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

  • Reporter: Why are you optimistic about Geneva 2? State: The term is realistic, not optimistic. On balance, it's good to get parties at table
  • State Dept: Take issue w/statement that they're in no position to represent themselves. (Harf sticking up for Syrian Opposition Coalition)
  • State Dept: Nobody thinks it's easy, just because we say we're going to have a conference. We hope the Syrian opp will form delegation soon
  • State Dept: Syrian Opp Coalition meeting in Istanbul. We've certainly urged them to form broadly representation delegations. No preview yet
  • State Dept: SecKerry reiterated position that Iran must publicly accept communique to attend Geneva2. No decision, UN issuing invitations
  • State Dept: SecKerry reiterated position that Iran must publicly accept communique to attend Geneva2. No decision, UN issuing invitations
  • Kerry: Iran could help on sidelines of Syrian negotiations

    The United States on Sunday appeared for the first time to hold out the possibility that Iran might play a role on the sidelines of a Syria peace conference, even if Tehran is not formally invited.

    Syrian opposition groups and Washington have long had reservations about the participation of Iran, which they accuse of supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with manpower and arms during the nearly three-year uprising against his rule.

    Despite the improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations this year with a landmark nuclear deal struck in November, ties are strained by many issues, including the Syrian civil war in which at least 100,000 people have been killed and millions uprooted.

    At a news conference in Jerusalem, Kerry reiterated U.S. opposition to Iran being a formal member of the so-called "Geneva 2" talks scheduled for Jan. 22 in Switzerland, because it does not support a 2012 international agreement on Syria.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • After Syria rebel infighting, Al-Qaeda affiliate cedes ground

    Syrian rebel fighters loyal to Al-Qaeda ceded ground near the Turkish border to rival rebel groups, activists have said, in what seemed to be a tactical withdrawal to end clashes between those opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

    Opposition activists said the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), allied to Al-Qaeda and featuring foreigners among its commanders, had pulled back on Sunday from strong points including al-Dana and Atma in Idlib province and that fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham moved in.

    Meanwhile, other fighters opposed to the rule of Assad seized a compound garrisoned by ISIL in Aleppo province, in some of the most serious infighting within the rebel groups trying to topple the government, activists said.

    The clashes between a loose alliance of opposition brigades and the ISIL, which has sought to impose a strict interpretation of Islam on opposition-held areas, have spread across northern Syria in the last few days.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Syrian activists say rebel infighting that swept opposition-held areas of the country's north has spread a city in the east, a key stronghold of an al-Qaida-linked group.

    The recent rebel-on-rebel fighting in Syria is the strongest pushback yet by moderate and ultra-conservative rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad against radical extremist insurgents linked to al-Qaida.

    The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the rebels are clashing on Monday with fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in eastern city of Raqqa, which has long been an ISIL stronghold.

    The infighting erupted in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib on Friday and has been spreading since. The push to the east suggests the rebels are preparing to overrun the ISIL completely.

    [The Associated Press]
  • @MSF_canada, the Toronto-based wing of Doctors Without Borders, tweeted Friday that five of its colleagues have been taken for questioning in Syria. 



  • The Nordic ships due to handle Syria's chemical arsenal have headed for international waters, according to Reuters.

    From Reuters: 

    Four Norwegian and Danish vessels, which are due to ship hundreds of tonnes of deadly chemicals out of Syria, headed for international waters off the Syrian coast on Friday, a Norwegian military spokesman said.

    The operation has missed its Dec. 31 target date but, Lars Magne Hovtun said, the ships have now left the Cypriot port of Limassol, about 160 miles (250 km) west of Latakia port where they are due to collect their chemical cargo.

    "The four ships have now set a course toward a holding area in international water outside Syria, so we are most ready to enter the port of Latakia when the order arrives," he said.

    The original deadline was missed because of poor weather, logistical delays and the conflict inside Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad's forces have fought to clear rebels from roads along which the chemicals will be transported.


  • More harsh days await Aleppo ahead of Geneva II, and reports regime assigned Aleppo to notorious airforce intelligence officer Suhail Hassan
  • When discussing Thursday's bombing in Beirut, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf tied the incident back to the situation in Syria, saying that broadly speaking, the department has seen the 'destabilizing impact' Syria has had throughout the region.

    Harf went on to say she was concerned about the violence in Iraq as well, in relation to the situation in Syria. In response to a question, Harf said the department has seen the violence in Syria spillover into other parts of the region.
  • 1.3 million Syrians fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey & elsewhere during the first half of 2013, making it the largest source of new refugees
  • White House photographer Pete Souza has released his annual collection of pictures entitled 'The Year in Photos.' 

    In the photo below, President Obama is seen meeting with his national security advisors in the Situation Room 'to discuss his decision to postpone a military strike against the Syrian government for a chemical weapons attack so he could first seek Congressional authorization,' according to Souza's description of the picture. 


  • The death toll in Syria's civil war has risen to at least 130,433, more than a third of them civilians on both sides of the conflict, but the real figure is probably much higher, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday.

    The conflict in Syria began in March 2011 as peaceful protests against four decades of rule by President Bashar al-Assad's family, but turned into an armed insurgency whose sectarian dimensions have reverberated across the Middle East.

    The anti-Assad Observatory, based in Britain but with a network of sources across Syria, put the number of women and children killed in the conflict so far at 11,709.

    It said the death toll among rebels fighting the Assad government was at least 29,083.

    Deaths among the Syrian armed forces and fighters supporting Assad were at least 52,290, including 262 fighters from the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah and 286 from other non-Syrian Shi'ite groups.

    Both Sunni and Shi'ite militants from the region have joined the fight on opposite sides.

    Many Sunni Muslim nations support the rebels, who are led by Syria's Sunni majority. Shi'ite Muslim states back Assad, who is from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ism.

    The Observatory said at least 17,000 people are being held in government prisons while more than 6,000 government supporters are in the custody of Islamist rebels.

    It said the actual number of people killed and imprisoned is likely to be at least 50,000 higher, but said it could not verify those cases because the identities of the victims were hidden or missing.

    The United Nations does not give regular casualty counts for Syria and has said for months that more than 100,000 have been killed.

    [Reuters]
  • Insecurity and power cuts have cut Syria's daily flour output capacity to 3,000 tonnes from 7,700 tonnes since its conflict began in 2011, forcing it into costly imports and causing low stockpiles in some provinces, the prime minister said.

    "Importing flour places many burdens on the government. It's not easy to be a flour importer," Wael al-Halqi told parliament on Tuesday.

    Syria has struggled in recent months to buy essential food staples such as flour, wheat, sugar and rice through tenders, in part due to U.S. and EU sanctions imposed on President Bashar al-Assad's government. Some deals have been struck outside the tender process using middlemen.

    The sanctions do not cover food but those on banking, in addition to asset freezes, have made tenders difficult.

    In December, however, Syria has tendered for food, including flour, using a credit line from Iran's export bank in what could be a test of a deal to ease some sanctions against Tehran.

    Halqi said Syria was having to import most of its flour at a cost of $580 per tonne to meet daily domestic demand of about 6,110 tonnes.

    He said many of Syria's 57 flour mills have gone out of operation and face problems "in securing electric power and oil derivatives to run off generators."

    Other difficulties included "the unsafe conditions for transferring wheat to and from the mills and mill workers' difficulty in reaching their workplaces."

    The beginning of winter has made Syria's plight even more urgent, prompting the United Nations to begin airlifting food this month into eastern parts of Syria from Iraq.

    "Sometimes the difficulties in securing flour is what leads strategic reserves to reach low levels and vary from one province to another," Halqi said.

    But he said violence and instability in certain parts of the country would not interrupt the production of bread, calling it "a red line for the Syrian government."

    [Reuters]
  • Security officials say Lebanese forces have fired on Syrian aircraft that violated the country's airspace.

    It was the first time since the outbreak of the Syria's conflict three years ago that the Lebanese military took action to prevent Syrian warplanes from violating its airspace.

    Syrian forces have fired toward Lebanon in the past, trying to deter rebels from fleeing to the neighboring country or from sheltering in Lebanese border towns.

    The Lebanese officials say the military opened anti-aircraft fire at two Syrian warplanes on Monday after the aircraft bombed a border area close to the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal.

    The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the media.

    There was no immediate comment from the Lebanese military or from the Syrian government.

    [Associated Press]
  • Opinion: Echoes of Palestinian partition in Syrian refugee crisis

    When my mother was a little girl, her family was forced to leave their home in East Jerusalem and live as servants, sewing, cooking and cleaning in the home of a British family in West Jerusalem. This was in 1935, during the British Mandate, when the Council of the League of Nations confirmed the British administrative control for the Palestinian territory. My mother’s grandparents were Jews originally from the south of Georgia, in the hills bordering Azerbaijan, who had lived in Jerusalem during the Ottoman Empire; they were fluent in Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Hebrew. Since my mother loved to write, the British family presented her with their typewriter before they fled back to Britain in 1948 in the lead-up to Israel’s independence. Stamped with “Made in Palestine,” it now sits in a case in my office as an artifact of the devastation of partition. It is history that has yet to be written.

    Only recently have I begun to understand how deeply the problems of displacement in the region today are rooted in that crucial moment in the past. An international legal framework imposed then could have given the Palestinians who fled to neighboring countries from their homes in Israel the choice to integrate locally, as well as rights-based protections, including the right to work and freedom of movement.

    Although the cause of Syrians fleeing their homeland today differs fundamentally from the flight of Palestinians in 1948, one crucial similarity is the harsh reception they are experiencing in neighboring countries. The tragedy of the Syrian refugee crisis is palpable in news stories and in the images of those risking their lives in rickety boats on Europe’s shores. More than one-third of Syria’s population has been displaced, and its effects are rippling across the Middle East. For months, more than 1,500 Syrians (including 250 children) have been detained in Egypt. Hundreds of adults are protesting grotesque conditions there with a hunger strike. Lebanon absorbed the most refugees but now charges toward economic collapse, while Turkey will house 1 million Syrians by the year’s end.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 29 journalists died covering the civil war in Syria in 2013, The Associated Press reported early Monday. 

    From the AP:

    At least 70 journalists were killed on the job around the world in 2013, including 29 who died covering the civil war in Syria and 10 slain in Iraq, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

    The dead in Syria included a number of citizen journalists working to document combat in their home cities, broadcasters who worked with media outlets affiliated with either the government or the opposition, and a handful of correspondents for the foreign press, including an Al-Jazeera reporter, Mohamed al-Mesalma, who was shot by a sniper.

    Six journalists died in Egypt. Half of those reporters were killed while reporting an Aug. 14 crackdown by Egyptian security forces on demonstrators protesting the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.

    "The Middle East has become a killing field for journalists. While the number of journalists killed for their work has declined in some places, the civil war in Syria ?and a renewal of sectarian attacks in Iraq have taken an agonizing toll," the committee's deputy director, Robert Mahoney, said in a statement. "The international community must prevail on all governments and armed groups to respect the civilian status of reporters and to prosecute the killers of journalists."


  • Madamiyat al-Sham residents say food was being delivered for 1st time in more than a year after regime broke siege after "conditional truce"
  • Our colleagues at Al Jazeera English report that the humanitarian situation in Yarmouk Camp is dire:

    The United Nations has warned of a disastrous humanitarian situation in Syria's Yarmouk Camp, a residential area home to Palestinian refugees and Syrians.

    There are reports that five people have starved to death in the neighborhood.

    Yarmouk has been a stronghold for opposition forces for more than a year. The UN Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees has called for an immediate humanitarian corridor to access the people trapped inside.


  • Yesterday was initial UN deadline for Regime & Opp to give details of their delegations to Geneva II. Unsurprisingly, this was missed.#Syria
  • A Syrian government airstrike hit a crowded vegetable market in a rebel-held neighborhood of the northern city of Aleppo on Saturday, killing at least 20 people, activists said.

    For nearly two weeks, President Bashar Assad's warplanes and helicopters have pounded opposition-controlled areas of the divided city. Activists say the aerial assault has killed more than 400 people since it began Dec. 15.

    Saturday's airstrike slammed into a marketplace in the Tariq al-Bab neighborhood, the Aleppo-based activist Hassoun Abu Faisal and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said 21 people were killed and dozens were wounded in the strike.

    Abu Faisal, who is an activist with the Aleppo Media Center, put the death toll at more than 20, but said medical officials were still tallying the exact figure. He said the air raid took place around 10 a.m. local time when the market was packed with shoppers.

    "Cars were damaged, debris and rubble are everywhere," he said. "Many of the wounded have lost limbs."

    Both Abu Faisal and the Observatory reported airstrikes in other opposition-held areas of Aleppo, including Myassar, although there was no immediate word on casualties.

    Aleppo, Syria's largest city, has been a major front in the country's civil war since rebels launched an offensive there in mid-2012. The city has been heavily damaged since then in fighting that has left it divided into rebel- and government-controlled areas.

    [Associated Press]

  • A powerful car bomb tore through a business district in the center of the Lebanese capital Friday, killing a prominent pro-Western politician and at least five other people. The assassination will likely hike sectarian tensions in the country, already soaring because of the civil war in neighboring Syria.

    The blast, which wounded more than 70 others, set cars ablaze, shredded trees and shattered windows in a main street of the posh downtown Beirut area, home to five-star hotels, luxury high-rises and high-end boutiques. It sent a pall of thick black smoke above the nearby government headquarters.

    The bomb targeted the car of Mohammed Chatah, a former finance minister and a senior aide to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, security officials said. Chatah, his driver and four others were killed, the National News Agency said.

    Hariri, a Sunni politician, heads the main, Western-backed coalition in Lebanon, which is engaged in a bitter feud with the Shia Hezbollah group, a top ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

  • A boy reacts as he is carried on a stretcher at a damaged site after what activists said was heavy shelling by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Duma, Damascus, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

  • In his first Christmas speech at the Vatican, Pope Francis spent some of the time in his 'Urbi et Orbi' blessing on Wednesday to call for peace in Syria:

    Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance. Let us continue to ask the Lord to spare the beloved Syrian people further suffering, and to enable the parties in conflict to put an end to all violence and guarantee access to humanitarian aid. We have seen how powerful prayer is! And I am happy today too, that the followers of different religious confessions are joining us in our prayer for peace in Syria. Let us never lose the courage of prayer! The courage to say: Lord, grant your peace to Syria and to the whole world.

  • Syrian government forces and rebel fighters in a besieged Damascus suburb have agreed to a 48-hour truce that could result in food being allowed in for residents threatened with starvation, activists said on Thursday.

    Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels occupied Mouadamiya last year and the government has been trying to win it back since with a siege that has choked off food, medicine and fuel.

    Children have died from malnutrition in the town, and thousands of people face starvation. Some have resorted to eating leaves to survive.

    The fragile ceasefire in Mouadamiya, six miles southwest of the capital, began on Wednesday with the raising of a government flag on the town's tallest building.

    If the truce holds until Friday, the army has said it will allow food in.

    The ceasefire is unlikely to be repeated in other parts of Syria where more radical rebel groups operate, but it raises the prospect of a respite from violence and hunger in one of the country's most hard-hit areas.

    An activist close to the deal told Reuters negotiations had been conducted between the FSA military councils and local members of the government's military and political departments.

    If the truce holds and the government provides access to food, the activist said, a broader agreement could be implemented which might include the rebels giving up heavy weapons.

    "The regime said it wanted the heavy weapons like the tanks and cannons," he said. "It also said that it is willing to buy these weapons and pay for them," he added. "There are no guarantees from either side. This is war."

    [Reuters]

  • SNC: If intl community cannot save civilians under siege in #Syria , it won't be able to force the regime to accept political solution
  • SNC : regime agreed to allow food into Moadamiya, but only if residents raise the regime flag; some residents are desperate &agreed #Syria
  • #SNC condemned #Syria regime for "starving people into submission" in besieged areas particularly in Moadamiya, Damascus suburb
  • The White House on Monday condemned recent missile and barrel bomb attacks on civilians by the Syrian government and said Damascus must respect its commitment to allow unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid.

    "The attacks over the weekend killed more than 300 people, many of them children," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

    "The Syrian government must fulfill its November commitment to do more to facilitate the safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance, so that millions of Syrian men, women, and children have access to urgently needed services," Carney said.

    [Reuters]
  • White House condemns ongoing air assault by Syrian forces on civilians, including missiles, barrel bombs in and around Aleppo-@Reuters
  • $4 .2bn #refugees2014 Response Plan for #Syria includes:
    food
    protection
    shelter
    health
    education
    support 4 host communities
  • Fatima Khan, mother of the British surgeon who died in a Syrian prison, reacts after seeing the body of her son Abbas Khan in the Hotel-Dieu de France Hospital in Beirut. REUTERS/Hasan Shaaban

  • UK to aid in destroying Syria chemical weapons stockpile

    The U.K. will help the international mission to destroy chemicals from Syria's cache that have allegedly been used to build chemical weapons, officials said Friday, joining a complex operation with prominent roles for the U.S., Denmark and Norway.

    Britain's Foreign Office said it has agreed to destroy 150 tons of two industrial-grade chemicals from Syria's stockpile at a commercial facility. The chemicals will be shipped to the U.K. before being transferred to a commercial site to be incinerated and destroyed, it said in a statement.

    "It is important to stress that these are chemicals, not chemical weapons," the Foreign Office said, explaining that the two chemicals only become highly toxic when mixed together to make a nerve agent.

    The commitment adds another layer to the complex and unprecedented operation to destroy Syria's chemical stockpile, which comes after the confirmed use of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on Aug. 21, which the U.S. government says killed 1,400 people. 

  • In Lebanon 140,000 very vulnerable #Syria 'ns in 28,000 substandard shelters are our #winter priority
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