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

  • Q. Do you believe you have the full extent of Assad's chemical stockpile? State: Will continue to support OPCW in its mission to verify
  • State Dept on French claims of new CW use in #Syria : Didn't discuss details of the claims. Won't speak on intel matters.
  • Al Jazeera English has the story on Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi's recently announced resignation:

    Lakhdar Brahimi has announced his resignation from his position as the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, largely out of frustration at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's plans to hold an election in June.


    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a joint press conference with Brahimi in New York on Tuesday, said the decision would be effective from May 31.


    For more than a year, Brahimi has made no secret that he is contemplating stepping down from the post as the UN and Arab League joint special representative on Syria. Brahimi told reporters a year ago that he thought about resigning every day.


    Brahimi has organised two rounds of negotiations in Geneva between Assad's government and members of the opposition seeking to oust him.


    While there were no breakthroughs at those talks, diplomats and UN officials said that Brahimi had wanted to continue the Geneva process to find a negotiated solution that would end the fighting, launch a political transition and begin the process of reconciliation between the supporters and opponents of Assad.


    But Syria's April 21 announcement that it will hold presidential elections on June 3 dealt a severe blow to Brahimi's efforts in Geneva, diplomats said, since the vote is widely seen as a bid by Assad to defy widespread opposition and extend his grip on power.


  • Ban: Urging [both sides] to think about their own future. This is their country. #Syria
  • Ban: With Brahimi's experience, thought we would be able to deliver. Bc of division within UN and region, not been able to make progress.
  • International Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi will step down from the role on May 31, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [The Associated Press]
  • State Dept: Chemical weapons removal in #Syria still at 92%.
  • State Dept: We've seen report about targeting of historic hotel in #Aleppo . Nothing to confirm. Reports say Islamic Front claimed resp
  • State Dept re $27m in new US aid for #Syria opp: It's nonlethal assistance, goes to range of resources on the ground.
  • Q. How exactly does $27m enhance military logistics of #Syria opposition. State Dept: Very good question. Will get details after briefing.
  • Q. What's US stance now on arming moderate #Syria rebels? State: We provide 'a range of assistance' to armed Syrian opp..not going to detail
  • State Dept: Kerry met Jarba today for 'productive discussion' re helping moderates, curbing extremism, CW work, easing humanitarian crisis
  • Remaining 8 per cent of #syria cw in one place. Diplomats referring to it as "SITE2" - near Damascus.
  • Kaag: all but 8 per cent of syria declared stock of CW destroyed or removed. But that 8 per cent in one site, v difficult to access.
  • Jarba made a very short comment where he reiterated the oft-repeated statement that he looks forward to working with the United States.
  • Secretary Kerry and Syrian opposition leader Jarba are holding a joint press conference.

    Kerry said both leaders are committed to supporting a moderate opposition in Syria.


    Jarba is currently in Washington for the first time.

  • A rebel-claimed bombing Thursday in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo leveled a hotel that government troops used as a military base, along with several other buildings in a government-held area, activists and militants said.

    Syrian state television said an explosion struck a government-held area on the edge of a contested neighborhood in old part of Aleppo. The television report identified the hotel as the Carlton hotel, located next to the city's ancient Citadel.

    A local activist group called the Sham News Network also reported the blast, saying that President Bashar Assad's troops were based in the hotel.

    The Islamic Front rebel group claimed responsibility for the blast. A statement posted on its official Twitter account Thursday said that its "fighters this morning leveled the Carlton Hotel barracks in Old Aleppo and a number of buildings near it, killing 50 soldiers." It did not say how it knew how many soldiers died.

    The Islamic Front is an alliance of several Islamic groups fighting to topple Assad. Many of its fighters have joined the Front after breaking away from the Western-backed Syrian Free Army last year.

    Another activist group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Islamic Front fighters planted a huge amount of explosives in a tunnel they dug below the hotel and detonated it remotely.

    It said the hotel was completely destroyed in the blast and that there were casualties among the troops.

    Aleppo, the country's largest city and former commercial hub, has been carved into rebel- and government-held areas since the rebels launched an offensive in mid-2010, capturing territory along Syria's northern border with Turkey.

    In recent months, government aircraft relentlessly has bombed rebel-held areas of the city and the opposition fighters have hit back, firing mortars into government-held areas. The rebels also have detonated car bombs in residential areas, killing dozens of people.

    Meanwhile Thursday, more rebels were expected to leave the central city of Homs as an evacuation of opposition fighters moves into its second day.

    Homs Gov. Talal Barazi told Syrian state TV late Wednesday that that the evacuation process is being conducted in "positive atmosphere." He said Homs will be declared a "secure" city once the army moves in later Thursday.

    Barazi was seen touring Homs on Lebanon's Al-Manar TV, which is owned by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Hezbollah has been battling rebels in Syria alongside government troops for months.

    A reporter with Syrian state TV was seen broadcasting live from an entrance to Homs Old City. Standing near the city's main square known as the Clock Square, the reporter interviewed a priest who said he hoped people in the city would be safe again.

    The Observatory, which has been documenting Syria's 3-year-old conflict through a network of activists on the ground, said that about 250 opposition fighters remain in the old districts of Homs, where they have been holed up under a crippling government siege for more than two years. The Observatory's head, Rami Abdurrahman, said more than 960 left the city Wednesday.

    The rebels agreed to a cease-fire deal Friday as part of the evacuation.

    An activist in Homs who goes with the name of Beibares Tellawi told The Associated Press that seven buses went into a once-besieged area of Homs on Thursday to take the remaining rebels out of the city.

    "The siege of old Homs will be over in a few hours," Tellawi said via Skype. "We expect that everyone left inside will leave today."

    In exchange for the rebels' safe departure from Homs, the opposition fighters have released 70 people who had been held by gunmen in various areas, including in Aleppo and in the costal province of Latakia, Barazi said.

    Syria's uprising began with largely peaceful protests and has evolved into a civil war with sectarian overtones, pitting largely Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad's government that is dominated by Alawites, a sect of Shiite Islam.

    Islamic extremists, including foreign fighters and Syrian rebels who have taken up hard-line al-Qaida-style ideologies, have played an increasingly prominent role among fighters, dampening the West's support for the rebellion to overthrow Assad.

    [The Associated Press]
  • The White House released Wednesday a message from President Obama to Congress and a notice on the continuation of the National Emergency with respect to Syria:

    CONTINUATION OF THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY WITH RESPECT TO THE ACTIONS OF THE GOVERNMENT OF SYRIA

  • Syria rebels begin evacuation of Homs, the revolution's 'capital'

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

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

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

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

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

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a third group of armed rebels evacuated the Old City of Homs. As of now, no aid was brought to the predominately Shia villages of Nubi and Zahraa in Aleppo province.
  • Homs #Syria terms: Rebels withdrawal w only light weapons. Govt moves in. Humanitarian access to Shia Aleppo villages.Iran fighters released
  • According to activists, Syrian rebels began evacuating their last bastions in the central city of Homs, The Associated Press reported around 3:45 a.m. ET on Wednesday.
  • #SecKerry says #Russia support for election in #Syria at odds with opposition to #Ukraine election. "Reconcile that one, please," he says
  • White House official says Obama is expected to see Syrian opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba while he's in Washington this week
  • The timing of an evacuation of rebels from the central Syrian city of Homs under a deal with government forces has not been set and could still take days to arrange, the provincial governor said on Tuesday.

    The withdrawal of the insurgents from Homs - a city once called "the capital of the revolution" - would amount to a major symbolic victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but has been delayed since a ceasefire was agreed on Friday.

    Rebels have held out in the Old City district and several other areas despite being undersupplied, outgunned and subjected to more than a year of siege by Assad's forces.

    Homs governor Talal Barazi said arrangements for any withdrawal would take time and declined to say when it would likely happen.

    "The conditions are helpful and the atmosphere is suitable for achieving positive steps toward settlement and reconciliation and the exit of armed groups, but we have not set a date yet," he told Al Manar television, run by Assad ally Hezbollah.

    "The next few days will witness, God willing, steps like this, and we hope there will be a date soon," he added.

    The reasons for the delay were not immediately clear, but the pull-out is part of a multifaceted arrangement that also includes allowing food and medical aid into the largely Shi'ite towns of Nubl and al-Zahraa in the northern province of Aleppo which have been besieged by rebels for more than a year.

    The rebels fighting to overthrow Assad are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, while the president's allies include Shi'ite Iran and Lebanese Shi'ite movement Hezbollah. Assad is an Alawite, a sect derived from Shi'ite Islam.

    Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the United Nations and local councils had mediated the talks between rebel groups on one side and government forces, loyalist militias, Hezbollah and the provincial government on the other.

    Representatives from the Russian and Iranian embassies had been present, but it was not clear if they were taking part in the negotiations, the group said.

    The Observatory said the government would take control of the al-Waer neighborhood in addition to entering the areas of Juret al-Shayah, al-Qarabis, al-Hamidiya, Wadi al-Sayih and the Old City in Homs.

    The fighters would be allowed to keep light weapons to defend themselves against any breach of the agreement, it said.

    More than 150,000 people have died in the rebellion against Assad. Millions more have fled their homes and the government has lost control of swathes of territory across the north and east. Fighting regularly kills over 200 people a day.

    Despite the carnage, Syrian authorities have scheduled presidential elections for June 3, a vote likely to give Assad a third term in office. Assad's opponents have dismissed the election as a farce.

    [Reuters]
  • State Dept, stressing that SOC not recog as govt: The regime is still in power, yes. But to be clear, we see no future for Assad in #Syria
  • State Dept on SOC status: In Dec 2012 took political step of recognizing SOC as legitimate rep of ppl. But this is a legal step. #Syria
  • State Dept: We think it's 'a good step' for OPCW team to investigate chlorine attack claims in #Syria . But no details of the mission
  • State: It just shows how committed we are to working w/the SOC...they're the moderate opp, have been at table negotiating w/regime. #Syria
  • State: Syrian opp's enhanced status is not tantamount to recognition as the govt of #Syria , but helps facilitate banking issues, outreach
  • State Dept announces $27 million in new aid, enhanced diplomatic status in effort to "reintroduce" Syrian opposition. #Syria
  • #Syria parliament: invitations to 11 "friendly countries" to send observers for the June presidential election- among them Russia &China
  • But rebels say #Homs deal involves release of 70 Lebanese and Iranian prisoners held by Islamic Front in northern #Syria
  • #Homs governor didn't say if evacuation deal involves release of hostages #Syria
  • Opposition says agreement involves fate of about 2,250 fighters, civilians and injured people in old city of #Homs
  • #Homs governor:in 48 hours rebels to leave besieged old city; safe passage to Talbiseh, Dar Al Kabira, rebel districts in north countryside
  • Upwards of 60,000 Syrians flee homes after fighting between rival Al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Reuters reports
  • Agreement of cease-fire in Homs today. Deal is a face-saving measure for rebels who will be allowed to leave the city, but essentially hands the city to Assad's forces in another defeat for Syrian rebels:

    Cease-fire in Homs another defeat for Syria opposition forces | Al Jazeera America

    Homs, once called 'capital of the revolution,' was one of first cities to rise up against President Bashar al-Assad
  • According to Syrian state TV, at least 18 people were killed in twin car bombings in the central Hama province, Reuters reports
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