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

  • Some signs of #SNC rapprochement.. talks on sidelines about bridging divide. Withdrawers want transitional govt commitment/guarantee. #Syria
  • Two French 15-year-olds have left France to join Islamist militants in the fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, one of their fathers and the Toulouse prosecutor said on Friday.

    "I've informed the Paris anti-terrorist prosecutor because the two boys made their intention clear that they would travel to Syria via Turkey," prosecutor Michel Valet told Reuters.

    French officials say they are increasingly worried about their own nationals travelling abroad to fight in Syria's civil war and one day returning to plot attacks at home.

    The father of Hakim, one of the two boys from the southwestern city of Toulouse, told BFM TV his son had left a note on Jan. 6. explaining he was going to join the "Jihad," or Holy War, against Assad.

    He said Hakim left cash behind to cover the cost of a plane ticket to Turkey which he bought with his father's credit card.

    According to the father, who did not give his name, the boy called the family three days ago to say he was in danger in Syria and that he would not call again for a month.

    He added that if he did not call by then the family should assume he was dead and they would next meet in paradise.

    "He has been brainwashed on the Internet," the father said.

    As the Syrian civil war enters its third year, more and more Europeans are joining the rebellion, according to the European Union, which in May recommended better tracking of social media to spot foreign fighters.

    President Francois Hollande said on Wednesday about 700 French nationals and residents had travelled to fight in Syria.

    He has made clamping down on violent cells and self-radicalised "lone-wolf" operators planning domestic attacks a priority since a Toulouse-based Al-Qaeda-inspired gunman 
    Mohamed Merah shot dead seven people in March 2012.

    France has been on heightened security alert since January 2013, when it intervened in Mali to repel Al-Qaeda-linked rebels who had seized control of the north of the former French colony.

    Three people were arrested in June as part of a group suspected of sending Islamist fighters to Syria.

    Two brothers from Toulouse were killed recently in Syria, one in a suicide bombing, after appearing on a video urging Hollande to convert and Muslims to join the war.

    "Since the Merah case, we've had several of cases of young people travelling to Syria although it is not exclusive to Toulouse," Prosecutor Valet said.

    Speaking to reporters on Friday Interior Minister Manuel Valls said 20 French jihadis had died in Syria.

    "It shows the magnitude of the phenomenon in France and Europe," he said.

  • At the daily State Department briefing, department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she had no independent confirmation of Reuters' story that Russia has stepped up military support to the Syrian regime.  

    When pressed about the Russian military involvement in Syria — in the past Russia has provided military aid to the Syrian government — Psaki would only say she would refer reporters to the Russians for answers to their questions. 

    However, she did say Secretary of State Kerry still believes the United States government and Russia are still on the same page in the run up to the Geneva 2 peace conference. 

    In the most anticipated question of the day, Psaki said she had no updates on the opposition's scheduled vote about whether to attend Geneva 2. The opposition has been slated to meet Friday about whether to send a delegation to the conference and Psaki said she has no reason to believe that has changed. Despite the current seemingly grim circumstances, Psaki said the United States is still tracking toward the Geneva 2 conference and is 'confident' the opposition will attend.

    Going back to the Russians' involvement in Syria, Psaki said the United States is still investigating a ceasefire in Aleppo — a deal in which Russia would most certainly be involved. 

    In terms of humanitarian access, progress has been made in the past 24 hours Psaki, noting that while this is an improvement, more needs to be done.
  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted on Friday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has no place in Syria's future and said the United States was not without options on stepping up pressure on him.

    Kerry will lead a U.S. delegation to Switzerland next week for peace talks between the Syrian government and rebels aimed at ending the country's civil war. His comments also come as Syrian opposition groups vote on whether to attend the U.N.-sponsored talks in Montreux, Switzerland.

    "I believe as we begin to get to Geneva, and begin to get into this process, that it will become clear there is no political solution whatsoever if Assad is not discussing a transition and if he thinks he is going to be part of that future. It is not going to happen," Kerry told a news conference after meetings with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts.

    "We are also not out of options with respect to what we may be able to do to increase the pressure and further change the calculus," he added.

    Syria sank into civil war after a peaceful street uprising in March 2011 against four decades of Assad family rule. The revolt spiraled into an armed insurgency after the army responded with massive and deadly force to suppress the unrest.

  • Rocket fire into Lebanon from across the Syrian border has killed at least seven people, Reuters reported Friday morning.

    From Reuters: 

    Rocket fire into the Lebanese border town of Arsal killed at least seven people and wounded 15 on Friday, Lebanon's state news agency said, in one of several such salvoes to hit towns bordering war-torn Syria.

    At least 20 rockets launched from across the border struck Lebanese frontier areas, according to the Lebanese army, in further spillover from Syria's civil war that has raised tensions across Lebanon.

    Lebanon, itself shattered by civil war from 1975 to 1990, has been struggling to keep itself out of the nearly three-year conflict raging in its much larger neighbor, with more than 100,000 people killed there.

    But with sectarian sympathies aligning different Lebanese groups with Syria's warring parties, spillover has become increasingly frequent. Lebanon is now coping with increased car bombings, some of them hitting the heart of the capital Beirut.

    The National News Agency said a single rocket was responsible for the death toll in Arsal, an area sympathetic to the mostly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

  • Three workers with the aid group People In Need have died in Syria, The Huffington Post reported Friday. 

    From HuffPost:

    Three aid workers with the Czech humanitarian organization People In Need were killed by a mortar strike in the Syrian city of Aleppo last week, the organization has announced.

    The aid workers, all of whom were Syrian, were helping manage a bread distribution point in a rebel-controlled part of Aleppo, a city that has been divided and brutalized by more than two years of steady warfare.

    They were killed along with five children who were in line to receive bread, according to Petr Stefan, a media coordinator for People In Need. Two other staffers of the organization were wounded.

    The decision by People In Need to go public with the news of employees' deaths marks a continuing trend among some aid organizations and others who work in Syria to forgo security concerns in favor of publicizing what they have come to see as an intractable situation.

    This isn't the first time aid workers have come under fire in the war-ravaged country. Shooting forced the United Nations to abandon an aid delivery after the Syrian government allegedly forced humanitarian workers to use a dangerous route, Reuters reported Wednesday. 

    And earlier this morning, five members of the Toronto-based wing of Doctors Without Borders were taken for questioning in Syria. 
  • Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, said on Thursday that a recent series of mass executions attributed to Islamist militants in Syria may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity:

    The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a news release that it has received reports in the past two weeks of a succession of mass executions of civilians and fighters who were no longer participating in hostilities in Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa by hardline armed opposition groups in Syria, in particular by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

    "While exact numbers are difficult to verify, reliable eyewitness testimony that we have gathered suggests that many civilians and fighters in the custody of extremist armed opposition groups have been executed since the beginning of this year," said High Commissioner Navi Pillay.

    Reports suggest that in the first week of January, numerous individuals were executed in Idlib by armed opposition groups. On 6 January, in Aleppo, three individuals who had reportedly been held by ISIL at its base in Makhfar al-Saleheen were found dead, handcuffed, with bullet wounds in their heads.


    "The execution of civilians and individuals no longer participating in hostilities is a clear violation of international human rights and international humanitarian law and may constitute war crimes," she stated.

  • Aid groups: #Syria govt allowed aid to enter two contested front-line areas in Ghouta near capital (Ghezlaniya and Jdaidet al-Shibani)
  • Activists said the death toll from two weeks of infighting in north between rebel forces & #ISIL climbed to more than 1,000 people #Syria
  • When asked about the opposition's vote to attend Geneva 2, Psaki said the U.S. will let the opposition have its vote but the State Department still believes the conference is the opposition's best chance to have its voice heard and achieve peace. 

    In regards to Iran, Psaki said the department's position has not changed and any country looking to attend must adopt the Geneva 1 communique. 

    In his remarks before the department briefing, Kerry referred to 'revisionist' comments concerning the conference. Further explaining that remark, Psaki said the regime's formal acceptance of its invitation to the conference is a good example of such a comment. In its acceptance, the regime stated it did not agree with certain points raised by the United Nations and demanded that any countries 'supporting terrorism,' meaning the opposition stop such activities. 
  • At the beginning of her daily briefing, State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States condemns Thursday's bombing in Hermel. Hermel sits on Lebanon's border with Syria and has been seen as additional evidence the conflict in Syria is spilling over into neighboring countries.
  • Syria National Coordination Body pulls out of Geneva talks

    On the same day the Syrian government confirmed it will attend peace talks being forged by the international community to reach a diplomatic solution to Syria’s civil war, a Syrian opposition group said Thursday that it would not participate. Meanwhile, rebels on the front lines continue to boycott any negotiations that might keep President Bashar al-Assad in power.

    The National Coordination Body, a Syrian opposition group that some rebels see as a front for President Assad, has decided not to take part in the peace talks that will begin on Jan. 22 in Geneva, international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said on Thursday.

    The National Coordination Body is also known as the National Coordination Committee.

    Brahimi said in a statement that he respected the organization's decision not to join the opposition delegation to the talks but “deeply regretted” they would not be included. Brahimi has yet to announce the make-up of the two delegations to the talks, which are a successor to a first installment in June of 2012 that proved largely ineffective.

    The Syrian government, on the other hand, has agreed to attend the upcoming Geneva 2 peace talks, according to a leaked letter from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem obtained by Al Jazeera.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Kerry ended his press conference fairly quickly after it started, taking no questions from the reporters in the briefing room. His main message was urging the opposition to attend the upcoming peace talks and reiterating America's support for the Syrian people. 
  • Kerry also acknowledged that Syria has 'become the strongest magnet' for terror of any spot in the world today and stressed the United States has not lessened its commitment to the country. 
  • Kerry: It's important there be no games played w/this process. Also will fight for ceasefires, exchange/release of captive journos, aid wkrs
  • Speaking to the opposition, Kerry said the United States urges a positive vote, stressing the importance of the opposition attending the conference.
  • Kerry: Names of participants 'must be agreed to by both the opposition & the regime.' Any figure unacceptable to either side cannot be part
  • Kerry:Geneva process 'the only way to bring about an end to a civil war' that's resulted in humanitarian disaster, extremism breeding ground
  • Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a statement on Syria and the upcoming Geneva 2 peace process Thursday afternoon at the State Department. 

    From the moment the Geneva conference was announced, it was agreed the purpose of a meeting was 'specifically and solely' to implement the Geneva communique, Kerry stressed.

    Kerry stressed the Syrian people need to be able to determine their own future and both sides — the opposition and the government — need to agree.
  • The Syrian government has allowed supplies into two rebel areas, The Associated Press reported Thursday afternoon. 

    From the AP:

    The Syrian government allowed supplies to enter two besieged areas under opposition control near the capital, a relief official said Thursday, as activists say weeks of infighting between rebel forces and an al-Qaida group-linked group have killed more than 1,000 people.

    Khaled Iriqsousi, who heads the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, told The Associated Press that enough supplies to feed 10,000 people for a month entered the Damascus suburbs of al-Ghezlaniya and Jdaidet al-Shibani on Thursday. The areas are east and west of the capital of a region known as Ghouta.

    On Tuesday, Syria's government and the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, agreed to allow humanitarian aid into some blocked-off areas.

  • Britain is set to award Veolia Environnement a contract to destroy 150 tonnes of chemicals from Syria's weapons arsenal, Reuters reported Thursday, citing sources.
  • Italy has announced the southern Gioia Tauro will be the transfer port for chemical weapons materials from Syria, The Associated Press reported Thursday morning.
  • Rivalry between Qatar and Saudi Arabia has fuelled wrangling within the Syrian opposition that threatens to prevent a united rebel delegation attending international peace talks next week.

    Sources in the Syrian National Coalition and diplomats from foreign powers backing the rebels said it remains unclear whether those divisions can be overcome by Friday, when the 120-member Coalition is expected to vote on whether to take part in the conference in Switzerland, known as Geneva 2.

    However, some expect that Qatar, which has raised its profile in diplomacy by being quick to back the Arab Spring revolts, will not in the end risk angering Riyadh, Turkey and Western states by having Doha's allies on the Coalition force a boycott of talks that are supported by the other powers.

    Earlier this month, 44 members, mostly with links to Qatar, walked out of a Coalition meeting to underline their rejection of attending talks without assurances that key demands would be met. They were also angered by the re-election of Ahmad Jarba, a Saudi-backed Syrian tribal figure, as head of the Coalition.

    Diplomats said Qatar's role, which includes supporting some militant Islamist brigades in Syria, had been discussed at a meeting in Paris on Sunday of the Friends of Syria, a group supporting the opposition, which was attended by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other Western foreign ministers.

    "The message was that everyone needed to be on a new page in support of Geneva and stop backing militants," a person who was at the meeting said. "There were strong hints that the onus falls on Qatar for a Coalition decision to go to the talks."

    Qatar's foreign minister insisted in Paris that the Gulf emirate was not backing one opposition faction over another.

  • In the State Department press briefing Wednesday afternoon, spokeswoman Marie Harf said the Obama administration is working under the assumption the Syrian opposition will be attending the Geneva 2 peace conference. 

    The opposition is set to vote on whether or not they'll be attending Friday, Jan. 17.

    Asked if US officials would still attend the conference if the opposition declines, Harf said "the value would be greatly diminished."

    "It’s in their interest and the Syrian people's interest that they go. So we hope they will vote to attend, they will name a delegation. We're deeply engaged with them right now on that process," Harf said.

    When asked if the US was involved in allegations that some European foreign agencies were visiting Damascus to speak to the al-Assad regime, Harf said that there was no US involvement.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered closing remarks at the Syria donor conference on Thursday, saying that the conference "succeeded in raising support," and that seven countries pledged funds this year that did not last year:

    I thank all participants for your commitment and support. Today, more than $2.4 billion dollars were pledged by delegations and I really thank you for all your strong support.

    More precise figures will be announced shortly. Seven new countries pledged this year that did not pledge last year. Twenty donors increased their pledges in comparison to 2013 pledges.

    Your pledges prove that the people devastated by this conflict are not forgotten. You are also sending a strong signal to the neighbouring countries – that you appreciate their generosity, and that they will not be left to shoulder the burden alone.

    This Conference has succeeded in raising support for the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan and the Refugee Response Plan over the next six months.

    This money will allow humanitarian agencies and their partners to fund urgent priorities.

    United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gives a thumbs up sign at the end of the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria held at Bayan Palace in Kuwait, January 15, 2014. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee 

  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Secretary of State John Kerry on the margins of the donor conference in Kuwait City on Thursday. Though they spoke on a range of issues, the main topic of conversation was Syria:

    They discussed the situation in Syria and the forthcoming Geneva Conference on Syria next week, together with the need for increasing humanitarian assistance for Syrians. They discussed the participation at the conference and the positive role that countries of the region could play during the process. They agreed on the need for a political solution to the crisis. They also expressed concern about the rising extremism in Syria and its possible dangerous spillover in the region, in particular in Iraq.

  • Smoke rises from buildings after what activists said was shelling from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the besieged area of Homs, January 15, 2014. REUTERS/Thaer Al Khalidiya

  • Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on Wednesday at the Syrian Donors Conference in Kuwait City. Kerry announced $380 million more in humanitarian aid for Syrians affected by the ongoing crisis, bringing the total of US aid to Syria to $1.7 billion. REUTERS/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool

  • Ahead of next week's Geneva 2 conference, some members of the international community gathered in in Kuwait City on Wednesday for the Second Pledging Conference for Syria. 

    The conference "aims to rally international financial support to meet the basic humanitarian needs" for Syrians and Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 

    Ahead of today's conference, OCHA has released a handy primer on the five things you need to  know about the meeting and why it matters: 

    Global solidarity in action

    “Today, we have now seen global solidarity in action,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, commenting on the generosity of Member States at the first Kuwait conference on 30 January 2013. “We have brought a message of hope to the millions of Syrians who have been affected by this terrible crisis.

    Last year some 60 countries gathered in Kuwait to show their support. Hosted by the Emir of Kuwait, His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah, and chaired by the Secretary-General, Bani Ki-moon, the pledging conference gave Member States an opportunity to continue supporting the much-needed humanitarian response to help millions of people affected by the Syria crisis.

    Some of the countries that pledged the most funding included Kuwait ($300 million), the United States ($155 million), the European Commission ($133 million), the United Kingdom ($81 million), Saudi Arabia ($78 million), Japan ($65 million), Norway ($38 million), Canada ($25 million) and Sweden ($23 million).

    Kick-starting support for UN humanitarian appeals

    Last year, over 40 donors pledged a total of $1.54 billion during the conference. The funding helped to fulfil critical aid efforts listed in the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan (SHARP) and the Regional Response Plan (RRP) – two major appeals launched by UN agencies and humanitarian partners to reach 6.8 million people with aid in 2013.

    The SHARP and RRP, which were 70 per cent funded by the end of the year, helped aid organizations reach 10 million people in Syria with clean water, over 4 million people with food aid and agricultural support, 3.6 million with health care and 1.5 million children with school supplies.

    Syrian refugee families received tents, blankets, warm clothes and psychosocial support in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. The generosity of donors allowed millions of Syrian children to be vaccinated against measles, rubella, mumps and polio.

    Expectations for the 2014 pledging conference

    “We hope that donors will continue to give generously,” said UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos during a recent Twitter Chat on the Syria crisis. Humanitarian agencies and their partners need increased funding for 2014 to keep pace with increased needs, as the conflict continues and intensifies. 

    Last year an estimated 6.8 million people in Syria needed assistance. That figure now stands at 9.3 million. Funding requirements for the SHARP and RRP have increased dramatically since 2013, from $4.4 billion to $6.5 billion in 2014. UN agencies hope that the pledging conference will meet some of these funding requirements.

    Humanitarian aid plans in 2014

    In 2014, aid organizations hope to provide more emergency assistance in order to meet the growing demands of the crisis. They also aim to provide longer-term support to help families who have lost their homes and incomes to rebuild their lives and communities. Many Syrian refugees do not have access to the most basic public services and host communities in neighbouring countries need support to cope with the growing influx. Through the SHARP and the RRP, aid agencies and NGOs have costed and prioritized their plans to meet the most urgent needs as quickly as possible.

    The 2014 SHARP will be used to strengthen the operational capacity of national and international aid organizations, whose staff risk their lives every day to reach people with aid. Since 2011, nearly 50 aid workers have died, many of them from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

    A regional crisis

    “The crisis is now regional, not limited to Syria,” said Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos, adding that it is important that UN agencies and partners recognize this fact “in all discussions and negotiations.”

    Joint studies by the UN and the World Bank have confirmed the devastating effect of the refugee influx on economies across the region. The UN is working with host governments and other partners to build the resilience of host communities and neighbouring states through a Comprehensive Regional Strategy, which will be finalized in April 2014.

    The UN Refugee Agency calls the crisis “one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history with no end yet in sight.” It has warned that if the conflict continues, the refugee population in the region could reach over 4 million by the end of 2014. In Lebanon, refugees now make up more than 20 percent of the entire population.

    “UN agencies as well as national and international NGOs are working together to address the needs of Syrian refugees and assist the countries in the region who have so generously taken them in,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “The RRP calls for further efforts to benefit host communities, who offer front-line protection and essential support to refugees.

  • Aid earmarked for those most in need in Syria may find its way into the hands of government loyalists, says TIME's Aryn Baker. NGOs operating in Syria must be approved by President Bashar al-Assad's government, and sometimes they find the aid they are trying to distribute falling into the wrong hands - or, even worse for refugees, not arriving at all:

    The money earmarked for Syria can be used only by U.N. agencies and regime-approved local and international humanitarian aid agencies, of which only a few are authorized by the government of President Bashar al-Assad to work in Syria. These groups do vital work under difficult circumstances and do need funding. But they are held hostage to a government that manipulates the distribution of aid for its own ends. The regime limits the number of visas it gives international aid workers and also controls access to war-torn areas, meaning that organizations are frequently prevented from administering aid to rebel-held areas not fifteen minutes from their offices in Damascus, according to representatives of several aid organizations working in Syria, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the situation. Government officials maintain that those areas are inhabited solely by armed rebels, so they do not have the same rights as a civilian population. Yet numerous reports coming out of these besieged areas indicate that civilians are suffering as well. "The sick and wounded have not been able to leave, we've not been able to get food in," U.N. Humanitarian Affairs chief Valerie Amos told the BBC on Sunday. "There are reports of people on the brink of starvation, including in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp close to the center of Damascus."White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated that the United States expects the Syrian opposition to come to the Geneva 2 peace conference.

  • Our colleagues at Al Jazeera English report that according to activists, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has retaken the Syrian city of Raqqa after fierce fighting for the northern provincial capital:

    "ISIL took full control of the city of Raqqa after days of clashes," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    Raqqa is the only provincial capital the rebels have managed to fully prise from government control and subsequently became an ISIL stronghold.

    A brigade loyal to the Nusra Front, which is also Al-Qaeda-linked, has been battling ISIL fighters in Raqqa, even though the group has largely stayed out of the fighting within rebel ranks elsewhere in Syria.

    The Nusra Front is recognized by the Al-Qaeda leadership as the network's branch in Syria. It recognizes ISIL's operational command only in neighboring Iraq.

  • 250,000 people in besieged communities in #Syria beyond the reach of aid.
  • HRW: Donors attending a pledging conference for Syria should push #Syria govt to allow effective aid distribution
  • The Conference of Syrian women has released the full text of the Syrian Women's Initiative for Peace and Democracy. 

    The mission statement calls for a greater role for women in the Syrian peace process and lists very specific steps the Syrian government, and other international powers, should take in any peace process. 

    The document is fairly long but certainly worth a read.

    Syrian Women’s Initiative for Peace and Democracy

    11-13 January 2014


    Syrian women and men, as well as the international community, are focused on the Geneva II peace conference.

    We are Syrian women of diverse backgrounds and positions, and we represent a broad range of women’s and civil society organizations. We have come together to prepare this set of demands and priorities based on our first-hand experience of the suffering of the Syrian people, which has become intolerable. We share the hopes of the Syrian people that the Geneva II conference will be a serious step towards ending the violence and bloodshed in Syria.

    We believe that the Geneva I Communique provides a foundation to end all forms of tyranny and to initiate the transition to a civil, democratic, pluralistic, and united state.

    Priorities as related to ending the fighting, promoting the peace process and improving the humanitarian situation

    1.            Adopt the Geneva 1 Communique (stop the fighting and achieve a cessation of armed violence, the release of arbitrarily detained women and men, freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists, respect for freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully). To this we add: release the women and men who have been abducted by the various armed groups.

    2.            Lift the siege and allow for the timely provision of humanitarian and medical aid to all affected regions, under the supervision of an independent commission with international oversight.

    3.            Implement an immediate ceasefire as a first step towards the permanent cessation of military operations. This can be achieved by relying upon mutually reinforcing negotiation tracks at local, national and international levels, with the robust participation of Syrian civil society.

    4.            Call upon the United Nations Security Council to support the efforts of the UN Arab League Joint Mission, by authorizing the appointment and deployment of negotiators, observers and peacekeepers, as needed.

    5.            Take immediate measures to stop gender-based violence as per UN Security Council Resolutions 1820 1888, 1960; adopt gender-sensitive policies and protect women and girls against sexual exploitation, early marriage, human trafficking and rape.

    6.            Cooperate with neighboring states and secure international guarantees to ensure the expulsion of all non-Syrian combatants.

    7.            Put an end to all arbitrary detentions, court rulings and administrative decisions, and lift all travel restrictions on activists and politicians so as to assure their freedom of movement.

    8.            Ensure the safe and dignified return of all refugees and internally displaced people to their former cities and places of residence, with provisions for compensation, family reunification, and guaranteeing gender equality in this process.

    9.            Put an immediate end to the recruitment of child soldiers as per UN Security Council resolutions 1261, 1612, and 1882. Immediately establish a national education program that suspends all ideological curricula and which adopts modern unified curricula that respect human rights, the equality of citizens regardless of gender, and which addresses the issue of children who have been unable to attend school.

    10.          Demand the lifting of economic sanctions on the Syrian people immediately upon signing of the agreement between the parties and the launching of a transitional process. This demand does not include the lifting of sanctions imposed on individuals and private corporations.

    11.          Dismantle all arbitrary tribunals, terror-related courts, as well as sharia commissions, and reinstate civil law throughout Syria.

    12.          Develop a national plan that protects vulnerable structures, including economic, security, administrative and cultural sites, as well as the country’s infrastructure.

    13.          Take measures to secure all official records and documentation in cooperation with appropriate civil society organizations.

    14.          Restructure and reform security and police institutions in line with international norms of human rights and gender sensitivity.

    15.          Bring to justice and render accountable the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and launch the process of transitional justice.

    Demands on the Negotiation Process

    1.            Adopt the Geneva 1 Communique as the baseline for a political solution and as the starting point for the negotiation process that seeks to build a comprehensive and lasting peace, and which lays the foundation for a state based on citizenship and the rule of law.

    2.            Start the democratic transition process to end tyranny in all its forms and lay the foundations for a pluralistic, civil and democratic state in which all components of society are equal, and which upholds human rights in accordance with international norms and guarantees freedom of speech and belief.

    3.            Affirm that the State should be based on the principles of peaceful transfer of power, separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, rule of law and neutrality of the military.

    4.            Reject any political solution based on ethnicity, confessionalism, religion or military balance on the ground, to protect the territorial integrity of Syria and the unity of its people.

    5.            Demand that the constitution guarantees the equality of women and men and penalizes all forms of discrimination and violence against women.

    6.            Demand a constitution that guarantees the rights of equal citizenship to the Syrian people in all their diversity and affiliations.

    7.            Establish a clear timetable for the negotiation phase.

    8.            Urge all relevant international actors to end all forms of military support to the parties and call upon neighboring states to control their borders with Syria in accordance with international laws.

    9.            Develop a national Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration program.

    10.          Incorporate strategies to guarantee gender-sensitive transitional justice.

    11.          Prohibit the transitional government from entering into contractual agreements that extend beyond its tenure or from signing contracts that may bind the country beyond the transitional stage or threaten its independence in any way.

    Demands related to the participation of women in the peace process

    1.            We call on the United Nations to uphold its commitments to implement Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106, 2122, regarding the status of women in armed conflict. We ask the United Nations pressure on the international community and on the negotiating parties to guarantee the effective participation of women on all negotiating teams and committees in a proportion of no less than 30% for the duration of the negotiation process.

    2.            Ensure that representatives of women’s organizations and civil society organizations be included as observers in the negotiations.

    3.            Ensure the meaningful participation of women in the entire political process, including in the formation of the transitional governing body, the constitutional drafting committee, the drafting of the election law, mechanisms of transitional justice, the local administration and local committees for civil peace.

    4.            Appoint a Syrian gender advisor to the mediation team and establish communication channels to enable joint action and coordination with women’s and civil society organizations.

    5.            Exert pressure on all the parties and mobilize public opinion campaigns to uphold international commitments and ensure the implementation of the outcomes of the Geneva 2 conference.

    6.            Work with the mediation team to ensure that the negotiating parties adopt the document produced by this meeting.

    7.            Take all necessary measures to protect women who participate in negotiations and throughout the political process.

    8.            Build the capacity of Syrian women activists and civil society organizations in the areas of negotiation and peacebuilding skills.

  • United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently visited the Kawrgosik refugee camp and met with Syrian refugees. In remarks released Tuesday by the United Nations, Ban said he was 'particularly saddened to see so many young children and women and vulnerable groups of people who suffer from this man-made tragedy.'

    Below is an excerpt of Ban's remarks following his visit: 

    I stand here humbled by what I have seen in this Kawrgosik refugee camp. I am particularly saddened to see so many young children and women and vulnerable groups of people who suffer from this man-made tragedy.

    I am here to send our strong solidarity and support to all the refugees who came from Syria, on behalf of the United Nations and the international community. I am very happy to be joined by our distinguished High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Antonio Guterres, and also Ms. Valerie Amos who is the head of humanitarian [affairs] and Emergency Relief Coordinator. We are also here to listen to the concerns and aspirations of all the refugees here.

    What I have seen is heartbreaking. I have just met with a family in a refugee tent who have two young girls. I was very much saddened by their suffering. Families shared their struggles to survive, find their loved ones and cope with the sadness of those who have been lost. These families, they really wanted to have a better future –but they are now living in fear and uncertainty for their future.

  • As rebel infighting continues in Syria, government forces are advancing, Reuters reported Tuesday morning. 

    From Reuters: 

     The Syrian government has retaken territory around the northern city of Aleppo, the military said on Tuesday, after two weeks of rebel infighting that has weakened the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad.

    The internecine conflict among some within the chaotic plethora of rebel groups will allow Assad to portray himself as the only secular alternative in Syria to a radical Islamist regime when peace talks begin in Switzerland on January 22.

    His military advances will give the Syrian government delegation greater leverage at the negotiating table.

    An army statement said government forces had pushed out from their base at Aleppo's international airport, southeast of the city, and were moving towards an industrial complex used as a rebel base and the al-Bab road, urgently needed by insurgents to supply the half of Aleppo under their control.

    It said that government forces, along with militia loyal to Assad, were in "complete control" of the Naqareen, Zarzour, Taaneh and Subeihieh areas along the eastern side of Aleppo, which was the major Arab country's commercial hub and most populous city before the conflict erupted in 2011.

  • Non-governmental organizations have promised to donate a combined $400 million for humanitarian aid for Syria ahead of an international donor conference to be held in Kuwait, the Gulf state's official news agency KUNA said on Tuesday.

    The donor conference, which opens on Wednesday, aims to help the United Nations raise $6.5 billion for Syria and neighboring countries in 2014, the biggest humanitarian aid appeal in the organization's history.

    A similar donor conference held in Kuwait last year pledged $1.5 billion, mainly from Gulf Arab governments, to help provide food, drinking water, medicine and shelter for Syrians inside and outside of the country.

    Syria's civil war has killed more than 100,000 people and forced some 2 million to flee abroad, according to the United Nations. Another 4 million have been displaced inside the country.

    Overall, only 70 percent of crisis funding pledged for Syria in 2013 has been received by the U.N, according to the body's Financial Tracking Service (FTS).

    U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who will chair the Kuwait conference, has expressed regret that not all of the money has been received, KUNA said last week.

    The United Nations is experiencing "serious funding gaps," he told KUNA in an interview about the nearly three-year conflict which has inflamed regional tensions.

    "There seems to be some fatigue among donor countries because of this continuing violence," he said.

  • Turkish anti-terrorist police raided the offices of an aid agency on the border with Syria on Tuesday, in part of what local media said was an operation in six cities against individuals suspected of links to al Qaeda.

    The Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) said police had raided its offices in the southern Turkish city of Kilis, which borders Syria, and detained one person.

    The IHH came to prominence in May 2010 when Israeli marines stormed its Mavi Marmara ship to enforce a naval blockade of the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip and killed nine Turks in clashes with activists.

    "IHH aid is delivered to Syrian babies, children and those who freeze in the cold ... This is an operation to change perceptions (about IHH) and stop aid from being delivered inside Syria," the group said in a statement.

    Turkey has maintained an open-door policy throughout the Syrian conflict, providing a lifeline to rebel-held areas by allowing humanitarian aid in, giving refugees a route out and letting the rebel Free Syrian Army organize on its soil.

    But the rise of al Qaeda-linked groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in parts of northern Syria near the border has left Ankara open to accusations it is lending support to radical Islamists.

    Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly denied Turkey is providing shelter or backing to al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria.

    Turkey's Dogan news agency said police were carrying out raids against al Qaeda suspects in six cities including Istanbul as well as Gaziantep and Adana near the Syrian border.

    Police had no immediate comment.

  • Syrian women demand voice at UN talks

    A proper democracy cannot be established without the participation of women. Such is the message of Syrian women’s rights activists who concluded a two-day conference in Geneva on Monday to demand equal involvement in their country’s peace-building process, which has so far mostly included men.

    The activists on Monday asked the United Nations, which is brokering peace talks set to begin in Geneva on Jan. 22, to allow them to send women representatives. They also asked the international body to appoint a gender adviser to defend women’s voices at the negotiating table.

    The talks aim to end Syria’s nearly three-year civil war, which arose from anti-government protests against President Bashar al-Assad, and has so-far left more than 100,000 people dead and created two million refugees. Another goal of the talks is to establish a viable path toward a functioning democracy.

    Prominent Syrian activist Kefah ali Deeb said the call for the equal participation of women in peace talks carries a strong sense of urgency, as “no less than 80 percent" of the 9.3 million Syrians in need of aid are women and children.

    "We cannot remain silent regarding events unfolding in Syria such as daily death, massive destruction, starvation of people and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Syrian families, in Syria and abroad, as well as the spread of terror, of violence, ongoing detentions, acts of kidnapping, destruction of infrastructures and the spread of diseases, particularly among children," she told reporters.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Regarding the earlier reported humanitarian crisis in the Yarmouk refugee camp outside of Damascus, The Associated Press reports that 46 people have died of starvation since October 2013:

    Interviews with residents and U.N. officials, as well as photos and videos provided to The Associated Press, reveal an unfolding tragedy in the sprawling camp, where tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and displaced Syrians are trapped under an intensifying yearlong blockade.

    Forty-six people have died since October of starvation, illnesses exacerbated by hunger or because they couldn't obtain medical aid, residents said.

    "There are no more people in Yarmouk, only skeletons with yellow skin," said 27-year-old resident Umm Hassan, the mother of two toddlers.

    "Children are crying from hunger. The hospital has no medicine. People are just dying," she told the AP by telephone, adding that her 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son were rapidly losing weight from lack of food.

  • Earlier today during the State Dept. press briefing, deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said that Saudi Arabia was invited to the Geneva 2 talks at a 'ministerial level.

    "They're certainly a key player in the region, someone we work with quite closely," Harf said.
  • The start of the Geneva 2 peace process is an 'important step,' Hague said before Parliament Monday.

    Hague said he has no illusion about how difficult the conference will be, but, given the dire conditions on the ground in Syria, the UK will endeavor to make the peace meeting successful.
  • US and Russia discuss ceasefire in Syria

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov discussed the possibility for a first-ever ceasefire in Syria, with the Russian foreign minister saying that President Bashar-Al Assad is willing to open aid access to devastated areas.

    Monday's meeting in Paris broached the subject of "localized ceasfires" in cities such as Aleppo, which have been pounded by government shelling and plagued by rebel infighting.

    "We talked today about the possibility of trying to encourage a ceasefire. Maybe a localized ceasefire in Aleppo," Kerry said at a press conference after the meeting.

    While Lavrov said the talks with Kerry had been "constructive," he once again stressed the importance of including Iran in the Geneva II peace talks, which are slated to begin Jan. 22 but have failed to attract any rebel faction.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • UK Foreign Secretary William Hague made a statement before Parliament Monday around 10:30 a.m. ET.

    He said the opposition is expected to make a final decision about attending Geneva 2 on Friday.

    During his presentation before Parliament, Hague said the death toll in Syria is now estimated to be more than 125,000.

    He also highlighted the UK's desire for women to be more involved in the peace process. 
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