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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

  • #UN peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi expresses regret the #Syria conflict remains unresolved at the expense of citizens aje.me/1fMqV9I
  • The commander of Syria's main Western-backed rebel group appealed for unity in the insurgency's ranks Friday, trying to ease rifts with Islamic extremist rivals ahead of an international peace conference for Syria in January, over which the opposition is sharply divided.

    In a sign of the bitterness over the talks, the leader of one of the most powerful militant factions, the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, vowed to torpedo the talks and branded as a traitor anyone in the opposition who joins the gathering with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

    The contrasting rhetoric underscored the enormous difficulties that lie ahead even as officials meeting in Geneva confirmed attendance by both the opposition and Assad's government at the first face to face talks to try and end a savage, 3-year-old war that has killed over 120,000 people and uprooted millions of others.

    [Associated Press]
  • A total of 126 journalists and other media workers around the world have died on the job this year, with Syria the most dangerous place to work for the second year in a row, the International News Safety Institute said on Friday.

    That was 21 fewer than last year, but INSI said the incidence of kidnappings and disappearances was rising.

    The institute, which organizes safety courses for reporters and monitors risks in trouble spots, said 19 of the dead had lost their lives in Syria.

    In addition, at least 18 foreign and 20 Syrian journalists are believed to be missing in the country after being detained or kidnapped there, it said.

    The London-based INSI, whose report was officially released in Geneva, did not specify whether these were believed to be held by the Syrian government forces or by Islamist insurgents who are known to be responsible for at least some of the deaths.

    Overall the Syrian death total was down from 28 in 2012, but abductions of both foreign and local reporters increased, leading many international news organizations to stop sending journalists to cover the conflict.

    [Reuters]
  • The United Kingdom has said it will assist in destroying Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, The Associated Press reported Friday morning.

    As part of that, the British government has said it agreed to destroy 150 tonnes of two industrial-grade chemicals at a commercial facility, according to Reuters. The British government will also provide a navy vessel to escort Danish, Norwegian cargo ships carrying the Syria stockpile, Reuters reported.
  • Western diplomats are increasingly saying that President Bashar al-Assad keeping power is a better option for Syria than the country being ruled by Islamist militants, Russia's foreign minister was quoted as saying on Friday.

    "Not only in private meetings but also in public comments, the idea is occurring to some Western colleagues that ... Assad remaining in office is less of a threat for Syria than a takeover of the country by terrorists," Sergei Lavrov told RIA news agency in an interview published on Friday.

    Russia has been Assad's most important supporter during Syria's civil war. It says his removal from power must not be a precondition for holding peace talks.

    [Reuters]
  • On Thursday, there was a pre-Geneva 2 meeting concerning the role women can play in Syria's peace talks. 

    Syrian women discussed not only the importance of having a voice in the future of their country, but of the challenges they have faced thus far. 

    Below is an excerpt of the speech UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka gave on the role of Syrian women in the peace process.

    The inclusion of women in peace talks is not just essential to building sustainable peace based on the needs and concerns of all Syrians. It is a basic democratic right and essential for lasting peace. By including the perspectives of half the population, the path is paved for a society built on the principles of inclusion and justice.  

    In our close work with Syrian women, we have heard their repeated calls to be included in the delegations and negotiations, and I would like to commend your efforts in this regard as well. 

    Of course, the needs are enormous, and we must do more as UN Women, and the UN system as a whole, to support Syrian women.


  • The civil war in Syria is forcing doctors to choose between the opposition or the government, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday night. 

    From the Journal: 

    Makeshift clinics have proliferated in the rebel-held north, but shifting battle lines have made it harder to keep them hidden from government forces or separated from rebel operations, said Syrian doctors and international medical groups.

    Five of the six field clinics in the north were hit by government airstrikes this fall, doctors at three of the hospitals said.

    The al-Bab Hospital, which sits in a town in Aleppo province now controlled by al Qaeda-linked rebels, has been bombed five times, medics at the hospital said. Its medical staff has relocated from one building to another so many times they now keep much of their equipment in ready-to-move boxes.

    Some 50 international doctors, including the heads of global medical bodies, warned that Syria's health services were at "a breaking point," in a letter published in the medical journal The Lancet in September. The war, doctors said, is restricting medical care for millions of Syrians on all sides.

    "Systematic assaults on medical professionals, facilities, and patients are breaking Syria's health care system and making it nearly impossible for civilians to receive essential medical services," the letter said.


  • Russia blocked a U.N. Security Council statement on Thursday that would have condemned the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for recent missile and "barrel bomb" attacks on civilians, including children, U.N. diplomats said.

    The council's failure to approve the U.S.-drafted statement elicited an angry reaction from Washington.

    "We are very disappointed that a Security Council statement expressing our collective outrage at the brutal and indiscriminate tactics employed by the Syrian regime against civilians has been blocked," said Kurtis Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

    "These barrel bombs - and the explosive materials contained within them - further underscore the brutality of the Assad regime and the lengths they will go to attack and kill their own people, including women and children," he said.

    "Surely, at a minimum, the Security Council should be able to condemn such barbarities," Cooper added.

    He did not say who blocked the statement, though several council diplomats said on condition of anonymity that the Russian delegation demanded the removal of any reference to the Assad government in the draft statement, after which Western council members decided to withdraw the proposed text.

    A spokesman for the Russian mission declined to comment.

    [Reuters]
  • Syrian Kurds are demanding their own delegation at the upcoming Geneva 2 peace talks, Reuters reported early Thursday. 

    From Reuters: 

    Syrian Kurds are demanding their own delegation separate from both the government and opposition at next month's peace talks in Switzerland aimed at halting the conflict in Syria, Kurdish political leaders said on Thursday.

    The Kurds say they need independent representation because their demands in negotiations over Syria's future are distinct from those of the government or the opposition Syrian National Coalition that seeks to end President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

    "The Coalition are no different from Assad's Baath party rule when it comes to their position on the Kurds. They do not recognize the rights of Kurds to live on their land with recognition of their basic rights, including the right to administer their own region," said Abdelsalam Ahmed, a leading figure in the Democratic Union Party (PYD).


  • According to United Nations investigators, secret detention is part of Syria's 'campaign of terror,' Reuters reported early Thursday. 

    From Reuters: 

    Syrian activists and other citizens have vanished into secret detention as part of a "widespread campaign of terror against the civilian population" by the Damascus government, U.N. investigators said on Thursday.

    The state-run practice of enforced disappearances in Syria - abductions that are officially denied - is systematic enough to amount to a crime of humanity, they said in a report.

    Some armed groups in northern Syria, especially the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), have also begun to abduct people into incommunicado detention and denied their captivity, tantamount to the crime of enforced disappearances, it said.

    ISIL has also sought ransoms or prisoner exchanges, which constitute separate war crimes, it added.


  • #UN :Some armed groups especially ISIL also abducting people, denying their captivity; tantamount to the crime of enforced disappearances
  • #UN :Syrian activists &others vanished into secret detention part of "widespread campaign of terror against civilian population" by govt
  • The mother and brother of a British surgeon who died in a Syrian prison days before his planned release this week are pleading with authorities to return the man's body and put an end to their family's 13-month ordeal.

    Fatima Khan said the government has not released the body of her son Abbas, an orthopedic surgeon from south London who had been imprisoned since last November after traveling to rebel-held Aleppo to offer his medical services.

    "If you wouldn't give him to me alive, at least give me his dead body," she said between sobs during an interview with Reuters on Wednesday.

    She said she would not accept the Syrian government's invitation to send a team of foreign doctors to perform an autopsy on her son's body in Damascus.

    "We don't want an investigation," she said. "He's dead now, just give us his body and we'll go."

    [Reuters]
  • Amnesty International has released its 2013 Annual Report on Syria. The report is an extremely detailed look at the various human rights violations reported in the country and covers everything from attacks on journalists, to attacks on health workers, to poor treatment of those in custody. 

    From the report's introduction: 


    The internal armed conflict between government forces and the opposition, composed of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other armed opposition groups, was marked by gross human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Government forces, which were responsible for the vast majority of violations, carried out indiscriminate attacks on residential areas using aircraft, artillery shells, mortars, incendiary weapons and cluster bombs. Together with their support militias, they arrested thousands of people, including children, subjecting many to enforced disappearance. 

    Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees were commonplace; at least 550 were reported to have died in custody, many after torture. Others were extrajudicially executed. Security forces’ snipers continued to shoot peaceful anti-government demonstrators and people attending public funerals. Health workers treating the wounded were targeted. A climate of impunity reigned both for past and ongoing gross human rights violations. Armed groups fighting against the government also committed gross abuses, including war crimes. 

    They tortured and/or summarily killed government soldiers and militia members after taking them prisoner and carried out indiscriminate bombings that killed or injured civilians. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes; the UN estimated that over 2 million people were internally displaced and living under conditions of extreme hardship within Syria, and that since the beginning of the conflict almost 600,000 had fled as refugees to neighbouring countries, where conditions were often harsh. It was not possible to confirm whether any death sentences were imposed or if executions were carried out.

  • Earlier today, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said that Ambassador Ford is currently in Turkey having meetings with members of the Syrian opposition - excluding the Islamic Front. 
  • Residents react while calling for help as they hold an injured man that survived shelling after what activists said was an air strike from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Takeek Al-Bab area of Aleppo, December 17, 2013. REUTERS/Saad AboBrahim

  • Our colleagues at Al Jazeera English have created an interactive infographic about Syrian refugee children. According to the UNHCR, there's over 1.1 million child refugees. Over two-thirds of those live in Jordan or Lebanon, and of those, more than 3,700 are living without one or both of their parents. Visit the interactive and click through.


    Visit the interactive at Al Jazeera English
  • Western nations have indicated to the Syrian opposition that peace next month talks may not lead to the removal of President Bashar al-Assad and that his Alawite minority will remain key in any transitional administration, opposition sources said.

    The message, delivered to senior members of the Syrian National Coalition at a meeting of the anti-Assad Friends of Syria alliance in London last week, was prompted by rise of Al Qaeda and other militant groups, and their takeover of a border crossing and arms depots near Turkey belonging to the moderate Free Syrian Army, the sources told Reuters.

    "Our Western friends made it clear in London that Assad cannot be allowed to go now because they think chaos and an Islamist militant takeover would ensue," said one senior member of the Coalition who is close to officials from Saudi Arabia.

    Noting the possibility of Assad holding a presidential election when his term formally ends next year, the Coalition member added: "Some do not even seem to mind if he runs again next year, forgetting he gassed his own people."

    The shift in Western priorities, particularly the United States and Britain, from removing Assad towards combating Islamist militants is causing divisions within international powers backing the nearly three-year-old revolt, according to diplomats and senior members of the coalition.

    Like President Barack Obama's rejection of air strikes against Syria in September after he accused Assad's forces of using poison gas, such a diplomatic compromise on a transition could narrow Western differences with Russia, which has blocked United Nations action against Assad, but also widen a gap in approach with the rebels' allies in the Middle East.

    [Reuters]

  • Syria excluded polio-afflicted province from vaccination campaign

    Syria's Ministry of Health excluded the predominately rebel-held province eastern province of Deir Ezzor — where polio broke out this year — from a 2012 vaccination campaign, insisting that most residents had fled the violence and outbreak of disease, Reuters reported Tuesday.

    Hundreds of thousands of people remain, however, and at least 15 children have contracted polio, the World Health Organization announced in November. Public health experts and local doctors say the government’s failure to vaccinate citizens in the province contributed to polio's reemergence there.

    Polio — a highly infectious, incurable virus that causes paralysis in severe cases — has been eradicated in most parts of the world with the advent of a polio vaccine. Yet Syria is experiencing its first outbreak of the disease since 1999. Cases have also been recorded in Aleppo and on the outskirts of Damascus.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Ban called Syria and the resulting refugee crisis the 'most troubling' situation. 

    The 'most important and tragic and sad thing' has happened to the people, he said, adding that the UN has been mobilizing all aid agencies and he has been speaking to world leaders about doing what they can to help as well.

  • During his news conference, Ban said we must make 2014 the 'year of protecting people.'




  • #UN :Half of #Syria population is "food insecure"; nearly 1/3 needs urgent help; price of bread soared by 500%since conflict start
  • United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave his end-of-the year press conference Monday morning. He began his remarks by saying 2013 was the year in which the Syrian crisis deteriorated beyond all imagination.

    He called on world leaders to do more to help Syrians, saying the country's citizens cannot take another year like 2013.

    'I call for generous support,' Ban said. 

  • United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered remarks Monday morning to the United Nations Security Council on the final report of the body's chemical weapons investigation in Syria.

    Here are some highlights from his prepared remarks:

    We are all now acutely aware that chemical weapons were used not only in the appalling August attack in the Ghouta area of Damascus, but also on several other occasions, including on a small scale, against civilians and military targets.

    This new and broader knowledge should be of deep concern to all of us.  Any use of chemical weapons, by anyone, under any circumstances, is a grave violation of the 1925 Protocol and other relevant rules of customary international law.  The use of chemical weapons in Syria was a deplorable offense against the universal values of humankind.

    Those responsible must be held accountable.  The Security Council has said repeatedly that the use of weapons of mass destruction is a serious threat to international [peace] and security, and thus the Council has a primary role in bringing perpetrators to justice.

    We must also do our utmost to deter future incidents, in Syria or elsewhere.  I continue to urge all States that have not yet done so to sign, ratify and accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention without delay.


  • Syria is using red tape and threats to control UN aid agencies, according to a Reuters Insight story published Monday morning. 

    From Reuters: 

    It is a 15-minute drive from the five-star hotel that houses U.N. aid staff in Damascus to rebel-held suburbs where freezing children are starving to death.

    Yet it is months since convoys from the United Nations and other agencies have delivered food or medical care to many such areas - prevented by a Syrian government accused of using hunger as a weapon of war against its people.

    As the United Nations launched an annual appeal on Monday to help 16 million people affected Syria's civil war, divisions among world powers that have crippled peacemaking are also denying U.N. staff the power to defy President Bashar al-Assad's officials and push into neighborhoods now under siege.

    "In government-controlled parts of Syria, what, where and to whom to distribute aid, and even staff recruitment, have to be negotiated and are sometimes dictated," said Ben Parker, who ran the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Syria for a year until last February.

    "According to the Syrian government's official position, humanitarian agencies and supplies are allowed to go anywhere, even across any frontline," he wrote last month in the journal Humanitarian Exchange. "But every action requires time-consuming permissions, which effectively provide multiple veto opportunities." Fighting and rebel groups are also obstacles.


  • Syrian government aircraft pounded opposition areas near the southern border with Jordan and in the northern city of Aleppo on Monday, a day after a series of airstrikes on the contested city killed at least 76 people, activists said.

    President Bashar Assad's air force is his greatest advantage in the country's civil war, and he has successfully exploited it to push back against rebel advances across the country and to target civilian areas sympathetic to the opposition. Human rights groups say Syrian military aircraft have carried out indiscriminate air raids that frequently hit civilian targets, such as hospitals, bakeries and residential areas.

    On Monday, Syrian government warplanes bombed the southern province of Daraa, hitting the villages of Inkhil and Jassem, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights. There was no immediate word on casualties.

    The Observatory, which monitors the conflict through a network of activists on the ground, also reported air raids Monday on Aleppo, a day after government helicopters dropped barrels packed with explosives on opposition neighborhoods in the city.

    The government frequently uses barrel bombs, which contain hundreds of kilograms (pounds) of explosives and cause massive damage on impact.

    The Observatory raised its death toll from Sunday's carnage, saying at least 76 people were killed, including 28 children. Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, put the death toll at 83. It said that number is likely to rise because of the large number of wounded and the lack of sufficient medical supplies.

    [Associated Press]
  • Saudi prince bashes US over foreign policy in Iran, Syria

    An influential Saudi prince has demanded a place at the negotiation table during talks with Iran on its nuclear program.

    Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief, spoke with The Wall Street Journal on the sidelines of the World Policy Conference in Monaco on Sunday. The prince said Saudi Arabia is dismayed that the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has been working behind Riyadh's back to hash out an interim plan to increase international oversight of Tehran's nuclear program.

    Prince Turki said that while he hopes Iran is serious with regard to the deal, it needs to show its Gulf Arab neighbors that it is willing to make other steps forward. Iran, the prince said, should, for example, stop sending its troops and those of Shia allies such as the Lebanese organization Hezbollah to fight in neighboring countries, including Syria.

    "Iran is coming at us with a broad smile. Let's hope they are serious about that. We would like to see Iran first of all get out of Syria," he said.

    Prince Turki's comments to the Journal came a day after he spoke with Reuters on the sidelines of the same conference, decrying the U.S. and Britain for doing little to help opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who have been fighting against the regime for nearly three years.

    Rebel's battling against Assad's government forces have been at an impossible disadvantage, Turki told Reuters, because the U.S. and Britain have refused to help them.

    The U.S. and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to northern Syria on Thursday after reports that Islamic Front — a union of six major rebel groups — had taken buildings belonging to the Free Syrian Army's (FSA) Syrian Military Council on the border with Turkey.

    Turki criticized the decision, saying the two countries had left the moderate FSA to fend for itself.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • The UN Refugee Agency has issued an appeal for a record $6.5 billion for Syria operations in 2014: 

    Faced with the prospect of a worsening situation inside Syria and growing numbers of refugees in 2014, UN agencies on Monday appealed to donors for US$6.5 billion in funds  the biggest amount so far requested for a single humanitarian emergency.

    The response plans for 2014 were presented to donors today in Geneva on behalf of UN agencies, including UNHCR, and non-governmental organizations by the Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos and UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. The two organizations they represent lead the multi-agency international humanitarian responses under way inside Syria and in the surrounding region.

    "As we look towards the fourth year of this appalling crisis, we see that nearly three-quarters of Syrians will need humanitarian aid in 2014. With the help of the international community, the United Nations, Red Crescent and partner NGOs will continue to deliver vital aid and seek protection for the ordinary men women and children caught up in the conflict," said Valerie Amos.

    Monday's appeal is based on projections of continuing humanitarian needs and large-scale displacement both inside Syria and into neighbouring countries during the coming year. Some US$2.3 billion of the US$6.5 billion total is for the OCHA-led Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan for people inside Syria.

    The remaining US$4.2 billion is for the UNHCR-led Regional Response Plan 6, which helps refugees and host communities in neighbouring countries. The 2014 appeals represent the support plans of more than 100 partner organizations  UN agencies, national and international NGOs  who are working together to address the needs of Syrians.

    "We're facing a terrifying situation here where, by the end of 2014, substantially more of the population of Syria could be displaced or in need of humanitarian help than not," said High Commissioner Guterres. "This goes beyond anything we have seen in many, many years, and makes the need for a political solution all the greater."

    He added, "For now it remains of live-saving importance that the international humanitarian response is supported. Massive international solidarity is crucial, not only to support suffering Syrians, but also for the countries that have so generously taken in refugees. The Syria crisis is having a dramatic impact on their economies, societies and even on their security."

    More than 2.3 million people have fled Syria since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011, in one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history. Support for the surrounding countries includes help for refugee-hosting communities in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, which provide Syrians with basic shelter, protection and other essential support.

    Amos emphasized the fact that to end the suffering altogether Syrians need a political solution. "As humanitarians, our focus must be on continuing to do everything we can to reach people with life-saving and life-sustaining aid. This includes mobilizing funding and urging the commitment of all who have influence over the parties who perpetuate this conflict, to ensuring the flow of aid and to protecting civilians," she said.


  • UN Youth Envoy @AhmadAlhendawi spent #HumanRightsDay w/ Syrian refugees at @ZaatariCamp in Jordan. Details here: bit.ly/1iU67St
  • Syrian activists say government air raids have killed at least 22 people, including 14 children, in the northern city of Aleppo.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the aircraft dropped barrel bombs on the Haidariya and Ard al-Hamra neighborhoods on Sunday.

    The anti-government group monitors the Syrian civil war through a network of activists on the ground.

    The Observatory also said the number people killed in the town of Adra northeast of Damascus after an al-Qaida-linked rebel faction attacked on Wednesday has risen to 28.

    Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman says the dead are primarily members of President Bashar Assad's minority Alawite sect, as well as a few Druse and Shiite Muslims. All three sects largely support Assad in the fight against mainly Sunni rebels.

    [Associated Press]
  • The Syrian opposition has vowed to help prevent more journalists from being kidnapped, Reuters reported Sunday. 

    From Reuters: 

     Syrian rebel leaders said they would do all they could to protect journalists but were hampered by infighting, after international news organizations complained kidnappings were preventing full media coverage of the civil war.

    In a letter over the weekend, the western-backed Supreme Military Council (SMC), which is in charge of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), said it would seek to free all journalists who have been abducted.

    At least 30 journalists are estimated by media organizations to be being held.The SMC is the main body representing moderate rebel fighters but it has no sway over extremist groups suspected of carrying out abductions.

    "It is imperative that we reiterate that the FSA, along with all of its units and brigades, will do its utmost to protect and support journalists in order that they can fulfill their vital work," a letter from the SMC said.

  • The head of UNESCO sounded an alarm about widespread illegal archeological excavations across war-ravaged Syria on Friday, saying the U.N. cultural, education and science arm has warned auction houses, museums and collections about the problem.

    "The biggest danger there, apart from the destruction we have seen of the world heritage sites ... is the illicit archeological excavations," Irina Bokova, head of Paris-based UNESCO, told reporters. "This is something that is not very high on the radar of the international community."

    In February, Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of Syria's antiquities and museums, said illegal archeological digs have threatened tombs in the desert town of Palmyra and the Bronze Age settlement of Ebla.

    Bokova said the problem has grown. She said UNESCO has raised the issue of illegal excavations with U.N. Syria peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby.

    "We were showing (them) the map of these illicit sites, excavations," Bokova said. "This is our biggest concern nowadays, that we don't know what's happening there, this illicit trafficking (and) exports" of artifacts.

    She did not say whether those involved in such excavations had any alignment with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or rebels seeking to oust him.

    "Anybody can do it," she said. Bokova did not disclose details of the locations of the illicit excavations in Syria.

    In September, UNESCO issued what it called a "red list" of types of artifacts to alert museums, collectors and auction houses what to be on the lookout for from Syria. Bokova said illicit Syrian artifacts have surfaced in neighboring Jordan.

    [Reuters]
  • Amnesty International lashes out at EU response to Syrian refugees

    European leaders should "hang their heads with shame" over their treatment of Syrian refugees fleeing the country's brutal conflict, rights group Amnesty International said Friday.

    In a briefing titled: "An international failure: The Syrian refugee crisis," the rights group stated that European Union member states have only offered around 12,000 places to Syrian refugees as part of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee's goal of securing 30,000 places.

    "The EU has miserably failed to play its part in providing a safe haven to the refugees who have lost all but their lives," said Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty. "The number of those it's prepared to resettle is truly pitiful."

    He called upon EU leaders to open their borders, provide safe passage to those seeking refuge, and refrain from "unlawful push-back operations" currently being employed to stop refugees entering the continent.

    Only 10 EU member states offered resettlement or humanitarian admission places to refugees from Syria, according to the report. Of the 12,000 places offered, 10,000 have been pledged by Germany. France has offered 500 places and Spain 30.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • On Dec. 19, the diplomatic missions of France, the United Kingdom, Norway and Canada will sponsor an event on the role women can play in solving the Syrian crisis, according to the French mission's translated website. 

    From the website: 


  • A child refugee from the northern province of Raqaa in Syria, reacts from the cold weather in a Syrian refugee camp beside the Lebanese border town of Arsal, in eastern Bekaa Valley on December 12, 2013 (Alia Haju/Reuters)


  • Active and meaningful participation of #Syrian women is essential to effective peace building @UN_Women @foreignoffice @UKMissionGeneva
  • Chemical weapons were likely used in five out of seven attacks investigated by U.N. experts in Syria, where a 2 1/2-year civil war has killed more than 100,000 people, according to the final report of a U.N. inquiry published on Thursday.

    U.N. investigators said the deadly nerve agent sarin was likely used in four incidents, in one case on a large scale.

    The report noted that in several cases the victims included government soldiers and civilians, though it was not always possible to establish with certainty any direct links between the attacks, the victims and the alleged sites of the incidents.

    "The United Nations Mission concludes that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic," the final report by chief U.N. investigator Ake Sellstrom said.

    The inquiry was only looking at whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them. The Syrian government and the opposition have accused each other of using chemical weapons, and both have denied it.

    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established the Sellstrom investigation after the Syrian government wrote to Ban accusing the rebels of carrying out the chemical weapons attack in Khan al-Assal.

    Sellstrom delivered the final report to Ban on Thursday. Ban will brief the U.N. General Assembly on the report on Friday and the U.N. Security Council on Monday.

    "The use of chemical weapons is a grave violation of international law and an affront to our shared humanity," Ban said. "We need to remain vigilant to ensure that these awful weapons are eliminated, not only in Syria, but everywhere."


    [Reuters]
  • The Spokesperson for the Secretary-General can confirm the following:

    The Final Report by the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic has been turned over today, Thursday, 12 December, to the Secretary-General by Professor Åke Sellström, the Head of the Mission.

    On Friday, 13 December, the Secretary-General will brief the General Assembly on the report in a closed session at 3:00 pm.

    Following that briefing, at 4:30 pm, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Angela Kane; Head of the United Nations Mission; Professor Sellström; and the team leaders, Mr. Scott Cairns from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and Dr. Maurizio Barbeschi from the World Health Organization, will brief the press.

    The Secretary-General will brief the Security Council on the report on Monday, 16 December 2013.

  • UN: In several Syria chemical attacks investigators could not establish direct links between the attack, the site and the victims-@Reuters
  • The final report of the United Nations investigation into alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria was just released today:

    Final report to the UN Director General

  • Winter weather threatens Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan

    A blustery storm dropped torrential rain and snow on Lebanon and Jordan on Wednesday, as aid agencies scrambled to distribute desperately needed winter supplies like blankets and plastic tarps to Syrian refugees who have sought safe haven in the countries.

    Temperatures dropped below freezing in northern Lebanon and some areas of the Bekaa Valley, which is dotted with informal refugee settlements made largely from tents not built to withstand the harsh weather.

    The winter weather heaped another layer of misery on the already grim existence of many of the estimated 1.4 million Syrians in Lebanon who fled the civil war raging in their homeland.

    "We are extremely concerned for the refugees this winter that promises to be very harsh," Dana Sleiman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees told The Associated Press.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America

    The winter storm brought high winds and freezing temperatures to the embattled region. Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

  • Q. Need to rethink support for opposition? State Dept: "We remain firmly committed to the SMC" but certainly event like this is concerning
  • State: We do engage w/a broad section of grps, from many parties. SMC continues to be the group we work through. (Q on would US work w/IF)
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