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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

  • A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry says observers found the election in Syria fair, free and transparent and criticized the West's reaction, Reuters reports.
  • The OPCW team that came under attack Tuesday Syria is safely back in Damascus, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

    From the OPCW:

    The team comprising experts and officials of the OPCW and the United Nations which came under attack yesterday has arrived back in Damascus. All members of the team are safe and well, although one driver has sustained minor injuries.

    The team was en route to Kafr Zita as part of its mission to establish the facts surrounding allegations of use of chlorine in Syria. The visit was subject to a rigorous security assessment and a local ceasefire had been carefully negotiated for the day with the Government of Syria as well as with armed opposition groups in the area. 

    Shortly after leaving government-controlled territory, the lead vehicle in the convoy was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED) sustaining severe damage. The team members were rescued and shifted to two other vehicles in the convoy which turned back to move to a safer location. While entering a built-up area the convoy was ambushed; the first vehicle was shot at from close range with automatic weapons hitting the body, windows and tires. 

    The occupants of the two remaining vehicles, who were briefly detained by some gunmen, were later released upon the intervention of the main opposition group with whom the ceasefire and security arrangements had been negotiated. The reunited team then returned to Damascus via Homs under Syrian Government escort.

    While the situation is assessed, the OPCW fact-finding mission will continue its work by closely monitoring the situation and using all possible means to gather information and data in order to establish the facts surrounding allegations of the use of chlorine in Syria.

    OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü spoke to the Head of the Mission and the Team Leader in Damascus and praised the dedication and commitment of the OPCW and UN personnel, who showed great courage in undertaking such a high-risk mission.  The Director-General has strongly condemned yesterday’s attack and said that it was a sad day for the people of Syria, and for the international community, because of a blatant attempt to prevent the facts being brought to light. This will not, however, prevent the OPCW from raising its voice against the cruelty of use of toxic chemicals to kill and harm indiscriminately. 

  • While The Associated Press reported Tuesday morning that 11 people were abducted in Syria, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons states its team members came under attack but are safe.

    From the OPCW:

    A convoy of OPCW inspectors and United Nations staff that was travelling to a site of an alleged chlorine gas attack in Syria came under attack this morning. All team members are safe and well and are travelling back to the operating base.

    The OPCW Director-General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, expressed his personal concern for the OPCW and UN staff members and repeated his call to all parties for cooperation with the mission.

    "Our inspectors are in Syria to establish the facts in relation to persistent allegations of chlorine gas attacks," he said. "Their safety is our primary concern, and it is imperative that all parties to the conflict grant them safe and secure access."

  • Syria's Foreign Ministry says 11 people, including six members of a U.N. fact-finding mission, have been abducted by armed groups in central Syria.

    The ministry says the abductions occurred in the countryside around Hama in central Syria on Tuesday.

    A ministry statement blamed rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, accusing them of committing "terrorist crimes" against the U.N. staff and the U.N. Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

    The organization, which monitors the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and oversees the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, sent a team to Syria this month to investigate claims that chlorine has been used in the region of Hama.

    [The Associated Press]
  • The death toll in Syria's three-year conflict has exceeded 160,000, an activist group said Monday, a harrowing figure that reflects the country's relentless bloodletting that appears no closer to a resolution.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it has documented 162,402 deaths since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's government began in March 2011.

    The figure includes civilians, rebels and members of the Syrian military, the Observatory said. It also includes militiamen, such as Lebanese Hezbollah members, who have been fighting alongside Assad's forces, and foreign fighters battling with the rebels for Assad's ouster.

    The Observatory remains the sole organization providing a reliable tally of Syria's dead.

    The U.N. has stopped updating its own tally of the Syrian dead, saying it can no longer verify the sources of information. The world body's last count in late July was 100,000 dead.

    The Observatory bases its tally on information it gets from a network of activists on the ground in Syria. The figures are based on the names of those killed, collected by activists who document the dead in hospitals, morgues and identify them from video materials.

    Of the 160,402 people that Observatory said have died in the conflict so far, about a third - or 53,978 - were civilians. Those deaths include 8,607 children and 5,586 women.

    The uprising has also claimed the lives of 26,858 rebel fighters and 37,685 Syrian soldiers, the Observatory said.

    The Syrian government does not publicize the number of its casualties.

    In addition, the Observatory said 25,147 pro-government fighters have also died on the battlefield, including 438 Hezbollah militants, and 1,224 Shiite foreign fighters and Palestinian militants.

    From among foreign and other fighters who have sided with the rebels, 13,529 were killed, including members of the al-Qaida-linked group and other hard-line Islamic and Islamic leaning groups. There are also 2,891 unidentified bodies in the conflict and 2,314 identified bodies of Syrian army troops, who have crossed over to the opposition side to fight the government.

    Syria's uprising began with largely peace protests against Assad's rule. It has since then evolved into a civil war with sectarian overtones, pitting predominantly Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad's government that is dominated by Alawites, a sect in Shiite Islam.

    On the opposition side, 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]
  • Head of Syrian air defenses killed

    The head of Syria's air defenses was killed in clashes near the capital, Damascus, activists said Sunday, one of a few high-ranking military officers to die in the country's 3-year-old civil war.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain, said General Hussein Ishaq died of wounds suffered during a military offensive by President Bashar al-Assad's forces against rebels in Mleih, a Damascus suburb, where the Air Defense administration has a large base.

    A government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to brief journalists about Ishaq's death said the general died Saturday.

    The monitoring group said the general died on Sunday from wounds suffered on Saturday.

    The Observatory, which bases its reports on a network of activists on the ground, said Ishaq was killed in clashes with fighters from the Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and other Islamic rebel groups.

    State media made no mention of Ishaq's reported death but pro-Assad Internet sites said he had been “martyred” in Mleiha, which has seen heavy fighting for several days and is close to the road linking central Damascus to the international airport.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From OPCW:

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

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

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

    The team is expected to depart for Syria soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From Business Insider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
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