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

  • Assad wins presidential election; critics dismiss voting as a charade

    Bashar al-Assad won 88.7 percent of the vote in Syria's presidential election, parliament speaker Mohammad al-Laham said on Wednesday, securing a third seven-year term in office despite civil war that grew out of protests against his rule.

    "I declare the victory of Dr. Bashar Hafez al-Assad as president of the Syrian Arab Republic with an absolute majority of the votes cast in the election," Laham said in a televised address from his office at parliament.

    The two other candidates, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar, won 4.3 percent and 3.2 percent of votes, respectively.

    The head of Syria’s Supreme Constitutional Court said Wednesday that 73.42 percent of all eligible Syrians participated in the presidential election.

    Assad's foes have dismissed the election as a charade, saying the two relatively unknown challengers offered no real alternative and that no poll held in the midst of civil war could be considered credible.

    Abdul Halim Khaddam, the vice president under Assad's late father, President Hafez al-Assad, said the votes are "as meaningless as piles of paper."

    "Those who choose Bashar al-Assad or anyone else will be either forced to do so or they will be acting out of fear. This is not a [real] election, and everyone knows that," Khaddam told Asharq al-Awsat, a pan-Arab, London-based newspaper, on Wednesday. He added that Assad conducted the elections to defy the international community.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Welcome to Al Jazeera America's live blog for Syria's ongoing civil war. We're tracking the latest developments on the ground, including recent allegations of the use of chemical weapons and the international community's response. 

    For breaking news and the latest updates, follow us on Twitter at @AJAMLive

    We welcome your questions and feedback. Feel free to submit a comment below. 
  • France says friends of Syria must strengthen groups fighting jihadists in Syria in light of events in Iraq, and Paris is ready to contribute, Reuters reports.
  • 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.
  • Kerry calls Syrian presidential vote 'meaningless'

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that Syria's presidential elections this week were "a great big zero" and will not change anything.

    Syrians in government-controlled areas voted Tuesday in a presidential poll all but guaranteed to hand President Bashar al-Assad another seven-year term. Voting did not take place in opposition-held areas.

    Kerry said the vote was "meaningless, because you can't have an election where millions of your people don't even have an ability to vote."

    The secretary of state, who made the remarks during a one-day visit to the Lebanese capital, also insisted that after the Syrian election, "the conflict is the same, the terror is the same, the killing is the same."

    An international delegations led by allies of Assad said the elections were democratic, transparent, and will pave the way for "stability and national agreement."

    The delegation of officials from more than 30 countries – including legislators and dignitaries from Iran, Russia and Venezuela – toured polling stations Tuesday during Syria's first multicandidate presidential election in more than four decades.

    Assad is widely expected to win the vote, which took place amid a civil war that activists say has killed more than 160,000 people. The United States and the European Union, which back the rebellion against Assad, have rejected the vote.

    In a final statement read Wednesday by Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament's Committee on National Security, the delegation blamed the U.S and its allies for "crimes committed against the Syrian people."

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • State Dept: Not going to send 18-year-old kids from Ohio to Damascus for regime change. Not in our natl sec interest. #Syria
  • Why is there no US military solution for #Syria ? State: No mil solution is bec 'What happens the next day?' ISIL, Nusra could fill vacuum
  • State Dep #Syria : This is not a problem the US can or should solve on its own...Finding path fwd to support opp, diplo track, wrk w/Russians
  • State: Haven't seen organized jihadist recruiting effort for #Syria . Dozens probably have tried/gone, but not by organized recruiting tool
  • "This is the beginning of the democratization of #Syria . It is the first step in a long process" added official when asked about violations
  • "Of course there are faults, this whole process is new for #Syria ," official told me when I asked about litany of violations in elections
  • Voting in Syria's presidential election was extended by five hours on Tuesday until midnight (2100 GMT) to allow more people to participate due to heavy turnout, state media said.

    President Bashar al-Assad, who has been fighting a three-year old revolt against his rule, is expected to easily win the vote.

    [Reuters]
  • In Maidan district #Damascus voters at polling station were regaled by Damascene sword dancers & #Assad chants #Syria http://pbs.twimg.com/media/BpNj1HDCEAAo4QA.jpg

  • Waving photos of their leader and dancing with flags, thousands of Syrians pledged renewed allegiance to President Bashar Assad as they voted Tuesday in the country's presidential election decried by the opposition as a charade.

    Some stamped their ballots with blood after pricking their fingers with pins supplied by the government in a symbolic act of allegiance and patriotism. Others chose to vote in full sight of other voters and television cameras — rather than go behind a partition curtain for privacy.

    Men and women wore lapel pins with Assad's picture and said re-electing him would give the Syrian leader more legitimacy to find a solution to the devastating three-year conflict that activists say has killed more than 160,000 people, about a third of whom were civilians.

    The balloting is only taking place in government-controlled areas and Assad's win — all but a foregone conclusion — would give him a third seven-year term in office, tighten his hold on power and likely further strengthen his determination to crush the insurgency against his rule.

    The opposition's Western and regional allies, including the U.S., Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have called the vote a sham. The so-called internal Syrian opposition groups seen as more lenient are also boycotting the vote, while many activists around the country are referring to it as "blood elections" for the horrific toll the country has suffered.

    The vote is also Syria's first multi-candidate presidential election in more than 40 years and is being touted by the government as a referendum measuring Syrians' support for Assad. He faces two government-approved challengers in the race, Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri, both of whom were little known in Syria before declaring their candidacy for the country's top post in April.

    In government strongholds of Damascus and Lattakia, the voting took on a carnival-like atmosphere, with voters singing and dancing, all the while declaring undying loyalty to Assad. In Homs, people stood in long lines waiting to vote.

    The government has presented the election as the solution to the conflict, but there is no indication it will halt the violence or mend a bitterly divided nation. The stage-managed balloting also will likely put to rest any illusions that the man who has led Syria since 2000 has any intention of relinquishing power or compromising to reach a political solution.

    Syrian TV said Assad cast his ballot in the morning hours at a school in the posh Damascus neighborhood of al-Malki where he resides. The TV showed him in a dark blue suit and tie, flanked by his wife, Asma, both smiling as they cast their vote.

    In his first public appearance since undergoing heart surgery in March, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem voted with a Syrian flag wrapped like a shawl around his neck.

    "The path toward a political solution to the crisis begins today," he declared.

    Reflecting the almost surreal nature of the vote as thousands lined up outside polling centers in the capital, the dull sounds of explosions reverberated in the distance as pro-government forces and rebels battled in nearby rural towns. Ashy plumes of grey smoke marked the skyline.

    A mortar shell crashed near the Opera House on Omayyad Square, one of Damascus' two landmark plazas, but caused no damage or casualties. Several other mortar hits were reported in the capital, though the voting was largely peaceful.

    At a polling station in the upscale Dama Rose hotel in central Damascus, a cup filled with pins was on offer for those who chose to vote in blood. Some pricked their fingers repeatedly to ensure they drew enough blood to mark the circle under Assad's name on the ballot. Most, though, voted in ink.

    "With the leadership of Bashar, my country will return to safety," said student Uday Jurusni, who voted in blood, after pricking his finger. "He is my leader and I love him."

    Outside the hotel, about two dozen men banged drums, waved flags and danced as they chanted, "God, Syria and Bashar!" Streets around polling centers were awash with Assad posters.

    Security was tight, with multiple rings of checkpoints set up around the Syrian capital and its entrances. Troops searched cars and asked people for their IDs.

    There was no balloting in much of northern and eastern Syria, where swaths of territory are in rebel hands. Tens of thousands of Syrians abroad voted last week, although many of the more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees across the region either abstained or were excluded by voting laws.

    At least three flights from Kuwait, chartered by an anonymous Syrian businessman, were to bring Syrian expats home to vote. The first flight landed in the morning hours with nearly 200 people, according to an Associated Press crew at the Damascus International Airport. The people said they would vote and then immediately fly back to Kuwait.

    But even as voting got under way in government-controlled parts of Syria, activists reported fighting, shelling and air raids in rebel-held areas.

    In the rebel-held central town of Rastan, which has been under attack by government forces for more than two years, an activist who goes by the name of Murhaf al-Zoubi said all the local residents "want Assad to go."

    "There are no elections here, this is a free, liberated area," al-Zoubi said.

    The Interior Ministry said there were 15.8 million eligible voters, both inside and outside Syria, and that 9,600 voting centers have been set up around the country. Polls were expected to close at 7 p.m. on Tuesday evening but the ministry has said voting could be extended for five hours if there was a big turnout.

    [The Associated Press]
  • #Syria state media: security plan in place to protect voters, polling stations against possible attacks on Election Day
  • Syrian rebel rocket fire on government-controlled areas of Aleppo killed 50 people over the weekend, a monitoring group said on Monday, the eve of an election in which rebels have warned they will step up attacks on state targets.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll from the attacks by the Islamist rebels included nine children.

    Another 13 people were killed overnight when President Bashar al-Assad's forces dropped four barrel bombs - crude explosives which cause widespread damage - from helicopters into rebel-held districts of the city, the UK-based Observatory said.

    Fighting in Aleppo, which was Syria's commercial hub before the three-year conflict erupted, has escalated in recent weeks after Assad's forces consolidated their control in central Syria and the last rebels retreated from the center of the city of Homs.

    [Reuters]
  • Sen. Admin Official: U.S. will "review the possibility of the U.S. military participating" in the effort to train "vetted" Syrian opposition
  • SAO says admin is going to "review the possibility" of U.S. troops directly assisting Syrian opposition
  • Speaking on a call with journalists, a senior administration official from the Obama administration said they have an ongoing effort to ramp up support for the moderate opposition.
  • During his commencement address at West Point, an appearance that was actually used as a major foreign policy speech, President Obama vaguely discussed the ongoing crisis in Syria:

    Now, as we move to a train and advise mission in Afghanistan, our reduced presence there will allow us to more effectively address emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa. Earlier this year, I asked my national security team to develop a plan for a network of partnerships from South Asia to the Sahel. Today, as part of this effort, I am calling on Congress to support a new Counter-Terrorism Partnerships Fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines. These resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who have gone on the offensive against al Qaeda; supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia; working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya; and facilitating French operations in Mali.


     


    A critical focus of this effort will be the ongoing crisis in Syria. As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers – no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon. As President, I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian civil war, and I believe that is the right decision. But that does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his people. And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we also push back against the growing number of extremists who find safe-haven in the chaos.  


     


    With the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors – Jordan and Lebanon; Turkey and Iraq – as they host refugees, and confront terrorists working across Syrian borders. I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and a brutal dictator. And we will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World – to push for a political resolution of this crisis, and make sure that those countries, and not just the United States, are contributing their fair share of support to the Syrian people.


    Obama's references to Syria were vague at best and laid out nearly no specifics on how America plans to up its presence in the ongoing conflict.

    However, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Obama is close to authorizing the military training of moderate Syrian rebels. 

  • 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]
  • Syria's upcoming election is prompting security concerns in a country already fraught with violence, Reuters reports.

    From Reuters:

    Syria's presidential election is just a fortnight away and Damascenes fear rebels will mark it with fierce mortar bombardment on the capital, or even a devastating tunnel bomb similar to attacks in northern Syria.

    The government has launched its "Together, We Rebuild" campaign that now peppers the capital's streets with posters that feature hands clasped together.


    But some residents of the capital anticipate more destruction and say talk of rebuilding is premature. Daily, they hear blasts of government bombardment onto rebellious suburbs and the booms of warplanes in the sky on bombing runs.


    To retaliate, rebels use mortars and car bombs to hit the centre of the capital, an area a few miles wide that is firmly in government hands. Earlier this month, 27 mortar and rocket attacks hit on a single day and Damascenes fear rebels will rain hell on the capital on election day to protest the event.


    "If that day is the rebels' new benchmark for showing their wrath, and I think it is, then God help us with these elections," said Mahmoud, 37, a merchant by day and chauffeur by night.


    SEARCHING BASEMENTS


    A new fear is that rebels are digging tunnels into Damascus, either to smuggle themselves and weapons into the heart of Assad's stronghold or to pack explosives under the capital.


  • British Foreign Secretary Hague says he is 'appalled' by Russia and China's veto of the United Nations' bid to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court and called on them to justify the move, Reuters reports.
  • US Ambo Samantha Power says vetoes aid impunity for Assad and terrorist groups. #Syria
  • Ah, the U.N. Security Council. The only place where a majority means even less than the U.S. Senate.
  • This is the fourth veto on a #Syria resolution.
  • China and Russia veto resolution on #Syria
  • French Ambassador: nothing is worse than silence because silence is consent. #Syria
  • Deputy Sec Gen: No side in this tragedy is innocent. #Syria
  • Deputy Sec General: #Syrian people have fundamental right to justice.
  • Deputy Sec General says attacks against humanitarian personnel add to urgent need for accountability in #Syria
  • According to Interfax, which is citing Deputy Foreign Minister Gatilov, Russia will veto a United Nations' resolution to refer the war in Syria to the International Criminal Court if it comes to a vote, Reuters reports.
  • 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
  • Healthcare is under fire in Syria, according to Al Jazeera English, which is citing a report.

    From Al Jazeera English:

    Syrian government and opposition forces have systematically attacked healthcare professionals and facilities in the country over the past three years, a report by the US-based group, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), has alleged.


    The report released by the human rights group on Wednesday said the attacks had killed more than 460 health professionals and caused widespread damage to hospitals and clinics.


    PHR accused the Syrian government of 90 percent of the confirmed 150 attacks on 124 facilities between March 2011 and March 2014.


    The organisation has launched an  interactive map  tracking the violations.


    “The systematic nature of these attacks reflects the government’s indifference to the health and life of civilians, which has created a public health crisis that will haunt Syria for years,” Erin Gallagher, PHR's director of emergency investigations and response, said.


    “Doctors and nurses who are committed to caring for everyone, regardless of political beliefs, are being killed while trying to save lives under gruelling circumstances.”


    Of the more than 460 civilian health professionals killed during Syria's civil war, approximately 41 percent of the deaths were caused by shelling and bombings, 31 percent as the result of shootings, and 13 percent due to torture, according to the report.


  • 4) President and legislative elections organized under UN supervision
  • 3) Constitutional review aimed at reducing power exercised by president
  • 2) National unity gov
  • Outline of Zarif #Syria plan presented to Brahimi: 1) ceasefire...
  • Physicians for Human Rights tells Al Jazeera that before the war there were 800 doctors in Homs, today there are 3. #Syria
  • Report from Physicians for Human Rights says there have been 150 attacks on hospitals in #Syria in 3 yrs, gov responsible for 90% of attacks
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