community is invested in this effort. Japan just committed several hundred million dollars to the Palestinians for assistance. The Saudis, the Qataris, the Emiratis, have each responded to our request and committed to 150 million each to assist the Palestinians going forward. So this is something that has an impact on everybody, and believe me, it has an impact on life in the United States too.


    So we will continue to the degree that the parties want to. It’s up to them. They have to make decisions; not us. They have to come to the conclusion that it’s worth it. The same is true on Iran, where every country understands the danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to our national security and to the security of our allies. And that is why we have been so focused, along with all of you, on forging an unprecedented coalition to impose the sanctions. From day one this Administration has made it a foreign policy goal to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.


    To achieve this goal we have been clear that we will use all the elements of our national power, including direct negotiations with Iran, the very kind that we are engaged in as I speak. We are approaching these talks seriously and with our eyes wide open. That’s why as we negotiate we continue to enforce sanctions on Iran not affected by the Joint Plan of Action – not just incidentally over its nuclear activities, but also because of its support for terrorism. And we will press the case on human rights and its record wherever we can. And we will continue to urge Iran to release our American citizens – Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini – and we will work to help find Robert Levinson. All three should be home with their families, and that is consistently raised by us with any Iranian official when we engage.


    These are just some of the biggest issues that we’re focused on each and every day simultaneously, my colleagues. They’re not the only ones. Senators Corker and McCain, you’ve both been to the Syrian refugee camps on the border. You’ve seen the horrors firsthand, as I have. And this committee has focused on the moral and security imperative that is Syria. And I’m particularly grateful for the fact that you voted the way you did – the one body in the Congress that took that vote. And it was a courageous and important vote.


    We are focused on this every single day, and we are currently routing increased assistance to the moderate opposition. I know we’ll talk about this in the course of this hearing. We’re wrestling with these tough challenges, even as we are moving the State Department ahead in our business – in our – to help our businesses succeed in a world where foreign policy is economic policy.


    One of the things I want to emphasize, when I became the nominee I said to everybody on the committee that: Foreign policy is economic policy; economic policy is foreign policy in today’s world. And so we have set ourselves up in the State Department to be increasingly geared towards helping American businesses and towards creating new partnerships in an effort to also promote our foreign policy goals. We’re focused on jobs diplomacy and shared prosperity.


    That’s why Embassy Wellington just helped a company in New Jersey land a $350 million contract to lay fiber optics across the Pacific. It’s why our consulate in Shenyang has been so engaged to reverse tariffs against American agricultural products. It’s the challenge of the modern State Department in a modern world, and that is to wrestle with the challenges and opportunities that come at us faster than ever before. It’s a challenge balanced also against security in a dangerous world, which is why this budget implements the recommendations of the independent Accountability Review Board and makes additional investments that go above and beyond what the review board recommended.


    So I want to thank you, all of you, for everything you’ve done for the security of our missions, and I want to thank you for the way this committee stands up for an active, internationalist, American foreign policy that’s in our interests. I spent enough time here in this room as well as in the Senate to know that you don’t call anything that costs billions of dollars a bargain. But when you consider that the American people pay just one penny of every tax dollar for the 46.2 billion in this request, I think it’s safe – and if you add OCO it’s the 50.1 – I think it’s safe to say that in the grand scheme of the federal budget, when it comes to the State Department and USAID, taxpayers are getting an extraordinary return on their investment.


    So I thank you for your partnership in these efforts, and I look forward to our conversation today. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


    As expected, Ukraine played a large role in the hearing. However, many committee members — Sen. Corker chief among them — were more interested the United States' Syria policy — than recent events in Ukraine. 
  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Secretary Kerry has concluded.
  • Sen. Menendez is ending the hearing by saying committee members hold their positions from principled bases, despite the fact that they might agree.

    Even though there are very passionate views here, we have a wide breadth of bipartisanship in the committee on the issues of the day, he said.
  • Sen. Corker is adamant that the steps taken in Syria have negatively affected the United States in the rest of its international dealings, citing current events in the Middle East and Ukraine, among others.
  • On Syria, where we hear this notion there was a red line and it wasn't enforced and that was a sign of weakness, 'I beg to differ,' Kerry said.

    The President of the United States made his decision. He wanted to use military force but then listened to people who said he should go to Congress, Kerry quite forcefully stated at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, adding that Congress — with the exception of the SFRC — fought the use of force in Syria.
  • A looming drought in Syria could push millions more people into hunger and exacerbate a refugee crisis caused by years of civil war, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

    Syria's breadbasket northwestern region has received less than half of the average rainfall since September and, if it stays dry up to wheat harvest time in mid-May, the country - already reliant on aid for millions of people - will need to import even more food.

    "A drought could put the lives of millions more people at risk," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. aid agency World Food Programme (WFP), told a news briefing.

    Based on rainfall data and satellite images, and with the smallest area planted with wheat in 15 years, output of the cereal is likely to be a record low of between 1.7 million and 2 million tonnes, as much as 29 percent less than last year and about half of pre-conflict levels, the WFP said.

    Barley and livestock production are also being hit.

    In addition to the worst drought since 2008, three years of civil war have ravaged infrastructure, leaving long-term damage to irrigation due to damaged pumps and canals, power failures and a lack of spare parts, the agency said.

    This will have "long-lasting effects on Syria's agricultural production" even after peace is restored, it said.

    The threat posed by drought meant the number of Syrians in need of emergency rations could rise to 6.5 million, up from 4.2 million now, Byrs said.

    The WFP, which reached a record 4.1 million people with rations in March, said on Monday that it had to cut the size of food parcels to hungry Syrians due to a shortage of funds from donors.

    WFP, which feeds hungry people around the world, says the operation in Syria is its biggest and most complex, costing more than $40 million a week.

    The funding figure includes the feeding of 1.5 million of the 2.6 million registered Syrian refugees who have fled to neighboring countries, mainly Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

    "We can expect more refugees to leave if on top of the conflict they feel that their lives are in danger because there is no food. But it's hard to say obviously because they could also move to other parts of Syria," Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, spokeswoman of the U.N. refugee agency, told reporters.

    Overall, the United Nations has received just 16 percent of the $2.2 billion sought for its aid operations inside Syria this year, with the United States the largest donor at $108 million, followed by the European Commission at $53.7 million and the United Arab Emirates at $50 million.

    [Reuters]
  • Kerry: Assad feels fairly secure in Damascus/corridors to north, but not south. Must get parties to understand there's no military solution
  • 'You have to be disappointed by what's happened there. You have to be disappointed by the lack of action,' Corker lectured Kerry.

    Frankly, Kerry responded, we are doing more than ever before, telling Corker he needs to be briefed.
  • What do you believe would make the difference to get a negotiated solution? Or do you believe there is a military solution? Kerry asked Corker.

    Corker said he 'strongly supported' the limited strike that he said Kerry asked for, adding that he 'strongly supported' arming the moderate opposition with training.
  • Kerry narrative of #Syria efforts: after securing Russian buy-in for political solution, opposition infighting began & jihadists came in
  • 'Would you rather drop a few bombs, send a message' and leave Assad with the chemical weapons or go with the plan the administration worked out that calls for the destruction of Assad's chemical arsenal? Kerry heatedly asked Corker.

    If there's no military solution — and everybody at the Pentagon would tell you there is no military solution — the reality is, if you're going to have a negotiated solution, you have to have a 'ripeness' to it, Kerry said.
  • 'Today, 150,000 Syrians are dead, Sen. Corker said. We continue to talk about this shiny object, the chemicals,' but people keep getting killed by barrel bombs.

    He then asked Kerry to detail America's Syria policy.

    Kerry repeated past events in the Syria conflict, detailing everything from the outbreak of infighting in the opposition to the negotiations necessary to get Russia to agree to Geneva 2.

    'All of which everyone said was going to happen,' Corker responded.
  • SFRC Corker on US #Syria strategy: Using CW was smartest move Assad made for survival...US sitting at 'back of the bus' while #Russia drives
  • Assad is dragging his feet on destroying the chemical weapons, Sen. Corker said during his opening statements, adding that he has concerns about the United States' Syria policy — namely that there is no Syria policy.
  • Secretary of State Kerry is appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday to testify on the State Department's budget.

    During his opening remarks, committee chairman Sen. Menendez brought up the United States' support for the moderate opposition in Syria and denounced President Assad.
  • #Syria state media say Iran sent 30,000 tons of food supplies to make up for shortages.
  • FM #Steinmeier : We call for immediate release of Christian dignitaries such as P. Dall'Oglio, Mar Gregorius Y. Ibrahim+B. Yazigi. #Syria 2/2
  • FM #Steinmeier : We are deeply saddened by the murder of #Jesuit father #FransvanderLugt who was highly dedicated to the people of #Homs . 1/2
  • Ravaged by war, Syrians mourn the slain father of Homs

    After three years of civil war, during which brutal killing has become commonplace, many Syrians were left stunned Monday by the murder of a Dutch Jesuit priest gunned down in Homs, the besieged city that had been his home since the mid-1960s and which he refused to abandon, even as it came under heavy attack and its residents starved.

    Francis Van Der Lugt, or Abouna (father) Frans as he was known to Syrians, touched the lives of many, not only Christians. A Jesuit, he belonged to the same order as Pope Francis, and his impact was felt far beyond the doors of the monastery where he ministered. His initiatives “Al Ard” (The Land) and “Al Maseer” (The Path) introduced many Syrians to each other and to their country — often for the first time. His steadfast commitment to providing relief to all Syrians in a time when he could have easily escaped the country as it descended into its current abyss, earned him wide respect and love.

    As word of his death spread through Syria, Syrians grieved publically, even though grief is closely monitored by the government for the political leanings or sympathies it might betray. On Facebook, young and old replaced their profile pictures with one of Frans: in a T-shirt, on a bicycle, among the olive trees, or smiling under the unmistakable black basalt arches of Homs’s Old City.

    Within hours of his murder by a masked gunman who walked into the garden of the monastery where Frans lived and shot him in the head, photos of his corpse circulated the Internet, accompanied by expressions of anger, pain and loss. Syrians mourned a friend who they said loved and served Syria and its people in a way no one in the regime or opposition had; a man of the cloth who nonetheless never differentiated between Syrians of different faiths; a father-like figure who dedicated his life to enabling Syrians to build relationships with each other across the lines — religious, political, social, geographical — that might divide them and indeed have, to great extent today.

    “He made a great difference in a world full of differences,” said a retired schoolteacher who lived in Homs for three decades before fleeing to nearby Lebanon. She declined to give her name.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • We remain deeply committed to the people in Syria, White House spokesman Jay Carney said during his daily briefing, while touting the amount of money the U.S. has sent to the war-torn country.
  • The United Nations has been forced to cut the size of food parcels for those left hungry by Syria's civil war by a fifth because of a shortage of funds from donors, a senior official said on Monday.

    Nevertheless, the United Nations' World Food Programme managed to get food to a record 4.1 million people inside Syria last month, WFP deputy executive director Amir Abdulla told a news conference, just short of its target of 4.2 million.

    As the humanitarian crisis within Syria intensifies, its neighbours are also groaning under the strain of an exodus of refugees that now totals around 3 million, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said.

    "We know that this tragedy, together with the tragedy of the people displaced inside the country, 6.5 million, now shows that almost half of the Syrian population is displaced."

    Donor countries pledged $2.3 billion for aid agencies helping Syria at a conference in Kuwait in January, but only $1.1 billion has been received so far, including $250 million handed over by Kuwait on Monday, U.N. officials said.

    The delay meant that the standard family food basket for five people, which includes rice, bulgur wheat, pasta, pulses, vegetable oil, sugar, salt, and wheat flour, had to be cut by 20 percent in March to allow more people to be fed, WFP said.

    Guterres's office needs more than $1.6 billion to fund fully its operations this year in response to the crisis, but has received only 22 percent to date, a UNHCR statement said.

    Some 2.6 million Syrian refugees have registered in neighbouring countries, while hundreds of thousands more have crossed borders but not requested international assistance.

    Guterres pointed to the huge burden this was imposing on Syria's neighbours. In Lebanon, the more than a million registered refugees are equal to almost a quarter of the resident population.

    At least one Syrian refugee was killed in Jordan's sprawling Zaatari camp when hundreds of refugees clashed with security forces, residents said on Saturday.

    "Let us not forget that in Jordan, in Lebanon and other countries, we have more and more people unemployed, we have more and more people with lower salaries because of the competition in the labour market, we have prices rising, rents rising - and that the Syria crisis is having a dramatic impact on the economies and the societies of the neighbouring countries," Guterres said.

    "And so it is very easy to trigger tension, and it is very important to do everything we can to better support both the refugee community and the host communities that generously are receiving them."

    [Reuters]
  • A former Russian prime minister who recently met Bashar al-Assad said the Syrian president told him that much of the fighting in the country's civil war would be over by the end of the year, Itar-Tass news agency reported on Monday.

    Russia has been Assad's most powerful supporter during the three-year conflict that activists say has killed more than 150,000 people, blocking Western and Arab efforts to drive him from power.

    Sergei Stepashin, who served as prime minister in 1999 under then-President Boris Yeltsin and now heads a charitable organisation, met Assad in Damascus last week during a visit to the Middle East, according to Russian news reports.

    "To my question about how military issues were going, this is what Assad said: 'This year the active phase of military action in Syria will be ended. After that we will have to shift to what we have been doing all the time - fighting terrorists'," state-run Itar-Tass quoted Stepashin as saying.

    Stepashin said they had also discussed economic cooperation between Syria and Russia, Itar-Tass reported.

    Russia joined the United States in organising peace talks that began in January in Geneva between Assad's government and its foes. But no agreement was reached and it appears unlikely a new round will start anytime soon, in part because of high tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

    Assad has lost control of large swathes of northern and eastern Syria to Islamist rebels and foreign jihadis. But his forces, backed by militant group Hezbollah and other allies, have driven rebels back from around Damascus and secured most of central Syria.

    The head of Hezbollah said in an interview published on Monday that Assad would stand for re-election this year and that he no longer faced a threat of being overthrown.

    [Reuters]
  • Hezbollah leader says threat to Syria's Assad is over

    The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is no longer under threat of collapse, the leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah group said in an interview with a Lebanese newspaper on Sunday. The comment came as Syrian troops continued to exchange deadly blows with anti-government forces in Damascus and surrounding districts.

    "The danger of the Syrian regime's fall has ended," Hassan Nasrallah told daily newspaper As-Safir.

    Hezbollah, an armed Shia group that is allied with the Assad regime in its fight against anti-government rebels, has been instrumental in helping Syria’s military dislodge the opposition from its strongholds along the Lebanese-Syrian border.

    However, Hezbollah's public role in the deadly three-year conflict has inflamed sectarian tensions in Lebanon. Sunni Muslims who support the Syrian rebels have carried out several attacks in Shia neighborhoods in Lebanon, claiming they are in revenge for the help Hezbollah provides to the Syrian government.

    Despite the attacks, Nasrallah told As-Safir on Sunday that the threat of sectarian violence in Lebanon "has dropped considerably," crediting his group’s efforts along the border.

    Syria's conflict began with largely peaceful protests in March 2011, but it has since turned into a civil war that has drawn foreign fighters, including radical groups like Al-Qaeda, which have played an increasingly prominent role among fighters, dampening the West's support for the opposition.

    More than 150,000 people have been killed in the past three years, and millions have fled, activists say. The violence shows no signs of abating.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Mortar shells exploded near the Damascus Opera House on Sunday, killing two, state media said, as rebels intensified their shelling of the Syrian capital to relieve pressure on an opposition neighborhood that government forces have been trying to seize.

    The opera, officially called the Assad House for Culture and Arts, is located near a cluster of government and security buildings and last year hosted a defiant speech by President Bashar Assad in which he vowed to continue fighting rebels seeking his overthrow.

    Rebels holed up in the city's rural periphery have focused their efforts on hitting the area, said an activist who uses the name Muaz al-Shami.

    The Syrian state media outlet SANA said other mortar shells hit nearby areas on Sunday morning. On Saturday, mortar fire injured 22 people in the city.

    Syrian rebels often fire mortar shells into Damascus from strongholds in outlying communities, but the fire has intensified this week as pro-Assad forces advance on the rural Ghuta suburb to the capital's east, al-Shami said in a Skype interview from the area.

    "They (rebels) are trying to shell security strongholds in Damascus. It's an attempt to reduce pressure on the neighborhood," he said.

    Pro-Assad forces began fighting hard to seize Ghuta — a long-held opposition area — over the past five days, said al-Shami. As he spoke, explosions could be heard in the background. The area has been blockaded for six months.

    The assault on Ghuta is part of a push by Assad forces to solidify its hold on Damascus by dislodging rebels from the towns and neighborhoods on the city's fringes. The government has used twin tactics to achieve its aims: blockading rebellious areas to pressure them into submission and unleashing artillery and airstrikes on districts that refuse to bend.

    Last week government forces seized the outskirts of the town of Mleiha, near the Ghouta area. That came after pro-Assad forces severed important rebel supply lines from the eastern Lebanese border into the Damascus periphery.

    Across the border in Jordan, officials say bloody riots erupted at the largest camp for Syrian refugees leaving at least one refugee dead by gunshot and 31 people wounded.

    Police used tear gas to break up crowds who attacked the Zaatari camp's police stations and set fire to tents to protest the arrest of compatriots who tried to sneak in a day earlier, they said in a statement Sunday.

    Thousands of refugees evacuated the east side of the camp where the riots broke out, they said, adding that 29 policemen were injured.

    Brig. Gen. Waddah Hmoud, director of Jordan's Syrian refugee camps affairs department said a 25-year-old Syrian was killed in the violence and at least two other refugees were wounded.

    [The Associated Press]
  • Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has called for Islamist fighters in Syria to end the infighting that killed a one-time companion of Osama bin Laden earlier this year, according to an audio tape posted online.

    In the message, Zawahiri mourned the death of Abu Khaled al-Soury, who was killed by an al Qaeda splinter group in a suicide attack in February, and lamented the "strife of the blind that has befallen the blessed land of the Levant."

    Soury was one of the highest-profile victims of rebel infighting that surged at the start of the year, pitting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) against rival rebels including other hardline Islamists.

    Some 4,000 people have been killed in the clashes, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

    The fighting has hindered the battle against President Bashar al-Assad and pushed rival rebel groups to consolidate power in their respective areas of control.

    "Today this strife requires that all Muslims stand up against it and form a general view against it and against all who do not accept the independent sharia arbitration," Zawahiri said in the audio message, referring to Islamic law.

    Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the Zawahiri tape, which was posted on Friday, but the voice resembled that of the al Qaeda leader.

    Al Qaeda said it was breaking with ISIL in February after disputes over the group's refusal to limit itself to fighting in Iraq rather than in Syria, where the Nusra Front is al Qaeda's affiliate.

    ISLAMIC LAW

    The Nusra Front and ISIL have occasionally clashed since the infighting erupted in January, but they have also fought side by side in some areas and the Nusra Front has tried to mediate between ISIL and rival rebels in others.

    ISIL is a rebranding of al Qaeda in Iraq, which fought against American forces during the U.S. occupation. It draws strength from a core of foreign fighters and has imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic law in territories it controls.

    In the audio tape, Zawahiri recalled knowing Soury since the days of the fight against Soviet Union forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and called for Islamist fighters to reject the infighting in Syria.

    "Everyone who has fallen into these sins must remember that they accomplish for the enemies of Islam what they could not accomplish by their own abilities," he said.

    Soury was born in Syria's northern city of Aleppo in 1963. He was believed to have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and was more recently a commander in the Syrian Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham.

    Although he did not specifically refer to ISIL, Zawahiri said Soury had seen echoes of past Islamist infighting in the clashes in Syria. "This sedition which Abu Khaled witnessed and warned of, God willed that it make him a martyr," he said.

    [Reuters]
  • According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the twelfth consignment of chemicals has been removed from Syria.

    From the OPCW:

    The OPCW-UN Joint Mission in Syria has confirmed that a 12th consignment of chemicals has been transported to the port of Latakia and removed from the country. 


    Noting this latest consignment the OPCW Director-General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, expressed the hope that Syria will expedite the removal process. “This is the first shipment since 20 March. It is therefore important not only to follow this up with further rapid movements but also to make up for the lost time by increasing the volumes of chemicals to be removed”, said the Director General.

  • The United Nations has confirmed there have been no movements of Syrian chemical weapons since March 20, Al Jazeera's Whitney Hurst reports.

    “To date 53.6% of Syria’s chemical weapons material has been removed from Syria or destroyed in country," UN spokesman Farhan Haq said. "There have been no movements since the 20th of March. Syrian authorities informed the joint mission that in view of the deteriorating security situation in Latakia province, it would be temporarily postponing scheduled movements of chemical material. The joint mission has impressed upon the Syrian authorities the need to resume movements as soon as possible in order to meet the timelines for the complete removal and the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme.”
  • Syrian refugees in Lebanon hit 'devastating milestone' of one million

    The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon has exceeded the one million mark, in what the U.N. refugee agency calls a "devastating milestone" for a small country with depleted resources and brewing sectarian tension.

    Refugees from Syria, half of them children, now equal a quarter of Lebanon's resident population, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement, warning that most of them live in poverty and depend on aid for survival.

    UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres described the figure as "a devastating milestone worsened by rapidly depleting resources and a host community stretched to breaking point".

    "Tiny Lebanon has now become the country with "the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide," and is "struggling to keep pace", Guterres said in a statement.

    "The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering," he said.

    Jan Egeland, the secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which has 1,000 relief workers in and around Syria, told Al Jazeera that the figure could easily be "more than half a million" higher.

    Egeland said not all of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon had officially registered with the U.N., an annual requirement to receive food rations, health and education services. The process can often take months.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • A teenager from central Syria became the one millionth Syrian refugee to register in Lebanon on Thursday, a "devastating milestone" for the tiny Arab country with about 4.5 million people of its own, the U.N. refugee agency said.

    Signing up for aid, 19-year-old Yahya recounted his long ordeal. After being trapped by the fighting for more than two years in his native city of Homs, he was evacuated earlier this year and traveled to Yabroud, a rebel held town near the Lebanese border that soon came under a crushing government offensive.

    When staying there was no longer an option, he crossed into Lebanon with his mother and two sisters on March 8. Yahya's father was not with them — he died from sniper fire in Homs in September 2011.

    On Thursday, Yahya registered at the UNHCR center in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

    "We didn't know where to go. We just wanted to get away from all the shelling and fighting," he said, giving only his first name for fear that his relatives back in Syria would be targeted.

    The conflict in Syria, a country with a pre-war population of 23 million, has killed more than 150,000 people, according to the Britian-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which documents the fighting through a network of activists on the ground.

    The war has uprooted millions of Syrians from their homes, and the U.N. estimates there are now more than 2.5 million Syrians registered in neighboring countries, with more than 47,700 more awaiting registration.

    In addition to those, there are hundreds of thousands of Syrians who fled Syria and have not registered as refugees.

    Neighboring Turkey and Jordan, in addition to Lebanon, have taken in most of the refugees.

    But three years after Syria's conflict started, Lebanon has become the country with the highest per-capita concentration of refugees recorded anywhere in the world in recent history, the UNHCR said.

    "The number of refugees fleeing from Syria into neighboring Lebanon surpassed 1 million today, a devastating milestone worsened by rapidly depleting resources and a host community stretched to breaking point," the agency statement said.

    As a result, Lebanon is struggling to cope with a massive crisis that has become an unprecedented challenge for aid agencies.

    Along with the social and economic strain of the refugees, Syria's sectarian war has also frequently spilled over into Lebanon with deadly clashes between factions supporting opposing sides in the fighting next door.

    Militants from Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah are fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's forces in Syria while many among Lebanon's Sunni population support the rebels trying to topple him.

    The 1 million Syrians are a huge burden for Lebanon, which has a 4.5 million-strong population, UNHCR said. The agency registers 2,500 new Syrian refugees daily in Lebanon — more than one person per minute.

    In addition to the registered refugees, there are tens of thousands of other Syrian refugees who are not registered and Lebanese officials estimate the number of unregistered refugees to be as high as 400,000.

    "The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering," said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees in a statement. "Lebanon hosts the highest concentration of refugees in recent history."

    For Yahya and his family, there was no other place to go than Lebanon. "We were looking around to go somewhere else in Syria but no place is safe," he said.

    UNHCR said the influx from Syria is accelerating.

    In April 2012, there were 18,000 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon and by April 2013 they reached 356,000 and at the beginning of April this year they reached, 1 million.

    The World Bank estimates that the Syria crisis cost Lebanon US$2.5 billion in lost economic activity during 2013 and threatens to push 170,000 Lebanese into poverty by the end of this year, the UNHCR statement said.

    [The Associated Press]

  • An injured girl, covered with blood, sits at a clinic after being injured by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by forces loyal to President Assad in Aleppo's al-Sakhour district on April 2, 2014 (Hosam Katan/Reuters)


  • The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has hit the million mark, Al Jazeera English reports.

    From Al Jazeera English:

    The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon has exceeded one million, in what the UN refugee agency calls a "devastating milestone" for a small country with depleted resources and brewing sectarian tension.


    Refugees from Syria, half of them children, now equal a quarter of Lebanon's resident population, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement, warning that most of them live in poverty and depend on aid for survival.


    UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres described the figure as "a devastating milestone worsened by rapidly depleting resources and a host community stretched to breaking point".


    "Tiny Lebanon has now become the country with "the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide," and is "struggling to keep pace", Guterres said in a statement.


    "The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering," he said.


  • For the statistically minded, March was apparently the #UN Security Council's busiest ever month - 47 meetings #Ukraine #Ukraine #Syria
  • At least 150,000 people have been killed in Syria's three-year-old civil war, a third of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday.

    The UK-based Observatory, which monitors violence in Syria through a network of activists and medical or security sources, said that real toll was likely to be significantly higher at around 220,000 deaths.

    Efforts to end the conflict by bringing together representatives of President Bashar al-Assad's government and the opposition have so far failed. The United Nations peace mediator for Syria said last week that talks were unlikely to resume soon.

    The last U.N. figures, released in July 2013, put the death toll at least 100,000 but the United Nations said in January it would stop updating the toll as conditions on the ground made it impossible to make accurate estimates.

    The Observatory said it had registered the deaths of 150,344 people since March 18, 2011, when Assad's security forces first fired on protesters calling for reform.

    The Observatory said nearly 38,000 rebels were killed including fighters from the Nusra Front, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al Qaeda splinter group which includes many foreign fighters.

    More than 58,000 pro-Assad fighters were killed, including regular security forces and Syrian pro-government militia, as well as 364 fighters from the Lebanese Shi'ite militia Hezbollah and 605 other foreign Shi'ite Muslims.

    In addition to the fatalities, the Observatory said 18,000 people were missing after being detained by security forces, while another 8,000 people had been detained by rebels forces or kidnapped.

    [Reuters]
  • In addition to the shocking number of human casualties that have resulted from Syria's years-long civil war, the country's rich heritage is taking quite a hit.

    GlobalPost has distressing map that shows just how much damage has been done to the country's 'iconic heritage sites and artifacts.'


    From Global Post: 

    Shelling: Many Syrian rebels and civilians have taken refuge in ancient buildings. Shelling refers to damages to sites from air strikes, bombings, heavy gunfire, or violent searches by the military.


    Looting: Syrian museums and archeological sites house relics from the earliest cities, Ebla, the Crusades, Islamic conquerors, and many other important periods of human history. Looters, local and foreign, have stolen many artifacts and damaged sites in the process.


    Military Occupation: Armed forces have set up encampments, often damaging the sites in the process. Tanks have rolled onto fragile archeological dig sites and medieval walls have been torn down to make room for military construction.


  • Opposition activists return to northern Syria

    Syrian opposition activist and journalist Jameel Salou is not easily spooked. He continued to operate his news agency and human rights organization in northern Syria even as the most extreme Islamist militia in Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), became more powerful last summer.

    Salou had received threats from both the Islamic State and other militia groups before. In fact, they were common in his line of work. He documents human rights violations committed by all sides in the Syria conflict.

    But ISIL’s threats turned very real on the night of July 27, 2013. Salou was hosting a meeting at his home for his opposition news organization, called the Free Syrian News Agency, in the city of Raqqa. At 10pm, just as he and his staff were about to publish the day’s news update, around 30 gunmen from the Islamic State surrounded the house. Salou and his colleagues surrendered. The ISIL militiamen took them away, then set his home and his offices ablaze.

    “I was targeted for more than one reason: I’m a journalist, a human rights activist, and I want a civil [non-religious] state,” he said. “So, they considered me to be an infidel.”

    Salou was beaten so hard in detention that his captors broke two of his ribs. But he said the starvation was worse than the beating. Each day, they only gave him half a loaf of bread and a small potato to eat.

    When ISIL released him in a prisoner exchange almost a month later, he fled to Turkey. He was one among many. Thousands of Syrians who organized and gave voice to the initial Syrian uprising in March 2011 – activists, journalists and opposition figures and officials, including the opposition governor of Aleppo province – sought refuge in Turkey, as ISIL detained, murdered and imprisoned those who did not agree with its puritanical interpretation of Islam.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Syrian forces capture two key rebel towns

    Syrian forces took control of two villages near the Lebanese border on Saturday after driving out rebels, state media said, helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad secure the strategic road connecting Damascus with Aleppo and the Mediterranean coast.

    The fall of Flita and Ras Maara, two of the last rebel bastions in the area, is likely to push militants and refugees over the border into Lebanon -- risking further destabilizing the Mediterranean country whose own 15-year civil war ended in 1990.

    "The Army and Armed Forces restored stability and security to the towns of Ras Maara and Flita ... after getting rid of the fleeing terrorists and destroying their weapons," state news agency SANA said.

    The Syrian government has been making incremental gains along the highway as well as around Damascus and Aleppo in recent months, regaining the initiative in a conflict that entered its fourth year this month.

    Assad needs to secure the route to transport chemical agents out of Syria via the coast, as part of an agreement with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to remove Syria's chemicals weapons arsenal.

    Meanwhile, the United Nations' humanitarian chief on Friday told the U.N. Security Council that the Assad regime's delays in withholding cross-border aid deliveries were "arbitrary and unjustified" and against international law.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Syrian government accused of blocking aid to war-ravaged areas

    A leading human rights group accused Syria's government Friday of blocking aid to war-torn areas by denying permission to use rebel-held border crossings, as an U.N. agency warned of a historically challenging outbreak of polio in the country.

    Human Rights Watch said Syria only allowed aid organizations to use the one border crossing with Turkey that remains in government control, near the far northern city of Qamishli. The crossing was opened to aid supplies earlier this month.

    United Nations agencies generally do not cross borders without government permission, even if a government isn't in control of a certain area or crossing. In three years of conflict, opposition fighters have seized control of a series of border crossings around the country.

    "It's an outrage that Syria insists that people within walking distance of the Turkish border can't get assistance by the closest and safest route," Nadim Houry, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, said in a statement.

    Human Rights Watch said agencies needed to use rebel-held crossings with Turkey and Jordan to reach some 3 million Syrians in opposition areas who urgently need humanitarian aid, according to figures issued by the U.N.

    So far, U.N. partner groups were given permission to make three trips to rebel-held areas from Qamishli, a process that involved crossing dozens of military and rebel checkpoints and taking routes sometimes ten times as long, HRW said. Houry described the situation as unworkable.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • The Obama administration is considering allowing shipments of new air defense systems to Syrian rebels, a U.S. official said Friday.

    President Barack Obama's possible shift would likely be welcomed by Saudi Arabia, which has been pressing the White House to allow the man-portable air-defense systems, known as "manpads," into Syria. Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Friday evening for meetings with King Abdullah.

    Allowing manpads to be delivered to Syrian rebels would mark a shift in strategy for the U.S., which until this point has limited its lethal assistance to small weapons and ammunition, as well as humanitarian aid. The U.S. has been grappling for ways to boost the rebels, who have lost ground in recent months, allowing Syrian President Bashar Assad to regain a tighter grip on the war-torn nation.

    The actual manpad shipments could come from the Saudis, who have so far held off sending in the equipment because of U.S. opposition.

    The president is not expected to announce a final decision on the matter during his overnight trip to the Gulf kingdom. U.S. and Saudi intelligence officials have been discussing the possibility of injecting manpads into the crisis for some time, including during a meeting in Washington earlier this year.

    As recently as February, the administration had said Obama remained opposed to any shipments of manpads to the Syrian opposition. The U.S. has been concerned that the weaponry could fall into the wrong hands and possibly be used to shoot down a commercial airliner.

    Among the reasons for Obama's shift in thinking is the greater understanding the U.S. now has about the composition of the Syrian rebels, the official said. However, the official added, the president continues to have concerns about escalating the fire power on the ground in Syria, which has been torn apart by more than three years of civil war.

    The official wasn't authorized to discuss the internal deliberations by name and insisted on anonymity.

    [The Associated Press]
  • The United States is ready to step up covert aid to Syrian rebels under a plan being discussed with regional allies including Saudi Arabia, according to a Washington Post report.

    The plan includes CIA training of about 600 Syrian opposition forces per month in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar, foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius wrote on Thursday. That would double the forces currently being trained in the region.

    The Obama administration was debating whether to use U.S. Special Operation forces and other military personnel in the training, something Syrian rebels have argued would carry less political baggage than the CIA, according to the column.

    President Barack Obama was en route Friday to Saudi Arabia, which has been a strong supporter of Syria's rebels but has clashed with Washington over how aggressively to intervene in Syria.

    Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Air Force One there was no announcement planned on additional aid. He said Saudi-U.S. cooperation in helping the Syrian opposition had improved over the last several months and would be a topic of conversation during Obama's Riyadh visit.

    The Obama administration has been criticized by some in Congress for failing to do more in Syria, where 140,000 people have been killed, millions have become refugees and thousands of foreign militant fighters have been trained since 2011 as rebels fought to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

    Washington was also considering whether to provide the rebels with anti-aircraft missile launchers, known as MANPADS, to stop Assad's air force, the column said. Saudi Arabia wanted U.S. permission before delivering them, it said.

    The plan, which was still being formalized, also called for vetting of opposition forces for extremist links during and after training, according to Ignatius.

    Qatar has offered to pay for the first year of the program, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the column. The program would try to stabilize Syria by helping local councils and police in areas not under Assad's control and seek to establish safe corridors for humanitarian aid, it said.

    [Reuters]
  • The U.N.'s top human rights body has renewed its war crimes investigation in Syria for another year as diplomatic efforts to revive negotiations between the government and opposition are deadlocked.

    By a vote of 32-4, with 11 abstentions, the 47-nation Human Rights Council adopted the resolution that again condemns the horrific violence in Syria's three-year civil war. Russia, China, Venezuela and Cuba voted against it.

    U.K. Ambassador Karen Pierce told diplomats Friday in Geneva that the resolution represents "a measured response to the worst human rights situation that this council has ever faced."

    Syrian U.N. envoy Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui described the resolution as biased against his government.

    Syria's war has killed more than 140,000 people, forced millions to flee their homes and their country and triggered a regional humanitarian crisis.

    [The Associated Press]
  • Syria is gearing up for another round of 'elections,' which current embroiled President Assad is expected to win handily, TIME reports. 

    From TIME:

    -backed peace talks to end the country's bloody civil warN. If he runs again in the upcoming election, it would dim the prospects of U.President Assad won the last election in 2007 with 98 percent of the vote, in a process that can hardly be called free or fair.

    For the past forty years, voting in Syria has been a pretty straightforward process. In 2007, the most recent presidential poll, the ballot asked one simple question: Should Bashar Assad stay in power for another seven-year term? Voters could check a green circle marked yes, or a red circle marked no. In at least one polling station in Damascus (though anecdotal evidence points to a wider distribution) election officials even made the act of checking optional. Instead, they offered a stack of forms pre-marked in Assad’s favor. Anyone who wanted to vote against him simply had to ask for an unmarked ballot—in front of an array of police officers and intelligence agents. “Not once in the whole day did I see someone vote against Assad,” says Siraj, a 28-year-old Syrian military defector now living in Beirut, Lebanon, who was helping his father run the local polling site that day by passing out ballot papers. “If you asked for an unmarked ballot, all eyes would be on you.


    In 2007, Assad won the referendum with 97.6 percent of the vote. With his second term drawing to a close on July 17, a new election is likely to be called in the coming weeks, though this time around it won’t be a simple yes or no vote. Electoral reforms, voted in by parliament two years ago, now allow multiple candidates to run for president for the first since Assad’s father took power 44 years ago. Few believe that it will make any difference at all. “I’ve seen how voting works in Syria,” Siraj tells TIME, asking to go by one name to protect family still in Damascus. “Assad will win no matter how many names are on the ballot.


    Not only are the upcoming elections likely to be meaningless in a country where three years of war have driven nearly half the population from their homes and taken an estimated 145,000 lives, they also threaten to undermine any chance of a political negotiation that might lead to peace. A presidential campaign with Assad in the running directly contravenes a UN-backed peace process based on the establishment of a transitional government leading to free and fair elections. “I very much doubt that a presidential election and another seven-year term for President Bashar Assad will put an end to the unbearable suffering of the Syrian people, stop the destruction of the country and re-establish harmony and mutual confidence in the region,” U.N. peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told the U.N. General Assembly on March 14.


    Assad has yet to formally announce his candidacy, coyly stating in various media appearances that it is up to the Syrian people to nominate him. But in government-controlled areas, election preparations are in full swing. In Homs city, rubble-strewn neighborhoods are being cleaned and plastered with posters of the President and banners pleading for him to run. In Damascus shopkeepers have painted their rolling shutters with the colors of the regime’s flag while car processions waving flags and blaring music glorifying Assad make the rounds. Posters proclaiming that “Eyelids will not sleep until you elect the ophthalmologist,” in reference to Assad’s pre-presidential career have sprouted in affluent areas (the phrase rhymes in Arabic). Yet for all the election fanfare, and the fact that Parliament has cleared the way for competition, not a single opposing candidate has emerged. The risks are simply too high. Twenty-seven-year-old Damascus resident Hind doesn’t expect to see any real candidates put their name forward. Anyone who runs against Assad, she says, via Skype, will be doing it just for appearances’ sake, “to keep up the spectacle and make-believe.


  • HRW: #Syria govt refusal to allow aid through crossings held by rebels undermining deliveries to hundreds of thousands of desperate people
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