Inplainview News Weblog - 2013: Arab Revolutions. Syria

2013-09-09 Doug Stanglin. Russia calls on Syria to give up control of its chemical weapons usatoday.com

Russia has urged Syria to put its chemical weapons under international control, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters Monday.
"We have passed our offer to (Syrian Foreign Minister Walid) Al-Muallem and hope to receive [a] fast and positive answer," Sergey Lavrov said, according to RT.com, the Russian news agency, and the Associated Press.
Lavrov said Monday that if such a move would help avert a possible U.S. strike on Syria, Russia will start work "immediately" to persuade Syria to give up the control of its chemical arsenals.
Lavrov told reporters that Russia would urge Syria to concentrate its chemical weapons in certain areas under international oversight and then dismantle them.


2013-09-09 Kerry: Syrian handover of all chemical arms could prevent attack reuters.com

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid a military strike by turning over all his chemical weapons within a week but immediately made clear he was sure that would never happen.
When asked by a reporter whether there was anything Assad's government could do or offer to stop any attack, Kerry said:
"Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week - turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting (of it) but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done."
It did not appear that Kerry was making a serious offer to the Syrian government, which the United States accuses of using chemical weapons in an August 21 attack.


2013-09-08 Alexandra Hudson. Syria civil war: Assad 'may not have sanctioned gas attack' independent.co.uk

Syrian government forces may have carried out a chemical weapons attack near Damascus without the personal permission of President Bashar al-Assad, Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported on Sunday, citing German intelligence.
Syrian brigade and division commanders had been asking the presidential palace to allow them to use chemical weapons for the past four-and-a-half months, according to radio messages intercepted by German spies, but permission was always denied, the paper said.
This could mean President Assad may not have personally approved the attack in the Damascus suburbs on 21 August, in which more than 1,400 are estimated to have been killed, intelligence officers suggested.
Germany’s foreign intelligence agency could not be reached for comment. Bild said the radio traffic was intercepted by a German naval reconnaissance vessel, the Oker, sailing off the Syrian coast.


2013-09-08 Doubts linger over Syria gas attack evidence english.alarabiya.net

The U.S. government insists it has the intelligence to prove it, but the American public has yet to see a single piece of concrete evidence - no satellite imagery, no transcripts of Syrian military communications - connecting the government of President Bashar Assad to the alleged chemical weapons attack last month that killed hundreds of people.
The early morning assault in a rebel-held Damascus suburb known as Ghouta was said to be the deadliest chemical weapons attack in Syria’s two-and-a-half-year civil war. Survivors’ accounts, photographs of many of the dead wrapped peacefully in white sheets and dozens of videos showing victims in spasms and gasping for breath shocked the world and moved President Barack Obama to call for action because the use of chemical weapons crossed the red line he had drawn a year earlier.
Yet one week after Secretary of State John Kerry outlined the case against Assad, Americans - at least those without access to classified reports – haven’t seen a shred of his proof.
The Obama administration, searching for support from a divided Congress and skeptical world leaders, says its own assessment is based mainly on satellite and signal intelligence, including indications in the three days prior to the attack that the regime was preparing to use poisonous gas.
But multiple requests to view that satellite imagery have been denied, though the administration produced copious amounts of satellite imagery earlier in the war to show the results of the Syrian regime's military onslaught. When asked Friday whether such imagery would be made available showing the Aug. 21 incident, a spokesman referred The Associated Press to a map produced by the White House last week that shows what officials say are the unconfirmed areas that were attacked.
The Obama administration maintains it intercepted communications from a senior Syrian official on the use of chemical weapons, but requests to see that transcript have been denied. So has a request by the AP to see a transcript of communications allegedly ordering Syrian military personnel to prepare for a chemical weapons attack by readying gas masks.
The U.S. administration says its evidence is classified and is only sharing details in closed-door briefings with members of Congress and key allies.
chron.com


2013-09-08 PHILIP ELLIOTT. US: Proven Link of Assad to Gas Attack Lacking abcnews.go.com

The White House asserted Sunday that a "common-sense test" dictates the Syrian government is responsible for a chemical weapons attack that President Barack Obama says demands a U.S. military response. But Obama's top aide says the administration lacks "irrefutable, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence" that skeptical Americans, including lawmakers who will start voting on military action this week, are seeking.
"This is not a court of law. And intelligence does not work that way," White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said during his five-network public relations blitz Sunday to build support for limited strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"The common-sense test says he is responsible for this. He should be held to account," McDonough said of the Syrian leader who for two years has resisted calls from inside and outside his country to step down.
Asked in another interview about doubt, McDonough was direct: "No question in my mind."
The U.S., citing intelligence reports, says the lethal nerve agent sarin was used in an Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus, and that 1,429 people died, including 426 children.
The number is higher than that, said Khalid Saleh, head of the press office at the anti-Assad Syrian Coalition who was in Washington to lobby lawmakers to authorize the strikes. Some of those involved in the attacks later died in their homes and opposition leaders were weighing releasing a full list of names of the dead.


2013-09-07 EU agrees that all indications on Syria chemical attack points to Assad washingtonpost.com

The European Union agreed on Saturday that the Aug. 21 chemical attack outside Damascus appears to have been the work of Syria’s regime, but that any potential military attack against it should wait for a U.N. inspectors’ report.
After meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the EU ministers ended days of division on the issue with a statement saying the available intelligence “seems to indicate strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible for these attacks.”
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, who hosted the meeting, put it more bluntly in targeting Syrian President Bashar Assad, speaking of “more and more evidence that the Assad regime is behind all these crimes. We can’t just ignore this.”


2013-09-06 MANU RAJU. AIPAC to go all-out on Syria politico.com

The powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC is planning to launch a major lobbying campaign to push wayward lawmakers to back the resolution authorizing U.S. strikes against Syria, sources said Thursday.
Officials say that some 250 Jewish leaders and AIPAC activists will storm the halls on Capitol Hill beginning next week to persuade lawmakers that Congress must adopt the resolution or risk emboldening Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon. They are expected to lobby virtually every member of Congress, arguing that “barbarism” by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated, and that failing to act would “send a message” to Tehran that the U.S. won’t stand up to hostile countries’ efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, according to a source with the group.
Despite the group’s political muscle, it often doesn’t get involved in congressional fights over authorizing military action, and it had been mum about intervening in Syria as recently as last week.
But the stepped-up involvement comes at a welcome time for the White House, which is struggling to muster the votes in both chambers for a resolution that would give President Barack Obama the authority to engage in “limited” military action in Syria for 60 days, with one 30-day extension possible. The hawkish group also has ties to many Republicans, including ones who have been critical of the Obama administration’s handling of U.S.-Israeli affairs.


2013-09-06 MICHAEL KELLEY . PUTIN: Russia Will Continue To Help Syria If The US Attacks businessinsider.com

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the Kremlin will continue to back Syria in the case of foreign military intervention.
Putin responded to a question about Syria at the G20 summit by saying, "Will we help Syria? Yes, we will. We’re doing it right now, we’re supplying arms."


2013-09-06 Slavoj Žižek. Syria is a pseudo-struggle theguardian.com

The situation in Syria should be compared with the one in Egypt. Now that the Egyptian army has decided to break the stalemate and cleanse the public space of the Islamist protesters, and the result is hundreds, maybe thousands, of dead, one should take a step back and focus on the absent third party in the ongoing conflict: where are the agents of the Tahrir Square protests from two years ago? Is their role now not weirdly similar to the role of Muslim Brotherhood back then – that of the surprised impassive observers? With the military coup in Egypt, it seems as if the circle has somehow closed: the protesters who toppled Mubarak, demanding democracy, passively supported a military coup d'etat which abolished democracy … what is going on?
The most common reading was proposed, among others, by Francis Fukuyama: the protest movement that toppled Mubarak was predominantly the revolt of the educated middle class, with the poor workers and farmers reduced to the role of (sympathetic) observers. But once the gates of democracy were open, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose social base is the poor majority, won democratic elections and formed a government dominated by Muslim fundamentalists, so that, understandably, the original core of secular protesters turned against them and was ready to endorse even a military coup as a way to stop them.
But such a simplified vision ignores a key feature of the protest movement: the explosion of heterogeneous organisations (of students, women and workers) in which civil society began to articulate its interests outside the scope of state and religious institutions. This vast network of new social units, much more than the overthrow of Mubarak, is the principal gain of the Arab spring; it is an ongoing process, independent of big political changes like the coup; it goes deeper than the religious/liberal divide.
Even in the case of clearly fundamentalist movements, one should be careful not to miss their social component. The Taliban are regularly presented as a fundamentalist Islamist group enforcing with terror its rule – however, when, in the spring of 2009, they took over the Swat valley in Pakistan, the New York Times reported that they engineered "a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants". If, however, by "taking advantage" of the farmers' plight, the Taliban "[raised] alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely feudal", what prevented liberal democrats in Pakistan as well as the US from similarly "taking advantage" of this plight and trying to help the landless farmers? The sad implication of this omission is that the feudal forces in Pakistan are the "natural ally" of the liberal democracy … The only way for the civil-democratic protesters to avoid being sidestepped by religious fundamentalists is thus to adopt a much more radical agenda of social and economic emancipation.
And this brings us back to Syria: the ongoing struggle there is ultimately a false one. The only thing to keep in mind is that this pseudo-struggle thrives because of the absent third, a strong radical-emancipatory opposition whose elements were clearly perceptible in Egypt. As we used to say almost half a century ago, one doesn't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows in Syria: towards Afghanistan. Even if Assad somehow wins and stabilises the situation, his victory will probably breed an explosion similar to the Taliban revolution which will sweep over Syria in a couple of years. What can save us from this prospect is only the radicalisation of the struggle for freedom and democracy into a struggle for social and economic justice.
So what is happening in Syria these days? Nothing really special, except that China is one step closer to becoming the world's new superpower while its competitors are eagerly weakening each other.


2013-09-06 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed Draws Scrutiny Over Writer's Ties To Syrian Rebel Advocacy Group huffingtonpost.com

A Wall Street Journal op-ed cited this week by both Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has drawn scrutiny for not disclosing writer Elizabeth O'Bagy's ties to a Syrian rebel advocacy group.
On Thursday, The Daily Caller examined O'Bagy's role as political director for the Syria Emergency Task Force, a group that has lobbied the White House and Congress to support the rebels. O'Bagy told The Daily Caller that she is not a salaried employee, but serves as a paid contractor.
Journalist Laura Rozen questioned Friday why the Journal op-ed -- which was published a week ago online and in Saturday's print edition -- did not identify O'Bagy's affiliation with the group.
WSJ 08/30/2013 Elizabeth O'Bagy: On the Front Lines of Syria's Civil War
foxnewsinsider.com


2013-09-05 Arab nations offered to pay for Syria strike: Kerry thenews.com.pk

Arab nations have offered to help pay for any US military intervention in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers Wednesday as he sought support for missile strikes.
“With respect to Arab countries offering to bear the cost and to assist, the answer is profoundly yes, they have. That offer is on the table,” Kerry said as he appeared before a House of Representatives panel.
The offer was “quite significant,” he said.
“Some of them have said that if the United States is prepared to go do the whole thing the way we've done it previously in other places, they'll carry that cost. That's how dedicated they are to this.”
But he stressed: “Obviously, that is not in the cards and nobody is talking about it, but they are talking about taking seriously getting this job done.”
He was appearing before the House Foreign Affairs committee on the second day of the administration's blitz on Capitol hill to persuade lawmakers to approve limited military strikes.
Washington has led charges that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unleashed sarin gas on August 21 against the residents of a Damascus suburb killing what a US intelligence report said was some 1,400 people.
President Barack Obama has insisted that Assad's regime has crossed a red line against the use of such horrific weapons and should be punished and his military capability degraded.


2013-09-04 AIPAC says they support US strike on Syria jpost.com

Three influential pro-Israel groups urged US lawmakers on Tuesday to authorize US President Barack Obama to launch an attack on Syria, signaling a stepped-up lobbying effort for American military action.
The statements by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) represented the groups' most public show of support for US military action since the Aug. 21 attack near Damascus in which Syria's government is accused of using chemical weapons to kill more than 1,400 people.


2013-09-04 Gregory Korte. Senate committee approves Syria war resolution usatoday.com

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to authorize President Obama to use limited force against Syria Wednesday, after adopting amendments from Sen. John McCain designed to "change the military equation on the battlefield."
The Senate resolution would limit hostilities to 60 or 90 days, narrow the conflict to Syria's borders and prohibit U.S. troops on Syrian soil. McCain's amendments didn't change that scope, but made clear that the end goal should be "a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and leads to a democratic government in Syria."


2013-09-04 Kerry: Syrian rebels have not been hijacked by extremists usatoday.com

Extremist groups make up between 15% and 25% of the rebels fighting Syrian leader Bashar Assad, but moderate forces are growing stronger as a result of support from regional allies, Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress on Wednesday.
"I just don't agree that a majority are al-Qaeda and the bad guys," Kerry said in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "That's not true."
Kerry's comments come as the administration embarks on an effort to support and arm rebel groups. His testimony was part of President Obama's lobbying effort to get a congressional resolution for a limited strike to deter Assad from using chemical weapons.
By contrast, arming the rebels is part of a broader strategy aimed at tipping the balance on the battlefield and leading to Assad's removal from power.


2013-09-04 Poker-faced John McCain caught playing on smartphone during Senate's Syria hearing telegraph.co.uk

A photograph of the senior Republican senator, a longtime advocate for forceful military intervention in Syria, playing poker on his phone, held just beneath the desk at which he sat, was rapidly circulated on social media.
He was evidently seeking a diversion from the testimony of Obama administration officials to his congressional colleagues - perhaps because he had heard it all the previous day at a private meeting with the US president.
i.telegraph.co.uk


2013-09-04 Russian FM on CW usage in Syria mid.ru


2013-09-03 Boehner, Cantor back Obama on force against Syria usatoday.com

President Obama said Tuesday he believes Congress will vote to authorize a military strike against Syria over the use of chemical weapons, and he won the support of the top two Republicans in the U.S. House.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said after a White House meeting that he supports the president's "call for action" against Syria, and he believes most other congressional Republicans will do so as well.
"The use of chemical weapons is a barbarous act," Boehner said. "The use of these weapons has to be responded to."
Still, a Boehner aide described upcoming congressional votes on Syria as an "uphill battle."
Before the meeting with Boehner, Cantor and other members of Congress from both parties, Obama told reporters: "We have high confidence that Syria used — in an indiscriminate fashion — chemical weapons that killed thousands of people, including over 400 children."
Obama also said he is willing to work with lawmakers on the wording of a resolution authorizing the use of force as long as it preserves the mission of sending "a clear message" to the government of Bashar Assad, "degrading his capabilities to use chemical weapons, not just now but also in the future."


2013-09-03 Dan Roberts, Spencer Ackerman. Obama hints at larger strategy to topple Assad in effort to win over Republicans theguardian.com

Barack Obama portrayed his plans for US military action in Syria as part of a broader strategy to topple Bashar al-Assad, as tougher White House rhetoric began to win over sceptical Republicans in Congress on Tuesday.
While stressing that Washington's primary goal remained "limited and proportional" attacks, to degrade Syria's chemical weapons capabilities and deter their future use, the president hinted at a broader long-term mission that may ultimately bring about a change of regime.
"It also fits into a broader strategy that can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic, economic and political pressure required – so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability, not only to Syria but to the region," he told senior members of Congress at a White House meeting on Tuesday.


2013-09-03 Syria attack illegal without Security Council approval, UN warns cbc.ca

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned that any military strikes against Syria for an alleged chemical weapons attack last week are legal only in self-defence under the UN charter or if approved by the UN Security Council.
Ban also cautioned nations such as the United States and France that may be considering such strikes that any "punitive" action taken against Syria could unleash more turmoil and bloodshed. U.S. President Barack Obama has been seeking to rally political support for a strike against Syria.
But Ban also said that if UN inspectors confirm the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the Security Council, which has long been deadlocked on the 2½-year Syrian civil war, should overcome its differences and take action.
"If confirmed, any use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances will be a serious violation of international law and outrageous war crime," he told reporters Tuesday. "Any perpetrators must be brought to justice. There should be no impunity."
Tensions in the region were on the rise Tuesday after Israel tested a U.S.-backed missile system in the Mediterranean. The morning launch was first reported by Moscow media that quoted Russian defence officials as saying two ballistic "objects" had been fired eastward from the centre of the sea — roughly in the direction of Syria.


2013-09-02 ARIEL BEN SOLOMON. Saudis: World should prevent aggression against Syrian people. jpost.com

Middle East supporters of the Sunni-dominated rebel forces led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are exasperated with the hesitation of Western countries but are holding out in expectation that attacks will eventually occur. On the other side, Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are gloating over the perceived failure and weakness of Britain and the US as well as the delay in plans to attack.
Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it was time for the world to do everything it could to prevent aggression against the Syrian people, and that it would back a US strike on Syria if the Syrian people did.


2013-09-02 Barak Ravid. Kerry assures Netanyahu: Assad will be held accountable for Syria gas attack haaretz.com

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday with a reassuring message: the Obama administration is determined to take action against Bashar Assad's regime in response to the August 21 chemical weapons attack.
According to a senior official in the State Department, Kerry stressed during the call that the U.S. will ensure that Assad "will be held accountable."
Kerry's words of reassurance to Netanyahu came on the heels of a conversation similar in nature held between U.S. President Barack Obama and Netanyahu on Saturday. Channel 2 reported on Monday that Obama told Netanyahu that "Syria is not Iran," which is why the manner the Syrian crisis is being dealt with has no implications for the way the Iranian threat is to be handled.
A U.S. administration official has also told Haaretz that in their conversations with world leaders, and while briefing members of Congress in an effort to convince them to support military action, Obama and Kerry emphasized that a failure to act would unravel the deterrent impact of the international stand against the use of chemical weapons.
"A failure to take action… risks emboldening Assad and his key allies – Hezbollah and Iran – who will see that there are no consequences for such a flagrant violation of an international norm," he said. "Anyone who is concerned about Iran and its efforts in the region should support this action."


2013-09-02 HERB KEINON. ‘Obama assures Netanyahu on Iran’ jpost.com

US President Barack Obama assured Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a telephone conversation on Saturday that he remains determined to keep Iran from going nuclear, Channel 2 reported Monday.
According to the report, Obama’s assurances came in a phone conversation with Netanyahu just prior to announcing in a White House speech that he would ask Congress to approve a limited US attack on Syria.
According to the report, Obama’s assurances came in a phone conversation with Netanyahu just prior to announcing in a White House speech that he would ask Congress to approve a limited US attack on Syria.
According to the Channel 2 report, Obama told Netanyahu that the confrontation with Syria did not negatively impact on the Iranian situation, and that the two situations were completely different.
Obama, in his efforts to win votes in Congress for using limited force as a punitive measure against Syria, is expected to use as one of his arguments that a failure to do so would hurt America’s deterrence against Iran and Hezbollah, and be bad for Israel.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, reiterated his dual message Monday of trying to calm the Israeli public on one hand, while warning Israel’s enemies on the other.


2013-09-02 Jeffrey Heller, Angus McDowall. Insight: As Obama blinks on Syria, Israel, Saudis make common cause in.reuters.com

If President Barack Obama has disappointed Syrian rebels by deferring to Congress before bombing Damascus, he has also dismayed the United States' two main allies in the Middle East.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have little love for each other but both are pressing their mutual friend in the White House to hit President Bashar al-Assad hard. And both do so with one eye fixed firmly not on Syria but on their common adversary - Iran.
Israel's response to Obama's surprise move to delay or even possibly cancel air strikes made clear that connection: looking soft on Assad after accusing him of killing hundreds of people with chemical weapons may embolden his backers in Tehran to develop nuclear arms, Israeli officials said. And if they do, Israel may strike Iran alone, unsure Washington can be trusted.
Neither U.S. ally is picking a fight with Obama in public. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the nation was "serene and self-confident"; Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal simply renewed a call to the "international community" to halt Assad's violence in Syria.
But the Saudi monarchy, though lacking Israel's readiness to attack Iran, can share the Jewish state's concern that neither may now look with confidence to Washington to curb what Riyadh sees as a drive by its Persian rival to dominate the Arab world.


2013-09-02 Josef Federman. With Eye on Iran, Israelis Seek U.S. Action in Syria world.time.com

Behind an official wall of silence, Israel is signaling it wants the U.S. to strike Syria sooner rather than later, fearing that continued inaction could hurt American credibility in the region.
Yet at the same time, Israel appears to have little desire to see Syrian President Bashar Assad toppled, on the theory that a familiar foe is preferable to some of those who might replace him, especially the Islamist extremists who are increasingly powerful in the rebellion.
These contradictory forces have put Israel in a delicate position as the U.S. contemplates military action. In public, Israeli leaders have said little about President Barack Obama‘s handling of the Syria crisis. But following his decision over the weekend to postpone military action by seeking the backing of Congress, the signs of confusion and consternation appear clear.


2013-09-02 NATO chief convinced Syrian government behind chemical attack reuters.com

NATO's secretary-general said on Monday he had seen evidence convincing him Syrian authorities were behind a deadly chemical weapons attack and said it would send a "dangerous signal to dictators" if the world did not respond firmly.
However, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it was up to individual NATO countries to decide how they would respond to the attack and he did not envisage any NATO role beyond existing plans to defend NATO member Turkey, which borders Syria.
"I have been presented with concrete information and, without going into details, I can tell you that personally I am convinced, not only that a chemical attack has taken place ..., but I am also convinced that the Syrian regime is responsible," Rasmussen told a news conference.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said he will seek congressional authorization for punitive action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after what Washington said was a sarin gas attack on August 21 that killed more than 1,400 people.
Rasmussen said there was "agreement that we need a firm international response in order to avoid that chemical attacks take place in the future. It would send, I would say, a dangerous signal to dictators all over the world if we stand idly by and don't react."
But Rasmussen said he saw no further role for NATO in the Syria crisis, beyond defending Turkey.
"If a response to what has happened in Syria were to be a military operation, I'd envisage a very short, measured, targeted operation, and you don't need the NATO command and control system to conduct such a short, measured, tailored, military operation," he said.


2013-09-02 PAUL SONNE. Russia Dismisses U.S. Evidence of Chemical-Weapons Use by Assad Regime online.wsj.com

A war of words between the Kremlin and the White House over Syria showed no sign of abating Monday, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed U.S. evidence of the Assad regime's chemical-weapons use as unconvincing.
Speaking during an appearance at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Mr. Lavrov said there is "nothing concrete" in the information the U.S. has shown Russia on the use of such weapons by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's regime.
"That which our American partners have shown us both in the past and recently…absolutely has not convinced us," Mr. Lavrov said.
"There are no facts, there is just dialogue about 'what we know for sure,'" Mr. Lavrov said. "And when we ask for more detailed confirmation, they say, 'You know, it's all secret, so we can't show you.' That means such facts aren't there."
His comments echoed those made Saturday by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who described as "absolute nonsense" the idea that Mr. Assad's troops would wield chemical weapons at a time when they're winning Syria's long-running civil war.
Mr. Lavrov's remarks show the widening rift between the Kremlin and the White House over Syria as Mr. Putin prepares to meet President Barack Obama at the G-20 summit later this week in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The pair's most recent meeting, which took place at the G-8 summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, resulted in an impasse and a subsequent awkward news conference. Mr. Obama later denied having poor relations with Mr. Putin, though he described the Russian president as sometimes looking like "a bored kid in the back of a classroom."
In an interview Sunday with ABC News, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the evidence of chemical-weapons use as clear and powerful, noting that the "case is growing stronger by the day." He hit out at Russia for refusing to admit that Mr. Assad's regime has been using such tactics.
"We've offered the Russians previously to have a briefing on this. In fact, we sent people over to Russia who have provided evidence we had with respect to the last (attacks). And they chose, I literally mean chose, not to believe it or to at least acknowledge it publicly," Mr. Kerry said.
"I think the evidence is going to be overwhelming. If the president of Russia chooses yet again to ignore it, that's his choice," Mr. Kerry said.
On Monday, Mr. Lavrov said it was "strange to hear" such comments coming from his good friend Mr. Kerry.


2013-09-02 Shimon Shiffer. European disgrace ynetnews.com

American President Barack Obama's decision to postpone punishing the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons against thousands of citizens already allows us to reach some gloomy and pragmatic conclusions about the world we live in; a world which permits, in practice, the use of horrifying weapons which are completely banned by international treaties.
Europe is being exposed here, and not for the first time, for its hypocrisy and disgracefulness. Europe, which has not ceased to criticize Israel's conduct in the territories, even if we have no reason to be proud of this conduct, has lost its right to lecture anyone – especially us. We have all seen Europe shirk its duty to prevent the use of weapons for mass destruction. The British Parliament tied Prime Minister Cameron's hands, and other countries in the continent are waiting for America soil its hands.
Israel, which was founded on the ruins of Europe, must remember and make a connection between the millions who died in gas chambers in the concentration camps and the thousands of citizens, many of them women and children, hurt by the chemical weapons launched by Bashar Assad. It is our moral duty to voice our stance clearly and poignantly and denounce the bloody regime in Syria – even if the decision not to intervene in the civil war in Syria is justified. It's not all about politics.
Another lesson from the recent days' events has to do with Israel's stance towards the regimes surrounding us in light of the American conduct. Israel must signal to the US that it favors stable regimes in Egypt and Jordan over alleged "democracies" existing in the West's imagination and in utopian books based on a collection of assumptions and different nonsense, like the book published by the designated Israeli Ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, and former Minister Natan Sharansky.
We must convince the American administration that removing the Muslim Brotherhood, which was elected in a democratic process, is a thousand times better for the regional peace and stability than a radical Islamic regime. We should also remind them that Hamas gained control of the Gaza Strip in democratic elections. Israel gave in to American pressure – and we are paying the price to this very day.


2013-09-02 Syrian government behind 'massive chemical attack' bbc.co.uk

France says the suspected chemical attack near Damascus last month "could not have been ordered and carried out by anyone but the Syrian government".
A report presented to parliament by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the assault on 21 August involved the "massive use of chemical agents".
It concluded that at least 281 deaths could be attributed to the attack.
France and the US are pushing for punitive military action, which the UK parliament rejected last week.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has again denied being behind the attack.
In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, he said it would have been "illogical".
The alleged chemical attack took place in the Ghouta, an agricultural belt around the capital on 21 August. The US put the death toll at 1,429, including 426 children.
The US administration has already presented its case that the Assad regime was behind the attack. On Monday Mr Ayrault presented France's own intelligence dossier to parliamentary leaders.


2013-09-01 Glenn Greenwald. Obama, Congress and Syria theguardian.com

There is no reason to believe that a Congressional rejection of the war's authorization would constrain Obama in any way, other than perhaps politically. To the contrary, there is substantial evidence for the proposition that the White House sees the vote as purely advisory, i.e., meaningless.
Recall how - in one of most overlooked bad acts of the Obama administration - the House of Representatives actually voted, overwhelmingly, against authorizing the US war in Libya, and yet Obama simply ignored the vote and proceeded to prosecute the war anyway (just as Clinton did when the House rejected the authorization he wanted to bomb Kosovo, though, at least there, Congress later voted to allocate funds for the bombing campaign). Why would the White House view the President's power to wage war in Libya as unconstrainable by Congress, yet view his power to wage war in Syria as dependent upon Congressional authorization?


2013-09-01 UN gave strength to the Syrian regime: Turkish PM hurriyetdailynews.com

urkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan intensified his rhetoric against the United Nations on Sept. 1, saying that the current system had given strength to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
“The U.N.’s incapacity, far from stopping the deaths, has given strength to the [Syrian] regime and recompensed it for its massacre. As the whole world has shut its eyes to the ongoing human tragedy in Syria, unfortunately the U.N. has kept silent and watched this tragedy,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying by private broadcaster NTV during an event in Istanbul.
“The fact that the U.N. showed its incapacity after the use of chemical weapons [in Syria] without taking any steps has left a black stain on the history of humanity,” Erdoğan added.
Ahead of Obama’s statements, Erdoğan had called for an intervention against Syria similar to the one against Kosovo in 1999. “It should be more than a hit-and-run but push the regime to the brink of collapsing,” Erdoğan had said during the Victory Day reception in Ankara on Aug. 30.


2013-08-31 I.Safronov. Russian defence contracts with Syria are delayed kommersant.ru


2013-08-31 PAUL SONNE. Putin Rejects U.S. Claim on Syria Chemical Attack online.wsj.com

Russian President Vladimir Putin called U.S. claims that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons "absolute nonsense" and said "run-of-the-mill interceptions of some conversations that don't prove anything" can't justify military action against a sovereign state.
Mr. Putin's unusually-strong remarks Saturday escalated a war of words between the Kremlin and the White House and came a day after Secretary of State John Kerry denounced "Russian obstructionism" that he said has made it impossible for the United Nations "to galvanize the world to act as it should."
Mr. Putin's comments mark the first time the Russian president has weighed in on the debate over a Western military strike in Syria since information surfaced about a brutal Aug. 21 chemical-weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs.
The Obama administration released a U.S. intelligence assessment Friday that blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime for that attack. The dossier based its conclusions partly on intercepted communications involving a Syrian government official "intimately familiar" with the suburban strike, in which he confirms the regime used chemical weapons. The administration didn't release all of its intelligence on the incident, which killed 1,429 people, including more than 400 children, according to U.S. assessments.
On Saturday, Mr. Putin called on the U.S. to hand over its full intelligence assessment on the recent attack to the U.N. Security Council and U.N. inspectors analyzing the incident.
"Claims that they have evidence, but it's secret and they can't make it available to anyone and can't withstand any criticism—it's just disrespect to their partners," Mr. Putin said. He said "if there is evidence, it should be presented, and if it's not presented, that means there is none."
"With regard to the possible use of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, our position is consistent," Mr. Putin said. "We are categorically against them and condemn them, and accordingly, if their use is proved, we will participate in the development of measures to counteract such occurrences."
Mr. Putin's comments came two days after the U.K. Parliament voted down a proposal by Prime Minister David Cameron to take military action in Syria in response to the Aug. 21 chemical-weapons attack, which the U.K. also believes was the work of Mr. Assad's regime.
bbc.co.uk
kommersant.ru


2013-08-29 Adam Serwer. Striking Syria will likely be illegal–and it won’t matter tv.msnbc.com

If the Obama administration attacks Syria in retaliation for dictator Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, it will likely do so without authorization from Congress.
That’s probably illegal. And it also probably won’t matter.
“The law and the precedent here are at such opposite ends,” says Steve Vladeck, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law. “The law seems to be clear that the president needs prior approval unless a claim that what he is doing is necessary for self-defense, and yet history, especially recent history, is replete with examples of the contrary.”
Obama himself once felt strongly that presidents couldn’t authorize military force on their own except under limited circumstances, saying in 2007 that the president of the United States does not have “power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”
That was before he was president. Today, Obama, like many of his predecessors, subscribes to a much more expansive view of presidential power. In 2011, Obama ordered the use of military force to aid Libyan rebels against the late dictator Moammar Gaddafi without first seeking congressional approval. To justify that intervention as legal, the administration argued that the president need not seek approval for congressional approval for military operations when there is a “national interest” at stake and the operations “do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof,” or any “escalation of those factors.” That is, as long as the US is waging a short-term war with deadly flying robots and cruise missiles, and American troops themselves are not in danger, it doesn’t really count as a war.


2013-08-29 Dale Gavlak, Yahya Ababneh. EXCLUSIVE: Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack mintpressnews.com

As the machinery for a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria gathers pace following last week’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S. and its allies may be targeting the wrong culprit.
Interviews with people in Damascus and Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, where the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders said at least 355 people had died last week from what it believed to be a neurotoxic agent, appear to indicate as much.
The U.S., Britain, and France as well as the Arab League have accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for carrying out the chemical weapons attack, which mainly targeted civilians. U.S. warships are stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to launch military strikes against Syria in punishment for carrying out a massive chemical weapons attack. The U.S. and others are not interested in examining any contrary evidence, with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry saying Monday that Assad’s guilt was “a judgment … already clear to the world.”
However, from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.
“My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” said Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.
Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion. The father described the weapons as having a “tube-like structure” while others were like a “huge gas bottle.”
Ghouta townspeople said the rebels were using mosques and private houses to sleep while storing their weapons in tunnels.
Abdel-Moneim said his son and the others died during the chemical weapons attack. That same day, the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al-Qaida, announced that it would similarly attack civilians in the Assad regime’s heartland of Latakia on Syria’s western coast, in purported retaliation.
en.wikipedia.org


2013-08-29 Egypt strongly rejects military action on Syria en.alalam.ir

Egypt has expressed strong opposition to any foreign military action in Syria, calling for resumption of attempts to revive Geneva 2 talks.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy urged the international community to hold those behind the use of chemical weapons accountable once the UN inspectors' report issues conclusive information.
His comments referred to US threats on bombing Syria over conflicting reports of an alleged chemical attack near Syrian capital.
"Egypt will not take part in any military strike and strongly opposes it in line with its opposition to any foreign military intervention in Syria," read a statement published in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry official website.
Fahmy called upon Syria’s warring sides and Western powers to swiftly proceed with the UN-backed Geneva-2 conference in order to forge a political resolution to the crisis that has already taken tens of thousands of lives.


2013-08-29 Pete Kasperowicz. McCain says it's 'crazy' not to seek regime change in Syria thehill.com

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday night that it makes no sense for the Obama administration to say it would not use military force to seek regime change in Syria, given that the administration believes Syria has crossed Obama's red line by using chemical weapons.
"This president said that … it would be a red line that obviously they've crossed … several times in the past, and he is now saying that they will not be advocating or working or struggling or striking for regime change," McCain said on Fox News's "On the Record" last night. "That's crazy."
McCain said further that opponents of military action are wrong to say that action would aid a rebel group that is rife with al Qaeda agents.
"That is a lie, that is not true," he said. "We have a viable free Syrian army … they are operating on their own, they are still a majority, and to say that it would be al Qaeda-influenced is not true."


2013-08-28 Karen DeYoung. U.S. rejects Syrian request that U.N. inspectors stay longer, possibly delaying military strike washingtonpost.com

The Obama administration appeared Wednesday to be forging ahead with preparations to attack Syria. It dismissed a Syrian request to extend chemical weapons inspections there as a delaying tactic and said it saw little point in further discussion of the issue at the United Nations.
President Obama said that “there need to be international consequences” for the Aug. 21 chemical strikes he said he has concluded were carried out by the Syrian government.
“I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria,” Obama said in an interview with the PBS NewsHour, stressing that he has not decided to order a military attack.
“But we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on chemical weapons they are held accountable,” he said.
A closed-door meeting of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, called to consider a British-drafted resolution authorizing the use of force to prevent any further use of chemical weapons in Syria, adjourned without action after Russia and China opposed the measure.
In response, U.S. officials made clear they considered such initiatives irrelevant to Obama’s decision on military action. Although officials gave no indication of when a U.S. attack might occur, they said they expect U.N. inspectors to leave Syria on Saturday.
We see no avenue forward [at the United Nations] given continued Russian opposition to any meaningful Council action on Syria,” deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “Therefore, the United States will continue its consultations and will take appropriate actions to respond in the days ahead.”


2013-08-28 Oren Dorell. Syria retaliation threat not empty words, analysts say usatoday.com

Syria's Assad regime and its Iran-backed allies have pledged to retaliate against any U.S. attack, and Middle East analysts say weapons and terrorist networks at their disposal mean the threats should be taken seriously.
"Iran is a huge threat," said Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
Both Iran and Syria have threatened to retaliate against Israel and other U.S. allies in the Middle East in the event of a U.S. attack on Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians. Hundreds of Syrians in a region held by rebels were reported killed in the Aug. 21 attack.
Iran's ruling mullahs are Syria's main ally in the region and view the survival of the Assad regime as important to their aims. Mehdi Taeb, confidant of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said Syria is Iran's "35th province. … If we lose Syria we won't be able to hold Tehran," writes Karim Sadjapour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Syria provides Iran a port on the Mediterranean Sea and a transit to Iran's terrorist proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah. Iran is suspected of helping Syria evade U.S. and European sanctions by selling its oil on the international market, according to a report from Reuters.
If Iran decides to retaliate against U.S. allies to protect Assad, it could go after not only Israel but also the Arab states allied with the U.S. such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
Iran could order its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or Hezbollah to use their networks around the world to target several countries that support the military strike. Hezbollah has killed hundreds of civilians, including Americans, and it depends on Syria as a transit for weapons and occasional safe haven.
Iran could also try to close the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow Persian Gulf passage for about 20% of the world's petroleum supply, Cohen says.
"When we keep an eye on Syria we need to keep an eye on the security of shipping, especially the shipping of oil in the straits," Cohen says.
During the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, both Iraq and Iran targeted oil tankers carrying their adversary's oil. Iran now has multiple military platforms it can use to threaten maritime traffic in the Gulf, including hard-to-detect mini-submarines and small, high-speed patrol boats that can swarm a carrier task force.
Its rocket capabilities can be used against ships and strike countries as far away as Israel. Iran has been testing ballistic missiles and probably already has a solid-fuel missile that can reach Israel, according to Jane's Defense Weekly.
Iran, a Shiite Muslim theocracy, could spur uprisings among Shiite populations in Sunni-led Gulf countries, especially Bahrain, which has a Shiite majority, and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which have considerable Shiite minorities, Cohen said.
It could also activate Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards throughout the Middle East and the world to hit civilian or military targets in the USA or Europe. It has done so before.
Argentine prosecutors say Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorists were behind the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people, and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 87 people.
Bulgarian prosecutors have tied the 2010 bus bombing that killed six Israeli tourists to a Hezbollah cell, which Israel said was linked to Iran, charges that both Hezbollah and Iran deny.


2013-08-27 Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. Saudis offer Russia secret oil deal if it drops Syria telegraph.co.uk

The revelations come amid high tension in the Middle East, with US, British, and French warship poised for missile strikes in Syria. Iran has threatened to retaliate.
Leaked transcripts of a closed-door meeting between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan shed an extraordinary light on the hard-nosed Realpolitik of the two sides.
Prince Bandar, head of Saudi intelligence, allegedly confronted the Kremlin with a mix of inducements and threats in a bid to break the deadlock over Syria. “Let us examine how to put together a unified Russian-Saudi strategy on the subject of oil. The aim is to agree on the price of oil and production quantities that keep the price stable in global oil markets,” he said at the four-hour meeting with Mr Putin. They met at Mr Putin’s dacha outside Moscow three weeks ago.
“We understand Russia’s great interest in the oil and gas in the Mediterranean from Israel to Cyprus. And we understand the importance of the Russian gas pipeline to Europe. We are not interested in competing with that. We can cooperate in this area,” he said, purporting to speak with the full backing of the US.
The talks appear to offer an alliance between the OPEC cartel and Russia, which together produce over 40m barrels a day of oil, 45pc of global output. Such a move would alter the strategic landscape.
The details of the talks were first leaked to the Russian press. A more detailed version has since appeared in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, which has Hezbollah links and is hostile to the Saudis.
As-Safir said Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” he allegedly said.
Prince Bandar went on to say that Chechens operating in Syria were a pressure tool that could be switched on an off. “These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role in Syria’s political future.”


2013-08-27 Jim Miklaszewski, Catherine Chomiak, Erin McClam. Military strikes on Syria 'as early as Thursday,' US officials say worldnews.nbcnews.com

The United States could hit Syria with three days of missile strikes, perhaps beginning Thursday, in an attack meant more to send a message to the Syrian regime than to cripple its military, senior U.S. officials told NBC News.
The disclosure added to a growing drumbeat around the world for military action against Syria, believed to have used chemical weapons in recent days against scores of civilians and rebels who have been fighting the government for two years.
In three days of strikes, the Pentagon could assess the effectiveness of the first wave and target what was missed in further rounds, the senior officials said.


2013-08-27 Khaled Yacoub Oweis, William Maclean. West could hit Syria in days, envoys tell rebels reuters.com

U.S. forces in the region are "ready to go", Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, as Washington and its European and Middle Eastern partners honed plans to punish Assad for a major poison gas attack last week that killed hundreds of civilians.
Several sources who attended a meeting in Istanbul on Monday between Syrian opposition leaders and diplomats from Washington and other governments told Reuters that the rebels were told to expect military action and to get ready to negotiate a peace.
"The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days, and that they should still prepare for peace talks at Geneva," one of the sources said.
Ahmad Jarba, president of the Syrian National Coalition, met envoys from 11 states in the Friends of Syria group, including Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, at an Istanbul hotel.
United Nations chemical weapons investigators, who finally crossed the frontline to take samples on Monday, put off a second trip to rebel-held suburbs of Damascus. Washington said it already held Assad responsible for a "moral obscenity" and President Barack Obama would hold him to account for it.
However, with Russian and Chinese opposition complicating efforts to satisfy international law - and Western voters wary of new, far-off wars - Western leaders may not pull the trigger just yet. British Prime Minister David Cameron called parliament back from its summer recess for a session on Syria on Thursday.
He and Obama, as well as French President Francois Hollande, face tough questions about how an intervention, likely to be limited to air strikes, will end - and whether they risk handing power to anti-Western Islamist rebels if Assad is overthrown.
In France, which took a vocal lead in helping Libyan rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Hollande was about to address ambassadors. A French diplomatic source said Paris had no doubt Assad's forces carried out the gas attack and would "not shirk its responsibilities" in responding.
In an indication of support from Arab states that may help Western powers argue the case for war against likely U.N. vetoes from Moscow and Beijing, the Arab League issued a statement holding Assad's government responsible for the chemical attack.
The Syrian government, which denies using gas or obstructing the U.N. inspectors, said it would press on with its offensive against rebels around the capital.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said U.S. strikes would help al Qaeda allies and called Western leaders "delusional" if they hoped to help the rebels reach a balance of power in Syria.


2013-08-27 Lisa M. Ruth. Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran communities.washingtontimes.com

The Obama Administration says it is weighing a “limited scope” military strike against Syria that would act as both punishment and as a deterrent. The strike reportedly would last no more than two days and would involve either cruise missiles launched from Navy warships or long-range bombers targeting Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.
Before finalizing a decision, Washington reportedly is attempting to garner additional international support from allies. The United Nations Security Council, thanks to likely vetoes from Russia and China, will oppose the move, but the U.K., France and others will almost certainly support military action.
Obama has also ordered a declassified report on the chemical weapons attack to justify a military intervention.
The limited scope option is not aimed at altering the current military balance in Syria or in forcing out Assad. “The options that we are considering are not about regime change,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Washington is, instead, considering bombing Syria to punish Assad for a very short period of time without significantly reducing government military capabilities.
Obama may feel forced to act after a stream of media coverage of the recent chemical attack. Videos and photos of thousands of stricken Syrians made it difficult for him to forget his statements last year that any use of chemical weapons crossed a “red line.” He has to act or lose credibility, both domestically and internationally.
But major action against Assad which pushes him out of office is now a frightening scenario for the West. With the saying, “be careful what you wish for” ringing in their ears, policy makers are carefully weighing the risks of a rebel-led government in Syria.
Analysts and high-ranking officials increasingly worry that Syria will become a failed state after the civil war and Assad. One former high ranking U.S. official said, “I believe that if the rebels win, it will be chaos. Each faction will stake out a territory and run it. There will be no tolerance of religious or tribal differences. There will be no true state.”
Washington needs only to look at Libya and Egypt for a taste of the turmoil Syria could face. Egypt’s instability has splashed across front-pages for several weeks. Libya, which has virtually no central government authority and is run by independent, warring militias has slipped from media attention because of confusion and complete disarray in the country. Libyan ports are now blocked by a militia attempting to control oil revenue, and the country is again on the verge of governmental collapse.
The West does not want to see Syria lapse into the same type of mayhem, especially when the resulting government would likely not back Western interests.
While the U.S. is playing up the “limited” description of the upcoming intervention, even a restricted military option carries costs.
Assad has warned the U.S. that any military action will prompt retaliation. With Hezbollah militants and Iranian Revolutionary Guard soldiers working with Assad, this could mean terrorist attacks on U.S. interests around the world.
Launching any missiles in Syria carries the risk of civilian casualties. While the U.S. likely will strike at night when civilians are less likely to be on the street, there is always a possibility of “collateral damage.” Likewise, although strikes are carefully targeted, missiles sometimes go astray or are aimed incorrectly due to poor information.
Military operations are expensive. In 2011, defense publications estimated that a single Tomahawk cruise missile costs approximately $1.5 million. How many cruise missiles will be launched in a 48-hour period?
Even with remote bombings, there is the risk of loss of the lives of American servicemen and women.
The strike makes little sense. There is no true military objective, no effort to remove the “bad guys” or help the “good guys,” largely because the U.S. is not sure who is who. There is no obviously positive outcome other than allowing Obama to save face for a poorly-considered red-line statement several months ago.


2013-08-26 AARON DAVID MILLER. Obama will bomb Syria politico.com

This weekend’s quick, unattributed confirmation from the White House that Syrian forces likely used chemical weapons last week strongly suggests that U.S. President Barack Obama is moving quickly on reaching a decision about how to respond — no more slowwalking a judgment about whether Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad did or didn’t do the deed.
Unless rescued by some last minute Syrian mea culpa (e.g., “rogue units did it”) orchestrated by the Russians, who fear western military involvement, more than likely, he’ll look for a military response that splits the difference between doing nothing on the one hand and using the chemical-weapons issue to change the battlefield balance against the regime on the other. Most likely that middle-ground response will be targeted attacks against Syrian military units associated with chemical-weapons capacity and infrastructure. But those could be quite punishing and comprehensive. Better to look strong than weak.
Here’s why I think the president will act:
A response is a must: So far, Obama has been the Avoider-in-Chief when it comes to Syria. But the latest use of chemicals by Assad — perhaps their most extensive deployment since Saddam Hussein killed thousands of Kurds in Halabja – mandates a response, no matter how ineffective or risky it proves to be.
Obama’s credibility is already low. It would be nonexistent without some sort of action, and would badly damage his capacity to be taken seriously in the Middle East. Entering what could be a decisive period of diplomacy with Iran on the nuclear issue, the United States will need to create the perception that it is prepared to use force if diplomacy fails, and to enforce red lines that have already turned pink in the case of Syria.
Lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan: Boots on the ground in Syria are neither the answer nor the danger in the president’s mind. The real lesson to be learned from the two longest wars in U.S. history is the importance of getting means and ends right. And that means making sure that any military response is calibrated to what you want to achieve and what you want to avoid. And Obama knows that U.S. military action is designed to effect a political end. Given his low expectations on what the United States can do to actually end the civil war in Syria, he’ll be very sober about what can be accomplished through any discrete military action.
Changing Assad’s behavior or the regime? Some might argue that the U.S. response can’t be confined as a one-off to retaliate for the recent chemical attack or to warn Assad that there will be a cost for another. Sooner or later, Assad will commit another horror. So the goal must be broader – to begin to change the military balance on the ground.
I’m not sure the president is there yet. Given the deep division and extremism within rebel ranks, the costs and consequences of deeper and broader military action carry much greater risk and uncertainty than a single retaliatory attack that strives to make a point rather than a difference. But the danger of course is that the initial response proves ineffective and the United States is compelled to do more.
Syria is a trap: The president’s recent interview with CNN made pretty clear that he doesn’t see Syria as an opportunity, but as a trap that can easily suck in America and create a situation where he gets stuck with the check.
This bottom line will inform almost everything the president does on Syria, and rightly so. Obama isn’t entranced by the Syrian rebels — his isn’t a transformative, hopeful view, but a much narrower, realistic, and transactional one. It follows his diminishing expectations for the future of the entire Arab Spring, and explains his aversion to risk in Egypt too. What drives Obama in the Middle East is a conviction that there are real limits to what the United States can accomplish in this region.
Iran the real concern: There’s another factor driving Obama’s caution on Syria, and that’s Iran, where he’s drawn his other redline — this time not on the large-scale use of chemical weapons but on Iran possessing a nuclear weapon. The conventional wisdom that bringing down Assad will weaken Iran may be true enough. But it can weaken the United States too if it gets drawn into a proxy war with Tehran in Syria, a game the Iranians play much better than we do.
In fact, the argument can be made that should Assad fall, it will only accelerate Iran’s desire for a nuke as its sense of siege and Sunni encirclement grows. Assuming Obama keeps his use of force in Syria within strict limits, it’s the Iran nuclear issue that represents the real gamechanger, not Syria. Better to keep his options open, then, and not get bogged down in Syria or wrestle with the Russians over Assad’s fate where they won’t give much. He may need them for diplomacy and pressure if there’s an end game coming with the mullahs.
Obama will act militarily in Syria, but deliberately. Whatever its misgivings, the U.S. military will execute whatever attack the president authorizes – maybe missile strikes against units that have used chemical weapons, or against other military infrastructure. And if he explains his reasoning clearly and transparently, he’ll have Congress and the public behind him.
The president’s real problem isn’t stateside; it’s the challenge that all great powers face in dealing with small tribes in unfamiliar neighborhoods who feel their existence is on the line. They may well react in unpredicable ways.
Assad’s options aren’t great. He couldn’t respond to Israeli strikes. What can he do against the mighty United States? Hezbollah might use rockets against Israel. But all of this is just going to make Assad’s situation more precarious. And he’d be foolish to tempt fate by using chemical weapons quickly again. But sooner or later, Assad will again defy the United States and challenge Obama to do something about it. And then the president, having broken the ceiling of using military force directly, will be under pressure to do so again. Only this time, he may need to act more decisively.
And then, well … your move, Obama.


2013-08-26 BRET STEPHENS. Target Assad online.wsj.com

Should President Obama decide to order a military strike against Syria, his main order of business must be to kill Bashar Assad. Also, Bashar's brother and principal henchman, Maher. Also, everyone else in the Assad family with a claim on political power. Also, all of the political symbols of the Assad family's power, including all of their official or unofficial residences. The use of chemical weapons against one's own citizens plumbs depths of barbarity matched in recent history only by Saddam Hussein. A civilized world cannot tolerate it. It must demonstrate that the penalty for it will be acutely personal and inescapably fatal.
Maybe this strikes some readers as bloody-minded. But I don't see how a president who ran for his second term boasting about how he "got" Osama bin Laden—one bullet to the head and another to the heart—has any grounds to quarrel with the concept.
As it is, a strike directed straight at the Syrian dictator and his family is the only military option that will not run afoul of the only red line Mr. Obama is adamant about: not getting drawn into a protracted Syrian conflict. And it is the one option that has a chance to pay strategic dividends from what will inevitably be a symbolic action.
Let's examine some of the alternatives.
One option is to target the Syrian army's stores of chemical weapons, estimated at over 1,000 tons. Last week the Times of Israel reported that "the embattled [Assad] regime has concentrated its vast stocks of chemical weapons in just two or three locations . . . under the control of Syrian Air Force Intelligence." If that's right, there's a chance some large portion of Assad's stockpile could be wiped out of existence using "agent-defeat" bombs that first shred chemical storage containers in a rain of metal darts, and then incinerate the chemicals with white phosphorus, preventing them from going airborne.
Still, it's unlikely that airstrikes could destroy all of the regime's chemical stores, which are probably now being moved in anticipation of a strike, and which could always be replenished by Bashar's friends in North Korea and Iran. More to the point, a strike on chemical weapons stocks, while salutary in its own right, does little to hurt the men who ordered their use. Nor does it seriously damage the regime's ability to continue waging war against its own people, if only by conventional means.
Another option would be a strike on the headquarters, air bases and arms depots of the regime's elite Republican Guard, and particularly Maher Assad's Fourth Armored Division, which reportedly carried out last week's attack. But here the problem of asset dispersion becomes that much greater, as fewer tanks, helicopters or jets can be destroyed by a single cruise missile (unit cost: $1.5 million).
Nor is it clear, morally speaking, why the grunts doing the Assad family's bidding should be first in the line of American fire. In the spring of 2005 I was briefly detained by a Republican Guard unit when I stumbled into their encampment on the Lebanese border. The soldiers looked poor, dirty and thin. I felt sorry for them then. I still do.
Then there is the "Desert Fox" option—Bill Clinton's scattershot, three-day bombing campaign of Iraq in December 1998, on the eve of his impeachment. The operation hit 97 targets in an effort to "degrade" Iraq's WMD stockpiles and make a political statement. But it did nothing to damage Saddam's regime and even increased international sympathy for him. Reprising that feckless exercise in "doing something" is the worst thing the U.S. could do in Syria. Sadly, it's probably what we'll wind up doing.
The world can ill-afford a reprise of the 1930s, when the barbarians were given free rein by a West that had lost its will to enforce global order. Yes, a Tomahawk aimed at Assad could miss, just as the missiles aimed at Saddam did. But there's also a chance it could hit and hasten the end of the civil war. And there's both a moral and deterrent value in putting Bashar and Maher on the same list that once contained the names of bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.


2013-08-25 'Recall Parliament NOW': MPs say Cameron must go to the Commons to debate Syria as Britain and U.S. prepare missile strikes 'within days' dailymail.co.uk

Britain and the US are set to launch missile strikes against the Syrian regime in retaliation for its barbaric chemical attack on civilians.
David Cameron and Barack Obama discussed the plan in a 40-minute phone call at the weekend and will finalise the details within 48 hours.
The two leaders want to send a clear warning to dictator Bashar Al-Assad over the deaths of as many as 1,300 people, many of them children.
William Hague said ‘all the evidence’ suggested Assad’s henchmen carried out last week’s horrific nerve gas atrocity.
‘We cannot, in the 21st century, allow the idea that chemical weapons can be used with impunity – that people can be killed in this way and that there are no consequences for it,’ insisted the Foreign Secretary.
Government sources indicated the cruise missile blitz is likely to be short and sharp and will not signal an intention to get involved in the bloody civil war in Syria.
But it will inevitably lead to fears that Britain could get sucked into another Iraq-style nightmare.
Military planners in Washington and London are addressing the ‘significant challenge’ of finalising a list of potential targets designed to cripple Assad’s chemical warfare capability.
order to avoid the dangers posed by the sophisticated air defences supplied to Syria by Russia.
A British source said ‘naval assets in the region’ were likely to be involved, suggesting the possible use of submarine-borne Tomahawk cruise missiles.
In an ominous development Damascus last night warned US president Obama that any intervention would not be a ‘walk in the park’, adding: ‘It will bring chaos and the region will burn.’
Iran warned the West it would face ‘severe consequences’ if it intervened in Syria.
And Russia, which has blocked UN action against Syria, said unilateral action by the West would undermine efforts for peace and have a ‘devastating impact’ on the security situation in the Middle East.
The Syrian regime last night attempted to head off a military intervention by the West by announcing it would finally allow United Nations experts to visit the gas atrocity site in Damascus. Inspectors are expected to begin their work today.
But Washington and London dismissed the move, saying it was ‘too late to be credible’, and followed almost a week of shelling of the area during which much of the evidence may have been destroyed.


2013-08-25 Iran warns US against overstepping red line on Syria presstv.ir

Iranian Armed Forces’ Deputy Chief of Staff Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri has warned the United States of the “severe consequences” of crossing the red line on Syria.
“The US knows where the red line of the Syria front is laid; and crossing Syria’s red line in any form will have severe consequences for the White House,” Brigadier General Jazayeri said on Sunday.
The Iranian commander said that the ongoing terrorist war in Syria is masterminded by the US and the reactionary forces in the region against the resistance front, adding that despite the enemy plots, the Syrian government and nation have gained considerable victories thanks to their resistance against this massive aggression.
He said that the Syrian government and nation currently have the upper hand in the imposed terrorist war.
Jazayeri’s remarks came after US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on August 23 that the Pentagon was positioning military forces as part of “contingency options” provided to US President Barack Obama regarding Syria.
Hagel’s comments have been interpreted as a tacit suggestion that the US may be preparing for a military strike on Syria. The US defense secretary repeated similar remarks on Sunday during a visit to Malaysia.


2013-08-25 Khaled Yacoub Oweis. Large arms shipment reaches Syrian rebels: opposition reuters.com

Gulf-based supporters have sent a 400-ton shipment of arms to Syria's outgunned rebels, one of the biggest to reach them in their two-year-old uprising, opposition sources said on Sunday.
The consignment - mostly ammunition for shoulder-fired weapons and anti-aircraft machine guns - came into northern Syria via the Turkish province of Hatay in the past 24 hours, and was already being handed out, the sources added.
One rebel officer told Reuters the flow of arms bound for rebels had increased since opposition groups accused the government of launching deadly chemical weapons attacks in Damascus on Wednesday.
"Twenty trailers crossed from Turkey and are being distributed to arms depots for several brigades across the north," said rebel official Mohammad Salam, who told Reuters he saw the weapons come over the border.


2013-08-24 MARK LANDLER, MICHAEL R.GORDON. Air War in Kosovo Seen as Precedent in Possible Response to Syria Chemical Attack nytimes.com

As President Obama weighs options for responding to a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, his national security aides are studying the NATO air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for acting without a mandate from the United Nations.
With Russia still likely to veto any military action in the Security Council, the president appears to be wrestling with whether to bypass the United Nations, although he warned that doing so would require a robust international coalition and legal justification.
“If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work?” Mr. Obama said on Friday to CNN, in his first public comments after the deadly attack on Wednesday.
ther Western officials have been less cautious than Mr. Obama. “I know that some people in the world would like to say that this is some kind of conspiracy brought about by the opposition in Syria,” said William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, in an interview with Sky News. “I think the chances of that are vanishingly small, and so we do believe that this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime.”
Mr. Hague did not speak of using force, as France has, if the government was found to have been behind the attack. But he said it was “not something that a humane or civilized world can ignore.”
Such statements carry echoes of Kosovo, where the Yugoslav government of Slobodan Milosevic brutally cracked down on ethnic Albanians in 1998 and 1999, prompting the Clinton administration to decide to act militarily in concert with NATO allies.
Mr. Clinton knew there was no prospect of securing a resolution from the Security Council authorizing the use of force. Russia was a longtime supporter of the Milosevic government and was certain to wield its vote in the Security Council to block action.
So the Clinton administration justified its actions, in part, as an intervention to protect a vulnerable and embattled population. NATO carried out airstrikes before Mr. Milosevic agreed to NATO demands, which required the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces.
“The argument in 1999 in the case of Kosovo was that there was a grave humanitarian emergency and the international community had the responsibility to act and, if necessary, to do so with force,” said Ivo H. Daalder, a former United States ambassador to NATO who is now the president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.


2013-08-23 ADAM ENTOUS, SIOBHAN GORMAN, CASSELL BRYAN-LOW. Networks of Spies Aid Syria Gas Probe online.wsj.com

A growing Western consensus that Syria's government used chemical weapons this week against its own people is based on information from networks of informants in rebel strongholds, who collect tissue samples and video evidence for Western and Middle Eastern spy agencies, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.
The forensic networks, built up over the last six months by U.S. and allied spy agencies active in Syria, are playing a critical role in an urgent American analysis of what happened when Syrian forces bombarded suburbs around Damascus this week.
If U.S. intelligence agencies conclude chemical weapons were used on a large scale, President Barack Obama could opt soon thereafter to order military strikes for the first time in the conflict, U.S. officials said.
On Friday, the British government said that chemical weapons were the only plausible explanation for the intense casualties this week. The White House said there was evidence that such weapons were used. Officials said U.S. intelligence agencies could make a final determination within days.


2013-08-23 David Martin. U.S. preps for possible cruise missile attack on Syrian gov't forces cbsnews.com

CBS News has learned that the Pentagon is making the initial preparations for a cruise missile attack on Syrian government forces. We say "initial preparations" because such an attack won't happen until the president gives the green light. And it was clear during an interview on CNN Friday that he is not there yet.
"If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country, without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented," the president told CNN, "then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it -- 'do we have the coalition to make it work?' Those are considerations that we have to take into account."
The attack on the Damascus suburbs, which left hundreds dead this week, is looking more and more like a poison gas was used. The United States warned Syria months ago that using chemical weapons could provoke a U.S. response.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey is expected to present options for a strike at a White House meeting on Saturday.
Potential targets include command bunkers and launchers used to fire chemical weapons.
However, officials stress President Obama, who until now has steadfastly resisted calls for military intervention, has not made a decision.
U.S. intelligence detected activity at known Syrian chemical weapons sites in the days before the attack. At the time that did not appear out of the ordinary. But now it is part of the circumstantial evidence pointing toward an attack.
Dr. Bwidany said some of the survivors have neurological problems, such as memory loss and confusion, that he believes could only be caused by a nerve agent.
So if this wasn't a chemical attack, what could it have been? "I don't know anything else that could make these symptoms, with this large number of injured," he said.


2013-08-23 Hagel suggests US moving naval forces closer to Syria in case Obama orders military strike washingtonpost.com

The Pentagon is moving naval forces closer to Syria in preparation for a possible decision by President Barack Obama to order military strikes, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel suggested on Friday.
Hagel declined to describe any specific movements of U.S. forces. He said Obama asked that the Pentagon to prepare military options for Syria and that some of those options “requires positioning our forces.”
U.S. Navy ships are capable of a variety of military action, including launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, as they did against Libya in 2011 as part of an international action that led to the overthrow of the Libyan government.


2013-08-23 William Hague believes Assad behind chemical attack bbc.co.uk

William Hague says he believes forces loyal to President Assad were behind a chemical weapons attack in Damascus.
"I know that some people in the world would like to say that this is some kind of conspiracy brought about by the opposition in Syria," said Mr Hague.
"I think the chances of that are vanishingly small and so we do believe that this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime."
It was "not something that a humane or civilised world can ignore".
Pressing for UN weapons inspectors to be given access to the site, the UK foreign secretary said: "It seems the Assad regime has something to hide.
"Why else have they not allowed the UN team to go there?"
The UK had not ruled out any options for the future, added Mr Hague.


2013-08-22 MICHAEL RUBIN. World gave green light to Syria's WMD horror nydailynews.com

Syrian President Bashar Assad has just thrown down the gauntlet and put the United States to the test. The suspected chemical attack on the eastern outskirts of Damascus came a year to the day after President Obama declared, “A red line for us is (when) we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.”
Cameras panning over the bodies of women and children, frozen in death where they walked, played, or slept in homes and on the street: Such was the scene in March 1988 after Saddam Hussein ordered a chemical weapons attack on the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja.
Commemorating the 25th anniversary of that atrocity, the White House issued a statement.
“We continue our efforts to prevent future atrocities, and help ensure that perpetrators of such crimes are held accountable,” the statement read.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has just thrown down the gauntlet and put the United States to the test. The suspected chemical attack on the eastern outskirts of Damascus came a year to the day after President Obama declared, “A red line for us is (when) we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.”
UN investigators in June said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that both sides had used chemicals. If it was a mitigating factor, the targets were more tactical than vengeful: seeking to clear out enemy positions. In effect, the Syrian Army was rehashing World War I, playing the part of the Germans who introduced the world to the modern chemical horror when they unleashed a chlorine cloud over allied trenches in Belgium. This week’s attack in Syria, however, was different: The target was a civilian area and the motive was not to target rebels but simply to terrorize and kill.
While the 2003 Iraq War may have made preemption and unilateralism dirty words in Washington, perhaps it is time to revisit the 2002 U.S. National Security Strategy, which declared, “There are few greater threats than a terrorist attack with WMD. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.” Diplomats may also want to reconsider the moral value of the United Nations which increasingly appears impotent in the face of grave and growing threats.
The Syrian crisis might also inform policy toward Iran. Even if Obama places his faith in a supposed fatwa issued by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei forbidding the use of nuclear weapons (mysteriously, no such declaration actually exists in Khamenei’s collection of fatwas), any future Iranian leader can conclude differently; the risk is simply too great to ponder.
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.


2013-08-22 SAM DAGHER, FARNAZ FASSIHI. Syria Presses Offensive, Shrugs Off Gas Attack Claims online.wsj.com

Syrian government forces pressed ahead Thursday with a large-scale military offensive in the same Damascus suburbs allegedly targeted with chemical weapons, appearing to shrug off for now a growing call for international action in response to the suspected gas attack.
The airstrikes and heavy shelling of suburbs ringing the capital came a day after an attack in which opposition groups alleged regime forces killed at least 1,100 people with chemical weapons. President Bashar al-Assad's government has called the accusation a fabrication and said the rebels—a hodgepodge group of fighters that includes Islamists aligned with al Qaeda—staged the attack to rally international support.
The military offensive, which government forces launched this week, is seen as critical to the Assad regime's efforts to oust rebels from significant strongholds close to the government's seat of power. Meanwhile, the incursions are likely to make it even more difficult for any United Nations inspectors to examine whether a chemical-weapons attack took place, in the event they are allowed to visit the site.
Syrian rebel groups and Western powers renewed calls Thursday for a prompt U.N. investigation into the allegations. But visiting the besieged areas would be problematic. Humanitarian agencies already on the ground have reported troubles reaching the heavily damaged suburbs because of military restrictions.
Since the start of the year the regime has sought to cut off supply lines to rebels holed up in the suburbs and tighten the siege of areas in the western and eastern suburbs. In the process, it has severely restricted these areas' access to essentials like bread, fuel and medicine, according to residents and opposition activists. It is estimated that tens of thousands of civilians remain in the suburbs either because they can't afford to leave or fear they would be arrested because of their support for the rebels.
A doctor who worked at an opposition-run field hospital in the town of Douma in the eastern suburbs said an informal group of medical workers and activists had started to collect evidence of the alleged chemical attacks. Dr. Ghazwan Boweydani said they were collecting blood work, urine, clothing samples and soil from the area which would be taken to Jordan as soon as the roads around the suburbs opened up.


2013-08-22 Turkey recalls US 'red lines' on Syrian crisis hurriyetdailynews.com

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Aug. 22 that a "red line was crossed" in Syria, calling for international action after reports of a massacre involving chemical weapons. The phrase was an apparent reference to President Barack Obama's statement last year that chemical weapon usage represented a "red line" for the U.S.
Davutoğlu visited the British and German capitals for talks, mainly to ask for Europe to increase pressure on Egypt. However, Syria topped the agenda due to the latest report of a massacre by regime forces, he stated.
"All red lines have been crossed, but still the U.N. Security Council has not even been able to take a decision. This is a responsibility for the sides who still set these red lines, and for all of us," Davutoğlu told reporters at a joint conference with his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle in Berlin.
abc.net.au


2013-08-22 U.S. says unable to determine use of chemical weapons in Syria english.alarabiya.net

The United States said on Thursday it was unable to “conclusively determine” whether chemical weapons were used in a reported gas attack near Damascus where opposition said more than 1,300 people were killed.
“At this time right now, we are unable to conclusively determine CW use, but we are focused every minute of every day since these events happened yesterday on doing everything possible within our power to nail down the facts,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Psaki said President Barack Obama had directed U.S. intelligence to gather information about the reported attack near Damascus, according to AFP.
“That means gathering information from witnesses on the ground, it means intelligence gathering, it means open-source reporting, it means scientific gathering,” Psaki said, a acknowledging that it may be a challenging task given the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Syria.
With the death toll from Wednesday’s incident estimated between 500 and 1,300, it would be the world’s most lethal chemical weapons attack since the 1980s, according to Reuters.


2013-08-21 Russia says rebels may have staged alleged Syrian chemical attack reuters.com

Russia's Foreign Ministry called for a thorough investigation on Wednesday into reports that Syrian government forces had launched a chemical attack, suggesting that rebels could have staged the assault to provoke international action.
Syria's opposition accused President Bashar al-Assad's forces of gassing many hundreds of people - by one report as many as 1,300 - on Wednesday in what would, if confirmed, be the world's worst chemical weapons attack in decades.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said that its sources in Syria said that a homemade rocket carrying unidentified chemical substances had been launched from an area controlled by the opposition.
"All this cannot but suggest that once again we are dealing with a pre-planned provocation," Lukashevich said in a statement.
"This is supported by the fact that the criminal act was committed near Damascus at the very moment when a mission of U.N. experts had successfully started their work of investigating allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons there," he said.
Russia has protected Assad during the more than two-year conflict in Syria, vetoing U.N. sanctions aimed at pressuring him to end violence.
Moscow has also demanded that a U.N. investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons also look into possible use by rebels.


2013-08-12 C.J.CHIVERS, ERIC SCHMITT. Arms Shipments Seen From Sudan to Syria Rebels nytimes.com

In deals that have not been publicly acknowledged, Western officials and Syrian rebels say, Sudan’s government sold Sudanese- and Chinese-made arms to Qatar, which arranged delivery through Turkey to the rebels.
The shipments included antiaircraft missiles and newly manufactured small-arms cartridges, which were seen on the battlefield in Syria — all of which have helped the rebels combat the Syrian government’s better-armed forces and loyalist militias.
Emerging evidence that Sudan has fed the secretive arms pipeline to rebels adds to a growing body of knowledge about where the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is getting its military equipment, often paid for by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Saudi Arabia or other sympathetic donors.
Sudan’s involvement adds yet another complication to a civil war that has long defied a diplomatic resolution. The battle has evolved into a proxy fight for regional influence between global powers, regional players and religious sects. In Sudan’s case, it has a connection with the majority Sunni rebels, and a potentially lucrative financial stake in prosecuting the war.
But Sudan’s decision to provide arms to the rebels — bucking its own international supporters and helping to cement its reputation for fueling conflict — reflects a politically risky balancing act. Sudan maintains close economic and diplomatic ties to Iran and China.
In interviews, Sudanese officials denied helping arm either side in the Syrian war. “Sudan has not sent weapons to Syria,” said Imad Sid Ahmad, the press secretary for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
Al-Sawarmi Khalid Saad, a spokesman for the Sudanese armed forces, added that the allegations defied common sense, except perhaps as a smear.
“We have no interest in supporting groups in Syria, especially if the outcome of the fighting is not clear,” Mr. Saad said. “These allegations are meant to harm our relations with countries Sudan has good relations with.”
A Qatari official said he had no information about a role by his country in procuring or moving military equipment from Sudan.
Two American officials said Ukrainian-flagged aircraft had delivered the shipments. Air traffic control data from an aviation official in the region shows that at least three Ukrainian aviation transport companies flew military-style cargo planes this year from Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, to a military and civilian airfield in western Turkey. In telephone interviews, officials at two firms denied carrying arms; the third firm did not answer calls on Monday.
Mr. Ahmad, the Sudanese presidential spokesman, suggested that if Sudan’s weapons were seen with Syria’s rebels, perhaps Libya had provided them.
Sudan, he said, has admitted sending arms during the 2011 war to oust Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Libya’s new leaders have publicly thanked Sudan. Libya has since been a busy supplier of the weapons to rebels in Syria.
However, that would not explain the Sudanese-made 7.62x39-millimeter ammunition documented by The New York Times this year in rebel possession near the Syrian city of Idlib.
The ammunition, according to its stamped markings, was made in Sudan in 2012 — after the war in Libya had ended. It was used by Soquor al-Sham, an Islamist group that recognizes the Western-supported Syrian National Coalition’s military command.
When told that the newly produced Sudanese cartridges were photographed with Syrian rebels, Mr. Saad, the Sudanese military spokesman, was dismissive. “Pictures can be fabricated,” he said. “That is not evidence.”
Sudan’s suggestion that any of its weapons in Syria had been provided by Libya also would not explain the presence of FN-6 antiaircraft missiles in Syrian rebel units. Neither the Qaddafi loyalists nor the rebels in Libya were known to possess those weapons in 2011, analysts who track missile proliferation said.
The movements of FN-6s have been at the center of one of the stranger arms-trafficking schemes in the civil war.
The weapons, which fire a heat-seeking missile from a shoulder launcher, gained nonproliferation specialists’ immediate attention when they showed up in rebel videos early this year. Syria’s military was not known to stock them, and their presence in northern Syria strongly suggested that they were being brought to rebels via black markets, and perhaps with the consent of the authorities in Turkey.
After the missiles were shown destroying Syrian military helicopters, the matter took an unusual turn when a state-controlled newspaper in China, apparently acting on a marketing impulse, lauded the missile’s performance. “The kills are proof that the FN-6 is reliable and user-friendly, because rebel fighters are generally not well trained in operating missile systems,” the newspaper, Global Times, quoted a Chinese aviation analyst as saying.
The successful attacks on Syria’s helicopters by Chinese missiles brought “publicity” that “will raise the image of Chinese defense products on the international arms trade market,” the newspaper wrote.
The praise proved premature.
As the missiles were put to wider use, rebels began to complain, saying that more often than not they failed to fire or to lock on targets. One rebel commander, Abu Bashar, who coordinates fighting in Aleppo and Idlib Provinces, called the missiles, which he said had gone to Turkey from Sudan and had been provided to rebels by a Qatari intelligence officer, a disappointment.
“Most of the FN-6s that we got didn’t work,” he said. He said two of them had exploded as they were fired, killing two rebels and wounding four others.
Global Times 2013-3-13 Xu Tianran. Chinese missiles steal spotlight after downing Syria army helicopters


2013-08-10 Iraqi Kurd leader Massoud Barzani issues Syria warning bbc.co.uk

The president of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region has threatened to intervene to defend the Kurdish population caught up in Syria's unrest.
Massoud Barzani said if Kurds were "under threat of death and terrorism" then Iraqi Kurdistan would be "prepared to defend them".
Recent fighting between Kurds and Islamist anti-government forces have left dozens dead in northern Syria.
Kurds make up about 10% of the Syrian population.
They are largely concentrated in the north-east, towards the Turkish border.
The areas have been run by Kurdish local councils and militia since President Bashar al-Assad's forces withdrew last year.
Syrian Kurdish militia have been engaged in fierce fighting recently with the jihadists of the anti-Assad al-Nusra Front.
Mr Barzani called for a delegation to visit the Kurdish areas in Syria.
He said if the delegation found evidence of "terrorists" killing Kurds, then Iraqi Kurdistan would "make use of all its capabilities to defend the Kurdish women, children and citizens in western Kurdistan".
Syria's ethnic Kurdish minority has faced decades of discrimination and marginalisation under Assad rule, with Syrian Kurds staging their own anti-government protests after the Syria conflict began in March 2011.
But most of the fighting recently has been against Islamist rebels.
Last month a prominent Syrian Kurdish politician, Isa Huso, was killed by a car bomb in the north-eastern town of Qamishli.
Kurdish militiamen responded with a call to arms to fight jihadists.


2013-08-10 Syria's Muslim Brotherhood faces uphill battle usatoday.com

For Syria's banned Muslim Brotherhood, the uprising against President Bashar Assad that erupted amid Arab Spring revolts in 2011 provided a long-sought opportunity to stage a comeback after decades spent in exile.
Thirty years earlier, the group's own violent uprising against Assad's father, the late Hafez Assad, was brutally crushed, culminating in an infamous massacre in the city of Hama that ended with the group's leadership killed, imprisoned or exiled.
Amid the chaos of the current revolt, the group quickly emerged as the best organized of Assad's political opponents, and is playing an increasingly active role on the ground by providing assistance to military brigades it supports.
It faces enormous challenges in the months ahead, however.
The downfall of the Brotherhood in Egypt has shaken its Syrian counterpart and deepened distrust of the secretive movement by other Syrians who are suspicious of its religious agenda.
Inside Syria, the group faces an uphill battle trying to rebuild its base with the young revolutionaries of today, many of whom view its leadership as aging and out of touch after years away from the country. Moreover, the self-described moderate Islamic group faces fierce competition from better equipped hard-line Salafi fighters and al-Qaida extremists who have emerged as a major force among the ranks of the rebels.


2013-08-09 Muslim Brotherhood switches its focus from Egypt to Syria worldtribune.com

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, ousted from power by the military, has intensified its participation in the Sunni revolt in Syria. Islamist sources said the Brotherhood has been recruiting what could result in thousands of new fighters to battle the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The sources said the Brotherhood was receiving funds from Saudi Arabia to bolster the embattled rebel movement amid the offensive by the Assad regime. “There are literally tens of thousands of trained Brotherhood fighters who might prefer to receive handsome salaries to fight Assad in Syria rather than the military in Egypt,” a source said.
Under the year-long regime of Egypt’s first Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, most of the Brotherhood fighters stayed home in expectation of jobs in the government and security forces. But after Morsi was overthrown on July 3, many fighters traveled to the Sinai Peninsula and other locations for insurgency operations that included Al Qaida-aligned forces.
The Brotherhood already has been coordinating with units in Hama, regarded as the main stronghold of the Islamist movement. The sources said Hama was used to store weapons and equipment allocated to an expected rebel offensive later in 2013.
The sources said Brotherhood fighters were being recruited to join the Free Syrian Army. They said a Saudi priority was to bolster FSA amid the domination of the rebel war by Al Qaida-aligned militias, including Al Nusra Front for the Defense of the Levant and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.
An opposition figure, Mulham Droubi, said the Brotherhood established units in Syria in May 2013. Droubi, a member of the Syrian National Council, said he welcomed Brotherhood recruitment and operations against Assad.
“The formation of a military organization is on the agenda,” Droubi said. “But this group will not clash with the jihadists who are fighting the Syrian regime.”


2013-08-08 ANNE BARNARD, ERIC SCHMITT. As Foreign Fighters Flood Syria, Fears of a New Extremist Haven nytimes.com

As foreign fighters pour into Syria at an increasing clip, extremist groups are carving out pockets of territory that are becoming havens for Islamist militants, posing what United States and Western intelligence officials say may be developing into the greatest security threat in the world today.
The militants are assembling under an umbrella group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, that is merging Syrians with fighters from around the world — Chechnya, Pakistan, Egypt and the West, as well as Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgent group that rose to prominence in the fight against the American occupation in the years after the 2003 invasion. The concern is that a new Al Qaeda affiliate is emerging from those groups.
Indeed, American intelligence officials said this week that Ayman al-Zawahri, the overall leader of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, has regular communications with the jihadist Nusra Front in Syria, reflecting how favorably the Qaeda leadership views the long-term potential for Syria as a safe haven. Juan Zarate, a former senior counterterrorism official in the George W. Bush administration, said that Syria lay in the center of an arc of instability, stretching from Iran through North Africa, and “in that zone, you may have the regeneration and resurrection of a new brand of Al Qaeda.”
It was the fear of militants coming to dominate the opposition that caused the United States and its Western allies to hold off providing lethal aid to the Syrian opposition, at least until now. But as a result, counterterrorism analysts say, they lost a chance to influence the battle in Syria. Even Congressional supporters of the C.I.A.’s covert program to arm moderate elements of the Syrian opposition fear the delivery of weapons, set to begin this month, will be too little, too late.
In recent months, the battle lines have hardened. The Syrian government, backed by Iran and Hezbollah, has seized new momentum and retaken territory in the south and east from the rebels. At the same time, power within the badly fractured opposition, numbering about 1,200 different groups, has steadily slipped into the hands of the jihadists based in the northeast, where on Wednesday they seized a strategic airport in the area. They also hold sway in the provincial capital of Raqqa.
The idea that Syria could supplant Pakistan as the primary haven for Al Qaeda, should the government fall, is a heavy blow to the Western-backed Syrian opposition and its military arm, the Free Syrian Army. It plays directly into the hands of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, whose government has sought to portray itself as the only alternative to Islamic extremism and chaos and has made the prospect of full-on American support even more remote than it already was.
In Raqqa recently, a commander of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria sipped coffee after breaking the Ramadan fast, wearing a Pakistani-style outfit. The commander, Abu Omar, was Syrian, a member of a tribe in the area, but he described his movement’s goals as reaching far beyond the country’s borders.
He did not speak of attacking the United States. But he threatened Russia, and he spoke of a broad-based battle against Shiite-led Iran and its quest to dominate the region, and said Sunnis from across the world were justified in flocking to Syria to fight because of the government’s reliance on Shiite fighters from Lebanon and Iraq.
He rejected calls from some in the Syrian opposition to keep the fighting focused inside Syria and aimed at toppling Mr. Assad. “We have one enemy,” Iran, he said, “and we should fight this enemy as one front and on different fronts.”
He also seemed to suggest that Russia would be a legitimate target for its role in supporting Mr. Assad and for its brutal suppression of Muslim militants in the Caucasus.
“Russia is killing Muslims in southern Muslim republics and sends arms and money to kill Muslims in Syria as well,” he said. “I swear by God that Russia will pay a big price for its dirty role in the Syrian war.”


2013-08-07 Moscow demands censure of the mass killing of Syrian Kurds by terrorists in northern Syria syrianews.cc

While some sides have stated that the massacre against at least 400 Syrian Kurds, including about 120 children, by foreign-supported terrorists has not really taken place in northern Syria, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (Sergey Lavrov) has mentioned the mass killing of Syrian Kurds by the foreign-supported terrorists in Syria today at a joint press event with Ghana’s Foreign Minister.
The statements by the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov let assume that the massacre against the Syrian Kurds in northern Syria has probably really taken place (sadly).
At least, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would not have mentioned this mass killing of Syrian Kurds, including about 120 children and many Kurdish women, by the Syrian al-Qaeda offshoot (al-Nusra Front / Jabhat al-Nusra) in case the reports about this next horrible massacre by foreign-supported jihadists and terrorists on Syrian soil would be false and not true. In addition, Russia should know whether such reports and massacres are true or false, to be honest.


2013-08-07 Sources: Saudi Arabia Proposes Russia Scale Back Assad Support voanews.com

Saudi Arabia has offered Russia economic incentives including a major arms deal and a pledge not to challenge Russian gas sales if Moscow scales back support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Middle East sources and Western diplomats said on Wednesday.
The proposed deal between two of the leading power brokers in Syria's devastating civil war was set out by Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week, they said.
Syrian opposition sources close to Saudi Arabia said Prince Bandar offered to buy up to $15 billion of Russian weapons, as well as ensuring that Gulf gas would not threaten Russia's position as a main gas supplier to Europe.
Sources said that in return, Saudi Arabia wanted Moscow to ease its strong support of Assad and agree not to block any future Security Council Resolution on Syria.
Another Gulf source familiar with the matter confirmed that Prince Bandar offered to buy large quantities of arms from Russia, but said no cash amount was specified in the talks.
One Lebanese politician close to Saudi Arabia said the meeting between Bandar and Putin lasted four hours. “The Saudis were elated about the outcome of the meeting,” said the source, without elaborating.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, could not immediately be reached on Wednesday for comment about the meeting. A Saudi Foreign Ministry official was also not immediately available to respond.
Putin's initial response to Bandar's offer was inconclusive, diplomats say. One Western diplomat in the Middle East said the Russian leader was unlikely to trade Moscow's recent high profile in the region for an arms deal, however substantial.
Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Moscow-based defense think tank CAST, said he had no direct knowledge of the offer, but he would not be surprised if a contract to supply Saudi Arabia with 150 Russian T-90 tanks were revived.
“There was an order of T-90s that was stopped for mysterious reasons, and if this is a resurrection of that order then we could suspect that the Saudis want something in return and that something could be linked to Syria,” said Pukhov, who is close to Russia's Defense Ministry. “If the Saudis want Moscow to outright drop Assad, they will refuse the deal, but they may have a more nuanced position, which they could possibly agree to.”
Russia and Saudi Arabia penned an arms contract in 2008 for 150 T-90s, more than 100 Mi-17 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, and BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles, but the contract has stalled for years.
Russian newspaper Kommersant reported at the time that the contract was concluded to persuade Moscow to curtail its ties with Iran, though the Kremlin denied that report.
However, in a possible sign of greater flexibility by Moscow, other diplomats said that in the run-up to the meeting Russia put pressure on Assad to allow in a U.N. mission to investigate the suspected use of chemical weapons.
The U.N. team is expected to visit Syria next week.
lenta.ru


2013-08-05 Syria crisis can only be solved by 'striking terror with iron fist english.alarabiya.net

In a rare speech on Syrian state television yesterday, Assad also dismissed the political opposition to his regime as a "failure" that could play no role in solving the country's brutal war.
"No solution can be reached with terror except by striking it with an iron fist," said Assad.
"I don't think that any sane human being would think that terrorism can be dealt with via politics," he added.
"There may be a role for politics in dealing with terrorism pre-emptively," said Assad, adding that as soon as "terrorism" has arisen, it can only be struck out.
In his latest speech, Assad also said Syria's economic woes "are linked to the security situation, and they can only be solved by striking terror".
"There cannot be any political efforts or political progress if terror is striking everywhere. Therefore terror must be struck in order to get the political process moving on the right track," Assad said.
"That does not mean that there cannot be parallel tracks. There is no reason why we shouldn't strike terror while at the same time working politically," he added.
Assad's comments come amid faltering efforts to push forward a US-Russian proposal for peace talks dubbed Geneva 2, which would see regime representatives and the opposition gathering for negotiations.
In his speech, Assad lashed out against the main opposition National Coalition, describing it as a "failure".
"This opposition is not reliable ... And it has no role in solving the crisis," Assad said.
He accused the Coalition of "being on the payroll of more than one Gulf country", and of "blaming the (Syrian) state for terrorism rather than blaming the armed men", or rebels.


2013-08-04 PYD leader: Turkey continues to support al-Nusra Front against Kurds todayszaman.com

Turkey continues to provide support for al-Qaeda-linked groups fighting Kurds in Syria's north despite statements by Turkish officials that such groups are a threat to Turkey's security as well, the leader of the most powerful Syrian Kurdish group has said.
Saleh Muslim, who heads the Democratic Union Party (PYD), said in remarks published on Sunday that witnesses on both sides of the border have confirmed that there was a transfer of weapons and ammunition from Turkey to Syria through the Karkamış border gate in the southeastern province of Gaziantep on the night of Aug. 2. He said the weapons were then transported to Arab villages near the Kurdish-populated town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab in Arabic) apparently in preparation for attacks on Kobani.
A group of about 70 commanders of the FSA met in Gaziantep as Muslim was visiting Turkey for talks. Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Oqaidi, head of the FSA military council in Aleppo who was among the participants of the meeting, accused the PYD of fighting alongside the regime forces. “They [the PYD] are the Shabiha of the regime. Hopefully, we will triumph over them,” the colonel said in remarks to the media during the meeting. The Shabiha is known as a shadowy militia group used by the Syrian regime against opposition forces.


2013-07-31 Iran grants Syria $3.6 billion credit to buy oil products reuters.com

Syria and Iran signed a deal this week to activate a $3.6 billion credit facility to buy oil products to shore up President Bashar al-Assad's war battered economy, officials and bankers said on Wednesday.
The deal, which was agreed in May and will allow Iran to acquire equity stakes in investments in Syria, is part of Shi'ite Iran's broader support for Assad in his battle against a two-year insurgency by mainly Sunni rebels.
Tehran has already provided military assistance to Assad, training his forces and advising on military strategy. Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters have also bolstered counter-offensives against rebels around Homs and Damascus.
"This will help Syria to import petroleum products that the country needs," said a Syrian trade official, referring to the credit facility. Underlining the acute nature of Syria's financial problems, he said authorities had tried to set a ceiling of $4 billion on the deal.
Syria is short of diesel for its army and fuel to keep the economy running, partly because of U.S. and European Union financial sanctions imposed after the crackdown on protests at the start of the crisis. Its main supplier of petroleum products by sea has been Iran.
Another $1 billion credit line to Damascus has already been extended to buy Iranian power generating products and other goods in a barter arrangement that has helped Syria export textiles, phosphates and some agricultural produce such as olive oil and citrus products, trade officials say.
"This will allow Syria to import Iranian products up to this ceiling, with almost half to buy electricity equipment for the sector," the trade official, speaking by phone from Damascus, told Reuters.
Alongside the favorable deferred payment terms of those financing facilities, Damascus has been in talks for months to secure a loan of up to $2 billion with low interest and a long grace period, the official said.


2013-07-31 MICHAEL R.GORDON. Syrian Missiles Were Moved Before Israeli Strike, Officials Say nytimes.com

American intelligence analysts have concluded that a recent Israeli airstrike on a warehouse in Syria did not succeed in destroying all of the Russian-made antiship cruise missiles that were its target, American officials said on Wednesday, and that further Israeli strikes are likely.
Israel carried out an attack on July 5 near Latakia to destroy the missiles, which Russia had sold to Syria. While the warehouse was destroyed, American intelligence analysts have now concluded that at least some of the Yakhont missiles had been removed from their launchers and moved from the warehouse before the attack.
After the Israeli attack, the Assad government sought to hide the fact that the missiles had been missed by setting fire to launchers and vehicles at the site to create the impression that the strike had landed a devastating blow, according to American intelligence reports.
Another factor that could lead to a military response by Israel is the continuing flow of weapons to the Assad government, some of which Israel fears might make its way to Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon.
Russia, American officials say, recently sent SA-26 antiaircraft missiles to Syria, and it is also believed to be sending technical experts to help set up the system.
The Russians have also recently delivered two refurbished Mi-24 Hind helicopters to the Russian naval base at Tartus, Syria, for use by the Syrian military.


2013-07-29 Loveday Morris. Syrian government forces take control of Homs neighborhood in blow to rebels washingtonpost.com

Syrian government forces seized control of a key neighborhood of Homs on Monday, activists and state media said, delivering a blow to besieged opposition fighters in the city once dubbed “the capital of the revolution.”
Rebels had retreated from about 95 percent of the Khaldiyeh neighborhood by midday Monday after a morning air raid that was followed by bombardment with surface-to-surface missiles and mortar shells, activists said. Syrian state television went further and said government forces had “restored security and stability” to the area.
The fall of the neighborhood, which had been in rebel hands for more than a year, marks a strategic loss for the opposition, slicing in two the remaining rebel-controlled territory in the city. It also builds on a steady string of government gains in central and southern Syria, where the tide seems to have turned in favor of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, bolstered by militants from Iran and Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement.
Government troops made inroads into Khaldiyeh over the weekend. They took the 13th-century Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque on Saturday, and its shrine was severely damaged in the fighting.
With access cut from the rebel-held Old City to opposition strongholds in Qusour and Juret al-Shayah, he said, it is only a matter of time before the other neighborhoods fall.
“There have been no reinforcements for us to break this siege; there are no weapons to change the way of the battle,” Homsi said from Qusour, the sound of automatic gunfire crackling in the background. “I think we might resist weeks or maybe a month, but not long. There’s no balance between the two sides.”


2013-07-28 ERIC SCHMITT. Worries Mount as Syria Lures West’s Muslims nytimes.com

A rising number of radicalized young Muslims with Western passports are traveling to Syria to fight with the rebels against the government of Bashar al-Assad, raising fears among American and European intelligence officials of a new terrorist threat when the fighters return home.
More Westerners are now fighting in Syria than fought in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or Yemen, according to the officials. They go to Syria motivated by the desire to help the people suffering there by overthrowing Mr. Assad. But there is growing concern that they will come back with a burst of jihadist zeal, some semblance of military discipline, enhanced weapons and explosives skills, and, in the worst case, orders from affiliates of Al Qaeda to carry out terrorist strikes.
“Syria has become really the predominant jihadist battlefield in the world,” Matthew G. Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told a security conference in Aspen, Colo., this month. He added, “The concern going forward from a threat perspective is there are individuals traveling to Syria, becoming further radicalized, becoming trained and then returning as part of really a global jihadist movement to Western Europe and, potentially, to the United States.”
Classified estimates from Western intelligence services and unclassified assessments from government and independent experts put the number of fighters from Europe, North America and Australia who have entered Syria since 2011 at more than 600. That represents about 10 percent of the roughly 6,000 foreign fighters who have poured into Syria by way of the Middle East and North Africa.
Most of the Westerners are self-radicalized and are traveling on their own initiative to Turkey, where rebel facilitators often link them up with specific groups, terrorism experts say. Many have joined ranks with the Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front, which American officials have designated as a terrorist group.
A precise breakdown of the Western fighters in Syria is difficult to offer, counterterrorism and intelligence officials said, but their estimates include about 140 French citizens, 100 Britons, 75 Spaniards, 60 Germans, and as many as a few dozen Canadians and Australians. There are also fighters from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, according to a study in April by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, a partnership of academic institutions based in London, which estimated that 140 to 600 Europeans had gone to Syria.
Only about a dozen Americans have so far gone to fight in Syria, according to American intelligence officials.


2013-07-27 Roi Kais. Reports: Israel attacked Syrian weapons convoy ynetnews.com

Another Israeli strike in Syria? Arab media outlets reported Israeli Air Force activity in the Beqaa Valley in east Lebanon and in the Golan Heights on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Military Revolutionary Council in Golan Quneitra, a rebel group, claimed that aircraft also bombed a missile convoy making its way to Lebanon from Syria. The reports could not be confirmed by any Western source.
According to the Quneitra rebels, the sound of aircraft could clearly be heard as they circled over the city. Earlier, the council said in its Facebook page that Israeli jets had bombed Syrian army posts. The IAF aircraft flew at low altitude over Baalbek, according to the Lebanese El-Nashra website.
The past several months have seen separate reports about alleged IDF attacks in Syria, the most recent of which referred to a base in the port city of Latakia where Yakhont missiles were apparently stored.
Two months earlier, in early May, it was claimed that Israel carried out strikes in a Damascus suburb and in the Lebanese border targeting missile caches and Hezbollah -bound weapons shipments.
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Ali Zidane, prime minister, declared that he would reorganise his cabinet and streamline his government in response to the latest unrest. “We are about to make a cabinet reshuffle and decrease the number of ministries to ensure a better performance to face the urgent situation,” Mr Zidane said in a press conference on Sunday, according to Reuters. “What is happening is an attempt to obstruct the state’s progression.”
Libya also announced it was closing its eastern land border with Egypt for fear that prisoners would escape across the desert frontier.
The chaos began with the assassination of Libyan political activist Abdul Salam Mohamed Mismari, who was gunned down by a single bullet to the heart as he walked home from noon prayers on Friday, according to a statement issued by the ministry of interior. Later that evening, a retired air force colonel and an active police official were also killed.
Mismari was known as a harsh critic of Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood, and protesters poured on to the streets on Friday and Saturday, attacking several offices of the Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction party across the country. Dozens were injured in the violence.
Islamist groups across the Arab world are under pressure after a July 3 coup that toppled the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government in Egypt.
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“People are angry at the Brotherhood and what’s happened in Egypt has been reflected here in Libya,” said Abdulmoneim Sbeta, a Libyan political analyst and former member of the transitional government established after the 2011 overthrow of Muammer Gaddafi’s regime. “Libyans are more aware of the dangers of the Muslim Brotherhood. Someone had to take the blame [for Mismari’s killing] and the streets decided it was the Brotherhood.”
The prison break came during chaotic funeral marches for Mismari. It remained unclear how the prisoners escaped. Mr Zidane told WAL that neighbours living near the prison may have aided in the mass escape, an allegation that angered the residents. Others accused militiamen allied with hardline Islamists of helping break imprisoned comrades out of jail. “This protest was a very good opportunity for the prisoners’ allies to help them escape,” said Ali Abbas, a political analyst at the Islamic Dawa Centre in Tripoli, the capital.


2013-07-27 Syria Media: Up to 123 Killed in Aleppo Province -Xinhua online.wsj.com

Syria's state media said Saturday radical rebels killed as many as 123 people in a contested town in northern Aleppo province, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Most of those killed in Khan al-Asal were unarmed civilians, the state-run SANA news agency said, adding medical examination identified six of the dead bodies.
Quoting an official source, SANA said the perpetrators would pay a steep price for their crime, adding the Syrian army is always on standby.
On Friday, the activists' U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights placed the death toll of the carnage at 150, adding most of the massacred were government soldiers.
It said about 51 of those killed were summarily executed by the rebels, including about 30 officers and warrant officers.
The crime is believed to take place between last Monday and Tuesday when forces of the Syrian opposition retook the strategic town, according to the Observatory.
The town, located in northern Aleppo, has been a battlefield in the Syrian conflict since March, when the Syrian government accused the opposition of using chemical weapons there.
The alleged victory is the first the opposition has claimed in months. They suffered a major defeat in the border town of al-Qussair in June and lost swaths of areas in central Homs province recently.


2013-07-27 Syrian troops capture historic mosque in Homs usatoday.com

Syrian government forces captured a historic mosque in the central city of Homs on Saturday, expelling rebel forces who had been in control of the 13th century landmark for more than a year and dealing a symbolic blow to opposition forces.
State-run news agency SANA quoted an unnamed military official as saying that troops took control of the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Mosque in the heavily disputed northern neighborhood of Khaldiyeh.
Syrian TV aired a report Saturday night with footage from inside the mosque, showing heavy damage and the tomb's dome knocked out. The footage showed debris strewn on the floor and a portion of the mosque appeared to have been burned.
The mosque, famous for its nine domes and two minarets, has been a symbol for rebels in the city that is known as "the capital of the revolution." On Monday, government troops shelled the mosque, damaging the tomb of Ibn al-Walid, a revered figure in Islam.
On top of its symbolic value, Homs is also a geographic lynchpin in Syria. The main highway from Damascus to the north as well as the coastal region, which is a stronghold of President Bashar Assad's Alawite sect, runs through Homs. Both rebels and the regime place a high strategic value on the city.
And although Assad's forces have been on the offensive in recent months, activists say the regime wants to capture the entirety of Homs to include it in a potential future Alawite state — stretching from Homs to the coast — where Assad could make his last stand if the civil war swings against him.
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2013-07-26 Michelle Nichols. Syria rebels meet U.N. Security Council, urge Russia to end Assad support reuters.com

Syrian rebel leaders met with the U.N. Security Council for the first time on Friday to discuss the country's two-year war and appealed to Russia to stop its powerful political and military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.
The 15-member Security Council has been deadlocked on Syria. Russia, an ally and arms supplier of Assad, and China have three times blocked action against Assad supported by the remaining veto powers - the United States, Britain and France.
"We asked them (Russia) to stop providing the political and military support for this criminal regime to continue its crimes against the Syrian people," senior Syrian National Coalition member Najib Ghadbian told reporters after the meeting.
The Syrian National Coalition delegation to the informal meeting, organized by Britain, was led by newly elected leader Ahmed al-Jarba. On Thursday the group met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and called for the United States to arm the rebels quickly and to push harder for a political settlement.
So far, attempts to organize a so-called "Geneva II" peace conference on Syria to revive a political transition plan agreed in the Swiss city in June 2012 have been futile. U.N. diplomats say it is increasingly unlikely that such a conference will take place anytime soon, if at all. But Churkin was still hopeful.
The Syrian opposition asked the Security Council to boost access for aid agencies in the country and to refer the Syrian government to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which prosecutes war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"Most of the work of the U.N. agencies is done through the Syrian regime and we are concerned that there should be more ways, cross-border assistance maybe, to reach those in the liberated areas," Ghadbian said.
Some western Security Council members are considering a push for a resolution to increase aid access in Syria if attempts to hold a Geneva peace conference fail, but such a move is likely to lead to another showdown with Russia.
British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said Jarba made "a very strong statement of commitment of the unity of Syria, to democracy and to plurality" and condemned extremism and rejected terrorism.


2013-07-25 Sarah McFarlane. Egypt's wheat problem: how Mursi jeopardized the bread supply reuters.com

The biggest mistake deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi made during his year in power was dramatically reducing wheat imports, according to Mohamed Abu Shadi, the country's new minister of supplies.
The country is the world's largest wheat importer, bringing in about 10 million tonnes a year, around half its annual consumption. Keeping the system running smoothly was vital when Mursi, backed by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, took over as president in June 2012.
In May, Mursi was quoted during a festival to celebrate the harvest season at a farm near the northern city of Alexandria as saying: "By God's will, in two years we will be achieving more than 80 percent of our needs, and seek in four years not to import wheat." It was a an ambitious target; critics called it foolhardy.
"Many people were disconcerted and unhappy with the government for making statements that we would become self-sufficient," said Adel Beshai, professor of economics at Cairo's American University. "Every villager knows we cannot become self-sufficient, any illiterate farmer could tell you we could not be self-sufficient, so people felt they were being lied to."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated Egypt's latest harvest at 8.5 million tonnes of wheat. The subsidized bread program alone requires around 9 million tonnes of wheat.
On July 10, days after Mursi was ousted and Ouda resigned, Ouda said government stocks were 3.5 million tonnes, including 500,000 tonnes of foreign wheat. This compared with 4.9 million tonnes on July 1 last year, including 1.2 million tonnes of imported wheat.


2013-07-23 Oren Dorell. Deal done for U.S. to ship arms to Syria rebels usatoday.com

A deal reached in Congress to allow the United States to ship arms to Syrian rebels could spur other nations to do the same, blunting the military gains of dictator Bashar Assad and preventing him from crushing the rebel movement.
Syrian rebels say the decision by U.S. lawmakers to go along with President Obama's plan announced weeks ago to arm their factions will give them an edge.
"American military support may not be sufficient in and of itself, but American leadership in close coordination with our allies ... will create a significant shift on the ground," said Mazen Asbahi, president of the Syrian Support Group, a U.S.-based group of Syrians who are aiding the rebels.
The White House has said it intends to funnel arms to the Free Syrian Army, a collection of Syrian Army defectors and former officers who have been battling Assad's forces for more than two years. The aid will be overseen by the Supreme Military Council of the Syrian Revolution, a coalition of FSA commanders.
The aid will put the weight of the United States and its friends behind a secularist opposition movement and show a commitment to "seeing this conflict through to a better end," Asbahi said.
Khaled Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian Military Council, who is based in Turkey, said the aid will help give the United States more influence in Syria in picking who will ultimately prevail against Assad's forces.
Assad's forces have killed nearly 100,000 people, according to the United Nations. Foreign fighters have flooded in, such as members of the terrorist group Hezbollah who are backing Assad. Sunni Muslim jihadists who oppose Assad because he is a member of the Alewites, a Shiite offshoot, are also fighting with al-Qaeda in Syria.
Military advisers from Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have also streamed into Syria to keep Assad in power, and Russia has been providing Assad with arms.
Syria rebel groups have been pleading for a no-fly zone and armor-piercing rockets to counter heavy weaponry such as tanks and fighter jets of Assad's. Some Republicans and Democratic senators, such as John McCain and Carl Levin, have wanted to provide advanced weapons or U.S. airstrikes but Obama has refused to go that far.


2013-07-18 David Martin. U.S. military prepares for potential chemical weapons in Syria cbsnews.com

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, told a Senate panel Thursday that he has military options for Syria -- should the president ever give the order. That order might come if Assad's chemical weapon stockpiles are in danger of falling into the wrong hands. U.S. troops are training for that, and we went along.
About 1,500 paratroopers dropped out of the night sky from an altitude of just 800 feet, bringing with them nearly 190,000 pounds of equipment. They were the first of some 4,000 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division parachuting into an exercise designed in part to prepare for the worst in Syria.
After seizing an airfield in the woods of North Carolina, they launched a helicopter assault on a compound where, for purposes of this exercise, chemical agents were believed to be stored. Their mission: get to the chemicals before they fall into the hands of terrorists who would use them against Americans.


2013-07-15 Anshel Pfeffer . Israel tones down opposition to Western arming of Syrian rebels haaretz.com

Israel has in recent weeks scaled back its opposition to the arming of rebels in Syria, due to concern that their weakened position could lead to greater victories for Hezbollah and other Iran supporters fighting alongside the forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.
Until recently, Israeli officials had cautioned their international counterparts against arming the Syrian rebels, warning that arms – and especially advanced weapons systems – could reach jihadist groups that are affiliated with al-Qaida, and could be used against Israel in the future. Israel mainly sent these warnings to the U.S. administration and to the British and French governments, which have been spearheading efforts within the European Union to end the arms embargo on all sides in the Syrian war. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised similar concerns when he met British Prime Minister David Cameron during a visit to London two and a half months ago for Margaret Thatcher's funeral.
The Obama administration decided in the last two months to provide support, including arms, to the Syrian rebels, after verifying reports that the Syrian army had used chemical weapons. Thanks to British and French pressure on the issue, the EU, meanwhile, has decided not to renew the arms embargo when it expires next month.
At the same time, Israel has toned down its objections to arming the rebels, mainly due to the increased and conspicuous involvement of Hezbollah and other Shia groups, supported by Iran, in the Syrian conflict. Hezbollah forces played a key role in capturing the strategic town of Qusair last month, and Hezbollah fighters along with Shia volunteers from Iraq are currently fighting in the battle of Aleppo.
Israeli officials believe that the Syrian civil war is far from over and that victory is not assured for either side. There is concern about the appearance of victory for the pro-Iranian camp and a growing belief that Assad has decided to throw in his lot with the radical axis.
Assad who was once seen as a moderating influence, ensuring calm on the Syria-Lebanon border, now appears to be interested in encouraging terror attacks on Israel, Israeli officials conclude. For now, though, he is not expected to allow regular units of the Syrian army to participate in such attacks. Another major concern is that the continued success of pro-Iranian forces in Syria without a response from the West will embolden Iran to forge ahead with its nuclear program despite international pressure and sanctions.


2013-07-15 MARK MAZZETTI, ERIC SCHMITT, ERIN BANCO. No Quick Impact in U.S. Arms Plan for Syria Rebels nytimes.com

A month ago Obama administration officials promised to deliver arms and ammunition to the Syrian rebels in the hope of reversing the tide of a war that had turned against an embattled opposition.
But interviews with American, Western and Middle Eastern officials show that the administration’s plans are far more limited than it has indicated in public and private.
In fact, the officials said, the administration’s plans to use the C.I.A. to covertly train and arm the rebels could take months to have any impact on a chaotic battlefield. Many officials believe the assistance is unlikely to bolster the rebellion enough to push President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to the negotiating table.
The plans call for the C.I.A. to supply only small arms, and to only a limited segment of the opposition — the actual numbers are unclear. In addition, much of the training, which is to take place over months in Jordan and Turkey, has not yet started, partly because of Congressional objections.
The cautious approach reflects the continued ambivalence and internal divisions of an administration that still has little appetite for intervention in Syria, but has been backed into a corner after American and European spy agencies concluded that Syrian government troops had used chemical weapons against the rebels. Mr. Obama had declared the use of chemical weapons to be a “red line” leading to American action.
Many in the administration say they are still seeking to satisfy themselves that they have taken all precautions possible to prevent weapons from falling into the hands of Islamic extremists in Syria. To them, the plan carries echoes of previous American efforts to arm rebels in Angola, Nicaragua and elsewhere, many of which backfired. There is also fear at the White House that Mr. Obama will be dragged into another war in the Middle East.
But others, particularly many in the State Department, argue that the United States must intervene to prevent a further deterioration of security in the region and to stop a humanitarian crisis that is spiraling out of control, officials said.


2013-07-14 Pakistan Taliban set up camps in Syria, join anti-Assad war english.alarabiya.net

The Pakistani Taliban have set up camps and sent hundreds of men to Syria to fight alongside rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, militants said on Sunday, in a strategy aimed at cementing ties with al-Qaeda’s central leadership.
More than two years since the start of the anti-Assad rebellion, Syria has become a magnet for foreign Sunni fighters who have flocked to the Middle Eastern nation to join what they see as a holy war against Shiite oppressors.
Operating alongside militant groups such as the al-Nusra Front, described by the United States as a branch of al-Qaeda, they mainly come from nearby countries such as Libya and Tunisia riven by similar conflict as a result of the Arab Spring.
On Sunday, Taliban commanders in Pakistan said they had also decided to join the cause, saying hundreds of fighters had gone to Syria to fight alongside their “Mujahedeen friends.”


2013-07-14 Report: Attack in Syria conducted by Israeli submarine ynetnews.com

Intelligence sources in the Middle East claim the recent attack on an arms depot in the Syrian port city of Latakia, which was attributed to the Israeli Air Force, was actually carried out by an Israeli Dolphin class submarine which fired a cruise missile from the sea, the Sunday Times reported.
If the report is correct, the attack marked Israel's first naval intervention in Syria since the civil war in the Arab country erupted in March 2011.
According to the British newspaper, the target was a consignment of 50 Russian-made Yakhont P-800 anti-ship missiles delivered to President Bashar Assad's armed forces this year.
The Times reported that the attack is understood to have been closely coordinated with Washington, which had earlier signaled to Moscow its frustration at the missiles shipment.
Qassem Saadeddine, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council, told Reuters last week, "it was not the FSA that targeted this; It is not an attack that was carried out by rebels.
"This attack was either by air raid or long-range missiles fired from boats in the Mediterranean," he said.
Rebels described huge blasts – the ferocity of which, they said, was beyond the firepower available to them but consistent with that of a modern military like Israel's.


2013-07-13 MICHAEL R.GORDON. Israel Airstrike Targeted Advanced Missiles That Russia Sold to Syria, U.S. Says MICHAEL R. GORDON. nytimes.com

Israel carried out an air attack in Syria this month that targeted advanced antiship cruise missiles sold to the Syria government by Russia, American officials said Saturday.
The officials, who declined to be identified because they were discussing intelligence reports, said the attack occurred July 5 near Latakia, Syria’s principal port city. The target was a type of missile called the Yakhont, they said.
The Russian-made weapon has been a particular worry for the Pentagon because it expanded Syria’s ability to threaten Western ships that could be used to transport supplies to the Syrian opposition, enforce a shipping embargo or support a possible no-flight zone.
The missile also represented a threat to Israel’s naval forces and raised concerns that it might be provided to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that has joined the war on the side of the Syrian government.
The attack against the missiles came to light after Syrian rebels said that they were not responsible for large explosions at Latakia on July 5, and that a missile warehouse had been hit. American officials did not provide details on the extent of the damage or the number of missiles struck.
Israeli officials have said they would not take sides in the civil war in Syria, but they have made it clear that Israel is prepared to carry out airstrikes to prevent sophisticated weapons from being diverted to Hezbollah.
The strike near Latakia, first reported by CNN, was the fourth known Israeli air attack against targets in Syria this year.
Israel has a longstanding policy of silence on pre-emptive military strikes. In October, Israeli officials declined to discuss reports that Israeli airstrikes had destroyed a weapons factory in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. Israel has also never acknowledged bombing a nuclear reactor in 2007 that was under construction in Syria.
While the Obama administration has been cautious about getting involved militarily in the Syria crisis, the Israeli attack this month underscored how the conflict has continued to draw in outside powers. Iran has been ferrying weapons to Damascus on flights that pass through Iraq’s airspace and has sent members of its paramilitary Quds Force to help the Assad government.


2013-07-12 Paul Wood. Key Free Syria Army rebel 'killed by Islamist group' bbc.co.uk

A senior rebel commander in Syria is reported to have been killed by rebels from a rival group linked to al-Qaeda.
Kamal Hamami, of the Free Syrian Army's (FSA) Supreme Military Council, was meeting members of the rival group "to discuss battle plans".
An FSA spokesman said he was told by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant that they had killed Mr Hamami.
The killing is part of an escalating struggle within the armed uprising between moderates and Islamists.
The BBC's Paul Wood says a civil war within a civil war is building within the opposition as the two sides engage in a battle that is partly over the spoils and partly ideological.
A spokesman for the FSA's Supreme Military Council said Mr Hamami had been driving through Latakia when he and fellow fighters encountered a checkpoint run by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - the main group linked to al-Qaeda.
The rebels manning the checkpoint had refused to let him pass, saying he would need to get permission from their leader, and he had told them they had to take their checkpoint down.
As the argument raged, according to this account, one of the fighters - said to be a foreign jihadi from Iraq - raised his weapon and shot Kamal Hamami dead.
"The Islamic State phoned me saying that they killed Abu Basir and that they will kill all of the Supreme Military Council," FSA spokesman Qassem Saadeddine told Reuters news agency.
The FSA was established in 2011 by army deserters based in Turkey and is said to have some 40,000 members.
Although the FSA have had some successes in the fight against President Assad's forces, they say they will be unable to win the war unless they acquire more sophisticated weaponry.
In recent months, Western and Arab nations have agreed to step up support for moderate Syrian rebels in their battle against President Bashar al-Assad's forces.


2013-07-12 Syrian rebels say al-Qaeda attack means war ynetnews.com

Syrian rebels said on Friday the assassination of one of their top commanders by al-Qaeda-linked operatives was tantamount to a declaration of war, opening a new front for the Western-backed fighters struggling against President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
Rivalries have been growing between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Islamists, whose smaller but more effective forces control most of the rebel-held parts of northern Syria more than two years after pro-democracy protests became an uprising.
"We will not let them get away with it because they want to target us," a senior FSA commander said on condition of anonymity after members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant killed Kamal Hamami on Thursday.
"We are going to wipe the floor with them," he said.
Hamami, also known by his nom de guerre, Abu Bassir al-Ladkani, was one of the top 30 figures on the FSA's Supreme Military Command.
His killing highlights how the West's vision of a future, democratic Syria is unraveling.
Assad appeared close to defeat a year ago when rebels killed top officials in a bomb attack and pushed deep into Damascus. Now, with military and financial support from Russia and Iran, he has pushed the rebels back to the outskirts of the capital and put them on the defensive in the south while radical Islamists assert control over the north.
Louay Mekdad, FSA Supreme Command Political Coordinator, said Abu Ayman al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State's Emir of the coastal region, personally shot dead Hamami and his brother at the roadblock.
He said a fighter who was travelling with them was set free to rely the message that the Islamic State considers the FSA heretics and that the Supreme Command is now an al-Qaeda target.
The FSA – a mixture of loosely-affiliated brigades – is accused by locals of looting and has not been able to present a unified front to sideline hardline units who favor an Islamic caliphate over pluralist democracy.


2013-07-10 Karen DeYoung. U.S. plan to arm Syrian rebels stalls amid congressional disagreements washingtonpost.com

The Obama administration’s month-old plan to arm opposition fighters in Syria has stalled as a result of congressional disagreements over whether and how to aid the rebels seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
To the growing frustration of those who won a long and contentious internal administration debate over the issue of supplying arms, members of the Senate and House intelligence committees remain divided on the proposal to send light weapons and ammunition to the rebel forces. Although administration officials initially estimated that supplies would be distributed “within weeks,” delivery has not begun.
“Congress has been pushing for months, asking for more aggressive actions in Syria. So it’s puzzling that when there’s actually a proposal on the table to do more, Congress is the one making it difficult to do so,” said an official familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing lawmakers.
Some want a more significant U.S. commitment, saying that the administration’s proposal is too little, too late. Others have voiced concerns that despite the administration’s assurances, U.S. weapons will fall into the hands of Islamist extremists fighting alongside the rebels.
A significant number of lawmakers reject any increased U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war and fear a slippery slope into another Middle East quagmire.
Early this year, the hands-off strategy appeared to be paying off, as rebel fighters made significant progress against Assad’s forces and Syrian opposition political leaders appeared to be moving toward organizing an alternative government.
But by spring, those gains were reversed. As government fighters, aided by Shiite Hezbollah and Iranian militias, took back territory lost months before, the largely Sunni political opposition fell into increasing disarray and growing numbers of Syrian refugees threatened to overrun neighboring countries.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar were willing to step up their arms shipments — including missiles sought by rebel forces to fend off Assad’s aircraft and tanks — and Britain and France successfully engineered the lapse of a European Union embargo against sending weapons to Syria. But these countries and others looked to the U.S. leadership to coordinate their efforts and prevent the collapse of Syria, and the entire region, into sectarian war.
In recent months, Kerry has negotiated with Russia in pursuit of a political solution and tried to organize both the Syrian opposition and its supporters. Under Brennan, the CIA has expanded training, logistics and intelligence hubs to aid Syrian rebels in Jordan and Turkey. Both argued, along with White House national security officials, that the administration needed to have what one official called “skin in the game,” in the form of weapons shipments, to provide effective leadership.
President Obama finally agreed and authorized planning. To avoid possible international-law complications and a protracted public debate in Congress, he approved the covert-action proposal for limited weapons supplies on June 13. Administration officials made clear that they were willing to consider escalated intervention — including airstrikes against government installations and a possible no-fly zone — if that proved necessary.


2013-07-10 Louis Charbonneau. Syria opposition denies Russian chemical attack allegation reuters.com

The opposition Syrian National Coalition on Wednesday denied Russian allegations that rebel fighters fired a projectile laden with the nerve agent sarin at a suburb of Aleppo in March, saying U.N. inspectors should be allowed to investigate the attack.
Separately, a Western diplomat said senior U.N. officials would head to Damascus soon to discuss ways of breaking the deadlock on access for a U.N. chemical weapons investigation team that has so far been unable to visit Syria.
Russia's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin on Tuesday said Russian scientific analysis strongly indicated a projectile containing sarin that hit Khan al-Assal on March 19, killing 26 civilians and military personnel, was fired by rebels.
The government and rebels have blamed each other for that incident, as well numerous other alleged chemical attacks. Both sides deny using chemical weapons themselves.
"The usage of chemical weapons is inconsistent with the guiding principles and goals of the Syrian revolution," Saleh said. "Targeting civilians indiscriminately to achieve political gains is a common characteristic of the Assad regime."
Russia, along with Iran, is Syria's closest ally and chief arms supplier. The United States has cast doubt on the Russian analysis of the Khan al-Assal incident and, along with France, called for full U.N. access to Syrian sites where chemical weapons use was suspected.


2013-07-10 Oren Dorell. U.S. arms showing up in hands of pro-Assad militias usatoday.com

U.S. and Western weapons have been reaching Iranian-backed Shiite militias fighting to keep Bashar Assad's forces in power in Syria.
Analysts say it's unclear if the weapons were captured, stolen or bought on the black market in Syria, Turkey, Iraq or Libya. Propaganda photographs from Shiite militias posted on dozens of websites and Facebook pages show the weapons were acquired in new condition, said Phillip Smyth, an analyst for Jihadology.net, a site affiliated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Many of the weapons are things the militias "shouldn't really have their hands on," Smyth said. Iranians love to show "they have weapons and systems that are very close to the Americans."
The ability of Assad's allies to obtain U.S. weapons is one of many reasons the United States should not supply Syrian rebels with weapons, which President Obama said he would start to do last month, said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., former chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Many of the U.S. weapons in the hands of pro-Assad militia could have reached the black market after a major U.S. sales to Iraq in 2009, said Christopher Harmer, a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. Almost 10 years of fighting there left thousands of loose weapons floating around Iraq and available for sale on the black market.
The U.S. sale included 80,000 M-16s, 25,000 M-4s and 2,550 M-203 grenade launchers, according to an announcement Dec. 9, 2009, by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
Smyth points to photos on social media sites linked to the Iranian military showing "martyred" Shiite fighters toting U.S.-made M-16s and M-4s fitted with laser and holographic sights and M-203 grenade launchers.
Based on more than 30 online forums and 100 Facebook pages, Smyth has found images of U.S. and Belgian weapons in the hands of members of various Iran-backed militias. Liwa'a abu Fadl al-Abbas uses Iraqi, Lebanese and Afghan fighters. Liwa'a Zulfiqar uses Iraqi fighters who prefer working with Iraqi and Shiite commanders, under the leadership of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps rather than Syrian leadership, Smyth said.


2013-07-09 Israel's Livni to visit Moscow 'over Syria S-300 plans' foxnews.com

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was due in Moscow on Tuesday for talks over Russia's plans to supply S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, army radio said.
During the visit, Livni, who also serves as Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, was to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a bid to convince Moscow not to go through with the promised delivery.
Livni's spokeswoman confirmed she was to meet with Lavrov in Moscow but denied it was in connection with the S-300 system.


2013-07-09 Syria naval base blast points to Israeli raid ynetnews.com

Foreign forces destroyed advanced Russian anti-ship missiles in Syria last week, rebels said on Tuesday – a disclosure that appeared to point to an Israeli raid.
Qassem Saadeddine, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council, said a pre-dawn strike on Friday hit a Syrian navy barracks at Safira, near the port of Latakia. He said that the rebel forces' intelligence network had identified newly supplied Yakhont missiles being stored there.
"It was not the FSA that targeted this," Saadeddine told Reuters. "It is not an attack that was carried out by rebels.
"This attack was either by air raid or long-range missiles fired from boats in the Mediterranean," he said.
Rebels described huge blasts – the ferocity of which, they said, was beyond the firepower available to them but consistent with that of a modern military like Israel's.
Israel has not confirmed or denied involvement. The Syrian government has not commented on the incident, beyond a state television report noting a "series of explosions" at the site.
Israeli officials have made clear that if advanced weaponry is transferred from President Bashar Assad's army to Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon, it would include the long-range Yakhonts, which could help Hezbollah repel Israel's navy and endanger its offshore gas rigs. In May, Israel and its US ally complained about Moscow sending the missiles to Syria. Israel said they would likely end up with Hezbollah. The Lebanese group has said it does not need them.
07/13/13 US sources: Israel behind Latakia attack


2013-07-06 Report: Series of blasts heard overnight near Assad arms depot in northern Syria haaretz.com

Several powerful blasts were heard at a weapons depot belonging to the Syrian military late on Thursday night, according to reports gradually streaming in from Syria. BBC Arabic radio reported overnight Thursday that the explosions took place near the port of Latakia in Syria's north.
Subsequent reports offered few new details and drew limited attention. Among them was a statement by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said that "huge explosions shook the area where a large Syrian army base and weapons depots are located."
According to the group, residents in the area where the blasts were heard say they were caused by missile fire of unknown origin. However, according to other reports that have reached the rights group, fighter jets were seen in the skies in the area of the city of Al-Haffah. It was further reported that several troops have been killed and wounded in the explosions. Fires broke out in the region.
A similar report carried by the Lebanese TV station Al-Manar said the blasts were caused by rocket or missile fire at a military base near a village some 20 kilometers from Latakia. Al-Manar cited a "military source" as saying that the fire came from the direction of a northern suburb of the city, where rebels and regime forces have been clashing for days.
The same source said that the base contains large stockpiles of weapons. The anonymous source denied the possibility that the explosions were caused by an air or sea strike targeting the Syrian regime's arms store. It remains unclear whether the source was Syrian.
Opposition websites said the weapons depot was attacked by the Free Syrian Army, and that, according to eye-witnesses, the blasts took place at around 2 A.M. Flames could be seen from afar. There were also reports of heavy exchanges of gunfire in the area after the explosions.
The reports cast blame for the blasts upon Syrian opposition groups. The source of the strike, however, remains unclear, as do the details about the damage that has been caused.
Latakia is located in an Alawite enclave in northern Syria. The city, as well as the nearby port city of Tartus, houses the artificial respiration system that is holding Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime alive despite the bloody civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Syrians over the course of nearly two years.


2013-07-06 Syrian opposition coalition elects president reuters.com

The main Syrian opposition National Coalition elected Ahmad Jarba as its president on Saturday after a close runoff vote held in Istanbul, coalition members said.
Jarba is a tribal figure from the eastern province of Hasaka who has connections with Saudi Arabia. He defeated businessman Mustafa Sabbagh, Qatar's point man in the opposition.
"A change was needed," Adib Shishakly, a senior official in the coalition, told Reuters.
"The old leadership of the coalition had failed to offer the Syrian people anything substantial and was preoccupied with internal politics. Ahmad Jarba is willing to work with everybody."


2013-07-04 Zvi Bar'el. In Egypt, democracy has taken on a new meaning haaretz.com

Egypt has avoided a military coup in the usual sense of the word. Mohammed Morsi is no longer president, and the country will now be governed by the head of the Constitutional Court. The Court will appoint a government of technocrats, who will rule until presidential and parliamentary elections are held.
The country will embark once again on its first steps toward democracy, as if no presidential or parliamentary elections had taken place and as if no constitution had been formulated and ratified by referendum. It’s as if the Egyptian revolution only started yesterday. From now on, the country will be managed and supervised by the army, through a civilian representative of its choosing.
Affairs will be conducted following a timetable set by the defense minister, until the army is satisfied that a civilian leadership is capable of assuming the reins of power.
However, this arrangement is not final. The new arrangement was agreed upon by the army and the secular political parties, as well as some of the Salafist movements who opposed Morsi’s rule. The Muslim Brotherhood has yet to give its approval.
If a revolution aimed at fostering democracy is obliged to ultimately rely on the army’s bayonets in order to achieve its aims, a new meaning of democracy will have to be coined. They will have to worry about when and if they will be able to persuade the military to return to its barracks, letting civilians govern the country. Furthermore, they now have to convince everyone that military rule really reflects the popular will.
The fragmented secular opposition again found a common enemy, managing to unite by forming a “Salvation Front” which focused on legal action, without being able to galvanize the masses. Only with the appearance of the hitherto unknown “Tamrud” movement, which overnight became a mass protest movement with its smart initiative of organizing signatures in a petition to remove Morsi, did the political opposition join and lead the street movement. However, just as in the elections for Parliament, this joint movement lacks a commonly accepted leadership, and finds itself yet again requiring the support of the military as the “defenders of democracy”.


2013-06-29 MARK MAZZETTI, C.J.CHIVERS, ERIC SCHMITT. Taking Outsize Role in Syria, Qatar Funnels Arms to Rebels nytimes.com

As an intermittent supply of arms to the Syrian opposition gathered momentum last year, the Obama administration repeatedly implored its Arab allies to keep one type of powerful weapon out of the rebels’ hands: heat-seeking shoulder-fired missiles.
The missiles, American officials warned, could one day be used by terrorist groups, some of them affiliated with Al Qaeda, to shoot down civilian aircraft.
But one country ignored this admonition: Qatar, the tiny, oil- and gas-rich emirate that has made itself the indispensable nation to rebel forces battling calcified Arab governments and that has been shipping arms to the Syrian rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad since 2011.
Since the beginning of the year, according to four American and Middle Eastern officials with knowledge of intelligence reports on the weapons, Qatar has used a shadowy arms network to move at least two shipments of shoulder-fired missiles, one of them a batch of Chinese-made FN-6s, to Syrian rebels who have used them against Mr. Assad’s air force. Deployment of the missiles comes at a time when American officials expect that President Obama’s decision to begin a limited effort to arm the Syrian rebels might be interpreted by Qatar, along with other Arab countries supporting the rebels, as a green light to drastically expand arms shipments.
“They punch immensely above their weight,” one senior Western diplomat said of the Qataris. “They keep everyone off balance by not being in anyone’s pocket.”
“Their influence comes partly from being unpredictable,” the diplomat added.


2013-06-29 Who enlists Russians for the war in Syria sobesednik.ru


2013-06-27 JOHN LYONS. Saudis press John Kerry to raise the heat on Bashar al-Assad regime theaustralian.com.au

SAUDI Arabia is leading a new push to toughen international action against Syria as it escalates its proxy war against its bitter rival, Iran.
The Saudi leadership yesterday intensified pressure on the US to take new measures to stop the "genocide" being committed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad - an apparent call for the rebels to be sent more arms.
At a meeting in Jeddah, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told US Secretary of State John Kerry that Assad could play no role in any future regime.
He also made what appeared to be a call for the US to supply weapons to rebels to try to redress the military advantage of the regime. "Syria is facing a double-edged attack," Prince Saud said. "It is facing genocide by the government and an invasion from outside the government."
He said the regime was receiving "a massive flow of weapons to aid and abet that invasion and that genocide".
"The kingdom demands a clear, unequivocal international resolution that bans any sort of weapons support for the Syrian regime and declares null and void the legitimacy of that regime," he said. "The regime's illegitimacy eliminates any possibility of it being part of any arrangement or playing any role whatsoever in shaping the present and future."
The call for new measures suggests Saudi Arabia may be considering increasing weapons to rebel forces. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two powers of Sunni Islam, have been the main providers of weapons to the Free Syrian Army in its battle against the Assad regime, which is made up of members of the Alawite tribe, an offshoot of Shia Islam.
The US agreed to lift its ban on supplying weapons to rebel forces recently but so far appears to have taken no action.


2013-06-23 Dana El Baltaji. Syrian Rebels’ Car Bomb Explodes Inside Aleppo Military Airport bloomberg.com

Syrian rebels detonated a car bomb inside a military airbase in Aleppo and fired on it with missiles, a U.K.-based opposition group said, ratcheting up the battle for Syria’s commercial capital.
The bomb killed at least 12 government loyalists and destroyed several buildings inside Minnigh Airport, which is partially under rebel control, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mail. Syrian government forces, backed by Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon, launched an offensive earlier this month to try to retake the strategic city, Syria’s largest.
The attack on the airport came a day after the U.S. and 10 other nations pledged to increase support for rebel forces in Syria, without saying what specific steps they would take or how much firepower may be needed.
A top rebel commander has been pleading for weapons, warning they were crucial to turning back advancing government forces, who earlier this month conquered a key central town, al-Qusair, with the help of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
The opposition’s loss of al-Qusair “can be repeated anywhere in Syria,” General Salim Idriss, the Free Syrian Army’s chief of staff, said in a televised interview with Al Jazeera English. “Time is a very important factor. We are asking for anti-aircraft missiles. We need them yesterday. Tomorrow or after tomorrow may be too late.”


2013-06-21 David S.Cloud, Raja Abdulrahim. U.S. has secretly provided arms training to Syria rebels since 2012 latimes.com

CIA operatives and U.S. special operations troops have been secretly training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons since late last year, months before President Obama approved plans to begin directly arming them, according to U.S. officials and rebel commanders.
The covert U.S. training at bases in Jordan and Turkey, along with Obama's decision this month to supply arms and ammunition to the rebels, has raised hope among the beleaguered Syrian opposition that Washington ultimately will provide heavier weapons as well. So far, the rebels say they lack the weapons they need to regain the offensive in the country's bitter civil war.
The tightly constrained U.S. effort reflects Obama's continuing doubts about being drawn into a conflict that has already killed more than 100,000 people and his administration's fear that Islamic militants now leading the war against President Bashar Assad could gain control of advanced U.S. weaponry.
The training has involved fighters from the Free Syrian Army, a loose confederation of rebel groups that the Obama administration has promised to back with expanded military assistance, said a U.S. official, who discussed the effort anonymously because he was not authorized to disclose details.
The number of rebels given U.S. instruction in Jordan and Turkey could not be determined, but in Jordan, the training involves 20 to 45 insurgents at a time, a rebel commander said.
U.S. special operations teams selected the trainees over the last year when the U.S. military set up regional supply lines to provide the rebels with nonlethal assistance, including uniforms, radios and medical aid.
he two-week courses include training with Russian-designed 14.5-millimeter antitank rifles, anti-tank missiles and 23-millimeter antiaircraft weapons, according to a rebel commander in the Syrian province of Dara who helps oversee weapons acquisitions and who asked that his name not be used because the program is secret.
The training began in November at a new American base in the desert in southwestern Jordan, he said. So far, about 100 rebels from Dara have attended four courses, and rebels from Damascus, the Syrian capital, have attended three, he said.
"Those from the CIA, we would sit and talk with them during breaks from training, and afterward they would try to get information on the situation" in Syria, he said.
The rebels were promised enough armor-piercing anti-tank weapons and other arms to gain a military advantage over Assad's better-equipped army and security forces, the Dara commander said. But arms shipments from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, provided with assent from the Americans, took months to arrive and included less than the rebels had expected.


2013-06-20 What Russia and US will discuss on G20 meeting echo.msk.ru


2013-06-19 Assad's henchmen urged to launch coup in Syria theaustralian.com.au

PRESIDENT Assad's henchmen would be allowed a role in a rebuilt Syria, world leaders said yesterday in an attempt to encourage a coup against the dictator.
Senior figures in the military, security services, and across the Government would survive after Assad had gone, G8 leaders promised at the close of the summit in Northern Ireland.
The commitment was in part an attempt to learn the lessons of Iraq, where the swift disbanding of Saddam Hussein's military and political apparatus triggered violent sectarian conflict lasting years. But it was also designed to encourage those close to the dictator to depose him from within.
David Cameron said that the G8 wanted to persuade Assad loyalists who knew "in their hearts" that he must go that Syria would not collapse into hopeless instability without him.
But hopes of swift progress towards peace talks were dashed when an isolated President Putin of Russia defied pressure from the other seven leaders.
Mr Putin blocked proposals to start a Geneva peace process next month and also refused to cut Assad loose, despite revelations of a diplomatic showdown over dinner on Monday night.
The former KGB operative also ended the summit on a fractious note when he raised the violent murder of Drummer Lee Rigby as a warning against arming Syrian rebels.


2013-06-19 Syria troops fight rebels near Shiite shrine usatoday.com

Syrian troops backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters clashed Wednesday with rebel forces south of a Damascus suburb that is home to a major Shiite Musim shrine in an attempt to secure the area surrounding the revered site, activists said.
State TV said its forces was able to clear rebels out of one neighborhood, al-Bahdaliya, outside the suburb of Sayida Zeinab, home to the ornate, gold-domed shrine of Sayida Zeinab, the Prophet Muhammad's granddaughter. Meanwhile, rebel forces claimed they took control of a hospital in a village south of the shrine neighborhood, from which they were battling regime forces and allied militias.
Opposition fighters control several suburbs of the capital, trying to threaten the heart of the city, seat of President Bashar Assad's power. But the regime has largely been able to keep them at bay.
The area surrounding the Sayida Zeinab suburb, about 10 miles south of Damascus, has seen fighting before. But the regime forces and Shiite Hezbollah fighters launched an intensified assault there on Monday, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The assault appears aimed at decisively pushing rebels back and securing the suburb of the shrine, said Abdul-Rahman. The Observatory is a Britain-based group of anti-regime activists that has a network of activists on the ground.
Before the war, Shiite pilgrims from outside Syria regularly visited the shrine. Last year, rebels kidnapped Iranian pilgrims visiting the area, accusing them of being spies.
Now protection of the shrine has become a rallying cry for Shiite fighters backing Assad. Lebanese guerrillas from Hezbollah as well as Iraqi Shiite militiamen have been reported fighting in the area in the past weeks, though it was not clear of Iraqis were involved in the new assault.


2013-06-18 Andrew Osborn, Maria Golovnina. Russia's Putin torpedoes G8 efforts to oust Assad reuters.com

Russia's Vladimir Putin derailed Barack Obama's efforts to win backing for the downfall of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad at a G8 summit on Tuesday, warning the West that arms supplied to the rebels could be used for attacks on European soil.
No date was mentioned for a peace conference called by Moscow and Washington, which was supposed to take place next month but now appears to be on hold, after the United States announced last week that it would arm the rebels.
A source at the summit said the peace conference would now be put off at least until August.
Putin struck a defiant tone: he hinted that Obama had tried to isolate Russia, that other leaders were divided, and that plans to send arms to Syrian rebels could lead to murders such as that of a British soldier on a busy London street last month.
"British people have lately witnessed a tragedy, and we lived through it together, when right in the streets of London a British army serviceman was brutally murdered outside his barracks," Putin said.
"Is it these people that the Europeans want to supply arms? What happens next with those weapons? Who will control in which hands they end up? They could possibly (end up) in Europe."
Obama and his allies want Assad to cede power while Putin, whose rhetoric has become increasingly anti-Western since he was re-elected last year, believes that would be disastrous at a time when no clear transition plan exists.


2013-06-18 Patrick Wintour. Putin dashes G8 hopes for Syria breakthrough guardian.co.uk

Hopes that the G8 summit would set out a clear route map to end the bloody civil war in Syria have been dashed after Vladimir Putin, insisted he could not back a peace conference convened on the assumption that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, would step down.
The prime minister, David Cameron, had been hoping for "a moment of clarity" at the summit in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, so that world leaders could agree the terms of a peace conference leading to a transitional government with executive powers.
Sources said it was now unlikely that a peace conference would take place in July, since the Russian president could not agree with the other G8 leaders on the terms of a post-Assad cabinet. The Russians insist that both sides attending any peace conference should be able to choose their own delegations.
Cameron had pushed hard for an agreement at a working dinner on Monday night, and then returned to the issue for an unscheduled second time at a session billed to focus on counter-terrorism. Putin refused to shift despite pressure from all other members of the G8.
Russia, sponsors of the Assad regime, has for months said it can bring the Syrian government to the peace talks but refused to accept a precondition involving Assad's departure. The G8 communique is likely to focus on the need in principle for a political settlement, and a stepping up of humanitarian aid.
The French president, François Hollande, had hoped the G8 might be able to agree a date for the start of the Geneva talks, or the detailed terms of a political process.
The continued disagreement means the focus is likely to shift to the kind of arms Barack Obama is willing to give the Syrian opposition, and whether the British and French will follow suit. The US president has declared he is willing to step up arms supplies, but has given no details. Cameron is facing fierce resistance from the Liberal Democrats and his own party on the issue. Labour is also sceptical.


2013-06-18 Vladimir Putin: Russia and US to draft Syria peace plan bbc.co.uk

Russia and the US will be responsible for drafting the "underlying principles" of a settlement to help end the Syrian crisis, the Russian president has confirmed.
Speaking at the end of the two-day summit in Northern Ireland, Vladimir Putin said some G8 members had agreed with the Russian position, that there was no proof that the ruling Assad regime had used chemical weapons, but that there were cases of opposition forces being caught with them.
The Russian president said that all evidence would be presented to the UN Security Council with Russia, as a permanent member, "actively assessing the situation".


2013-06-17 Amena Bakr. Saudi supplying missiles to Syria rebels: Gulf source reuters.com

Saudi Arabia, a staunch opponent of President Bashar al-Assad since early in Syria's conflict, began supplying anti-aircraft missiles to rebels "on a small scale" about two months ago, a Gulf source said on Monday.
The shoulder-fired weapons were obtained mostly from suppliers in France and Belgium, the source told Reuters. France had paid for the transport of the weapons to the region.
The supplies were intended for General Salim Idriss, leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), who was still the kingdom's main "point man" in the opposition, the source said.
The Gulf source said without elaborating that the kingdom had begun taking a more active role in the Syrian conflict in recent weeks due to the intensification of the conflict.
A foreign ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.


2013-06-17 British PM Cameron: Russia must push for Syria talks usatoday.com

Russia must push factions in Syria's civil war to the negotiating table as rapidly as possible and not back a government that slaughters its citizens, Britain's prime minister David Cameron said Monday.
In a blunt assessment, Cameron conceded that a large gap remains between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Britain, France and United States about what to do about Syria. But he said Monday's Group of Eight talks could narrow the ground and make multi-faction peace talks on Syria's future government possible.
Cameron said Russia must join the West in seeking a democratic transition from the autocratic government of Bashar al-Assad, "so that people in Syria can have a government that represents them, rather than a government that's trying to butcher them."


2013-06-17 Shoula Romano Horing. Assad must not win ynetnews.com

Those in the administration, who claim that it is unclear what national interest the US has in preventing an Assad victory, ignore the following.
First, if Assad wins, the US will lose the remainder of its credibility and its deterrence power in the Middle East. It took six months after chemical weapons were first used by the Assad regime against the rebels for the US to acknowledging that fact, despite the fact that the UN, Britain and France had already confirmed its use. Moreover, Obama’s hesitancy to help the rebels for over two years has encouraged thousands of Hezbollah fighters to cross the border from Lebanon into Syria and to publicly declared a month ago their intention to fight on behalf of Assad despite Obama’s warnings against outside intervention. It was Hezbollah forces who drove the rebels out of Qusair and Assad’s forces are now advancing on the rebel dominated area of Aleppo.
Second, If Assad wins, Russia’s military and diplomatic loyalty to Assad will make Moscow once again an attractive ally too many of the Gulf Sunni nations who are already suspicious of Obama after his betrayal of Mubarak, and who are worried about Iranian ambitions.
Third, Iran will become stronger than ever. A weakened Assad will owe everything to Iran, and become its puppet. Moreover, Iran will doubt Obama’s resolve in preventing them from developing nuclear weapons.
Fourth, Hezbollah will become stronger by sharing Syria’s dangerous arsenal and by influencing a weakened Assad to be more militant against Israel. Syria’s last war against Israel was in 1973, but since then Israel has had at least two wars with Hezbollah.
Fifth, the sectarian war will spread. Hezbollah military’s involvement against the Sunnis has transformed it from a revolutionary force to a sectarian one. A Shiite victory will pose a threat to Jordan and Iraq as well as the Gulf States.
An Assad win over the rebels will unravel decades of American influence in the Middle East and endanger Israel in the process.


2013-06-16 Morsi's Syria stance influenced by US: Egyptian opposition english.ahram.org.eg

Egypt's April 6 Movement (the Democratic Front) issued a statement Saturday accusing President Mohamed Morsi of capitalising on Syrian blood and promoting a US agenda with his decision to cut ties with Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria.
"We are surprised about Morsi’s condemnation of foreign intervention in Syria, being that he also demands a no-fly zone over Syria, which would allow for foreign intervention," read the statement, referring to the president’s comments Saturday during a conference organised by Islamists in support of the Syrian uprising.
The implementation of no-fly zone would require the destruction of Syria's Russian-built air defences.
"Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have no shame in trading on anything, even the blood of martyrs in Syria, in order to win the sympathy of Egyptians," added the statement, pointing out that Morsi’s call to support the opposition coincides with Washington's decision on Thursday to supply Syria's rebels with weapons.
Morsi did not mention plans to arm the Syrian opposition, however he stressed that "Egypt and its army will support Syrians until their rights are granted and a new elected leadership is chosen."
In their statement, the April 6 Movement also denounced what they perceived as a threatening tone in Morsi's speech.
"Misleading the people with false threats of the former regime's return is nothing but the talk of a fascist regime," read the statement.
Morsi warned on Saturday about the "remnants of the former regime who want to drag the country to chaos."
In a related statement, the April 6 Movement mocked the pro-Syria conference that Morsi attended, saying that the Islamist organisers of the event required Washington's approval.
“The decision to open the doors of Jihad is coming from Washington sponsored by … Salafist Sheikhs,” read the statement, which went on to denounce Sheikh Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud for calling those who plan to take part in the 30 June rallies "infidels."
Meanwhile, leader of the Salafist Al-Asala party Ehab Shiha issued a statement to refute claims that Morsi is acting under US influence regarding Syria, suggesting instead that an Islamic coalition had called on the president to declare his position on the Syrian regime.
Although the US announced on Thursday that it would arm Syrian rebels following revelations that Assad used chemical weapons against the opposition fighters, Shiha stressed that Morsi had made up his mind earlier in June.


2013-06-16 Patrick Wintour. Syria: Putin backs Assad and berates west over proposal to arm rebels guardian.co.uk

A diplomatic breakthrough on the Syrian civil war at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland appeared unlikely when the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, chastised the west for considering arming Syrian rebels, saying they ate human organs. He said Russia by contrast was arming the legitimate government of Syria.
Speaking after a difficult meeting with Putin in Downing Street, David Cameron claimed both men were in agreement on the need to end the human catastrophe of the civil war. But there was little to suggest the two men made progress on how to convene a fresh Syrian peace conference in Geneva, let alone who should attend, or its agenda.
In icy exchanges at a press conference, Putin said: "You will not deny that one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras. Are these the people you want to support? Is it them who you want to supply with weapons? Then this probably has little relation to humanitarian values that have been preached in Europe for hundreds of years."
In a sign of deteriorating relations among the G8, the Canadian prime minister, Steve Harper, claimed Putin was backing Assad's "thugs".
"I don't think we should fool ourselves," he said. "This is G7 plus one. We in the west have a very different perspective on this situation. Mr Putin and his government are supporting the thugs of the Assad regime for their own reasons that I do not think are justifiable, and Mr Putin knows my view on that."


2013-06-16 SUZANNAH HILLS. Iran to send 4,000 troops to support President Assad in Syria as British Armed Forces play war games on border dailymail.co.uk

Iran is preparing to send 4,000 troops in to Syria to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the wake of America's announcement it will be providing 'military aid' to the country's Muslim rebels.
President Barack Obama made the pledge earlier this week after the U.S. claimed it found 'conclusive evidence' Assad's regime has used chemical weapons against the rebel forces - which includes the most extreme Sunni Islamists - and has called for Britain and France to back the move.
While Britain hasn't made a guarantee either way as yet, more than 350 Royal Marines are being sent to Jordan as part of an 8,000-strong 'multinational exercise', further increasing tensions in the war-torn region.
America now finds itself on the side of the wealthiest states and Sunni territories of the Arab Gulf - from Egypt to Morocco, Turkey and the British-created monarchy in Jordan.
On the other side of the divide is Iran and the largely Shiite Iraq which the West 'liberated' from Saddam Hussein’s Sunni minority in the hope of balancing the power of the region.
But as well as causing a divide between the Sunni and Shiite factions of the Middle East, tensions are increasing between America and Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his opposition to any move by the West to supply arms to the Syrian opposition.
He responded to the recent lifting of the EU arms embargo by reaffirming his intention to supply President Bashar al-Assad with sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles in order to deter 'hotheads' from intervening in the conflict.
And following America's announcement it will provide 'military aid' to Syrian rebels, Assad this weekend suggested on Lebanese TV that Syria may have received the first shipment of an advanced Russian air defence system after Moscow promised S-300 missiles.
David Cameron is due to meet with Mr Putin for talks on the Syrian crisis amid fears that differences between Moscow and the West are pushing the two sides towards a new Cold War.


2013-06-15 Conal Urquhart. Tony Blair calls for west to intervene in Syria conflict guardian.co.uk

Britain should arm the Syrian rebels and consider imposing a no-fly zone over Syria to prevent "catastrophic consequences", Tony Blair has said.
The former prime minister said the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government and the involvement of Iran in the civil war meant intervention was necessary.
"You've got the intervention of Hezbollah, at the instigation of Iran. The other big change is the use of chemical weapons. Once you allow that to happen – and this will be the first time since Saddam used them in the 1980s – you run the risk of it then becoming an acceptable form of warfare, for both sides," he told the Times.
This week the US said it would arm Syrian rebels after claiming to have evidence that the regime of Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons – although it did not reveal its evidence or say when and where the weapons were used.
Discussions are under way between the US and key foreign allies over options for further intervention in the conflict, including a no-fly zone, and are likely to come to a head during the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, when Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin are scheduled to hold bilateral discussions.
Britain has urged the European Union to lift an arms embargo on the Syrian rebels but has not yet decided to transport arms.
Blair said the conflict was no longer a civil war. "We should be taking a more interventionist line. You don't have to send in troops, but the international community should think about installing no-fly zones," he said. "You've got to create the circumstances in which Assad is not able to change the balance of power within the struggle by the use of outside forces."
Alice Thomson, Rachel Sylvester. Syria’s rebels want democracy – so we should be helping to arm them’


2013-06-15 Damien McElroy, Jon Swaine. Russia says Syrian no-fly zone would be illegal telegraph.co.uk

As David Cameron prepared to host a meeting of leaders of the G8 group of industrialised nations, at which he will attempt to forge a consensus on how to tackled the Assad regime, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, also dismissed Western allegations that Syria had used chemical weapons against rebels.
Mr Lavrov was speaking on the eve of key talks starting with a meeting on Sunday afternoon between Vladimir Putin and David Cameron at Downing Street.
“The regime doesn’t have its back to the wall. What would be the sense of the regime using chemical weapons, moreover at such a small quantity?” he said.
Meanwhile just one day after President Barack Obama announced that the US should arm Syria’s opposition forces, John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, warned that the time for diplomacy to resolve the conflict was running out.


2013-06-15 Egypt's Islamist president cuts relations with Syria, orders Damascus embassy in Cairo shut startribune.com

Egypt's Islamist president says he is cutting off diplomatic relations with Syria and has ordered that Damascus Embassy in Cairo to be closed.
Mohammed Morsi told thousands of supporters in a rally held on Saturday that his government is also withdrawing the Egyptian charge d'affaires from Damascus.
Morsi also called on Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group to leave Syria, where the Iranian-backed Shiite group has been fighting alongside troops loyal to embattled President Bashar Assad against the mostly Sunni rebels.


2013-06-15 Oliver Holmes. U.S. puts jets in Jordan, fuels Russian fear of Syria no-fly zone in.reuters.com

The United States said on Saturday it would keep F-16 fighters and Patriot missiles in Jordan at Amman's request, and Russia bristled at the possibility they could be used to enforce a no-fly zone inside Syria.
Washington, which has long called for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, pledged military support to Syrian rebels this week, citing what it said was the Syrian military's use of chemical weapons - an allegation Damascus has denied.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has approved a Jordanian request for American F-16s and Patriot missiles to remain in the Western-backed kingdom after a joint military exercise there next week, a Pentagon spokesman said.
The FSA was set up by defectors from the Syrian military in August 2011, but many rebel factions operate independently.
Assad's armed forces have remained relatively cohesive, although a Turkish official said 71 Syrian army officers, including six generals, had just defected to Turkey, in the biggest such mass desertion in months.
Western nations have stopped short of arming Syrian rebels or mounting an air campaign as they did, with U.N. approval, to help Libyan insurgents topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Intervening against Assad is considered riskier because Syria has a stronger military, sits on the sectarian faultlines of the Middle East, and is supported by Iran and Russia, which has vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria.
Yet an apparent shift in the military balance in Assad's favour, especially with the arrival of thousands of Shi'ite fighters from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, has made his swift removal look unlikely without outside intervention.
However, Israel's defence minister suggested the pendulum could still swing the other way, despite the capture this month of Qusair, a former rebel stronghold near the Lebanese border.
"Bashar al-Assad's victory in Qusair was not a turning point in the Syrian civil war, and I do not believe that he has the momentum to win," said Moshe Yaalon, who is visiting Washington.
"He controls just 40 percent of the territory in Syria. Hezbollah is involved in the fighting in Syria and has suffered many casualties in the battles, and as far as we know, it is more than 1,000 casualties," Yaalon said in a statement.
"We should be prepared for a long civil war with ups and downs."


2013-06-14 Parisa Hafezi, Matt Spetalnick. U.S. considering no-fly zone after Syria crosses nerve gas "red line" mobile.reuters.com

The United States is considering imposing a no-fly zone in Syria, its first direct military intervention of the two-year-old civil war, Western diplomats said on Friday, after the White House said Syria had crossed a "red line" by using nerve gas.
After months of equivocating, President Barack Obama's administration said on Thursday it would now arm rebels, having obtained proof the Syrian government used chemical weapons against fighters trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
Two senior Western diplomats said Washington is mulling a no-fly zone close to Syria's southern border with Jordan.
"Washington is considering a no-fly zone to help Assad's opponents," one diplomat said. He said it would be limited "time-wise and area-wise, possibly near the Jordanian border", without giving details.
Imposing a no-fly zone would require the United States to destroy Syria's air defenses, entering the two-year-old civil war with the sort of action that NATO used to help topple Muammar Gaddafi in Libya two years ago.
The area near the Jordanian border contains some of the most densely-populated parts of Syria, including the outskirts of the capital Damascus.
Washington has moved Patriot surface-to-air missiles, war planes and more than 4,000 troops into Jordan in the past week, officially as part of an annual exercise but making clear that the forces deployed could stay on when the war games are over.
ynetnews.com


2013-06-14 PAUL SONNE. Russia Hits Back at U.S. Over Syria online.wsj.com

The Kremlin Friday dismissed as unconvincing evidence that U.S. officials provided of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons and criticized Washington's decision to arm Syrian opposition fighters, but stopped short of threatening to deliver air-defense missiles to the Assad government in response.
A senior Kremlin official said Moscow is "not yet" discussing the delivery of the advanced air-defense system in the wake of the U.S. decision. Last month, Russian officials threatened to fulfill the 2010 contract for the S-300 missiles as a way to deter potential outside military intervention in the two-year-old Syrian civil war. Western powers and Israel have staunchly opposed the sale of the system.
Both Moscow and the U.S. are pushing the warring sides in Syria to enter peace talks in the coming months. But opposition forces have appealed for more weapons and support in recent weeks as they've lost ground against Mr. Assad's troops and their allies from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group. The Kremlin opposes any international action against its longtime client, Mr. Assad, and has been skeptical of past Western claims that his forces were using chemical weapons.
Thursday, President Barack Obama authorized the U.S. administration to arm fighters against the Assad regime, reversing a long-running policy of giving only nonlethal support to the country's opposition. The White House cited confirmation that Mr. Assad's regime had killed up to 150 people with chemical weapons as the reason for its about-face.


2013-06-14 Turkish media: 73 Syrian officers, families cross border english.alarabiya.net

Turkey’s state-run news agency says 73 Syrian military officers - including seven generals and 20 colonels - have crossed the border with their families “seeking refuge” in Turkey.
The Anadolu Agency said Friday that the group totaled 202 people. It said they arrived in the town of Reyhanli and were taken to a Turkish refugee camp that houses military officers who have defected from the Syrian army.
The report did not say when they had arrived.


2013-06-13 Josh Rogin. Bill Clinton: Obama May Look Like a ‘Wuss’ Over Syria thedailybeast.com

In sharp remarks directed against his Democratic successor and his wife’s former boss, President Bill Clinton said Tuesday that President Barack Obama risks looking like a “wuss,” a “fool,” and “lame” for not doing more to influence events in Syria.
Clinton, speaking with Sen. John McCain Tuesday night in a closed press event sponsored by the McCain Institute, contrasted Obama’s inaction in Syria to his own action in the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo, which included the bombing of the forces of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Clinton said a president must look beyond public and congressional reluctance to military intervention for the sake of national security and to save lives.
“You just think how lame you’d be … suppose I had let a million people, two million people be refugees out of Kosovo, a couple hundred thousand people die, and they say, ‘You could have stopped this by dropping a few bombs. Why didn’t you do it?’ And I say, ‘because the House of Representatives voted 75 percent against it?’” Clinton said. “You look like a total wuss, and you would be.”
Responding to a question from McCain about how he views Obama’s Syria policy, Clinton said that any president who avoids a military intervention in order to satisfy short-term political objectives would come to regret it in the end.


2013-06-13 Sunni clerics issue fatwa calling for all forms of Jihad in Syria middle-east-online.com

Leading Sunni Muslim clerics issued a call to jihad in Syria on Thursday at a meeting in Cairo which condemned the conflict as a "war on Islam" and said believers should use all means to ensure victory.
In one of the most powerful statements yet for holy war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Shi'ite allies from Iran and Lebanon, Islamic scholars from across the Arab world agreed a statement read by a prominent Egyptian preacher:
"Jihad is necessary for the victory of our brothers in Syria - jihad with mind, money, weapons; all forms of jihad," Mohamed Hassan said, adding that more than 70 organizations represented had called for "support, whatever will save the Syrian people".
"What is happening to our brothers on Syrian soil, in terms of violence stemming from the Iranian regime, Hezbollah and its sectarian allies, counts as a declaration of war on Islam and the Muslim community in general," Hassan said.
Lebanon's Iran-backed Shiite movement has been fighting alongside the forces of President Bashar Al-Assad, a member of the Alawite offshoot of Shia Islam, against Syria's mainly Sunni rebels.
Among those present were Youssef al-Qaradawi, a high-profile Egyptian preacher based in Qatar, and a senior scholar from Egypt's leading religious academy Al-Azhar, Hassan al-Shafai.


2013-06-12 France says Syrian army must be stopped before Aleppo france24.com

France on Wednesday urged the international community to stop the progression of Syrian troops, backed by Hezbollah fighters and Iran, towards the strategic northern town of Aleppo.
After winning a strategic victory by retaking Qusayr, an important town near the border with Lebanon, Syrian troops are now focusing their attention on Aleppo as they continue to gain ground against the rebels.
"We must stop this progression before Aleppo. It is the next target of Hezbollah and of the Iranians," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on France 2 television.
"We need to re-balance things because over the past few weeks the troops of Bashar al-Assad (Syrian leader) and especially Hezbollah and the Iranians, along with Russian arms, have gained considerable ground."
But he did not expand on how Syrian troops, buoyed by military support from its Shiite allies Hezbollah and Iran, should be stopped.
almanar.com.lb


2013-06-12 Reports of 'massacre' in eastern Syria aljazeera.com

Syrian rebels have attacked a village in the country's east, killing dozens of Shia Muslims, activists said.
A Syrian government official on Wednesday denounced the attack that occurred a day earlier, saying it was a “massacre'' of civilians.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 60 people were killed in the village of Hatla in the oil-rich province of Deir al-Zour, bordering Iraq.
A video supplied by the Observatory showed masked fighters shouting, “Here are the Mujahidin [Islamist fighters] celebrating entering the homes of the rejectionists, the Shias.” The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified.
The fighters added that they “burned the homes” of the Shia residents.
The reported killings highlight the sectarian nature of Syria's conflict that has killed more than 94,000 people, according to the UN. Both sides in the fighting have been accused of abuses, with the UN saying that war crimes are a "daily reality" in Syria.
Thousands of rebels took part in the attack and at least 10 of them were killed in the fighting, said the Observatory.
In Damascus, a government official told the AP news agency that the rebels “carried out a massacre against villagers in which older people and children were killed".


2013-06-10 Steinitz: Assad may prevail in Syria's civil war jpost.com

Strategic affairs minister says the Syrian president might not just survive, but also regain territories; gov't officials stress that despite Steinitz's comments, Israel doesn't have a formal position on Assad's prospects.
Syrian President Bashar Assad, backed by Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah, may prevail in the more than two-year-old uprising against him, International Relations and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday.
Though the assessment was quickly disavowed by others in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition government, it reflected the difficulties facing Israel and Western countries in predicting Syria's destiny and weighing intervention.
"I always thought that it might be the case that at the end of the day Assad, with a very strong Iranian and Hezbollah backing, might gain the upper hand," Steinitz said.
"And I think that this is possible and I thought that this is possible already a long time ago."
Steinitz, who is not a member of the security cabinet but does have access to intelligence updates as well as Netanyahu's ear, said Assad's government "might not just survive but even regain territories" from the rebels.


2013-06-08 Basma Atassi. Qaeda chief arbitrates Syria’s 'jihad crisis' aljazeera.com

Al-Qaeda’s top boss Ayman al-Zawahiri has ruled against the merger of two jihadi groups based in Syria and Iraq.
Two months ago, the leader the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) - the largest jihadi umbrella group in the country - unilaterally declared a merger with the Syrian-based Jabhat al-Nusra to form a new group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The leadership of Jabhat al-Nusra, considered a "terrorist organisation" by the US for its affiliation with al-Qaeda, balked at the declaration by the head of ISI, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Al-Nusra is considered to be one of the most effective armed groups in the battle to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The divisions and turf battles between commanders prompted the head of al-Nusra, Abu Muhammad al-Joulani, to send a letter to Zawahiri in Afghanistan to arbitrate between the two groups.
Zawahiri’s verdict came this week in letters sent to Joulani and Baghdadi.
According to sources in both groups, al-Zawahiri ruled that the official branch of al-Qaeda in Syria will be al-Nusra.
Baghdadi's command is limited to Iraq, according to a note that Joulani circulated to his fighters relaying the wishes of Zawahiri. This note was seen by Al Jazeera.


2013-06-08 MICHAEL R.GORDON. Syrian Opposition Says It Rejects Talks Unless Rebels Get Arms nytimes.com

The Syrian opposition will not attend the proposed Geneva conference on the crisis in Syria unless rebel fighters receive new supplies of arms and ammunition, the top rebel military commander said Friday.
“If we don’t receive ammunition and weapons to change the position on the ground, to change the balance on the ground, very frankly I can say we will not go to Geneva,” Gen. Salim Idris said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in northern Syria. “There will be no Geneva.”
Secretary of State John Kerry announced in May that the United States and Russia planned to organize an international meeting that would bring together representatives of President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the Syrian opposition. The aim of the meeting, which has emerged as the centerpiece of Mr. Kerry’s Syria strategy, is to negotiate a transitional government that would take control if Mr. Assad agreed to vacate his position. A date for the Geneva conference has yet to be set.
But since that announcement, Mr. Assad’s military position has been strengthened by flights of arms from Iran and the involvement of thousands of fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group. The change of fortunes on the battlefield was illustrated last week when the Syrian military and Hezbollah fighters captured the town of Qusayr.
General Idris said that he supported the idea of a Geneva meeting in principle, but was worried that it would backfire if it occurred before the rebel position was strengthened with new supplies of arms and ammunition.
Going to the “Geneva conference is a Western idea, but we have to be powerful on the ground as F.S.A., as opposition,” he said, using the initials for the rebels’ Free Syrian Army.
“What can we ask for when we go very weak to Geneva?” he said. “The Russians and the Iranians and the representatives of the regime will say: ‘You don’t have any power. We are controlling everything. What you are coming to ask for?’ ”
General Idris leads the Supreme Military Council, the military wing of the opposition that the United States is backing. Rebel fighters also include extremists from the Nusra Front, which is allied with Al Qaeda and is not part of the council.


2013-06-06 S.Strokan. Problems with confrence on Syria kommersant.ru


2013-06-05 Martin Chulov. Syrian town of Qusair falls to Hezbollah in breakthrough for Assad guardian.co.uk

The Syrian border town of Qusair has fallen to Hezbollah forces after a three-week siege that pitched the powerful Lebanese Shia militia against several thousand Sunni rebels in what had been billed as a defining battle of the civil war.
Rebel groups released a statement early on Wednesday confirming that they had pulled out of the strategic town in the early hours. Rebel fighters are believed to have taken refuge in hamlets near Syria's third city, Homs, around 20 miles (30km) to the north.
Outgunned since the siege began, rebels inside the town said they had no option but to flee "in face of this huge arsenal and lack of supplies and the blatant intervention of Hezbollah".
"Dozens of fighters stayed behind and ensured the withdrawal of their comrades along with the civilians," the statement said.
The fate of residents who remained as the battle raged remains unclear. Rebel leaders from the town who contacted the Guardian earlier this week said more than 15,000 people had stayed in their homes from a prewar population of around 30,000.


2013-06-05 Nasser Chararah. After Qusair, Is Hezbollah Finished in Syria? al-monitor.com

The battle for Qusair ended when the Syrian city fell to Hezbollah and Syrian regime forces on June 5 after a three-week assault against militant rebel fighters. It is no longer a secret that Hezbollah units were the main fighting force in the conflict, with the Syrian army’s role limited mostly to providing weapons support. During the fighting, Hezbollah carried out dozens of land assault operations. According to accounts attributed to Hezbollah fighters returning from the field, during the first days of the assault, the organization's units faced problems that its military leadership had not foreseen and that led to a number of losses among attacking units. Based on these accounts, the problems can be surmised as follows.
Hezbollah was surprised that many of its supposedly secret military tactics were known by the militants in Qusair, allowing them to prepare effective countermeasures. It is now widely believed within the party’s ranks that it was Hamas that divulged these secrets to the Qusair militants. Hezbollah and Hamas had had close military and security ties going back two decades. According to information leaked by sources inside Hezbollah, most of the sniping and booby-trap tactics that the party had shared with Hamas during joint training exercises in Lebanon and Syria were also used by the militants in Qusair. This, it is said, proves that Hamas partnered with Syrian opposition forces in the battle, at least in terms of providing technical assistance. Other information, as of yet unconfirmed, supposedly points to Hamas directly taking part in the Qusair battle with fighting units of its own.
The second problem Hezbollah faced during the first phase of the attack involved security breaches within the Syrian army. Although limited, they had a negative impact on the execution of the plans laid to vanquish the militants and drive them from their fortified positions in the context of a logistically complicated battle, such as that waged in Qusair.
The third problem stemmed from Hezbollah underestimating the ferocity and advanced fighting skills of the militants. As a result, the party was forced to modify its offensive tactics on more than one occasion, ultimately deciding to slow its rate of attack and ordering its units to advance and take control of small areas where a defensive perimeter had been established and backed by a rear line of support. Following each successful advance, the units would then move on to occupy new, equally small areas. This revised tactic, combined with effective tackling of the other problems encountered, led to a significant reduction in casualties among the party’s ranks during the last week of the battle.
According to sources close to Hezbollah, Qusair represented a test during which the party’s fighting capabilities were measured on more than one strategic level. First, the organization tested the cohesiveness of its popular base and the latter’s trust in the weighty decisions taken by its leadership. The sources noted that Hezbollah’s leadership was itself surprised by the level of support exhibited by its base, which took the lead in this battle and proved that it was willing to offer the most precious of sacrifices toward its success.
Second, the party’s fighting units for the first time waged a battle against forces similarly driven by a strong religious ideology and utilizing much of the same war-fighting tactics as Hezbollah. The party’s military leadership is being lauded as having proven itself capable of learning in the heat of battle and militarily adapting to developments on the ground.
One question remains: With the end of the battle for Qusair, will Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah appear before his supporters to say," As I have promised you, I now declare victory complete, and the party’s task in Syria accomplished," or was the battle but one in a successive number of rounds to be fought by the party in the long and difficult struggle for Syria?


2013-06-05 US condemns Syria regime’s capture of key town, says Syria also attacked Lebanese border town washingtonpost.com

The White House is condemning the Syrian regime’s capture of a strategic border town and says the involvement of Lebanese Hezbollah threatens Lebanon’s stability.
Syrian troops and their Hezbollah allies captured Qusair Wednesday after a three-week battle. It was a severe blow to rebels and opened the door for President Bashar Assad’s regime to seize back the country’s central heartland.
White House spokesman Jay Carney says Assad’s regime clearly couldn’t wrest control of Qusair (koo-SAY’-er) alone and had to rely on help from Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Carney says Syria’s government must allow the U.N. and others to evacuate Qusair’s wounded and provide medical treatment.
Carney also says the Syrian regime blatantly violated Lebanon’s sovereignty by mounting a cross-border attack Wednesday on a mainly Sunni town in Lebanon near the Syrian border.


2013-06-04 Moshe Arens. Russia’s dubious air game in Syria haaretz.com

...during the first Lebanon war, the IAF tilted the balance between air power and ground-based anti-air missiles back in favor of air power. Syria's Soviet-made SA-2, SA-3 and SA-6 batteries deployed in Lebanon were destroyed in one day without the loss of a single Israeli aircraft. Technological advances and clever tactics had neutralized the batteries. Faced with the defeat of the much-touted Soviet weapons system, there was great consternation in Moscow. The Soviets went to work developing more-advanced surface-to- air missile systems. The premier example is the S-300, a mobile, long-range system using phased-array radar, first developed in the Soviet Union and now manufactured and improved in Russia. It has become a major Russian export and has been sold to many countries including China, Algeria and Greece. Russia has signed a contract to sell this system to Syria, although it's uncertain when delivery will take place. It's not certain that the introduction of this system has regained the advantage that surface-to-air missiles enjoyed in the 70s, substantially changing the balance between air power and anti-aircraft systems. In any case, its deployment in Syria constitutes a significant upgrade in Syria's anti-aircraft capabilities and would be a challenge for the IAF. What would happen in a duel between the IAF and the S-300 system deployed in Syria? That's a question of great interest not only to Israel and Syria, but also to the powers that be in Moscow. Should the Russians conclude that the IAF is likely to overcome the S-300, the loss of prestige and marketability of that system might outweigh the immediate financial benefits of the sale to Syria. Even the sale's contribution in enhancing Russia's political position vis-à-vis the West in Syria might turn out to be a very dubious asset. In that case, the Syrians may have to wait a long time before the S-300 system is delivered.


2013-06-04 A.Kozhinov. On sending S-300 to Syria ej.ru


2013-06-04 A.Malashenko. The way to the conference on Syria is complicated vedomosti.ru


2013-06-04 Fred Weir. Putin: Russian hasn't sent S-300 missiles to Syria, won't preserve 'stability' csmonitor.com

Russia has changed its story, yet again, about its intention to fulfill a 3-year old contract to sell "game-changing" S-300 advanced air defense systems to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Now the answer is "no."
In direct contradiction to what top Russian officials were saying just last week, President Vladimir Putin told European Union leaders at a summit in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg Tuesday that Russia has suspended the $900 million contract to supply six batteries and 144 long range, deadly-accurate surface-to-air missiles, in the interests of preserving stability in the turbulent Middle East.
"The S-300 systems are, really, one of the best air defense systems in the world, probably the best," Mr. Putin told the leaders, who included EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
"We do not want to disturb the balance in the region. The contract was signed several years ago. It has not yet been realized," Russian news media quoted Putin as saying.
Just last month Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Putin at his summer residence in Sochi and begged him not to supply the missiles to Syria. Mr. Netanyahu said the S-300s would threaten planes flying in Israeli airspace, though most experts say the real concern is that the missiles would deeply complicate the ability of Israel, and the US, to intervene in Syria's civil war using air power.
Coming out of that meeting, Putin offered no commitment either way, leaving the door open to weeks of speculation and clashing media reports about what was decided.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu went further, telling journalists last week that Russia is now prepared to sell Syria not only "defensive" weapons like the S-300, but "offensive" ones like tactical missiles, tanks, and fighter planes as well.
Mr. Assad put in his own misleading two cent's worth, telling a Lebanese TV station that the Russians had firmly promised to supply him with the S-300s and suggesting that the first shipment of them might have already arrived in Damascus.
Experts say it now appears likely that Putin did, in fact, agree at that May meeting with Netanyahu to suspend S-300 deliveries to Syria. That's not unprecedented: His predecessor Dmitry Medvedev negotiated a secret deal with Netanyahu that led to Russia cutting off S-300 and other major weapons' exports to Iran in 2010.


2013-06-04 Putin denies S-300 missile system already been sent to Syria haaretz.com

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday defended Moscow's arms sales to the Syrian government, but denied that the advanced S-300 systems had already been delivered.
Putin told a news conference after a summit with European Union leaders that Russia did not want to upset the military balance in the region and all its arms sales to Syria were inline with international law.
The president's remarks confirm a Russian newspaper report last Friday that Moscow was set to deliver the first shipment of S-300 air defense missiles to President Bashar Assad's regime in 2014. The confusion comes after Assad told Hezbollah's Al-Manar television station in an interview last Thursday that his regime had already received the first shipment.
"Syria has got the first batch of Russian S-300 missiles ... The rest of the shipment will arrive soon," Assad was quoted as saying in excerpts of the interview released Thursday morning.
According to Russia's Vedomosti newspaper, a source in the Russian defense industry has said it is unclear if the S-300s would reach Syria this year. The Kommersant daily, meanwhile, cited a source as saying that the missiles would reach the Assad regime in the second quarter of 2014.
Both of the sources quoted by the two dailies said that no missiles had been delivered so far. The contract for the S-300 shipment was finalized in 2010. Vedomosti said the contract is worth $1 billion, AFP said.
Additionally, Vedomosti's source said that although Moscow is publicly stating that the contract will be honored, and the shipment delivered, there is no guarantee that this will actually happen.
In another report, a Russian arms industry source told Interfax news agency last Friday that Moscow was unlikely to deliver the missiles to Syria before the autumn.
The source suggested the delivery could be accelerated if neighboring countries carried out air attacks on Syria or if a no-fly regime were to be imposed on the country.
Vedomosto.ru. Putin: S-300 are not in Syria
top.rbc.ru


2013-06-04 Syria crisis: France's Fabius 'confirms sarin use' bbc.co.uk

Sarin has been used "several times and in a localised manner" in Syria's crisis, says France's foreign minister.
Laurent Fabius said lab tests in Paris confirmed usage of the nerve agent, adding that those who resort to chemical weapons must be punished.
But he did not specify where, when or by whom the agent was deployed, and the White House said more proof was needed.
Earlier, the UN said there were "reasonable grounds" to believe chemical weapons had been used.
In a new report, the UN commission of inquiry on Syria also urged foreign powers not to increase the availability of arms in Syria.
Mr Fabius said samples had been taken from unspecified locations in Syria and tested in France.
"These tests show the presence of sarin in various samples," he said in a statement.
The test results had been handed to the UN, he added.
Both the Syrian government and the rebels have in the past accused each other of using the weapons.
The US was continuing its effort to gather evidence about the likely use of chemical weapons, the White House said on Tuesday.
The US and the UK have said there is emerging evidence of Syrian government forces having used sarin, with Washington saying it had "varying degrees of confidence" that chemical weapons had been deployed.
President Barack Obama called in April for a "vigorous investigation", saying the use of such weapons would be a "game changer" if verified.
Mr Assad's government says the claims do not have any credibility, denouncing them as "lies".
A UN team established to look specifically into the issue of chemical weapons had previously said it was ready to go to Syria, but wants unconditional access with the right to inquire into all credible allegations.
Russia and the US are leading an international push for a peace conference on Syria, possibly to be held in Geneva in the next few weeks.


2013-06-03 BRET STEPHENS. The Muslim Civil War online.wsj.com

Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the prominent Sunni cleric, said Friday that Hezbollah and Iran are "more infidel than Jews and Christians." Coming from the guy who once lauded Hitler for exacting "divine punishment" on the Jews, that really is saying something.
That the war in Syria is sectarian was obvious almost from the start, despite the credulous belief that Bashar Assad ran a nonsectarian regime. That a sectarian ruling minority fighting for its life would not fold easily was obvious within months, despite happy guarantees that the regime's downfall would come within weeks. That a sectarian war in Syria would stir similar religious furies in Iraq and Lebanon was obvious more than a year ago, despite wishful administration thinking that staying out of Syria would contain the war to Syria alone.
What should be obvious today is that we are at the dawn of a much wider Shiite-Sunni war, the one that nearly materialized in Iraq in 2006 but didn't because the U.S. was there, militarily and diplomatically, to stop it. But now the U.S. isn't there. What's left to figure out is whether this megawar isn't, from a Western point of view, a very good thing.
The theory is simple and superficially compelling: If al Qaeda fighters want to murder Hezbollah fighters and Hezbollah fighters want to return the favor, who in their right mind would want to stand in the way? Of course it isn't just Islamist radicals of one stripe or another who are dying in Syria, but also little children and aging grandparents and every other innocent and helpless bystander to the butchery.
But here comes the whispered suggestion: If one branch of Islam wants to be at war with another branch for a few years—or decades—so much the better for the non-Islamic world. Mass civilian casualties in Aleppo or Homs is their tragedy, not ours. It does not implicate us morally. And it probably benefits us strategically, not least by redirecting jihadist energies away from the West.
Wrong on every count.
Similar thinking was popular in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War. The war left as many as 1.4 million corpses on the battlefield, including thousands of child soldiers, and caused both countries billions in economic damage. And how did the West benefit from that? It's true that the price of crude declined sharply almost every year of the war, but that only goes to show how weak the correlation is between Persian Gulf tensions and oil prices.
Otherwise, the 1980s were the years of the tanker wars in the Gulf, including Iraq's attack on the USS Stark; the hostage-taking in Lebanon; and the birth of Hezbollah, with its suicide bombings of the U.S. Marine barracks and embassy in Beirut. Iraq invaded Kuwait less than two years after the war's end. Iran emerged with its revolutionary fervors intact—along with a rekindled interest in developing nuclear weapons.
In short, a long intra-Islamic war left nobody safer, wealthier or wiser. Nor did it leave the West morally untainted. The U.S. embraced Saddam Hussein as a counterweight to Iran, and later tried to ply Iran with secret arms in exchange for the release of hostages. Patrolling the Strait of Hormuz, the USS Vincennes mistakenly shot down an Iranian jetliner over the Gulf, killing 290 civilians. Inaction only provides moral safe harbor when there's no possibility of action.
Maybe that's what President Obama is secretly aiming for. Had he armed Syria's rebels early in the conflict, he could have empowered a moderate opposition, toppled the regime, sidelined Sunni jihadists, prevented the bloodbath we now have, stemmed the refugee crisis and dealt a sharp strategic setback to Iran—all without any U.S. military involvement.
Had he moved against Assad after the latter's use of chemical weapons, the president could have demonstrated the seriousness of U.S. red lines—this time with limited and surgical use of U.S. military assets. (By the way, whatever happened to that U.N. fact-finding mission on Syrian chemical weapons that Mr. Obama promised back in April?)
Yet if Mr. Obama were to move against Assad today, the odds of success would be far longer. He would be going against an emboldened and winning despot, brazenly backed by Russia. And he would be abetting a fractured insurgency, increasingly dominated by radicals answering the call of jihad. The administration has gone from choosing not to take action to having no choice but to remain passive. Thus does global order give way to global disorder.
It's tempting to rejoin that Syria is small and faraway, and that if Vladimir Putin or Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei want to play in the Syrian dung heap they're welcome to it. But these guys aren't dupes getting fleeced at a Damascene carpet shop. They are geopolitical entrepreneurs who sense an opportunity in the wake of America's retreat.


2013-06-03 Rajiv Chandrasekaran. An Egyptian preacher and a US senator compete over Syria's future washingtonpost.com

Mr. McCain has been a proponent for greater US involvement in the Syrian war and made a brief trip into rebel-held territory there last week. He has argued that President Barack Obama's reticence about US involvement in a civil war that has strong sectarian overtones is undue, and that it's possible for the US to selectively support rebels who back US interests and keep arms out of the hands of Sunni jihadis aligned with Al Qaeda in Iraq – who have emerged as some of the rebellion's most capable fighters.
But his trip to Syria, organized by a DC-based group of exiles lobbying for US involvement, inadvertently illustrated how difficult it is to vet fighters in a far off war, in a cultural and political context that few US officials understand. During his few hours in the country, he posed for a picture with a group of rebel supporters. Two of them were later identified by Beirut's Daily Star (apparently bouncing of a report on Lebanon's Al Jadeed TV, which is sympathetic to Hezbollah) as having been involved in the abduction of a group of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims as they traveled home last year
Far more important than who McCain may have briefly met, there's reasonable evidence that weapons that were sent to Syrian fighters in a joint US-Saudi-Jordanian operation ended up within months in the hands of jihadi groups – including Jabhat al-Nusra, which is designated as a terrorist group by the US State Department.
This isn't particularly surprising. In wars like Syria's, with a patchwork of rebel units and little in the way of a central command, weapons are fungible. And while the vision that members of the Free Syrian Army may have for the future of Syria is dramatically at odds with that of Jabhat al-Nusra, they're united in their hatred of Assad's government. An FSA general might promise that US-supplied anti-aircraft missiles, for instance, would never be given to a group the US doesn't like, but a more junior officer fighting to hold on to territory, and cooperating with one of America's proscribed groups, could easily make a different decision in the heat of battle.
And that brings us to Mr. Qaradawi, an influential Sunni preacher who has broad regional reach thanks to his regular television show on Qatar's Al Jazeera.
Qaradawi wants Iran – and its ally, the Lebanese Shiite political movement and army Hezbollah – out of Syria, much as McCain does, though Qarawadi's motivations are far different. He wants a Sunni Islamist political order to replace the current regime, and according to his comments at a rally in Qatar on Friday, views Iran's interests in Syria as sectarian. "Now we know what the Iranians want.... They want continued massacres to kill Sunnis," he said.
Qaradawi said he wasn't against all Shiites, but said he was ashamed of his past support for Hezbollah (given because they fought Israel) and dubbed the group the "Party of Satan." (Hezbollah means "Party of God.")
"Every Muslim trained to fight and capable of doing that [must] make himself available.... Iran is pushing forward arms and men, so why do we stand idle?," he asked. "How could 100 million Shiites defeat 1.7 billion [Sunnis[? Only because [Sunni] Muslims are weak.”
Those totals refer to rough estimates of global number of Sunnis and Shiites, and the import of his meaning was clear: a call for a mandatory jihad in Syria, similar to calls made by other preachers to carry out jihads against the Soviet or US presences in Afghanistan, or the US-led occupation of Iraq.
On Fox and Friends this morning, McCain dismissed worries that US involvement in the war would encourage a spreading of sectarian conflict, arguing that in fact it would be the fastest way to end the war.
"Yes, there are extremists flowing into the country," he said. "But that’s because we’ve done nothing to help the rebels succeed. And yes they have some light weapons, but they need anti-tank weapons and they need anti-air weapons. And thanks to Hezbollah, the Russians, and Iranians, now Bashar al Assad has the initiative on his side."
It's not clear how a US effort to help the rebellion win would necessarily end the refugee crisis – though it might shift its demographics.
Syria's Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam that Assad and many of the stalwarts of his regime belong to, make up about 10 percent of Syria's population – about 2.2 million people. Syria's ancient Christian population is also likely to feel threatened after a war won by the country's Sunni majority. (Iraq's Christian population fell by at least a third as a result of jihadi attacks during the Iraq war.)
At any rate, McCain, a leading US hawk, wants the same thing in the short term as Sheikh Qaradawi. But the two men, their two camps, want dramatically different things in the long term for Syria. Which camp is likely to have more influence in a post-Assad Syria?


2013-06-03 U.S. to send Patriot missiles, F-16s to Jordan for drill english.alarabiya.net

The United States will send a Patriot missile battery and F-16 fighters to Jordan for a drill and may keep them there to counter the threat posed by Syria’s civil war, U.S. officials said Monday.
“In order to enhance the defensive posture and capacity of Jordan, some of these assets may remain beyond the exercise at the request of the Government of Jordan,” Lieutenant Colonel T.G. Taylor said in a statement that was carried by AFP.
The U.S. Patriot batteries are designed to shoot down Scud or other short-range missiles, known to be in the Syrian government's arsenal, and could also be employed as part of a no-fly-zone umbrella or other air operation.
In April, around 200 U.S. Army planners were dispatched to Jordan as the conflict in neighboring Syria worsened.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a Senate briefing, the U.S. has an obligation to think through the consequences of any U.S. military move in Syria and be honest about potential long-term commitments.
His comments were the latest indication that, while President Barack Obama’s administration continues to plan for various scenarios in Syria, it remains wary of an intervention that could mire America in a proxy war.


2013-06-03 Vivienne Walt. Syria’s Air Defense Arsenal: The Russian Missiles Keeping Assad in Power world.time.com

In fact, Assad’s boast might be more than bluster. While there’s no sign that Moscow has delivered the long-range S-300 missiles which Israel has vowed to take out in bombing strikes (Russian officials estimate their earliest delivery date for the S-300s is late this year), Assad already has several air defense systems from Moscow in his quiver, according to analysts who monitor arms shipments. In interviews they say they watched a steep military ramp-up by Syria in the period running up to the start of the war more than two years ago. While they agree that the S-300s are more accurate and have greater range than Assad’s current weapons systems, they say the Syrian leader is far from powerless without them. “We have seen over the past few years Russia supplying several different air defense systems,” says Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher in the arms transfer program of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), which tracks weapons flows worldwide. “They [Syrian government] have really increased their capability. The missiles are both short and long range. If the S-300s do arrive, that would top it all off.”
While Gaddafi had huge stocks of weaponry, including Russian and Chinese anti-aircraft missiles, much of it was discovered after Gaddafi was killed in October 2011, lying unused in warehouses. That suggested that the Libyan military did not know how to install the new weapon systems or had not had time to do so, according to military analysts. And Assad could also have learned some lessons from Gaddafi’s spectacular defeat. Gaddafi lacked long-range missiles capable of combating the high-altitude bombing strikes which NATO fighter jets conducted over Libya. “It’s against these types of operations that for example the S-300s or other SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) could be used with some efficiency,” Wezeman says. “In Libya the systems were old and out of date and the Libyans did not really know how to operate them. It would be much more difficult for outsiders to intervene in Syria, in the way that took place in Libya.”


2013-06-02 Egypt: Court rules legislature illegally elected usatoday.com

Egypt's highest court ruled on Sunday that the nation's Islamist-dominated legislature and constitutional panel were illegally elected, dealing a serious blow to the legal basis of the Islamists' hold on power.
The ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court says that the legislature's upper house, the only one currently sitting, would not be dissolved until the parliament's lower chamber is elected later this year or early in 2014. The constitutional panel has already dissolved after completing the charter.
But the ruling nonetheless deepens the political instability that has gripped the country since the overthrow of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak two years ago.
The same court ruled to dissolve parliament's lower chamber in June, a move that led to the promotion of the toothless upper chamber, the Shura Council, to becoming a law-making house. The Shura Council, long derided as nothing more than a talk shop, was elected by about seven percent of the electorate last year.


2013-06-01 I.Safronov, Ye.Chernenko. Moscow simulates military cooperation with Syria kommersant.ru


2013-06-01 Leading Sunni Cleric Calls for Holy War in Syria voanews.com

A leading Sunni Muslim cleric has called on Sunnis from across the Middle East to go to Syria to fight against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian Islamist based in Qatar, fanned sectarian flames in the region Saturday by telling his followers to support rebels trying to topple the Assad government.
Al-Qaradawi, whose television broadcasts are seen by millions, denounced Assad's Alawite sect - an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam - and referred to Iranian-backed Shi'ite Hezbollah forces fighting alongside Assad loyalists as belonging to "the party of Satan."
Al-Qaradawi's call came as activists reported new fighting in the western Syrian border town of Qusair between rebels and government forces.


2013-06-01 Syrian army captures sarin containers with rebels in Hama news.xinhuanet.com

A Syrian military source said Saturday that army troops seized two cylinders of the poisonous agent sarin after raiding a rebels' den in the central city of Hama, according to state-run SANA news agency.
The rebels were entrenched at al-Faraieh neighborhood in Hama when the army raided their den, said SANA, giving no further details.
The Syrian government has accused the rebels of using chemical weapons during an attack on the pro-government town of Khan al- Asal in northern Syria.
The opposition groups, for their part, also accused the government forces of using chemical weapons in their fight against the rebels.
The issue has caused confusion and discrepancy in international reports.
The French Le Monde claimed its reporters "witnessed" forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad using chemical arms in their conflict with the rebels for several days in a row on the outskirts of Damascus.
Earlier in May, Carla del Ponte, who serves on the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said there were "strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof" about the rebels' use of agent sarin, adding that her "suspicions" were based on testimonies of victims.


2013-05-31 Anne Gearan. U.S. warns Russia against sending missiles to Syria washingtonpost.com

The Obama administration strongly warned Russia on Friday not to undermine peace efforts for Syria or upend the balance of power between Israel and its neighbors by supplying the Syrian regime with advanced antiaircraft weaponry.
Sending the S-300 missile to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would prolong the civil war and perhaps widen it by imperiling Israel, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said amid conflicting reports about whether Russia has sent the missiles.
Since the Syrian rebels don’t have warplanes, the S-300 missile system is seen chiefly as a threat to any Western or Arab nation that might try to impose a no-fly zone in Syria, or to Israeli warplanes that might attack Syrian chemical weapons depots. With the anti-Israeli militia Hezbollah now fighting in significant numbers alongside Assad’s forces, Israel is increasingly worried that the militants might seize chemical weapons for possible use against Israel.
“It is not, in our judgment, responsible because of the size of the weapon, the nature of the weapon and what it does to the region in terms of Israel’s security,” Kerry said Friday at a news conference with visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. “So we hope that they will refrain from that in the interests of making this peace process work.”


2013-05-31 L.Narsisyan. Fighting S-300 can be complicated for IAF regnum.ru


2013-05-31 Russia unlikely to send S-300 missiles to Syria before autumn: Interfax reuters.com

Moscow is unlikely to deliver a shipment of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria before the autumn, a Russian arms industry source told Interfax news agency on Friday.
The source suggested the delivery could be accelerated if neighboring countries carried out air attacks on Syria or if a no-fly regime were to be imposed on the country.
"Regarding the deliveries of the S-300, they can begin no earlier than the autumn. Technically it's possible, but much will depend on how the situation develops in the region and the position of Western countries," said the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Russia has promised to fulfill an order of the long-range surface-to-air missiles to Syria, saying it hopes to deter foreign military intervention in Syria.
The S-300s can intercept manned aircraft and guided missiles and Western experts say their delivery could improve Assad's chances of retaining power.
The head of aircraft maker MiG said separately that Russia was counting on providing Syria with 10 MiG-29 fighter planes and was discussing details with a Syrian delegation, RIA news agency reported. It did not say when they might be delivered.
interfax.ru
jpost.com
ria.ru


2013-05-31 S.Strokan, Ye.Chernenko. Assad's Statements on S-300 inconvenient for Russia kommersant.ru

jpost.com


2013-05-30 Amos Harel . Israel doubts Assad possesses S-300 system, but has good reason to worry haaretz.com

Lebanese media raised the tension level in the north several degrees Thursday morning when it quoted Syrian President Bashar Assad saying Russia had already sent him the S-300 anti-aircraft system. Israeli defense officials have warned in recent days that the military could well act to prevent Syria from operating the system.
Israel treated the report skeptically, saying it had no information to confirm it, suspecting it was merely a crude attempt at psychological warfare. And in fact, this skepticism proved warranted: When the full text of Assad’s interview with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television station was published, it turned out that all he said, when asked whether the S-300 had been delivered yet, was, “All of our agreements with Russia will be implemented, some have been implemented during the past period and, together with the Russians, we will continue to implement these contracts in the future.”
It’s not impossible that Israeli intelligence could have missed a first delivery of components. But even if so, the system would still be a long way from operational. The process of setting it up is expected to take anywhere from six months to a year.
First, Syrian operators will have to be trained to use the system in Russia. Next, the components have to be delivered. Finally, the system has to be put together and calibrated before it can be declared operational.
Israel, as National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror warned explicitly last week, is considering attacking the system before it becomes operational. In so doing, however, Israel would effectively be jumping straight into the Syrian civil war, something it has long promised to make every effort to avoid. Any decision to attack would also have to take into account the possibility that Russia would view this as a direct challenge to it.
Nevertheless, Israel has good reason to be worried about the S-300: Its arrival would fundamentally change the balance of deterrence in the north. During the first Lebanon War, in 1982, the Israel Air Force destroyed Syria’s surface-to-air missile batteries in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Ever since, for more than three decades now, it has enjoyed complete dominance of the northern skies. That is why both the Syrian army and Hezbollah subsequently equipped themselves with large numbers of missiles and rockets: These are weapons that can circumvent the IAF to strike Israel’s home front.
Reuters reported Thursday that Cyprus, which has an S-300 on the Greek island of Crete, “may have given Israel’s air force a chance for test runs during maneuvers over the Mediterranean.” Nevertheless, this system has the potential to significantly change the equation.
This fact once again raises questions about the wisdom of the third Israeli air strike on Syria, even if Russia might have gone through with the sale anyhow, for its own reasons. Either way, it seems Assad is now trying a variety of tactics to deter further Israeli attacks, from threatening to respond with missile launches through threatening to attack from the Golan Heights ‏(in his Al-Manar interview Thursday, he said “there is clear popular pressure to open the Golan front to resistance”‏) to reports of the S-300 deal.
Two other reports connected to the Syrian crisis also hit the news Thursday. First, the Nigerian government announced the capture of a three-man Hezbollah cell that had planned to attack Israeli and Western targets. Nigerian military spokesman Capt. Ikedichi Iweha said in a statement that the three Lebanese suspects were arrested between May 16 and May 28 in northern Nigeria’s biggest city, Kano, and all had admitted under questioning to being members of Hezbollah.
Also Thursday, the Washington Post published a shopping list that the Syrian army sent to Russia in March. In it, the army requested a price quote “in the shortest possible time” for a list of items that included 20,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 20 million rounds of ammunition, machine guns, grenade launchers, grenades, and sniper rifles with night-vision sights. The S-300, it seems, is far from the only thing Assad wants from Russia.
jpost.com


2013-05-30 French diplomat to Al Arabiya: negotiations held on Assad’s exit english.alarabiya.net

Negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reached the extent of discussing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure and the country in which he would seek refuge, a French diplomat told Al Arabiya on Thursday.
However, Lavrov changed his mind at the meeting in Geneva in June 2012 after “receiving a phone call,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Iran
A meeting in Tehran between a high-ranking French delegation and Iranian officials failed because of French opposition to Iran’s request to attend the proposed Geneva II meeting on Syria, the diplomat said.
“We agreed with the Iranians not to agree on this subject, especially when they said Assad can run for the presidency next year,” he said. “We responded by saying, ‘he’ll be a candidate who has committed crimes’.”
The United States may be mulling a compromise whereby Iran is invited to a meeting with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Egypt before the Geneva II conference, the diplomat said.
“We too want the Geneva conference to succeed, but not at any expense,” he said. “The Americans aren’t the only decision-makers.”
The Iranians at the Tehran meeting described Lebanese movement Hezbollah’s participation in the fighting in Syria as limited to defending Shiites in Qusayr and the Sayyida Zaynab shrine, the diplomat said.
The Iranians accused the al-Nusra Front of inciting sectarian conflict, he added.


2013-05-30 Joe Klein. What John McCain Doesn’t Know swampland.time.com

Senator McCain made a well-publicized trip to Syria and may have posed with extremist kidnappers.
I don’t blame McCain for this. It’s hard to advance a trip into rebel territory. A few years ago, McCain made a well-publicized walk through a Baghdad market, didn’t get shot at, and pronounced major progress in Iraq afterward. A few weeks later, I made the same walk but actually spoke to the shopkeepers—all of whom were supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shi’ite militia leader.
It is possible that our involvement might tamp down the slaughter—but far more likely that it will be seen as another neo-colonial intervention that will only make things worse. (Israel, on the other hand, has a direct national interest in making sure that Assad and, especially, Hizballah, don’t receive weapons from Russia or Iran that will change the balance of power in the region.)
We may be heading for a regional Sunni-Shi’a confrontation. It could last a decade or more. We should be prepared to involve ourselves diplomatically in an aggressive fashion. We should be ready with humanitarian assistance when necessary. But we must be very, very careful–as President Obama has been–about military involvement of any sort.


2013-05-30 Lauren Williams. McCain crosses paths with rebel kidnapper dailystar.com.lb

Senator John McCain was photographed with a known affiliate of the rebel group responsible for the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims one year ago, during a brief and highly publicized visit inside Syria this week.
The U.S. senator became the highest-level American official to enter Syria since the uprising began. A former presidential candidate and staunch opponent of President Barack Obama’s Syria policy, he has been leading calls to better arm moderate opposition groups fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad.
During a brief visit to northern Syria from Turkey, confirmed by his office Monday, McCain met with rebel leaders calling for greater support in their fight against Assad. He was accompanied by the chief of staff of the rebel Supreme Military Council, Gen. Salim Idriss.
The pilgrims were kidnapped by armed rebels in Azaz, in Syria’s Aleppo province, in May last year as they were making their way back to Lebanon from Iran.
Two of the kidnapped, Anwar Ibrahim and Hussein Ali Omar were released in August and September but intense negotiations are still underway for the remaining nine, believed to be in the custody of the “Northern Storm” brigade, headed by rebel commander Ammar Al-Dadikhi, aka Abu Ibrahim. The Northern Storm Brigade also claimed responsibility for the kidnap of a Lebanese journalist in October.
Head of Lebanon’s General Security Brig. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim was en route to Turkey Wednesday to continue negotiations for release of the remaining nine pilgrims.


2013-05-30 Mariam Karouny, Erika Solomon. Moscow suggests missiles have yet to reach Assad reuters.com

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday Moscow was still committed to sending him advanced anti-aircraft weapons, although a source close to the Russian defense ministry said the missiles had yet to arrive.
The prospect of the missiles arriving is a serious worry for Western and regional countries opposing Assad which have called on Moscow not to send them.
The S-300 missiles would make it far more dangerous for Western countries to impose any future no-fly zone over Syrian air space, and could even be used to shoot down aircraft deep over the air space of neighbors like Israel or Turkey.
Russia, which has supported Assad's family since the Cold War, says it will send the S-300 missiles in part to help prevent the West from imposing a no-fly zone. A source close to the Defense Ministry in Moscow said the "hardware itself" had not yet arrived, although the contract was being implemented.
A Lebanese newspaper earlier quoted Assad as saying in his al-Manar interview that Moscow had already sent a first shipment of missiles, although when the actual interview was broadcast Assad appeared to stop short of saying the missiles had arrived.
"Everything we have agreed on with Russia will take place, and part of it has already taken place," he said, without giving further details.


2013-05-30 Report: Police foil al-Nusra bomb attack planned for Adana todayszaman.com

Seven members of Syria's militant al-Nusra group were detained on Wednesday after police found sarin gas, which was reportedly going to be used in a bomb attack, during a search of the suspects' homes, Turkish media have reported.
Newspapers claimed on Thursday that two kilograms of sarin gas, which is usually used for making bombs and was banned by the UN in 1991, had been found in the homes of suspects detained in the southern provinces of Adana and Mersin. Twelve suspects were caught by the police on Monday. The reports claimed that the al-Nusra members had been planning a bomb attack for Thursday in Adana but that the attack was averted when the police caught the suspects. Along with the sarin gas, the police seized a number of handguns, grenades, bullets and documents during their search. Five of the suspects were released later on Thursday.
In another incident in Adana, the police received intelligence that a bomb-laden vehicle had entered Adana, the bombs being of the same type used in a recent attack in Hatay's Reyhanlı town, the Taraf daily reported on Thursday.
Security measures in Adana have been tightened in line with intelligence gathered. The Hatay National Provincial Police Department said that police officers are guarding the roads in and out of the province and are keeping an eye out in the province for the vehicle mentioned in the intelligence.


2013-05-30 Sara Taha Moughnieh, Eslam al-Rihani. Assad: Hezbollah Fighting Israeli Enemy, Confidence in Victory Definite almanar.com.lb

Question # 12: Mr. President, after the last Israeli raid on Damascus, there were talks about S300 weapons, which are balance-breaking weapons, and based on that, Netanyahu visited Moscow. The direct question is: Are these missiles on their way to Damascus? Does Syria own these missiles now?
Answer: We usually don’t announce about military issues, what we receive and what we already have. But for Russia, contracts are not related to the crisis.
We negotiate with them on different types of weapons since years, and Russia is committed with Syria on implementing these contracts. I want to say that neither Netanyahu's visit, nor the crisis itself or its circumstances affected weapons importation. All we agreed on with Russia will be accomplished, and a part of it was completed in the last period. We and the Russians are going on with implementing contracts.


2013-05-30 Syria already in possession of Russia's S-300 system: President Assad presstv.ir

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says Damascus is already in possession of the first batch of S-300 missile defense systems from Russia.
During an interview with Lebanon’s Al-Manar TV, President Assad also said that the second shipment of the Russian systems will be delivered to Syria soon.
He added that Syria would respond to any Israeli aggression against the country.
The complete interview is expected to be aired later on Thursday.
Earlier on May 28, Moscow had said it would go ahead with the delivery of S-300 systems to Damascus, following which the Israeli regime hinted it would take action to prevent the delivery of the systems to Damascus.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem later reiterated that Damascus would give an “immediate” response to any act of aggression by Israel.
In a separate development, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on May 29 that Moscow may reconsider its commitments to restrictions on the delivery of arms to the Syrian government, following a recent decision by the European Union to end an arms embargo on the militants in Syria.
Russia says that the shipment of the S-300 missile defense system is aimed at deterring foreign intervention in Syria.
almanar.com.lb


2013-05-29 CONOR FRIEDERSDORF. Let's Be Clear: Establishing a 'No-Fly Zone' Is an Act of War theatlantic.com

thedailybeast.com
Kudos to Josh Rogin for breaking the news that "the White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for a no-fly zone inside Syria." But wouldn't it be a more powerful story without the euphemism?
Relying on the term "no-fly-zone" is typical in journalism. But that is a mistake. It obscures the gravity of the news.
Here's how an alternative version of the story might look: "The White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for bombing multiple targets inside Syria, constantly surveilling Syrian airspace alongside U.S. allies, and shooting down Syrian war planes and helicopters that try to fly around, perhaps for months."
The term "no-fly-zone" isn't analytically useless. It's just that folks using it as shorthand should make sure everyone reading understands that, as Daniel Larison put it right up in a headline, "Imposing a No-Fly-Zone in Syria Requires Starting a New War." That becomes clearer some paragraphs later in Rogin's article, when he discussed Senator John McCain's advocacy for a "no-fly-zone." "McCain said a realistic plan for a no-fly zone would include hundreds of planes, and would be most effective if it included destroying Syrian airplanes on runways, bombing those runways, and moving U.S. Patriot missile batteries in Turkey close to the border so they could protect airspace inside northern Syria," he wrote.
The article also quotes Robert Zarate, policy director at the hawkish Foreign Policy Initiative. His euphemisms of choice: "No doubt, the United States and its like-minded allies and partners are fully capable, without the use of ground troops, of obviating the Assad regime's degraded, fixed, and mobile air defenses and suppressing the regime's use of airpower."


2013-05-29 Hezbollah fighters 'invading' Syria - rebel chief bbc.co.uk

The military chief of the main umbrella group of Syrian rebels, the Free Syrian Army, has accused Hezbollah fighters of "invading" Syria in a BBC interview.
Gen Selim Idriss said that more than 7,000 fighters of the Lebanese Shia movement were taking part in attacks on the rebel-held town of Qusair.
The French foreign minister has estimated the number at 3,000-4,000.
The UN Human Rights Council condemned government attacks on Qusair, and the involvement of foreign fighters.
Gen Idriss made an emotional appeal to Western powers on the BBC World Service's Newshour programme, saying: " We are dying. Please come and help us."
He made an urgent appeal for more weapons "to defend our citizens".
He said the FSA was fielding less than 1,500 fighters in the fight for Qusair, armed only with light weapons.
More than 50,000 residents were trapped in the town and a "massacre" would occur if it fell, he added.
He also said he had received information that Iranian fighters were involved in the offensive.
Asked about the presence of jihadist factions in the Syrian opposition, Gen Idriss said they formed "not more than 5-8% of all fighters in Syria" and that they had received excessive media coverage.


2013-05-29 Iran will not allow overthrow of Syria government: Iran deputy FM presstv.ir

Iran’s deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs says the Islamic Republic will not allow the overthrow of the Syrian government.
Hossein Amir-Abdollahian made the remarks on the sidelines of the Friends of Syria Conference in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on Wednesday. The international event was attended by representatives from around 40 countries with the aim of contributing to a political solution to the foreign-sponsored crisis in the Arab country.
“We will not allow the Syrian government to be overthrown. We strongly support the Syrian nation and government as well as the opposition that believes in a political resolution,” he added.


2013-05-29 Phoebe Greenwood. Israel in Moscow talks to halt supply of missiles to Syrian regime guardian.co.uk

Top-level Israeli intelligence figures flew into Moscow on Tuesday night in a last-ditch attempt to talk the Kremlin out of supplying sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to the Assad regime, which once installed in Syria would have the range and power to target civilian and military aircraft over Tel Aviv.
Israeli diplomats will continue to work both privately and publicly to prevent the transfer until the shipment sails, but officials attempted to lower the diplomatic temperature, insisting Israel had no intention of fighting Russia on the issue.
Israel has read Moscow's insistence on pursuing its deal to supply Damascus with the powerful missile systems as part of a "cold war" power struggle between the US and Russia playing out in the theatre of the Syrian civil war in which it wants no part.
"We are unhappy with the prospect of these very serious weapons arriving in Syria but we cannot stop Russia delivering them to the Middle East. We would not strike a Russian target – our egos are big but they're not that big," one senior Israeli diplomat told the Guardian on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli military will not hesitate, however, to take any steps necessary to prevent the transfer of this sophisticated Russian anti-aircraft technology to Hezbollah militants or other hostile groups.
"I don't know how upset the Russians would be if at some point between payment and the installation of this technology in Damascus by Russian experts, something was done to damage the weaponry. As long as no Russians were hurt and they got paid, I don't think they would care," the diplomat added.
Despite the grim warning from Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya'alon that Israel "would know what to do" should the delivery of SA300s go ahead, further Israeli military intervention in Syria should not be interpreted as a harbinger of regional war.


2013-05-28 JOSEF FEDERMAN. Israel threatens Russia over missile shipments theglobeandmail.com

Israel’s defence chief said Tuesday a Russian plan to supply sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Syria was a “threat” and signalled that Israel is prepared to use force to stop the delivery.
The warning by Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon ratcheted up tensions with Moscow over the planned sale of S-300 air-defence missiles to Syria. Israel has been lobbying Moscow to halt the sale, fearing the missiles would upset the balance of power in the region and could slip into the hands of hostile groups like Lebanese militia Hezbollah, a close ally of the Syrian regime.
“Clearly this move is a threat to us,” Mr. Yaalon told reporters Tuesday when asked about the planned Russian sale.
“At this stage I can’t say there is an escalation. The shipments have not been sent on their way yet. And I hope that they will not be sent,” he said. But “if God forbid they do reach Syria, we will know what to do.”


2013-05-28 Julian Borger. Israel warns Russia against arming Syrian government guardian.co.uk

Russia has said it will supply one of its most advanced anti-aircraft missile systems to the Syrian government, hours after the EU ended its arms embargo on the rebels, raising the prospect of a rapidly escalating proxy war in the region if peace talks in Geneva fail next month.
Israel quickly issued a thinly veiled warning that it would bomb the Russian S-300 missiles if they were sent to Syria, as such a move would bring the advanced guided missiles within range of civilian and military planes over Israel. Israel has conducted three sets of air strikes on Syria this year, aimed at preventing missiles being brought close to its border by the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah.
"The shipments haven't set out yet and I hope they won't," Moshe Ya'alon, the Israeli defence minister, said. "If they do arrive in Syria, God forbid, we'll know what to do."
Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov, argued that the delivery of the S-300 system had been previously agreed with Damascus and would be a stabilising factor that could dissuade "some hotheads" from entering the conflict. That appeared to be a reference to the UK and France, who pushed through the lifting of the EU embargo on Monday night and are the only European countries considering arming the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).
However, London and Paris said they had not yet taken the decision to send arms, and would not do so until after the Geneva peace talks, tentatively scheduled for mid-June.


2013-05-28 Obama asks Pentagon to prepare plan for aerial blockade on Syria ynetnews.com

The White House asked the Pentagon to prepare draw up plans for a no-fly zone inside Syria that would be enforced by the US and other countries such as France and Great Britain, According to The Daily Beast.
A US official told the news website that "the White House is still in contemplation mode but the planning is moving forward... All this effort to pressure the regime is part of the overall effort to find a political solution, but what happens if Geneva fails? It’s only prudent to plan for other options.”


2013-05-28 Russian arms 'to deter foreign intervention in Syria' bbc.co.uk

Russia says it will go ahead with deliveries of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, and that the arms will help deter foreign intervention.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the missiles were a "stabilising factor" that could dissuade "some hotheads" from entering the conflict.
Russia also criticised a decision by the EU not to renew an arms embargo on the Syrian opposition.
Mr Ryabkov said the move would harm the prospects for a peace conference.
He said the contract for the S-300 missile systems had been signed several years ago.
The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says the Russian statement could be seen as an escalation. He says there had been reports that Moscow was holding back on delivering the arms, in exchange for an Israeli commitment not to carry out further air raids over Syria.
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the Russian missile systems had not yet left Russia.
"I hope they will not leave, and if, God forbid, they reach Syria, we will know what to do," he said.


2013-05-27 JAMES KANTER. European Nations End Weapons Embargo, Creating Path to Arming Syrian Rebels nytimes.com

European Union foreign ministers on Monday allowed the arms embargo on Syria to lapse, opening the way for member nations to provide lethal aid to rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad if they chose.
“While we have no immediate plans to send arms to Syria, it gives us the flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate and worsen,” William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said after more than 12 hours of stormy talks.
The ministers agreed to renew all the economic sanctions already in place against the Syrian government.
But the efforts led by the British to ease the arms embargo exposed deep rifts over whether to allow member countries to send lethal aid to the Syrian opposition, while Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Russian counterpart to continue to try to organize peace talks in Geneva next month.
Austria, the Czech Republic and Sweden came to the meeting strongly opposing weapons shipments. They distrust large parts of the Syrian opposition and said they feared the weapons would end up in the hands of jihadist groups.
They also said funneling arms to the opposition now would undermine the chances of a deal with Mr. Assad before the planned peace conference in Geneva. Ministers said that it was now up to each member state to decide for itself whether to export weapons to the opposition, because they decided to separate the arms-export issue from the other sanctions.


2013-05-27 McCain sneaks across Turkey-Syrian border, meets with rebels cbsnews.com

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a proponent of U.S. military action in Syria - and a vocal opponent of President Obama's Syrian policy - sneaked across the Syrian border and met with rebels there, CBS News has learned.
The trip was in the works "for weeks, if not months," Mouaz Mustafa, the executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force who was with McCain all day, told CBS News' Clarissa Ward. "It's something the senator has wanted to do for quite some time because he's pro-active on the subject of the U.S. being more directly involved in Syria and helping to create the necessary changes on the ground to end the conflict."
While on a trip to Turkey, McCain met with the leader of the Syrian rebels, Gen. Salem Idris, who accompanied the senator across the border at Bab Salameh and facilitated a series of meetings with assembled leaders of the Free Syrian Army.
Mustafa told CBS News' Ward that McCain went to two meetings in Gazantiep, Turkey - near the Syrian border - first and met with a dozen different commanders from all over Syria.
McCain then crossed Bab Salameh and met with a smaller gathering of brigade commanders near the border, Mustafa said. Idris attended all three meetings. McCain, who was inside Syria for roughly an hour, had two personal security guards with him.
McCain and one commander discussed Hezbollah's increasing role in Syrian fighting and also the issue of extremism, when McCain asked commanders how to best combat extremism. The commanders agreed that the best way was for them to be armed under the command of Idris.
According to Mustafa, McCain said that the trip had been very important and that there was no substitute for meeting people and sitting down face to face. He said that more policymakers should make the trip inside and do the same.


2013-05-26 Report: Russia halts sale of S-300 missile system to Syria haaretz.com

Despite recent official statements, Russia will not complete a deal to sell advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, a senior Russian official told The Sunday Times.
According to the report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Vladimir Putin agreed earlier this month that Russia would not sell advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria, and in return Israel would refrain from striking targets in Syria.
Israeli officials denied the report in The Sunday Times, on Sunday. They told Israel Radio that according to the information Israel holds Russia is planning on going forward with the sale though it is not clear when the deal will be finalized. The officials added that no commitment on the part of Russia had been received and that Israel hadn't committed to hold off on future attacks against arms shipments from Syria to Hezbollah.
Israel is concerned that the missiles would fall into the hands of rebel groups hostile to it, the report said, and was able to persuade Putin that of the risk such a deal posed a threat to regional stability.
“We are very much concerned about this; the large Russian community in Israel is a major factor in our attitude to Israel, and we will not let this happen,” the Times quoted the Russian official as saying.


2013-05-26 Uzi Mahnaimi. Putin axes Syria missile deal to aid Israel thesundaytimes.co.uk

RUSSIA will not fulfil a deal to sell advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria for fear they could fall into the wrong hands and be used to attack civilian aircraft at Tel Aviv’s main airport, according to a senior Russian official.
In return, he said, the Russians expected Israel to refrain from further air attacks on Syria.
“We are very much concerned about this; the large Russian community in Israel is a major factor in our attitude to Israel, and we will not let this happen,” the official told The Sunday Times.
The deal was apparently struck at a tense meeting this month between Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
vz.ru


2013-05-25 ANNE BARNARD. Hezbollah Commits to an All-Out Fight to Save Assad nytimes.com

The leader of the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah decisively committed his followers on Saturday to an all-out battle in Syria to salvage the rule of President Bashar al-Assad. He said the organization, founded to defend Lebanon and fight Israel, was entering “a completely new phase,” sending its troops abroad to protect its interests.
“It is our battle, and we are up to it,” the leader, Hassan Nasrallah, declared, in his most direct embrace yet of a fight in Syria that Hezbollah can no longer hide, now that dozens of its fighters have fallen in and around the strategic Syrian town of Qusayr. Outgunned Syrian rebels have held on for a week there against a frontal assault by Hezbollah and Syrian forces.
The speech signaled a significant escalation in Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria, enmeshing the group more deeply in the war across the border. It could put new pressure on the Obama administration and on Europe, where more countries have begun pushing to list the group as a terrorist organization as the United States does. It was also likely to further inflame tensions in Lebanon, where Syria’s civil war has spilled over into sectarian violence.
Mr. Nasrallah, a shrewd political operator, appears to be calculating that the West, thrown off balance by the rise of jihadist factions among the Syrian rebels, will not jump in. His confidence showed that he had little fear of the United States’ call for a political solution while allowing Saudi Arabia and Qatar to arm the rebels. Instead, Mr. Assad can head into negotiations planned for next month with a stronger hand, while the Syrian opposition is as divided and disorganized as ever.
“They wouldn’t do this if they thought there was going to be some kind of reaction,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “They’re basically calling Obama’s bluff.”
Ali Rizk, the Beirut bureau chief for Press TV, the satellite channel of Hezbollah’s patron Iran, said Mr. Nasrallah had revealed that “Hezbollah is in it militarily and is in it very deeply.”
A senior administration official, however, said that despite Hezbollah’s increasing activity in Syria, the United States remains convinced that neither Mr. Assad nor the armed rebels are strong enough to emerge victorious.
“Our assessment still remains that there is not going to be a military victory,” the official said. “The regime is not strong enough to battle back and give Assad a crushing victory. But the armed opposition is not militarily strong enough to emerge victorious.”
The official described the situation inside Syria as essentially “a standoff” and said American officials did not believe that Hezbollah’s increased activity in recent weeks fundamentally changed the United States’ position on diplomatic efforts to remove Mr. Assad from the country.
American officials insist that any political transition must end with Mr. Assad’s leaving power. Mr. Tabler said that there were few hopes for results from the talks and that there would be a parallel effort to increase aid to more moderate elements of the Syrian opposition.
Hezbollah has essentially become the ground assault force for the Syrian Army, an unprecedented role for the group, in the battle for Qusayr and its province, Homs, which links Damascus with the government’s coastal strongholds.
“In Qusayr, the ones who are engaging on the front lines, the man-to-man firepower, that’s Hezbollah,” Mr. Rizk said. “They’re playing this infantry role, which might even get bigger, especially in the border areas.”
Hezbollah is also fighting near Damascus — Mr. Assad’s other top military priority — around the Sayida Zeinab shrine, a holy site particularly revered by the group’s Shiite Muslims.
But Mr. Rizk said there were limits to how much Hezbollah could turn the tide, and that it was unlikely to send a large force toward the rebel-held northern cities of Aleppo and Idlib.
“Even some members of Hezbollah say taking back all the territory that Assad has lost is impossible,” he said. “In the near future, the focus is to secure Damascus, Homs, the most important strategic sites as a prelude to a political solution.”


2013-05-22 Lauren Williams. Russia opposes forced Syria regime change dailystar.com.lb

The Russian Ambassador to Lebanon says Russia’s support for the Syrian regime is not dependent on military and trade deals, but to prevent regime change by force.
Alexander Zasypkin laid out the Russian position on Syria ahead of the so called “Geneva 2” peace conference, during an interview with The Daily Star at the Russian Embassy in Beirut Tuesday.
Amid heightened concerns about the increasing role of Lebanon’s Hezbollah in Syria and the potential regional fallout, Zasypkin also assured that Russian missiles supplied to Syria will not reach Hezbollah.
“I don’t know the details of the contracts [for supply of weapons to Syria] but I can confirm that the contract states those missiles must not reach a third party,” he said.
“Our utmost priority is stability and security in Lebanon.”
He said military escalation, either by drawing in Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other regional actors, or by arming the rebels, should not be used as leverage ahead of any talks.
“Lately there has been this idea circulating that the opposition should be armed as a way of strengthening their negotiating position. This logic is not correct. The political solution should have been sought long ago. Militarizing will only lead to escalation,” he said.
“We believe escalation does not favor any side. Building the strength of the opposition so that it is equal to or exceeds the regime’s power does not lead to talks.”


2013-05-22 Syria: Qusayr Battle Far From Over english.al-akhbar.com

The Syrian army may have made some rapid advances in the battle for the town of Qusayr, but a short visit to the embattled city reveals that the opposition is digging in for a long fight.
No doubt, opposition forces were surprised by the Syrian army’s quick sweep into Qusayr. But the battle for the city is not as it is pictured in the media. Even military sources admit that they are “advancing cautiously” as they confront a large group of opposition fighters who have reinforced their positions in the northern section of Qusayr.
Morale seems to be high among government troops, who have managed to completely surround the city. Certainly recent news about the death of al-Nusra Front commander Abu Omar has further lifted their spirits.
Rumors about the movement of opposition fighters from the surrounding areas – including “hundred” from Yabroud and the Qalamoun Mountains – reach the military’s operation rooms in Qusayr. This is after the Syrian border guard managed to stop fighters coming from the nearby Wadi Khaled area in Lebanon.
Syrian military planners made the right decision by first cutting off Qusayr from the east along the Lebanese border, across which most of the local opposition’s weapons and fighters were smuggled. If regime forces regain control of the city, they will likely turn north against opposition positions in Homs and Rastan, which rely heavily on support from Lebanon and Qusayr.
Retaking the city would also put an end to the possibility of setting up a hardline Salafi emirate in Qusayr, which would have served as a thorn in the side of Hezbollah and the Shia Lebanese villages of the Hermel region, and could have easily led to a full-fledged sectarian war on both sides of the border.
Commanders on the ground say that battle for Qusayr is far from over and could take another week before they can seize the opposition’s stronghold in the north of the city. Standing on the roof of a building that serves as an observation post for government troops, it’s clear from the intensity of the fighting that their advance in that direction will be grueling and costly.


2013-05-22 THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN. Tell Me How This Ends nytimes.com

If we want Bashar al-Assad’s regime to be toppled and pluralistic democracy to emerge in Syria, then we not only need to arm the rebels but we need to organize an international peacekeeping force to enter Syria as soon as the regime falls to help manage the transition. Otherwise, when Assad is toppled, there will be at least two more wars in Syria. First will be a war between Sunnis and Alawites, the sect that Assad represents. The Alawites will fight to defend their perks and turf. After that, there will be a war within the opposition — between the Islamists and more secular fighting forces that have very different visions of a future Syria. Only an outside peacekeeping force could make up for the lack of trust and shared vision and try to forge a new Syria. And it would be a very, very long haul.
If our goal is to arm the rebels just to serve our strategic interests — which are to topple the Assad regime and end the influence of Iran and Hezbollah in Damascus and not care what comes next — then we need to be ready for the likely fragmentation of Syria into three zones: one Sunni, one Alawite and one Kurdish.
That might eventually solve the trust and civil war problems, as everyone would be living “with their own,” but I am not sure it would better enable Syrians to address their development challenges.
A third option would be to arm the rebels just to ensure a stalemate — in the hope that the parties might eventually get exhausted enough to strike a deal on their own. But, again, I find it hard to see how any deal that might set Syria on the long, difficult path to a decent, inclusive political system could be implemented without outside help on the ground to referee.
So let’s do something new: think two steps ahead. Before we start sending guns to more people, let’s ask ourselves for what exact ends we want those guns used and what else would be required of them and us to realize those ends?


2013-05-21 ADAM ENTOUS. Senate Committee Votes to Authorize Arms for Syrian Rebels online.wsj.com

A key Senate committee overwhelmingly approved legislation Tuesday that calls for the U.S. to provide small arms to moderate Syrian opposition groups fighting strongman Bashar al-Assad, underscoring growing sentiment among lawmakers for a change in the U.S. approach to the conflict.
The 15-3 vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee showed broad support from both Democrats and Republicans for arming the rebels, though some lawmakers from each party voiced concern over the difficulty of ensuring the weapons aren't misused and won't slip into the hands of radical Islamists aligned with al Qaeda.
The vote comes as the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, fighting alongside militants from Iran-backed Hezbollah, engaged in a third day of an offensive on the Syrian city of Qusayr—a battle that, if won by the government forces, could mark a profound shift after more than two years of conflict in Syria.


2013-05-19 ANNE BARNARD, HALA DROUBI. Syrian Army and Hezbollah Advance Into Key Rebel City nytimes.com

Syrian government forces backed by Lebanese fighters from the militant group Hezbollah pushed Sunday into parts of a strategic city long held by rebels, according to both an antigovernment activist and pro-government news channels. If the advance holds, it would be a serious setback for opponents of President Bashar al-Assad and further inflame regional tensions.
The Syrian military hammered the city, Qusayr, on the Lebanon border, with airstrikes and artillery, killing at least 52 people and wounding hundreds as civilians cowered, unable to flee the city, activists said. By day’s end about 60 percent of the city, including the municipal office building, was in army control for the first time in months, activists said.
The battle for the city, in heavily contested Homs Province, has deepened the involvement of Hezbollah in the Syrian conflict, raising sectarian tensions and fears of a regional conflagration. The fight is viewed by both loyalists and government opponents as a turning point that could, in the words of one activist in Qusayr, “decide the fate of the regime and the revolution.”
“It is one of the hardest days all over Syria,” said Tarek, the activist, who would give only his first name because of security concerns. “If Qusayr is finished, it will be the end of the revolution in Homs.”


2013-05-19 ANNE BARNARD, HWAIDA SAAD. Hezbollah Aids Syrian Military in a Key Battle nytimes.com

Syrian government forces backed by Lebanese fighters from the militant group Hezbollah pushed Sunday into parts of Qusayr, a strategic city long held by rebels, according to an antigovernment activist and pro-government news channels. If the advance holds, it would be a serious setback for opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
Both sides called it one of the war’s most intense ground battles. The fight seemed likely to inflame regional tensions as Hezbollah plunges more deeply into the conflict in Syria, increasing fears of a regional conflagration.
The Syrian military hammered Qusayr, on the Lebanon border, with airstrikes and artillery, killing at least 52 people and wounding hundreds as civilians cowered, unable to flee the city, activists said. By day’s end about 60 percent of the city, including the municipal office building, was under the army’s control for the first time in months, one activist said. Residents said rebels kept fighting into the night in Qusayr, killing a number of Hezbollah and government fighters.
Syrian state television said the army had “tightened the noose on the terrorists,” the government’s term for its armed opponents, by attacking from several directions. State news media said the army had “restored security and stability” to most of the city, killing many rebel fighters and capturing others.
The battle for the city, in heavily contested Homs Province, is viewed by both loyalists and government opponents as a turning point that could, in the words of one activist in Qusayr, “decide the fate of the regime and the revolution.”


2013-05-19 Julian Borger, Mona Mahmood. EU decision to lift Syrian oil sanctions boosts jihadist groups guardian.co.uk

The EU decision to lift Syrian oil sanctions to aid the opposition has accelerated a scramble for control over wells and pipelines in rebel-held areas and helped consolidate the grip of jihadist groups over the country's key resources.
Jabhat al-Nusra, affiliated with al-Qaida and other extreme Islamist groups, control the majority of the oil wells in Deir Ezzor province, displacing local Sunni tribes, sometimes by force. They have also seized control of other fields from Kurdish groups further to the north-east, in al-Hasakah governorate.
As opposition groups have turned their guns on each other in the battle over oil, water and agricultural land, military pressure on Bashar al-Assad's government from the north and east has eased off. In some areas, al-Nusra has struck deals with government forces to allow the transfer of crude across the front lines to the Mediterranean coast.


2013-05-19 Robert Tait. Benjamin Netanyahu threatens more Israeli strikes on Syria telegraph.co.uk

The Israeli prime minister said his government would act "with determination" to prevent arms being transferred from Syria to Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shia group, which last week claimed it would soon acquire "game changing" weapons to attack Israel.
"The government of Israel is working responsibly and with determination and sagacity, in order to ensure the supreme interest of the State of Israel... to... prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hizbollah and to [other] terrorist elements," Mr Netanyahu said at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting. "We will work to ensure Israelis' security interest in the future as well."
The Israeli air force is widely assumed to have been responsible for two raids this month that targeted weapons stocks in Syria supposedly destined for Hizbollah..
Mr Netanyahu said the Middle East was in the midst of "one of its most sensitive periods in decades with the escalating upheaval in Syria at its centre".
His remarks coincided with a newspaper report that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria had put surface-to-surface Tishreen missiles, the country's most advances weapons, on stand-by with orders to strike Tel Aviv in the event of a further Israeli raid.


2013-05-18 Father of Syrian deputy FM abducted in Daraa english.alarabiya.net

Gunmen kidnapped on Saturday the elderly father of Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in the province of Daraa, apparently in reprisal for the arrest of one of their relatives, according to a government source and a watchdog.
The deputy foreign minister’s office said Mekdad's father, 80, was seized in the village of Ghossom in the southern Daraa, according to AP.
“Today armed men abducted Mr Muqdad's father from his home in the village of Ghossom,”a government source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“They beat him up in front of his family then took him to Daraa city,” said the source.


2013-05-18 THOMAS L.FRIEDMAN. Without Water, Revolution nytimes.com

These boys bravely joined the adults of their town to liberate it from the murderous tyranny of Bashar al-Assad, but now the war has ground to a stalemate, so here, as in so many towns across Syria, life is frozen in a no-man’s land between order and chaos. There is just enough patched-up order for people to live — some families have even rigged up bootleg stills that refine crude oil into gasoline to keep cars running — but not enough order to really rebuild, to send kids to school or to start businesses.
So Syria as a whole is slowly bleeding to death of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. You can’t help but ask whether it will ever be a unified country again and what kind of human disaster will play out here if a whole generation grows up without school.
“Syria is becoming Somalia,” said Zakaria Zakaria, a 28-year-old Syrian who graduated from college with a major in English and who acted as our guide. “Students have now lost two years of school, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and if this goes on for two more years it will be like Somalia, a failed country. But Somalia is off somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Syria is the heart of the Middle East. I don’t want this to happen to my country. But the more it goes on, the worse it will be.”
This is the agony of Syria today. You can’t imagine the war here continuing for another year, let alone five. But when you feel the depth of the rage against the Assad government and contemplate the sporadic but barbaric sect-on-sect violence, you can’t imagine any peace deal happening or holding — not without international peacekeepers on the ground to enforce it. Eventually, we will all have to have that conversation, because this is no ordinary war.
She and her husband “used to own farmland,” said Faten. “We tended annual crops. We had wheat, barley and everyday food — vegetables, cucumbers, anything we could plant instead of buying in the market. Thank God there were rains, and the harvests were very good before. And then suddenly, the drought happened.”
What did it look like? “To see the land made us very sad,” she said. “The land became like a desert, like salt.” Everything turned yellow.
Did Assad’s government help? “They didn’t do anything,” she said. “We asked for help, but they didn’t care. They didn’t care about this subject. Never, never. We had to solve our problems ourselves.”


2013-05-17 Top Russian Diplomat Explains Reasons for Syrian Arms Sales world.time.com

In the past two weeks, the U.S. and its allies have done just about everything short of getting down on their collective knees and begging Russia to stop delivering weapons to the Syrian government. President Vladimir Putin has received visits this month from three of the most powerful statesmen in the western world — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on May 7, British Prime Minister David Cameron three days later and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu three days after that. Along with U.S. President Barack Obama, who spoke to Putin by phone on April 29, they have all implored the Russian leader to stop arming President Bashar Assad‘s regime.
However, last week it became clear that Russia was going ahead with S-300 sales immediately despite Kerry’s overtures. This week, the New York Times reported that Russia is delivering not only the sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Syria but the dreaded Yakhont “ship killer” missiles, which would make it a lot more painful for any foreign navies trying to intervene in Syria or provide supplies to the rebels by sea.
Why has Russia apparently decided to ramp up its arms supplies to Damascus, despite the West’s pleas? TIME spoke last week with top Russian diplomat Andrei Klimov, the deputy chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian parliament, who explained it as Moscow hedging its bets.
Weapons systems like the S-300, he said, “would simply set the right conditions” for negotiating Assad’s departure. On May 7, Kerry and Putin agreed to begin those negotiations at an international summit in the coming weeks. “To put it simply, the S-300 will put a damper on any desire to attack Syria from the air if that is the real intention of our partners” heading into these negotiations. Russia’s intention in all of this is to avoid making the same mistake it made with Libya, says Klimov, who has travelled to Syria during the civil war there to assess Russia’s options.


2013-05-17 US: Russian Missile Shipments to Syria 'Very Unfortunate' voanews.com

The top U.S. military officer says Russian missile shipments to Syria are "ill-timed" and "very unfortunate."
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, said Friday the missiles will embolden President Bashar al-Assad and prolong the suffering in Syria. He said Mr. Assad could think the missiles somehow will make him safer and more prone to a miscalculation.
France's Foreign Ministry said Friday it opposes Iranian participation in the peace talks. A spokesman says France cannot see how a country that threatens regional stability like Iran can take part.


2013-05-16 ADAM ENTOUS, JULIAN E.BARNES, GREGORY L.WHITE. Russia Raises Stakes In Syria online.wsj.com

Russia has sent a dozen or more warships to patrol waters near its naval base in Syria, a buildup that U.S. and European officials are taking as an aggressive stance meant partly to warn the West and Israel not to intervene in Syria's bloody civil war.
Russia's expanded presence in the eastern Mediterranean, which raised attention among U.S. officials starting three months ago, represents one of its largest sustained naval deployments since the Cold War. While Western officials say they don't fear an impending conflict with Russia's aged fleet, the presence adds a new source of potential danger for miscalculation in an increasingly combustible region.
"It is a show of force. It's muscle flexing. It is about demonstrating their commitment to their interests," a senior U.S. defense official said of the Russian deployments.
The military buildup is seen as Moscow's way of trying to strengthen its hand in any talks over Syria's future and buttress its influence in the Middle East. It also provides options for evacuating tens of thousands of Russians still in Syria.
Russian Navy and foreign ministry officials didn't respond to requests for comment.
Russia supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the U.S. has called for his removal. Moscow and Washington have worked to assemble an international conference involving Damascus amid low expectations that it could lead to a political transition.
But tensions have heightened around the region, with the West backing rebels as Moscow arms Mr. Assad. Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled this week that he would push ahead with the sale of an advanced air-defense system to Syria, according to U.S. intelligence reports, over Israeli and U.S. objections.
Hezbollah and its chief sponsor, Iran, also have rallied around Mr. Assad, sharing Russia's interest in keeping the regime in place. Recent Israeli airstrikes inside Syria have targeted missiles en route from Tehran to Hezbollah, Western intelligence officials have alleged.
U.S. officials said in interviews Thursday that another round of Israeli airstrikes could target a new transfer of advanced missiles in the near future. Israeli and Western intelligence services believe the missiles could be transferred to the militant Hezbollah group within days. Russia has strongly protested previous Israeli strikes in Syria.
Amid the strategic turmoil, U.S. and European defense officials say Russia appears to be trying to project power to deter outside intervention in Syria, which Russia sees as its foothold in the Middle East.
U.S. and European officials believe Mr. Putin wants to prevent the West from contemplating a Libya-style military operation inside Syria. President Barack Obama doesn't want to intervene militarily, but he has said the calculation could be changed by suspected use of chemical weapons by Mr. Assad's forces. Likewise, the Pentagon has stepped up military contingency planning in the event of spillover of fighting into neighboring Turkey and Jordan, both close U.S. allies.
Another senior U.S. official said Moscow's deployments appeared designed to show that Russia intends to keep Tartus, its only remaining military outpost outside the former Soviet Union. Though spare by Western military standards—it consists of a pair of piers staffed by about 50 people, according to Russian data—the base provides a toehold in the region that has grown in strategic and symbolic importance for Moscow.
"It's not really a base," said Andrei Frolov, an analyst at CAST, a Moscow military think tank. "It's more like a service station" that can do limited resupply and very modest repairs.
U.S. officials say, however, that Russia has drawn up plans to expand the base, which it negotiated with Mr. Assad.
Washington's interest in the base has likewise grown—not because the U.S. sees it as a threat, but because U.S. officials believe that by assuring Russia that the base will remain under Moscow's control in a post-Assad Syria, the U.S. has a better chance of convincing Mr. Putin to break with Mr. Assad.


2013-05-16 ALEXEI ANISHCHUK. Putin warns West to not arm organ-eating Syrian rebels theglobeandmail.com

Russian President Vladimir Putin questioned on Sunday why the West would want to arm Syrian rebels who he said ate human organs, saying plans to give them weapons contradicted basic human values.
Speaking after meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron in London ahead of a G8 summit on Monday, Putin said both the Syrian government and Syrian rebels were to blame for the bloodshed.
“You will not deny that one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras. Are these the people you want to support?” Putin told a news conference.
“Is it them who you want to supply with weapons? Then this probably has little relation to humanitarian values that have been preached in Europe for hundreds of years.”
Putin was referring to disturbing video footage on the Internet of one rebel fighter eating what appeared to be the heart of a government soldier.
The talks followed a decision by U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration to arm rebels trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after it said it had obtained proof that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons.


2013-05-16 BEN HUBBARD. Syria Begins to Break Apart Under Pressure From War nytimes.com

The black flag of jihad flies over much of northern Syria. In the center of the country, pro-government militias and Hezbollah fighters battle those who threaten their communities. In the northeast, the Kurds have effectively carved out an autonomous zone.
After more than two years of conflict, Syria is breaking up. A constellation of armed groups battling to advance their own agendas are effectively creating the outlines of separate armed fiefs. As the war expands in scope and brutality, its biggest casualty appears to be the integrity of the Syrian state.
On Thursday, President Obama met in Washington with the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and once again pressed the idea of a top-down diplomatic solution. That approach depends on the rebels and the government agreeing to meet at a peace conference that was announced last week by the United States and Russia.
“We’re going to keep increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and working with the Syrian opposition,” Mr. Obama said. “We are going to keep working for a Syria that is free of Assad’s tyranny.”
But as evidence of massacres and chemical weapons mounts, experts and Syrians themselves say the American focus on change at the top ignores the deep fractures the war has caused in Syrian society. Increasingly, it appears Syria is so badly shattered that no single authority is likely to be able to pull it back together any time soon.
Instead, three Syrias are emerging: one loyal to the government, to Iran and to Hezbollah; one dominated by Kurds with links to Kurdish separatists in Turkey and Iraq; and one with a Sunni majority that is heavily influenced by Islamists and jihadis.
“It is not that Syria is melting down — it has melted down,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of “In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle with Syria.”
Although the Obama administration and its allies share the rebels’ goal of removing Mr. Assad from power, they have little else in common with the many rebel brigades that define their struggle in Islamic terms and seek to replace Mr. Assad with an Islamic state. Among them is Jabhet al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, the local branch of Al Qaeda, which the United States has blacklisted as a terrorist group.
The war’s duration and the competition for resources have left the rebel movement itself deeply fractured. Few effective links exist between the rebels’ exile leader, Gen. Salim Idris, and the most powerful groups on the ground.
And recent months have seen increasing fights among rebels, diminishing their ability to form a united front against the government. This week, the Islamist Shariah Commission in Aleppo went after rebels accused of looting. The council sent fighters to surround the group’s headquarters and arrested some of its members, confiscating trucks full of looted goods. The haul in one neighborhood included five washing machines and a television.
Another video, circulated this week, showed a Nusra Front leader in eastern Syria standing behind 11 bound and blindfolded captives. After announcing that they had been sentenced by an Islamic court for killing Syrians, he drew a pistol and shot them in the back of the head, one by one.
“The only real outcome I see in the next 5 to 10 years is a series of cantons that agree to tactical cease-fires because they are tired of the bloodletting,” said Mr. Holliday, the analyst with the Institute for the Study of War. “That trajectory is in place, with or without Assad.”


2013-05-16 I.Gladilin. Russian S-300 are already in Syria km.ru


2013-05-16 MICHAEL R. GORDON, ERIC SCHMITT. Russia Sends More Advanced Missiles to Aid Assad in Syria nytimes.com

Russia has shipped an advanced antiship cruise missile to Syria, a move that illustrates the depth of its support for the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad, American officials said on Thursday.
Russia has previously provided Yakhont missiles, as the weapon is known, to Syria. But the missiles that were recently delivered are outfitted with an advanced radar that makes them far more accurate, according to American officials who are familiar with classified intelligence reports.
The new missile “contributes to Syria’s overall military capabilities, but specifically it would tend to push Western or allied naval activity further off the coast,” said Jeffrey White, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former senior American intelligence official. He said the delivery was “a signal of the Russian commitment to the Syrian government.”
The disclosure of the delivery comes as Russia and the United States are planning to convene an international conference aimed at ending the brutal conflict in Syria, which has killed more than 70,000 people. That conference is expected to be held in early June and to include representatives of the Assad government and the Syrian opposition.
Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly said that it is the United States’ hope to change Mr. Assad’s “calculations” about his ability to hold on to power so that arrangements can be negotiated for a transitional government to govern a post-Assad Syria.
But the flow of Russian and Iranian arms to Syria, American officials have also said, has buttressed Mr. Assad’s apparent belief that he can prevail militarily.
That could make it more difficult for the United States and its allies to impose a naval embargo, establish a no-fly zone or carry out airstrikes in support of the rebels if Western nations ever decided to intervene in the conflict.
Russia, for example, previously shipped SA-17 surface-to-air missiles to Syria. Israel carried out an airstrike in January against trucks that were transporting the weapons near Damascus. Israel has not officially acknowledged the raid but has said it is prepared to intervene militarily to prevent any “game changing” weapons from being shipped to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group.
More recently, Israeli and American officials have urged Russia not to proceed with the sale of advanced S-300 air defense weapons. The Kremlin has yielded to American entreaties not to provide S-300’s to Iran. But the denial of that sale, analysts say, has increased the pressure within Russia’s military establishment to proceed with the sale to Syria.


2013-05-16 Turkey, US agree ‘al-Assad should go for a free Syria’ hurriyetdailynews.com

Turkey and Syria agreed that a democratic process without Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was needed for a democratic transition of the war-torn country, U.S. President Barack Obama said today in a press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“We [referring to Erdoğan] both agree al-Assad needs to go,” Obama said following a meeting the Turkish premier that lasted more than two hours.
Obama also offered his condolences over deadly Reyhanlı attacks and said his country would always be on Turkey’s side in its efforts to fight terrorism.
“We will continue to increase the pressure on al-Assad regime and we will continue to work with the opposition,” the U.S. president said, who also thanked Turkey and Turkish people “for the hospitality shown to the Syrian refugees.”
Turkey will also play a major role in efforts to bring together all sides of the conflict at a planned international conference to be held soon, adding that efforts will continue to create a Syria “free from al-Assad’s tyranny.”


2013-05-15 EDITH M. LEDERER. UN General Assembly approves Syria resolution chron.com

The U.N. General Assembly approved an Arab-backed resolution Wednesday calling for a political transition in Syria, but more than 70 countries refused to vote "yes" because of its support for the main opposition group and fears the resolution could torpedo a new U.S.-Russia effort to end the escalating conflict.
The United States signed on as a co-sponsor of the resolution, saying it would promote a political solution. But key Syrian ally Russia urged a "no" vote, saying it was "counterproductive and irresponsible" to promote a one-sided resolution when Moscow and Washington are trying to get the Syrian government and opposition to agree to negotiations.
The resolution, which is not legally binding though it can carry moral weight, was approved by a vote of 107-12 with 59 abstentions.
It welcomes the establishment of the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group, "as effective interlocutors needed for a political transition" and notes "wide international acknowledgment" that the group is the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. It also strongly condemns President Bashar Assad's regime for its escalating use of heavy weapons and "gross violations" of human rights.
The Arab group decided to seek approval of a wide-ranging resolution on Syria in the General Assembly, where there are no vetoes, to reflect international dismay at the increasing death toll, now more than 70,000, and the failure to end the more than two-year-old conflict.
Unlike Security Council resolutions, which are legally binding, General Assembly resolutions cannot be enforced. But approval of an assembly resolution would counter the paralysis of the deeply divided Security Council, where Syria's allies, Russia and China, have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to end the violence.


2013-05-14 Aryn Baker. Exclusive: ‘We Will Slaughter All of Them.’ The Rebel Behind the Syrian Atrocity Video world.time.com

timeglobalspin.files.wordpress.com
News sites around the world have shown Khalid al-Hamad sink his teeth into what appears to be the lung of a dead Syrian government soldier. His fellow rebels have called for him to be arrested or killed for the act. Human-rights groups have condemned him. But al-Hamad has no regrets.
In an interview conducted via Skype in the early hours of May 14, al-Hamad explained to TIME what caused him to cut out the soldier’s organs: “We opened his cell phone, and I found a clip of a woman and her two daughters fully naked and he was humiliating them, and sticking a stick here and there.”
The video, a 27-second clip in which al-Hamad brandishes organs that appear to be the lungs and heart of the Syrian soldier who lies dead at al-Hamad’s feet, was first seen by two TIME reporters in April. A few weeks later, TIME obtained a copy. Though we had been told by witnesses to the filming that the video was legitimate, we set about authenticating its content, aware of the potential that it could have been faked for propaganda purposes. Al-Hamad has now confirmed that the video is real, and that he did indeed take a bite of the soldier’s lung. (At the time of filming, al-Hamad believed he was biting into the liver. A surgeon who has seen the video confirms that the organ in question was a lung, which somewhat resembles the liver).
Al-Hamad, who is Sunni and harbors a sectarian hatred for Alawite Muslims, said he has another gruesome video of his killing a government soldier from the Alawite faith. (Syrian President Bashar Assad is Alawite; the conflict in Syria is increasingly sectarian.) “Hopefully we will slaughter all of them [Alawites]. I have another video clip that I will send to them. In the clip, I am sawing another shabiha [progovernment militiaman] with a saw. The saw we use to cut trees. I sawed him into small pieces and large ones.” Al-Hamad also explained that even though both sides of the conflict in Syria are using video clips of their own brutal actions to intimidate the other, he believes his clip would have particular impact on the regime’s troops. “They film as well, but after what I did hopefully they will never step into the area where Abu Sakkar is,” he said, using his nom de guerre and referring to the part of Syria he currently controls.


2013-05-14 Syria demands foreign fighters leave or get killed news.xinhuanet.com

Syrian Prime Minister Wael al- Halqi said Monday that the armed rebels in Syria have two options "return to where they came from, or to be killed."
The minister's remarks came during a session of the ministerial committee tasked with implementing the political program outlined by President Bashar al-Assad recently.
According to the state-run SANA news agency, al-Halqi stressed that the Syrian people are determined to combat terrorism and restore security and stability to Syria.
He added that two options remain for the "mercenary terrorist groups" either to "return to where they came from, or be killed by the Syrian armed forces," indicating that the "government's doors are wide open to whoever wants to return to the right path."
The Syrian government has repeatedly said that thousands of foreign fighters affiliated with Jihadi groups are fighting in Syria alongside rebels.
Haitham al-Maleh, a leading opposition figure in exile, said recently that a total of 12,000 foreign fighters have joined the rebels in Syria.


2013-05-14 Whitney Eulich. Syrian rebel's video surfaces amid intensified pressure for action on Syria csmonitor.com

An unauthenticated video that appears to show a Syrian rebel severely abusing the body of a dead soldier has highlighted the increasingly dire situation in Syria, where war crimes and sectarian rhetoric in the two-year conflict appear to be on the rise.
"I swear to God we will eat your hearts and your livers, you soldiers of Bashar the dog," a man says on tape as he stands over the body of a soldier, referring to soldiers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The video is 27 seconds long, according to Time, and the man is believed to be a rebel commander named Khalid al-Hamad, also known as Abu Sakkar.
Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already providing the rebel forces with military aid, and the U.S. is helping with nonmilitary aid. There is an ongoing debate in Washington about whether the U.S. government should provide further aid to the rebels, possibly including weapons. Eating an enemy’s liver may be an extreme example of what appears to be a rebel atrocity, but there is enough documented evidence of extrajudicial killings, torture and desecration on the part of the rebels that it would be near impossible to know for certain who, exactly, are the “good” guys, says Peter Bouckaert, director of emergencies for the New York–based group Human Rights Watch.
“In this context, where different rebel groups are fighting alongside each other, and sharing weapons, it’s difficult to control where the weapons end up. It is very likely that some of the weapons will end up in the hands of the likes of Abu Sakkar.”


2013-05-12 Liz Sly. Turkey says bombing suspects are linked to Syria washingtonpost.com

Turkey said on Sunday that it would step up its efforts to persuade the international community to do more to end the war in Syria, after investigators said they had found evidence that the regime in Damascus was behind the car bombing in a Turkish border town that killed 46 people.
But Turkish officials also made it clear that they do not intend to retaliate for the attack, which has exposed the risks for Turkey in supporting the Syrian rebels battling to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
The massive double bombing in the southern town of Reyhanli on Saturday also injured 155 people in the bloodiest single incident yet of cross-border spillover from the Syrian war. Nine Turkish citizens have been detained in connection with the blast, Turkish authorities said Sunday, and one of them is suspected of being the mastermind.
Interior Minister Muammer Guler told reporters that the nine had ties to Syrian intelligence agencies.
“This incident was carried out by an organization which is in close contact to pro-regime groups in Syria and I say this very clearly, with the Syrian mukhabarat,” he said.


2013-05-12 No sale of advance missile system to Syria, Russian FM says jta.org

Russia will not sell the S-300 advanced air defense system to Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
Lavrov’s statement, published last Friday by the Itar-Tass news agency, came in reaction to the publication of an article two days earlier in The Wall Street Journal reporting that Israel had informed the United States of an imminent deal to sell the advanced ground-to-air missiles.
Possession of S-300 missiles would significantly boost Syria’s ability to stave off intervention in its current civil war, the daily reported.
Lavrov said Russia would fulfill the contracts it has already concluded with Damascus, but they did not include sales of the S-300 system.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to travel to Russia this week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss concerns over planned weapons sales.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on May 9 said the United States does not want Russia to sell weapons to Syria and has opposed transfers of missile systems to the country in the past because of the threat to Israel.


2013-05-12 Syria denies Turkey Reyhanli car bombs role bbc.co.uk

Syria has denied being behind two car bomb attacks in a Turkish border town on Saturday that killed more than 40 people.
The information minister told a news conference in Damascus that Turkey itself was indirectly responsible.
The Turkish authorities say nine Turks have been detained following the attacks.


2013-05-10 JAY SOLOMON, GREGORY L.WHITE. Russia Says It Will Ship Missiles to Syria online.wsj.com

Moscow plans to deliver already contracted ground-to-air missile systems to Syria, Russian officials said Friday, pressing ahead with an arms transfer that U.S. officials say could significantly strengthen Damascus's ability to ward off an attack.
With its plans, the Kremlin butted up against rising Western diplomatic pressure not to complete the deal, providing a reminder of the challenges facing U.S. and European leaders as they seek to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"Russia is not planning to sell. Russia already sold them a long time ago. It has signed the contracts and is completing deliveries, in line with the agreed contracts, of equipment that is anti-aircraft technology," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Warsaw.
Mr. Lavrov and a Kremlin spokesman declined Friday to say whether Mr. Lavrov had been referring to S-300 missile batteries, one of Russia's most sophisticated defense systems capable of striking manned aircraft and guided missiles.
Russian state television, reporting on Mr. Lavrov's trip, went beyond the official line: "After the S-300s are put into service, a repeat of the Libyan scenario—the imposition of a no-fly zone over the country—would be extremely difficult," said the Vesti-24 channel.
This past week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Israeli intelligence had provided the U.S. with intelligence that Syria had already begun making payments on a 2010 contract with Russia to purchase four S-300 batteries, with 144 missiles, for $900 million. The first deliveries were expected to be made over summer of 2013 through the Syrian port at Tartus.
The Russian announcement comes as a snub to the U.S. and its allies. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, three days after Secretary of State John Kerry. U.S. officials said Friday that Mr. Kerry raised the issue of Russian arm shipments to Syria with Mr. Putin, though not the specific Israeli report on the S-300s.
After Tuesday's meetings, Messrs. Kerry and Lavrov announced an international conference on the Syrian crisis, an apparent boost for Kremlin efforts to spur a diplomatic solution. Moscow opposes intervention in the bloody Syrian conflict.
On Friday, Russian officials said any weapons Moscow is delivering to Syria would be defensive. "It is designed so that Syria, in this case, should have the ability to protect itself from airstrikes, something we know that is not an entirely fantastical scenario," Mr. Lavrov said in Warsaw.


2013-05-10 Tom Parfitt, David Cameron says 'real progress' made with Vladimir Putin over Syria telegraph.co.uk

The two leaders had agreed that as permanent members of the United Nations security council they should “drive this process to shape a transitional government” in Syria.
Mr Putin stressed that “Syria’s sovereignty must be protected”, reflecting Russia’s deeply held opposition to Western intervention against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which is a major ally and recipient of Russian arms.
However, the Kremlin has agreed to attend a conference on Syria's future with the US and western powers by the end of the month with the aim of creating a transitional government in Syria, where 70,000 lives have been lost.
The slight but significant shift in Moscow’s position was underlined by the announcement by Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, that the S-300 missile defence system would not be delivered to Syria.
Itar-Tass news agency said Russia would only be fulfilling contracts it has already concluded with Damascus.
During a meeting in Moscow earlier this week US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, pledged to organise a conference by the end of May in an attempt to end the civil war between Mr Assad's forces and Syrian rebels. The aim will be to draw both sides in the fighting – which has killed 70,000 people – into a dialogue over forming a transitional government.


2013-05-09 Indira A.R.Lakshmanan. Russia Weapons Sale to Syria Would Be Destabilizing, Kerry Says bloomberg.com

The U.S. has expressed its concern to Russia about the sale of any advanced missile systems to Syria, which would be “destabilizing” for Israel’s security, Secretary of State John Kerry said.
“I think we’ve made it crystal clear we would prefer that Russia was not supplying assistance” to the Syrian regime in its war against opposition forces, Kerry said in Rome today. Kerry had lengthy talks with Russian leaders earlier this week in Moscow, where they agreed to try to push both sides in the Syrian conflict into peace talks.
As United Nations and European leaders said the U.S.- Russian agreement was a promising development, Israel has told the U.S. that a deal is imminent for Russia to sell S-300 air defense missile batteries to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Kerry didn’t comment on the impact of Syria’s potential acquisition of advanced ground-to-air missile systems on the balance of power in the two-year civil war or on the ability of outside nations such as the U.S. to intervene militarily to assist opposition forces.
The S-300 missile system would bolster Syria’s defenses, complicating efforts by outside powers to enforce a no-fly zone over the country and counteracting military assistance from U.S. allies to the rebels. Officials in the U.S. and Israel declined to comment on a potential arms sale.
The conflict has escalated with allegations of chemical weapons use by government and rebel forces and airstrikes by Israel on weapons caches that may have been destined for the anti-Israel Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said today in an interview with NBC News that “it is clear” Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons.
In London, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman today said Assad’s regime is probably responsible for any chemical weapons use in Syria.


2013-05-09 Kerry: Assad cannot be part of Syria solution aljazeera.com

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will have to step down as part of any political solution in Syria.
Kerry made the comments on Thursday in Rome while meeting his Jordanian counterpart, Nasser Judeh, during the third day of talks on the nearly two-year conflict.
He said all sides were working to "effect a transition government by mutual consent of both sides, which clearly means that in our judgement President Assad will not be a component of that transitional government".
Kerry also officially unveiled $100m in additional US humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees, almost half of which will go to help Jordan struggling to cope with a tide of people fleeing the 26-month war.


2013-05-09 Nasrallah: Israel can't stop Syria from aiding Hezbollah english.al-akhbar.com

The recent Israeli air raids near Damascus will not succeed in removing Syria from the “equation of the resistance,” as Syria intends to provide Hezbollah with “unique weapons,” Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said Thursday evening in a televised speech.
“One of the goals of Israel is for Syria to be out of the circle of the resistance” and stop President Bashar al-Assad from sending weapons to Lebanon, Nasrallah said.
However, the Israeli attack – which only caused four deaths, Nasrallah claimed, contradicting some media reports – will backfire on the Jewish state, Nasrallah said. The Syrian government now intends to send the Lebanese resistance movement “unique weapons,” which could disrupt the balance of power with Israel, he affirmed.
Hezbollah also “stands side by side with the Syrian popular resistance in order to liberate the Syrian Golan Heights,” the party’s leader added.
The Syrian government has green-lit efforts to reclaim the Golan Heights from Israel in response to the air raids.
Nasrallah also slammed Arab nations’ inaction regarding Palestine.
“Arab officials are treating Palestine as a historical burden, not a cause,” he said, criticizing the “dangerous concessions” foreign ministers of certain Arab countries have made with Israel.
In a jab at Qatar, Nasrallah mentioned that large amounts of money being spent on “one football stadium for the World Cup” could be used instead to protect Jerusalem.\
Ynet. Assad: We'll give everything to Hezbollah
news.xinhuanet.com


2013-05-08 JAY SOLOMON, ADAM ENTOUS, JULIAN E. BARNES. U.S. Is Warned Russia Plans Syria Arms Sale online.wsj.com

Israel has warned the U.S. that a Russian deal is imminent to sell advanced ground-to-air missile systems to Syria, weapons that would significantly boost the regime's ability to stave off intervention in its civil war.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad has been seeking to purchase S-300 missile batteries—which can intercept both manned aircraft and guided missiles—from Moscow going back to the George W. Bush administration, U.S. officials said. Western nations have lobbied President Vladimir Putin's government not to go ahead with the sale. If Syria were to acquire and deploy the systems, it would make any international intervention in Syria far more complicated, according to U.S. and Middle East-based officials.
According to the information the Israelis provided in recent days, Syria has been making payments on a 2010 agreement with Moscow to buy four batteries for $900 million. They cite financial transactions from the Syrian government, including one made this year through Russia's foreign-development bank, known as the VEB.
The package includes six launchers and 144 operational missiles, each with a range of 125 miles, according to the information the Israelis provided. The first shipment could come over the next three months, according to the Israelis' information, and be concluded by the end of the year. Russia is also expected to send two instruction teams to train Syria's military in operating the missile system, the Israelis say.
According to a U.S. intelligence assessment, Russia began shipping SA-22 Pantsir-S1 units to Syria in 2008. The system, a combination of surface-to-air missiles and 30mm antiaircraft guns, has a digital targeting system and is mounted on a combat vehicle, making it easy to move. Syria has 36 of the vehicles, according to the assessment.
In 2009, the Russians started upgrading Syria's outdated analog SA-3 surface-to-air missile systems, turning them into the SA-26 Pechora-2M system, which is mobile and digital, equipped with missiles with an operational range of 17 miles, according to the assessment.
The U.S. is particularly worried about another modernized system Moscow provides—the SA-5. With an operational range of 175 miles, SA-5 missiles could take out U.S. planes flying from Cyprus, a key North Atlantic Treaty Organization base that was used during Libya operations and would likely be vital in any Syrian operation.
The U.S. has stealth aircraft and ship-based, precision-guided missiles that could take out key air-defense sites. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has privately told the White House that shutting down the system could require weeks of bombing, putting U.S. fighter pilots in peril and diverting military resources from other priorities.
According to an analysis by the U.S. military's Joint Staff, Syrian air defenses are nearly five times more sophisticated than what existed in Libya before the NATO launched its air campaign there in 2011. Syrian air defenses are about 10 times more sophisticated than the system the U.S. and its allies faced in Serbia.


2013-05-07 Arshad Mohammed, Thomas Grove. Russia, U.S. seek to convene Syria peace conference reuters.com

Russia and the United States agreed on Tuesday to try to bring together Syria's warring parties at an international conference, possibly by the end of this month, in an attempt to negotiate an end to their civil war.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry announced the agreement in Moscow, despite their nations' differences over Syria, saying they would work to ensure both the Damascus government and the rebels fighting it would attend.
The aim is to revive an agreement to create a transitional government that was reached in Geneva last June but was never put into force because it left open the question of what would happen to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"The alternative (to a negotiated solution) is that there is even more violence. The alternative is that Syria heads closer to an abyss, if not over the abyss and into chaos," Kerry told a joint news conference with Lavrov.
"The alternative is that the humanitarian crisis will grow. The alternative is that there may be even a break up of Syria," said Kerry, who earlier held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.


2013-05-06 Syria crisis: UN's Del Ponte says evidence rebels 'used sarin' bbc.co.uk

Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve gas agent, sarin, according to a leading United Nations investigator.
Carla Del Ponte told Swiss TV that there were "strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof".
Ms Del Ponte did not rule out the possibility that government forces might also have used chemical weapons, but said she had not seen evidence.
The US and UK have said their inquiries suggest the government has used them.
British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the evidence was quite compelling last week, but that it would need to be incontrovertible before the case for an international response could be made at the UN.
On Monday, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said it was "deeply concerned by signs that world public opinion is being prepared for possible military intervention" in Syria.


2013-05-05 Iran ready to ‘train’ Syrian army forces, says commander english.alarabiya.net

Iran said on Sunday it was ready to help support the Syrian army with training assistance, in a stark statement from an Iranian army official
General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, commander of the Islamic republic’s army ground forces, was quoted as saying on Sunday that Iran would not be actively involved in army operations, but he did give an offer to train them.
“As a Muslim nation, we back Syria, and if there is need for training we will provide them with the training, but won’t have any active involvement in the operations,” he said in remarks reported by the official IRNA news agency.
“The Syrian army has accumulated experience during years of conflict with the Zionist regime (Israel) and is able to defend itself and doesn’t need foreign assistance,” he added.
Earlier, Iran condemned an Israeli attack on Syria and urged countries in the region to stand against the action, the Fars news agency reported on Sunday.


2013-05-04 Liz Sly, Suzan Haidamous. Syrian report: Israel bombs outskirts of Damascus for second time in recent days washingtonpost.com

Israeli warplanes bombed the outskirts of Damascus early Sunday for the second time in recent days, according to Syrian state media and reports from activists, signaling a sharp escalation in tensions between the neighboring countries that had already been exacerbated by the conflict raging in Syria.
Videos posted on the Internet by activists showed a huge fireball erupting on Mount Qassioun, a landmark hill overlooking the capital on which the Syrian government has deployed much of the firepower it is using against rebel-controlled areas surrounding the city.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency said that a scientific research facility had been struck by an Israeli missile, and a banner displayed on state television said the attack was intended to relieve pressure on rebel forces in the embattled eastern suburbs. The banner was accompanied by martial music and footage of Syrian soldiers marching, descending from helicopters and firing rockets, indicating that Syria may not shrug off the assault, as it has with some Israeli strikes in the past.
“The Israeli aggression comes at a time when our armed forces are scoring victories against terrorism and al-Qaeda gangs,” state television said.
A subsequent video suggested further strikes were taking place in the same location, though the number was unclear.
There was no immediate confirmation that the strikes were carried out by Israeli warplanes. Reuters news service reported that an Israeli military spokeswoman said, “We don’t respond to this kind of report.”


2013-05-04 Report: Israel conducts airstrike into Syria jpost.com

The United States believes Israel has conducted an airstrike into Syria, CNN reported on Friday, citing two unnamed US officials.
CNN quoted the officials as saying Israel most likely conducted the strike "in the Thursday-Friday time frame" and that Israel's warplanes did not enter Syrian airspace.
Syria's envoy to the UN said on Friday he was not aware of any attack by Israel against his country.
"I'm not aware of any attack right now," Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari said.
The CNN report said that during the time frame of the attack, the United States had collected information showing Israeli warplanes overflying Lebanon.
IAF warplanes flew over southern Lebanon at low altitudes on Friday morning, Lebanon's official National News Agency reported.


2013-05-04 Ron Ben-Yishai. Attack into Syria – message to Iran ynetnews.com

The attack itself, one can assume, was not carried out from within Lebanese territory, but from a long distance. Perhaps even from over the sea. It is known that Israel has lethal long-range weapons systems – such as the Popeye air-to-surface missile manufactured by Rafael – which allows for very accurate hits from a range of over 100 kilometers (62 miles), maybe even much more. Just so you know, Mr. Khamenei.
Among the strategic and modern weapons systems Israel said it would not allow to be transferred to Lebanon are the Scud D ballistic missiles - based on the original Russian Scud – which Syria developed with Iran's funding. These missiles can carry chemical warheads containing the advanced chemical warfare agent VX to a distance of up to 680 kilometers (423 miles). It is important to stress that according to the relatively credible reports from the Pentagon, the attacked weapons systems did not contain chemical warfare agents – but potentially they could have.
The accurate long-range missiles Assad is trying to transfer to Hezbollah present two problems for Israel: They endanger military facilities and civilians from the north almost all the way to Eilat; and they can be activated far from the border – for instance, from the Hezbollah-controlled area in Lebanon's northern Bekaa Valley – in a manner which would make it difficult for Israeli warplanes to reach them quickly and thwart the launching. The good news is that the "Arrow" system is capable of intercepting - if the number of missiles fired does not exceed a certain amount. Therefore, Hezbollah has an interest in receiving from Syria the largest amount possible of ballistic missiles and long-range rockets of all types –mainly Scud missiles.
The advanced Scud is not the only weapon capable of breaking the balance of deterrence. Other weapons systems are capable of limiting the IDF's ability to operate deep inside Lebanon should Hezbollah decide to launch a missile and rocket attack. These systems mostly include mobile, "stealth," and accurate anti-aircraft missile batteries and radar facilities which are difficult to locate – particularly the SA-17 surface-to-air missiles, which Russia recently supplied to Syria. The request for the SA-17 was made in the aftermath of the strike on Syria's nuclear reactor in 2007. Now Russia is transferring these missiles to deter NATO from operating as it did in Libya. Assad, for his part, is trying to reward Nasrallah and make things difficult for the Israeli Air Force. This is why an SA-17 battery was attacked last January as it was being transferred to from western Damascus to the Lebanese border.


2013-05-03 JONATHAN SPYER. Behind the Lines: Is Assad winning in Syria jpost.com

As long ago as the summer of 2012, the government side demonstrated that it was able to adjust creatively, if ruthlessly, to events. When it became apparent that determined attempts by the regime army to crush the revolt in the northern Syrian countryside were proving fruitless, Assad’s forces carried out a strategic withdrawal. In effect, the regime ceded large swathes of northern and eastern Syria to the Arab rebels and to Kurdish separatists.
Assad held on to the cities of the north; the western coastal area; the area around the capital, Damascus; and the highways between all these.
The dictator and his Iranian patrons then settled down to a process of attrition – with the twin goals of preserving their own area of rule, and rendering ungovernable the area under rebel control. This latter goal was attempted through the use of air power, artillery and latterly ballistic missiles against civilian targets. It has been successful insofar as the rebels have proven to be notably unable to prevent their area of control from turning into a chaotic zone, consisting of the rival fiefdoms of various local commanders and alliances.
These were the contours of the bloody stalemate into which Syria settled for the latter half of 2012. In the first months of the year, the rebels made a concerted effort to break this stalemate. Aided by deliveries of new and improved weapons systems paid for by the Saudis and brought in via Jordan, rebels in the south made significant gains. The town of Dael on the road to Damascus from the southern border fell at the end of March. Much of rural Dera’a province, the cradle of the revolt, fell to rebel forces. Further north, the town of Raqqa fell to Islamist rebels in early March – the first provincial capital to fall.
At this point, it looked like the battle for Damascus was about to begin.
But over the course of April, the regime has hit back.
Damascus remains a fearsome prospect for any rebel force wishing to enter it. The regime has assembled a huge array of artillery and missile systems on Mount Qassioun, a strategically vital area of high ground over the city.
The regime has also entrenched its most loyal and able fighters, including the Republican Guards, the 4th Armored Division, elements of the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Alawite paramilitaries trained by Iran in the city. Regime forces last week recaptured Otaiba, a town east of Damascus, which formed a crucial link for rebels seeking to bring weaponry and ammunition from the Jordanian border to the eastern suburbs of the capital.
As of now, the rebel Farouq Brigade has prevented Hezbollah’s entry into Qusayr City, and the fighting remains intense. But the regime’s rallying has taken place not only on the battlefields.
Assad has from the outset possessed a clear narrative of the conflict, according to which his regime is facing attack from an alliance of jihadi “terrorists.”
The irony of this version of events is rich, given that the dictatorship in the not-at-all-distant past made ample use of Sunni jihadi clients, employing them to destabilize neighboring Iraq – where the regime allowed a steady stream of foreign jihadis to use Damascus airport as an entry point to the region, on their way to take part in the Sunni insurgency against the US – and Lebanon, where the regime sponsored the Fatah al-Islam group as a tool to destabilize the country in 2007. Nevertheless, no one has ever suspected Assad of having an excessive sense of shame.
Meanwhile, the bombings at the Boston Marathon have refocused Western attention on the threat of Sunni jihadi terrorism. The West’s preference to refrain from directly supporting the rebellion left a vacuum, which has been largely filled by Islamist fighters and transnational jihadi groups.
It is thus likely that the Assad regime will be around for some time to come.
This regime may be a study in vileness from a moral point of view, but Assad and his allies over the last two years have shown what can be achieved when a clear strategic goal is wedded to a willingness to use the most ruthless and murderous of means. Only a comparable level of cohesion and commitment from the rebellion and its backers is likely to prove sufficient to finally terminate Assad’s rule.
This shows no signs of emerging.
Assad, then, isn’t winning – despite the new bullishness of his supporters. But right now, he isn’t losing either.


2013-04-30 Albert Aji. Bomb tears through Damascus, killing 14 people usatoday.com

A powerful bomb ripped through a bustling commercial district of Damascus on Tuesday, killing at least 14 people, shattering store fronts and bringing Syria's civil war to the heart of the capital for the second consecutive day.
A day earlier, the Syrian prime minister narrowly escaped an assassination attempt after a car bomb struck near his convoy, a few miles from Tuesday's blast. The bombings appear to be part of an accelerated campaign by opposition forces to hit President Bashar Assad's regime in the heavily defended capital.
In Washington, President Obama, who has said the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would mark an unacceptable escalation of the country's civil war, said the United States must be more certain of all the facts before he decides on how the country will intervene in the conflict.
The White House said last week intelligence indicates the Syrian military has likely used a deadly nerve agent on at least two occasions in the civil war. Damascus denies the allegations, and says Syrian rebels are trying to frame it.


2013-04-30 Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah in Syria pledge bbc.co.uk

The head of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has declared that Syria has real friends who will not let it fall to the US, Israel or Islamic radicals.
Hassan Nasrallah said Syria's opposition was too weak to bring down Bashar al-Assad's regime militarily.
He was speaking in an address broadcast on Hezbollah's TV station al-Manar.
He also warned that if a key Shia shrine south of Damascus - that named after Sayida Zeinab, a granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad - were to be destroyed, it would spark revenge that could get out of control.
"If the shrine is destroyed things will get out of control," he said.
Mr Nasrallah tried to reassure his domestic audience that - above all - Hezbollah wanted to avoid the Syrian war coming to Lebanon, adds our correspondent, but many there may find little to comfort them in this latest show of defiance.
The announcement came hours after 14 people were killed by a powerful explosion in Damascus, and a day after Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi survived a car bomb attack in the Syrian capital.
Government forces and rebels have been fighting in and around Damascus for months, but neither have gained the upper hand.


2013-04-29 Syrian rebels fire on the Russian plane lenta.ru


2013-04-25 Julian Borger. US expresses confidence in Syria chemical weapons use evidence guardian.co.uk

US intelligence has found evidence that sarin gas, a chemical weapon, has been used in Syria on a small scale, the White House has said .
However, in a letter to Congress the administration made it clear that it did not believe that the evidence was conclusive, saying it only had "varying amounts of confidence" in its reliability. Nor did the evidence prove beyond any doubt that the Syrian government had been responsible for using sarin, though this was "very likely" to be the case.
Later, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said that chemical weapons were believed to have been used in two separate attacks.
If the evidence was confirmed, the White House warned, "the United States and the international community have a number of responses available, and no option is off the table".
"Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin," the White House letter said, according to a copy released by Senator John McCain. "This assessment is based in part on physiological samples. Our standard of evidence must build on these intelligence assessments as we seek to establish credible and corroborated facts."


2013-04-24 HWAIDA SAAD, RICK GLADSTONE. Storied Syrian Mosque’s Minaret Is Destroyed nytimes.com

Fighting between Syrian insurgents and government forces in the northern city of Aleppo left one of the Middle East’s most storied mosques severely damaged on Wednesday, its soaring minaret toppled by explosives. Both sides accused the other of responsibility for the destruction at the historic Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo’s ancient city, a Unesco World Heritage site.
The mosque is considered an archaeological treasure but has been a battleground for months. It was first heavily damaged by fighting last October, and President Bashar al-Assad promised a restoration. But the military later retreated from the mosque and rebel fighters have occupied it since early this year.
There were exchanges of finger-pointing over the damage. Syria’s state media said the Nusra Front, an Islamic militant faction of the insurgency, had placed explosives inside the minaret, which dates to the 11th century. Anti-Assad activist groups at the site posted YouTube videos showing the rubble of the collapsed minaret strewn about the mosque’s tiled courtyard, with rebel fighters saying it had been hit by outside artillery fire as part of an attempt by Mr. Assad’s forces to rout them and retake the mosque.
“If he attacks all of the mosque, we will stay here, we will stick with our position, we won’t abandon our Islam even if all the world does,” one military commander says in a video.
Fighting was reported elsewhere in Syria on Wednesday including a town east of Damascus that insurgents had regarded as strategically important because it was a way station for their weapons and food. Activists reached by telephone and Skype confirmed a Reuters report that government forces had seized the town, Otaiba, after weeks of clashes, complicating the ability of the rebel side in the area to resupply themselves.


2013-04-24 Lebanese Sunni youth sign up for holy war against Hezbollah english.alarabiya.net

Lebanese youth from the city of Saida, south of Beirut, began Wednesday signing up for armed Jihad in Syria, responding to a call yesterday by firebrand Sunni cleric Ahmad Assir.
Individuals in charge of enlisting Jihadists at Bilal Bin Rabah mosque told Al Arabiya that “hundreds” have signed up so far and that the number is expected to reach thousands.
This came a day after Sheikh Assir, who is the Mosque’s Imam, lashed out at Hezbollah for helping President Bashar al-Assad’s forces fight the predominately Sunni opposition in Syria.
Sheikh Assir announced Tuesday the formation of “Free Resistance Brigades” to go fight Hezbollah’s army in Syria.
In an interview with Al Arabiya Sheikh Assir said his call came in response to “Hezbollah’s continued role in the persecution of Sunni Muslims in Syria.”
He said it was a “a religious duty” for his Sunni followers to join the fight against Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.
Assir slammed the Lebanese government for not being able to prevent Hezbollah from interfering in Syria.
The Shiite gruella group admits to fighting in Syria, but insists it is only acting to protect Lebanese citizens in Syrian border villages.


2013-04-24 Syria: Al Nusra to Hezbollah, get out or Beirut will burn ansamed.info

The al-Qaeda affiliated Al Nusra Front on Wednesday warned Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to withdraw Hezbollah forces from Syria or Beirut will be attacked.
''He must take immediate measures to prevent Hezbollah interference in the internal affairs of Syria, or Beirut will be set on fire within the next 24 hours'', the extremist group said in a communique published on jihadist websites. An ally of Iran and of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shiite political party and militant group. While Lebanese Shiite leader Hasan Nasrallah has admitted to its presence in Syria, Hezbollah has stated that its militias are stationed in the Homs region ''to protect Lebanese citizens in the border area''.
Hezbollah in recent weeks has stepped up its presence in Qusayr, south-west of Homs, where it has been clashing with anti-Assad rebels.
Also on Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Policy and National Security Committee Chairman Alaeddin Boroujerdi warned Israel not to repeat its January intervention in Syria, when it bombed a suspected shipment of Russian-made antiaircraft missiles destined for Hezbollah.
''We are certain the Zionist regime will not act in the region again, but should it do so, the war will not be limited to Syria alone'', FARS semi-official news agency quoted Boroujerdi as saying. Israel yesterday for the first time accused Assad of using chemical weapons, including the lethal nerve gas Sarin, against insurgents. This came as US Secretary of State John Kerry told NATO contingency plans should be put in place against the threat of a chemical strike. ''We must carefully and collectively consider how NATO is prepared to respond to protect its members from a Syrian threat, including any potential chemical weapons threat'', Kerry told NATO foreign ministers yesterday in Brussels.


2013-04-24 Syria: We wouldn't use chemical arms against Israel jpost.com

Damascus will not use chemical weapons against its own citizens, or in the event of war with its neighbor Israel, Syria's Information Minister was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
A senior Israeli intelligence officer said on Tuesday that Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons against rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad.
But the assessment was met with skepticism by the United States which has declared any use of chemical weapons in Syria's two-year-old civil war a "red line" that could trigger intervention.
The Syrian government and rebels each accused the other of launching a chemical attack near the northern city of Aleppo last month.
Syria last year acknowledged that it had chemical and biological weapons and said it could use them if foreign countries intervened, a threat that was met with strong warnings from Washington and its allies.


2013-04-24 Syrian bishops in hands of 'Chechens' news.com.au

THE kidnappers of two Orthodox bishops seized in northern Syria are Chechen fighters, sources in the Syriac and Greek Orthodox dioceses in Aleppo said.
"The news which we have received is that an armed group... (of) Chechens stopped the car and kidnapped the two bishops while the driver was killed," an official from the Syriac Orthodox diocese who declined to be named said in a statement posted online.
Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, head of Aleppo's Syriac Orthodox diocese and Boulos Yaziji, head of the Greek Orthodox diocese in the same city, were kidnapped on Monday near the Turkish border, the statement said.
Syrian state news agency SANA had reported the kidnapping on Monday night, saying an "armed terrorist group" kidnapped the men in the village of Kafr Dael in Aleppo province.
A source in the Greek Orthodox diocese, said Ibrahim "was on a humanitarian mission to free two priests kidnapped two months ago."
Ibrahim was known for his role in mediating the release of kidnap victims, particularly in cases involving the snatching of Christians, the source said.
He was returning from an area along the Turkish border, where he had picked up Yaziji, when an armed group stopped their car in Kafr Dael, he added.
The kidnappers forced the driver and another person out of the car, he added, saying the driver was subsequently shot in the head.
"According to this person, the kidnappers spoke classical Arabic and appeared to be foreigners. They told them that they were Chechen jihadists," the source said.
In the statement, the Syriac Orthodox official said there had not been any contact with the kidnappers so far.
"We are working and doing our best for the release of the two bishops and (their) return," he said.


2013-04-23 Israel: Syria used chemical weapons, several times cbsnews.com

A senior Israeli military intelligence official said on Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons last month in his battle against insurgent groups. It was the first time that Israel has accused the embattled Syrian leader of using his stockpile of nonconventional weapons.
The assessment could raise pressure on the U.S. and other Western countries to intervene in the Syrian conflict. Britain and France recently announced they had evidence that Assad's government had used chemical weapons. Although the U.S. says it has not been able to verify these claims, President Obama has warned that the introduction of chemical weapons by Assad would be a "game changer."
Israel, which borders southwestern Syria, has been warily watching the Syrian civil war since the fighting erupted there in March 2011.
Although Assad is a bitter enemy, Israel has been careful not to take sides, partly because the Assad family has kept the border with Israel quiet for the past 40 years and partly because of fears of what would happen if he is toppled.
Israeli officials are especially concerned that Assad's stockpile of chemical weapons and other advanced arms could reach the hands of Assad's ally, the Hezbollah guerrilla group in Lebanon, or Islamic extremist groups trying to oust him. The concern is that if Assad is overthrown, any of these groups could turn his sophisticated arsenal against Israel.


2013-04-22 EU lifts Syria oil embargo, allowing crude exports and tech imports, to support opposition foxnews.com

The European Union on Monday lifted its oil embargo on Syria to provide more economic support to the forces fighting to oust President Bashar Assad's regime.
The decision will allow for crude exports from rebel-held territory, the import of oil and gas production technology, and investments in the Syrian oil industry, the EU said in a statement.
Any export or investment initiatives will be taken in close coordination with the leaders of the Syrian opposition, the bloc's 27 foreign ministers decided at a meeting in Luxembourg.
The move marks the first relaxing of EU sanctions on Syria in two years as governments try to help ease shortages of vital supplies in areas held by the opposition in the civil war-struck Arab state.


2013-04-22 Gunmen abduct two bishops in northern Syria bbc.co.uk

Militants in a rebel-held area of northern Syria have abducted two bishops travelling from the Turkish border back to the city of Aleppo.
The kidnapping was reported by Syrian state media and confirmed by a member of the official opposition leadership.
Yohanna Ibrahim is head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo and Boulos Yaziji leads the Greek Orthodox Church in the city.
They are the most senior Christian clerics caught up directly in the war.
It was not immediately clear who had kidnapped them.
Christians made up about 10% of the mainly Sunni Muslim country's population before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began just over two years ago.


2013-04-22 Roula Khalaf, Abigail Fielding-Smith. West pins hopes on Syrian general ft.com

Educated in East Germany in the 1980s, General Idriss was the dean of the Aleppo military engineering academy when he defected in the summer of last year. He has lost 63 members of his extended Homs family and all those surviving have their names on a wanted list.
Looking more politician than general, with a dark suit, tie and professorial spectacles, he is focused on the battlefield, not on personal tragedy.
In an interview with the Financial Times in Istanbul, the 55-year-old general says he wants to create a more moderate and stronger alternative to Jabhat al-Nusrah, the al-Qaeda-linked militant group that has emerged as one of the most powerful rebel factions. Except that he cannot do it on his own.
“Our needs are very big and what we have is very little,” he says.
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Gen Idriss acknowledges that he does not command the forces on the ground and that the body he heads is not a “complete” military organisation since many rebels are civilians.
It would, he says, cost $35m-$40m a month to pay $100 monthly salaries to fighters who have signed up to the supreme command – funds that he lacks at this stage. “Fighters go to where there is money and weapons and if I had the means … within one or two months everyone would join,” he says. “They will know that this is a national institution while the brigades and battalions will eventually disappear.”


2013-04-21 Syria army seizes Jdiadet al-Fadl 'killing dozens' bbc.co.uk

Syrian government troops have seized a town near Damascus, killing at least 80 people, including women and children, opposition activists say.
The army stormed the town of Jdiadet al-Fadl after five days of heavy fighting, they report.
Syria's Sana state news agency said government forces "inflicted heavy losses upon terrorists" in the town.
At least 70,000 people have died since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.


2013-04-20 US prepares $130m military aid package for Syrian rebels guardian.co.uk

The US readied a package Saturday of up to $130m in non-lethal military aid to Syrian opposition forces while European countries consider easing an arms embargo, moves that could further pressure the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
US secretary of state John Kerry was expected to announce the plans about the defensive military supplies at a meeting Saturday that was bringing together the Syrian opposition leadership and their main international allies.
The supplies possibly could include body armor, armored vehicles, night vision goggles and advanced communications equipment.
US officials said the details and costs were to be determined at the meeting. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss Kerry's announcement.
Kerry met with Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib before the conference began.
In the latest clashes, Syrian troops backed by pro-government gunmen battled rebels Saturday in a strategic area in Homs province near the Lebanese border, according to activists and state media in Damascus, the Syrian capital.
President Barack Obama has said he has no plans to send weapons or give lethal aid to the rebels, despite pressure from Congress and even some administration advisers.
Since February, the US has shipped food and medical supplies directly to the Free Syrian Army. The aid was expanded later to include defensive military equipment. So far, the US has provided an estimated $117m in non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition, according to the White House.


2013-04-18 JOSEF FEDERMAN. ISRAELI PM DOESN'T RULE OUT HELPING SYRIAN REBELS abcnews.go.com

Israel's prime minister declined to rule out the possibility of providing arms to Syrian rebel groups, saying in a television interview broadcast Thursday that the decision of whether to intervene in the neighboring civil war is a "complicated question."
Although Benjamin Netanyahu made no clear commitments, his comments indicated that he is at least considering a shift away from two years of neutrality in the Syrian civil war that pits rebels against President Bashar Assad's regime. Key Israeli allies, including the U.S. and Jordan, already have begun assisting secular and moderate factions inside Syria despite fears that Islamic extremists are gaining influence among the rebels.
Netanyahu was discussing the deteriorating security situation in Syria on BBC World News when the interviewer asked whether Israel is arming any of the rebel groups. Netanyahu said he could not confirm such speculation but did not deny it.
"We are very careful," he said. "I have said that the arming of rebels presents the question of which rebels and which arms, and it is a very complicated question for every country, including my country Israel."
Israeli officials are especially concerned that Assad's stockpile of chemical weapons and other advanced arms could reach the hands of Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon or other hostile groups in the region. As Assad's position has weakened, Israeli leaders have grown increasingly concerned that some of the groups trying to topple him, particularly extremist factions linked to al-Qaida, will turn their guns toward Israel.
"There are the worst Islamist radicals in the world, so obviously we are concerned that weapons that are ground breaking, that can change the balance of power in the Middle East would fall into the hands of these terrorists," Netanyahu said.
In January, Israel all but confirmed that it carried out an airstrike in Syria that destroyed a shipment of anti-aircraft missiles allegedly bound for Hezbollah, a powerful militia that battled Israel to a stalemate in a monthlong war in 2006. In the BBC interview, Netanyahu refused to confirm whether Israel targeted the convoy, but noted that Israel "has the right to act" to halt weapons transfers.
Direct Israeli support for any of the factions fighting inside Syria would be risky. Any group seen as being aligned with Israel could have its credibility harmed. Israel could also provoke a backlash from other dangerous factions, including the government, embroiled in the Syrian violence.
Moshe Maoz, a Syria expert at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said it would make sense for Israel to supply moderate Syrian rebel groups with arms in coordination with Turkey, though he said it is unclear whether that has begun. Israel has recently moved to repair its strained ties with Turkey, and Maoz said both countries have an interest in propping up "mainstream" Muslim groups and countering the influence of Iranian-backed extremists.
"Israel has to signal to the Muslim world that Israel joins them in the struggle against a common enemy Iran," he said. "Maybe Netanyahu is going in that direction."
American and foreign officials have told The Associated Press that the U.S. has been training secular Syrian fighters in Jordan with the aim of strengthening the hand of moderates among the country's fractured opposition.
On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress that the Pentagon is sending about 200 soldiers from an Army headquarters unit to Jordan to assist efforts to contain violence along the Syrian border and plan for any operations needed to ensure the safety of chemical weapons in Syria.


2013-04-17 David S.Cloud. U.S. takes step toward possible military intervention in Syria latimes.com

The Pentagon is sending about 200 troops to Jordan, the vanguard of a potential U.S. military force of 20,000 or more that could be deployed if the Obama administration decides to intervene in Syria to secure chemical weapons arsenals or to prevent the 2-year-old civil war from spilling into neighboring nations.
Troops from the 1st Armored Division will establish a small headquarters near Jordan's border with Syria to help deliver humanitarian supplies for a growing flood of refugees and to plan for possible military operations, including a rapid buildup of American forces if the White House decides intervention is necessary, senior U.S. officials said.
Although the Pentagon has sent Patriot missile batteries to Turkey and several dozen U.S. troops already are in Jordan to assist with aid flights and other operations, the move marks the first deployment that Pentagon officials explicitly described as a possible step toward direct military involvement in Syria.


2013-04-17 HANIA MOURTADA. Assad Frames Syria Struggle as Him Against Western Colonizers nytimes.com

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Wednesday night described what he said was an insidious Western attempt to recolonize his country, and he appeared to reject any thought of compromise or negotiation with the insurgency seeking to topple him.
“The truth is, what is happening is a war,” Mr. Assad said in an interview broadcast on Syrian national television. “It is not security problems. It is a war in every sense of the word. There are big powers, especially Western powers who historically never accepted the idea of other nations having their independence. They want those nations to submit to them.”
By the United Nations count, the two-year war has left more than 70,000 people dead, millions displaced and untold numbers traumatized by atrocities and fear.
The interview on the country’s Al Ikhbariya channel, conducted on Syria’s Independence Day celebrating the end of French occupation 67 years ago, suggested that Mr. Assad’s views on the conflict have only hardened — views that the opposition and its allies have called delusional.
“We must ask ourselves, did the colonizer take our sovereignty with him when he left?” he said sarcastically, referring to the end of French rule.
At another point in the interview, Mr. Assad asserted: “We are not afraid of sectarianism, so there are no dividing lines. The communities are coexisting and mingling in the same villages, so there can be no division.”
He stressed that rumors of Syria breaking up into sectarian statelets in the near future were nothing but “psychological warfare” propagated by his foes.
“They want to convince Syrians that they are no longer capable of living together,” he said. “They’re telling them you can’t coexist as a people.”
He accused foreign powers and the international news media of framing the conflict in simplistic terms. He said that the media portray the Syrian conflict as “a president holding on to his seat against a population who wants him gone, but that’s not the case.”
Mr. Assad also expressed growing irritation with Jordan, which has become a point of entry for foreign fighters and weapons, rejecting Jordanian denials of complicity with the insurgency.
“I hope they learn the lessons that the Iraqi authorities learned,” he said. “Iraqi authorities know very well how important stability in Syria is. They learned that a fire in Syria will inevitably spread to the region.”
He ridiculed what Western powers have described as humanitarian intervention in Syria as a euphemism for occupation and colonialism. “We saw their humanitarian intervention in Iraq, in Libya, and now we see it in Syria,” he said.
At the end of the interview, Mr. Assad said he remained confident that his side would prevail.


2013-04-17 Richard Spencer. West will pay for 'supporting al-Qaeda in Syria', Assad warns telegraph.co.uk

A bullish Mr Assad sought to exploit the West's embarrassment over the fractured opposition to his rule.
"The West has paid heavily for funding al-Qaeda in its early stages," he said during a rare appearance on state television. "Today, it is doing the same in Syria, Libya and other places, and will pay a heavy price in the heart of Europe and the United States."
Mr Assad was attempting to draw a parallel between American support for the mujaheddin in Afghanistan in the 1980s and the de facto alliance that has emerged between Western-backed rebels in Syria and hardline Islamists.
Mr Assad added: "There is no option but victory. Otherwise it will be the end of Syria, and I don't think that the Syrian people will accept such an option.
"The truth is there is a war and I repeat: no to surrender, no to submission."
Mr Assad's words suggested that he has been buoyed by last week's announcement by Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the most powerful rebel groups, that it owed allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of al-Qaeda. Jabhat al-Nusra has been blacklisted as a terrorist group by the United States, but is still fighting alongside – and sharing weapons with – rebel factions supported by the West.
Mr Assad also criticised his neighbours for backing the uprising. Jordan has recently allowed a substantial quantity of arms – apparently bought by Saudi Arabia – to cross its border into Syria. "I cannot believe that hundreds (of rebels) are entering Syria with their weapons while Jordan is capable of arresting any single person with a light arm for going to resist in Palestine," said Mr Assad in the interview, which marked the anniversary of Syria's independence from France.
In response to the increased tensions between the two, America is sending 200 more troops to Jordan to bolster its defences, a Jordanian minister announced. US and other special forces are already believed to be based in the country.
Mr Assad's forces have recently managed to recapture territory from the rebels. Last weekend, they broke the siege on two army bases located south of Aleppo. Hamadiya and Wadi Deif, which sit on the vital highway linking Damascus with Aleppo, had been largely cut off for five months. But the army successfully ambushed rebels near the road, killing at least 20 in a major reversal of fortune.
The insurgents are now tyring to regain control of the highway, fearing that Mr Assad would otherwise be able to resupply his beleaguered battalions in Aleppo.


2013-04-14 An Al-Qaeda Alliance in Syria Demands a Response From U.S.: View bloomberg.com

The al-Nusra Front in Syria pledged formal allegiance to al-Qaeda last week. Together with the alarming escalation in refugees fleeing the country, this pact demands a forceful change in the diffident strategies of the U.S. and Europe toward the conflict.
The U.S. has good reasons for not wanting to own another war in the Middle East, and we support them. But does anyone believe the U.S. could stand aside if al-Qaeda were to gain control of all or part of a state that has chemical weapons and Scud missiles and shares borders with Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey?
The U.S. and its allies should make their April 20 meeting in Istanbul a watershed. First, they must close the shameful, and increasingly dangerous, shortfall in funding for the humanitarian aid operation. The United Nations has registered more than 1 million Syrian refugees and estimates that 3.6 million people have been displaced within the country -- and yet it has received less than a third of the $1 billion it was promised. The crisis threatens to destabilize Jordan and Lebanon.
Second, they should use the meeting to consolidate control over the disparate sources of arms and training for the Free Syrian Army. President Barack Obama’s meetings with leaders from Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates over the next month could provide a useful opportunity to advance this approach.
Third, they should seize on the common threat posed by al- Nusra to persuade Russia to stop arming and funding Assad and his regime. Russia has two primary concerns -- that Syria shouldn’t become another scene of unilateral U.S. intervention in the Middle East, and that the country shouldn’t fall to chaos or Islamists radicals. By now it is clear the U.S. has no desire to repeat a Libya-style intervention in Syria, and that it shares Russia’s goals.
A cease-fire deal and heavily armed peacekeeping force approved by the UN remains the most desirable next step for Syria. That’s difficult, given the uncompromising stances of both Assad and the rebel fighters. But Assad and Russia should know that the next step, absent a Security Council agreement, will be to increase arms supplies to the opposition, including anti-aircraft weapons, and to create buffer zones to shelter fleeing civilians, beginning in the South along the Jordanian border.


2013-04-14 Liz Sly. U.S. feeds Syrians, but secretly washingtonpost.com

In the heart of rebel-held territory in Syria’s northern province of Aleppo, a small group of intrepid Westerners is undertaking a mission of great stealth. Living anonymously in a small rural community, they travel daily in unmarked cars, braving airstrikes, shelling and the threat of kidnapping to deliver food and other aid to needy Syrians — all of it paid for by the U.S. government.
So secretive is the operation, however, that almost none of the Syrians who receive the help are aware of its American origins. Out of concern for the safety of the recipients and the delivery staff, who could be targeted by the government if their affiliation to the United States were known, the Obama administration and the aid workers have chosen not to advertise the assistance.
Meanwhile, as the death toll mounts and the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad shows no sign of giving up, anger about the perceived failure of the United States to help mounts steadily among Syrians who support the rebellion.
Addressing a U.N. fundraising conference by video in Kuwait in January, President Obama made it clear that the origins of the aid would not be publicized.
“The relief we send doesn’t say ‘Made in America,’?” he said.
The administration is looking at ways of branding the aid but has not figured out how to safely do so, said Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID.
“We know that if we put the aid workers in even greater danger, there is a possibility that we’ll have deaths among our aid workers,” she said.


2013-04-14 Ruth Sherlock. Syria: Britain funds rebels overseeing aid inside occupied areas telegraph.co.uk

Britain has stepped directly into the Syrian crisis, funding scores of civilian rebels to oversee hundreds of millions of pounds in aid deliveries inside occupied areas.
The government wants to counter growing fears that militant jihadists are the only force capable of establishing a civilian administration in areas no longer under regime control – and by extension in any future "free Syria".
Among the disasters to have struck rebel-held areas and which its multi-million pound aid package is trying to counter are outbreaks of typhoid, cholera and other diseases in Aleppo, as well as widespread looting.


2013-04-12 Rebels waging Qamishli assault

The Free Syrian Army on Friday morning launched an assault on the Kurdish-populated town of Qamishli which lies on Syria’s northern border with Turkey.
Al-Arabiya reported that the FSA entered Qamishli for the first time since the start of the uprising in 2011 and took over several locations near the airport located on the southeast edge of the town.
A video uploaded by activists on Friday purported to show the rebels shelling the airport, while another video uploaded the same day showed smoke rising over the town amid bombardment.
The Local Coordination Committee activist group reported that a mortar round had hit a residential building outside the airport.
The activists added that the FSA was also shelling a regime artillery regiment in the southern edge of the town.
Between August and September 2012, Kurdish rebels captured most Kurdish-populated areas in Syria’s north, with the exception of Qamishli, which remained nominally under regime control.
The FSA’s offensive against the Qamishli airport comes after rebels earlier in the week launched campaigns against the main airports of Deir Ezzor and Hama.


2013-04-08 ANNE BARNARD, ALAN COWELL. Damascus Blast Said to Kill at Least 15 nytimes.com

An explosion from a car bomb tore through central Damascus on Monday, the government said, killing 15 people in a blast that rattled windows, spread chaos and sent billows of dark smoke over an area that had been packed with people forming lines at banks, insurance companies and cellphone outlets.
As ambulances pushed through the crowd, hundreds of people streamed away, and others called relatives to check whether they had been close to the explosion. State television, which also said 54 people were wounded, showed upturned cars blackened by the blast as smoke blotted out the sky in the vicinity of the explosion. Fire crews sprayed jets of water onto nearby high-rise buildings, and at least one body was visible under the wreckage of a car.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which brought the country’s two-year-old revolt close to the heart of the city.
The bomb appeared to have exploded inside the gates of the Central Bank’s parking lot, destroying an outer structure and shattering windows of two large office buildings. Inside one of the buildings, people peered down from a glassless window at mangled, blackened cars, destroyed shops across the street and swarming emergency workers.


2013-04-06 Turkey: Claims of pact with Israel against Syria 'groundless' ynetnews.com

Turkey's foreign minister on Saturday hit back at Syrian President Bashar Assad 's claims in an interview that Ankara made a pact with Israel against Damascus.
"Such arguments like Turkey is in cooperation with Israel against Syria have no grounds," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.
"Turkey never speaks to Israel or any other third party about its neighbors," he said. "This is not something that should be taken seriously."
Assad slammed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an interview conducted this week with two Turkish media outlets, accusing Ankara of "contributing directly to the killing of the Syrian people."
In extracts published on Wednesday, Assad said: "Erdogan is working with Israel to destroy Syria... but the Syrian state has not fallen and the Syrian people have resisted.


2013-04-05 Syria warns of regional disaster unless Jihadists reined in news.xinhuanet.com

Amid reports that Syria has turned the main destination of the world's Jihadists, Damascus warned that unless those Jihadists are denied access, the crisis it has sustained for over two years will spill over across its border and set the entire region ablaze.
Syria, via its state-controlled newspaper al-Thawra, warned Jordan on Thursday against training foreign fighters on its territory and accused it of espousing the policy of a double ambiguity.
Al-Thawra said Jordan is now "closely feeling the meaning of drowning into anarchy, which even does not need a matchstick to ignite in all directions." It added that Jordan is getting closer to the "volcanic crater."
The report came just two days after the Washington Post said the United Stats is currently training some 3,000 rebels in Jordan to send them later to Syria "to escalate the crisis."
A new study conducted by the International Center for Studies on extremism at King's College in London said the number of European fighters, who joined the armed terrorist groups in Syria, has exceeded 600.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Ukashevic stressed that Syria's turning into a magnet for international terrorists has become a terrifying reality, expressing Moscow's deep concern over the news about the involvement of people from other countries in terrorist acts in Syria.
Ukashevic stressed that his country will continue its hectic efforts to begin urgent political settlement in Syria, pointing out that Moscow has made it clear to its Western and international partners the dangers of encouraging the opposition to rely on a military solution to the Syrian crisis.
The unrest in Syria spilled over into neighboring Lebanon once again this week, with reports saying a Syrian helicopter had fired two rockets into the outskirts of the Lebanese town of Ersal in the Beka'a Valley without causing any casualty.


2013-04-03 Syrian Rebels Join Chechen-led Army: No Difference between Syria and Russia almanar.com.lb

A commander of the so-called “Caucasus Emirate”, Abu Omar al-Chechen, has formed the so-called ‘Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar,” or Army of the Emigrants and Helpers, and recruited several Syrian militants within its ranks.
Abu Omar was the commander of the Brigade al Muhajireen (Brigade of the Emigrants), which fights alongside Nosra Front, linked to al-Qaeda, against the Syrian government.
According to a Chechen extremist website, a unit of the Emigrants ‘Brigade militants under the command of Abu Omar al-Chechen, was joined by several brigades of Syrian militants in March 2013, including Kataeb Khattab (Khattab Brigades), and Jaish Mohammad (Army of Mohammad), after which it was decided to reorganize the structure of the Brigade. As a result, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Helpers) was created.
The Army of Emigrants and Helpers is fighting primarily in the province of Aleppo and claims to have more than 1,000 militants from different countries, including Russian regions,


2013-04-01 Syrian official says historic synagogue looted ynetnews.com

A historic Jewish synagogue in Damascus has been damaged and looted as clashes have consumed the surrounding neighborhood, a Syrian official and an anti-government activist said Monday.
Damage to the synagogue, believed to be hundreds of years old, is the latest example of Syria's rich cultural heritage falling victim to the civil war between the regime of President Bashar Assad and rebels seeking his ouster.
The synagogue, built in honor of the prophet Elijah, has long been considered an important pilgrimage site.
Maamoun Abdul-Karim, head of the Antiquities and Museums Department of the Syrian Culture Ministry, said objects from the Jobar synagogue were stolen last year, but that officials haven't been able to visit the building for months because rebels control the area.
Rebel forces established footholds in a number of Damascus suburbs and last year pushed into Jobar, a neighborhood on the city's northeast corner. Since then, they have been clashing with government troops.


2013-03-30 Syrian rebels behead pro-gov't imam in Aleppo news.xinhuanet.com

Armed rebels beheaded a pro- government Muslim imam in Syria's northern province of Aleppo, state media said Saturday.
After beheading Sheikh Hasan Saif Addien, the armed groups hanged his head atop the minaret of al-Hasan Mosque in the strategic town of Sheikh Maksoud in northern Aleppo, the report said.
Some pro-government media accused al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front of killing the imam whose lectures and preaches had focused on national unity and denounced the "huge conspiracy" plotted against Syria.
Arabi Press' website said the rebels stormed Sheikh Maksoud but were later driven out by the Syrian army.
Attacks on pro-government clerics have recently become rampant in the rebels' two-year-old revolt against President Bashar al- Assad.


2013-03-28 Israel sets up 'field hospital' to treat injured Syrians ynetnews.com

In light of the steady increase in the number of wounded Syrians Israel has been treating, the IDF has set up a "military field hospital" at army outpost 105 in the Golan Heights, AFP reported Thursday.
Israeli officials confirmed that the hospital was set up to treat injured Syrians near the border fence and avoid having to evacuate them to hospitals inside the country.
In the past month, several Syrians who were injured in the fighting between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have been treated in northern Israel hospitals. According to AFP, eight of them were repatriated and three have remained in Israel for further treatment.


2013-03-28 US ex-soldier 'fought in Syria with terror group' bbc.co.uk

A former US soldier has been charged with using a weapon outside the US as he fought against Syrian government forces, prosecutors say.
Eric Harroun, 30, served in the US Army from 2000-2003, and allegedly fought in Syria with the al-Nusra Front.
Al-Nusra is deemed a terror group by the US as an alias of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
As the US calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, it has also expressed concern about militant groups fighting in Syria.
If convicted, Mr Harroun would face a maximum sentence of life in prison. He was arrested as he returned to the US on Wednesday.


2013-03-25 C.J.CHIVER, ERIC SCHMITT. Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With C.I.A. Aid nytimes.com

With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders.
The airlift, which began on a small scale in early 2012 and continued intermittently through last fall, expanded into a steady and much heavier flow late last year, the data shows. It has grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes landing at Esenboga Airport near Ankara, and, to a lesser degree, at other Turkish and Jordanian airports.
As it evolved, the airlift correlated with shifts in the war within Syria, as rebels drove Syria’s army from territory by the middle of last year. And even as the Obama administration has publicly refused to give more than “nonlethal” aid to the rebels, the involvement of the C.I.A. in the arms shipments — albeit mostly in a consultative role, American officials say — has shown that the United States is more willing to help its Arab allies support the lethal side of the civil war.
From offices at secret locations, American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive, according to American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. The C.I.A. declined to comment on the shipments or its role in them.
The shipments also highlight the competition for Syria’s future between Sunni Muslim states and Iran, the Shiite theocracy that remains Mr. Assad’s main ally. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraq on Sunday to do more to halt Iranian arms shipments through its airspace; he did so even as the most recent military cargo flight from Qatar for the rebels landed at Esenboga early Sunday night.
Syrian opposition figures and some American lawmakers and officials have argued that Russian and Iranian arms shipments to support Mr. Assad’s government have made arming the rebels more necessary.
Most of the cargo flights have occurred since November, after the presidential election in the United States and as the Turkish and Arab governments grew more frustrated by the rebels’ slow progress against Mr. Assad’s well-equipped military. The flights also became more frequent as the humanitarian crisis inside Syria deepened in the winter and cascades of refugees crossed into neighboring countries.
The Turkish government has had oversight over much of the program, down to affixing transponders to trucks ferrying the military goods through Turkey so it might monitor shipments as they move by land into Syria, officials said. The scale of shipments was very large, according to officials familiar with the pipeline and to an arms-trafficking investigator who assembled data on the cargo planes involved.
“A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3,500 tons of military equipment,” said Hugh Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, who monitors illicit arms transfers.
“The intensity and frequency of these flights,” he added, are “suggestive of a well-planned and coordinated clandestine military logistics operation.”
Although rebel commanders and the data indicate that Qatar and Saudi Arabia had been shipping military materials via Turkey to the opposition since early and late 2012, respectively, a major hurdle was removed late last fall after the Turkish government agreed to allow the pace of air shipments to accelerate, officials said.
Simultaneously, arms and equipment were being purchased by Saudi Arabia in Croatia and flown to Jordan on Jordanian cargo planes for rebels working in southern Syria and for retransfer to Turkey for rebels groups operating from there, several officials said.
The airlift to Syrian rebels began slowly. On Jan. 3, 2012, months after the crackdown by the Alawite-led government against antigovernment demonstrators had morphed into a military campaign, a pair of Qatar Emiri Air Force C-130 transport aircraft touched down in Istanbul, according to air traffic data.
They were a vanguard.
Weeks later, the Syrian Army besieged Homs, Syria’s third largest city. Artillery and tanks pounded neighborhoods. Ground forces moved in.
Across the country, the army and loyalist militias were trying to stamp out the rebellion with force — further infuriating Syria’s Sunni Arab majority, which was severely outgunned. The rebels called for international help, and more weapons.
By late midspring the first stream of cargo flights from an Arab state began, according to air traffic data and information from plane spotters.
On a string of nights from April 26 through May 4, a Qatari Air Force C-17 — a huge American-made cargo plane — made six landings in Turkey, at Esenboga Airport. By Aug. 8 the Qataris had made 14 more cargo flights. All came from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, a hub for American military logistics in the Middle East.
Qatar has denied providing any arms to the rebels. A Qatari official, who requested anonymity, said Qatar has shipped in only what he called nonlethal aid. He declined to answer further questions. It is not clear whether Qatar has purchased and supplied the arms alone or is also providing air transportation service for other donors. But American and other Western officials, and rebel commanders, have said Qatar has been an active arms supplier — so much so that the United States became concerned about some of the Islamist groups that Qatar has armed.
The Qatari flights aligned with the tide-turning military campaign by rebel forces in the northern province of Idlib, as their campaign of ambushes, roadside bombs and attacks on isolated outposts began driving Mr. Assad’s military and supporting militias from parts of the countryside.
As flights continued into the summer, the rebels also opened an offensive in that city — a battle that soon bogged down.
The former American official said David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director until November, had been instrumental in helping to get this aviation network moving and had prodded various countries to work together on it. Mr. Petraeus did not return multiple e-mails asking for comment.
The American government became involved, the former American official said, in part because there was a sense that other states would arm the rebels anyhow. The C.I.A. role in facilitating the shipments, he said, gave the United States a degree of influence over the process, including trying to steer weapons away from Islamist groups and persuading donors to withhold portable antiaircraft missiles that might be used in future terrorist attacks on civilian aircraft.
American officials have confirmed that senior White House officials were regularly briefed on the shipments. “These countries were going to do it one way or another,” the former official said. “They weren’t asking for a ‘Mother, may I?’ from us. But if we could help them in certain ways, they’d appreciate that.”
Through the fall, the Qatari Air Force cargo fleet became even more busy, running flights almost every other day in October. But the rebels were clamoring for even more weapons, continuing to assert that they lacked the firepower to fight a military armed with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and aircraft.
Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought. These complaints continue.
“Arming or not arming, lethal or nonlethal — it all depends on what America says,” said Mohammed Abu Ahmed, who leads a band of anti-Assad fighters in Idlib Province.
In November, three Royal Jordanian Air Force C-130s landed in Esenboga, in a hint at what would become a stepped-up Jordanian and Saudi role.
Within three weeks, two other Jordanian cargo planes began making a round-trip run between Amman, the capital of Jordan, and Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, where, officials from several countries said, the aircraft were picking up a large Saudi purchase of infantry arms from a Croatian-controlled stockpile.
The first flight returned to Amman on Dec. 15, according to intercepts of a transponder from one of the aircraft recorded by a plane spotter in Cyprus and air traffic control data from an aviation official in the region.
In all, records show that two Jordanian Ilyushins bearing the logo of the Jordanian International Air Cargo firm but flying under Jordanian military call signs made a combined 36 round-trip flights between Amman and Croatia from December through February. The same two planes made five flights between Amman and Turkey this January.
As the Jordanian flights were under way, the Qatari flights continued and the Royal Saudi Air Force began a busy schedule, too — making at least 30 C-130 flights into Esenboga from mid-February to early March this year, according to flight data provided by a regional air traffic control official.
Several of the Saudi flights were spotted coming and going at Ankara by civilians, who alerted opposition politicians in Turkey.


2013-03-25 Saad Abedine. Syrian rebel army chief injured in blast edition.cnn.com

The head of the Free Syrian Army is in stable condition after a blast targeted his car, the rebel group's spokesman said.
Col. Riad al-Asaad, who is not related to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was injured Sunday during a visit to the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, Free Syrian Army spokesman Louay Almokdad said.
The spokesman said al-Asaad is recovering from a foot injury in Turkey, but declined to confirm reports that his foot was amputated.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blast.
The attack took place four days after a video posted on YouTube showed al-Asaad defending the controversial al-Nusra Front and slamming the main opposition umbrella group.
The United States has designated al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organization linked to al Qaeda, but some rebels say they don't have a problem fighting alongside them against Bashar al-Assad's forces.
"Nusra Front (fighters) are our brothers. They are 90% Syrians and the rest may be from other Muslim countries," the rebel leader said in the video.
"They haven't mistreated anyone in any way. We may have our own differences with them, but we respect them. Their mission is to serve the nation and the faith."


2013-03-24 Jim Muir. Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib resigns bbc.co.uk

The leader of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, has resigned.
Mr Khatib wrote on Facebook that world powers had failed to help the rebels, and he could only improve the situation by working outside of the coalition.
Analysts say Mr Khatib believed the SNC was too heavily influenced by Islamists and foreign powers like Qatar.
It is thought that he objected to last week's election of a prime minister for an interim opposition government.
The SNC chose US-based Islamist Ghassan Hitto to head the alternative administration, which is intended to govern rebel-held areas from inside Syria.


2013-03-24 Joel Greenberg. Israeli military responds to fire from Syria in Golan Heights washingtonpost.com

The Israeli army said it targeted a Syrian army position with an antitank missile Sunday after one of its patrols came under fire from the Syrian side of the frontier on the Golan Heights, the latest flare-up in a zone made increasingly volatile by Syria’s civil war.
An Israeli military official said the Syrian firing appeared to be deliberate, unlike previous incidents in which errant shells from fighting between rebels and government forces in Syria landed in Israel-held territory.


2013-03-24 Lindsey Boerma. "Red line has been crossed" in Syria, Rogers says cbsnews.com

There's mounting evidence that over the last two years the Assad regime has used "at least a small quantity" of chemical weapons against rebel forces in Syria's raging civil war, House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said today on "Face the Nation," adding that the time is now for U.S. intervention.
Amid debate over an alleged chemical weapons attack out of Syria last week, President Obama during a visit to Israel doubled down on his claim that such an attack would be considered a "game changer" for his administration, but qualified that it's important to find out "precisely whether or not this red line was crossed" before making a decision that could lead to an act of war.
"I think that it is abundantly clear that that red line has been crossed," Rogers said. "There is mounting evidence that it is probable that the Assad regime has used at least a small quantity of chemical weapons during the course of this conflict."
Though a senior administration official has said intelligence this week suggests weaponized chemicals were not used in the recent strike, Rogers said the fact that President Bashar al-Assad has ordered scud missile attacks on civilians "in and of itself should prompt action." The "wholesale slaughter" of Syrian rebels and civilians, he said, "is now spilling up to the doorstep of Israel."
"This is a growing, destabilizing event in the Middle East," Rogers continued. "Our Arab League allies talk to us frequently, and they are as frustrated as I have seen them because of the lack of U.S. leadership at the time table." Senior Arab diplomats this morning announced the Arab League has decided to transfer Syria's seat away from Assad and to opposition forces.


2013-03-24 Secretary of State Kerry Visits Iraq online.wsj.com

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Iraq's leaders on an unannounced visit to Baghdad to halt Iranian overflights of weapons and fighters heading to Syria and to overcome sectarian differences that still threaten Iraqi stability 10 years after the American-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
In meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other senior officials, Mr. Kerry was telling them to stop Iranian aircraft from using Iraqi airspace to fly military personnel and equipment to support the Syrian government as it battles rebels. Iran and Iraq both say the flights are laden with humanitarian supplies, but the U.S. and others believe they are filled with weapons and fighters to help the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
In the absence of a complete ban on flights, the U.S. would at least like the planes to land and be inspected in Iraq to ensure that they are carrying humanitarian supplies. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton secured a pledge from Iraq to inspect the flights last year, but since then only two aircraft have been checked by Iraqi authorities, according to U.S. officials.
The overflights have long been a source of contention between the U.S. and Iraq, and Mr. Kerry will tell the Iraqis that allowing them to continue will make the situation in Syria worse and ultimately threaten Iraq's stability.
One senior U.S. official said the sheer number of overflights, which occur "close to daily," along with shipments trucked to Syria from Iran through Iraq, was inconsistent with claims they are carrying only humanitarian supplies. The official said it was in Iraq's interest to prevent the situation in Syria from deteriorating further, particularly as there are fears that al Qaeda-linked extremists may gain a foothold in the country as the Assad regime falters.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she wasn't authorized to publicly preview Mr. Kerry's meetings, said there are clear links between al Qaeda-linked extremists operating in Syria and militants who are also carrying out terrorist attacks in Iraqi territory with increasing regularity.


2013-03-23 Rebels seize air defense base in southern Syria chron.com

Activists say Syrian rebels have seized control of a major air defense base in a strategic region of southern Syria.
A statement posted Saturday on militant websites by the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, a rebel group active in southern Syria, says several rebel groups stormed and liberated the 38th division air defense base after besieging it for 16 days.
The rebels also claim they killed the base commander.
The base lies in the southern Daraa province in a village near the strategic highway linking Damascus to neighboring Jordan.


2013-03-21 Leading pro-Assad cleric killed in Damascus bombing: state TV english.alarabiya.net

A top Syrian cleric was killed Thursday in a large explosion that hit a mosque in the center of the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria’s state television reported.
“Senior cleric Dr. Mohammed Saeed Ramadan al-Bouti was martyred in a terrorist suicide attack at the Iman Mosque in Mazraa in Damascus,” the channel reported, adding that there were reports of more dead and wounded.
he Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 15 people were killed in the attack in addition to Bouti, with dozens more injured at the mosque in Mazraa district, just north of the city center.
The Free Syrian Army has denied involvment in the death of Sheikh Bouti, sources told Al Arabiya.
Al Arabiya television quoted Syrian activists opposed to President Bashar al-Assad as saying that Sheikh Bouti was a staunch supporter of the regime.


2013-03-20 Damien McElroy, Jon Swaine. Syria: Barack Obama says chemical weapons 'would let genie out the bottle' telegraph.co.uk

Speaking in Israel, Mr Obama said anyone familiar with the facts of the chemical weapons stockpile in Syria would be sceptical of pinning the blame on the opposition for a poison gas attack.
“Once we establish the facts, I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer,” Mr Obama said. “When you start seeing weapons that can cause potential devastation and mass casualties and you let that genie out of the bottle, then you are looking at potentially even more horrific scenes than we’ve already seen in Syria.”
Mr Obama said the US policy not to intervene militarily or arm Syrian rebels thus far is based on his desire to solve the problem as a global community but he reiterated that chemical weapons were a red line that would trigger intervention.


2013-03-19 Syrian opposition appoints provisional PM aljazeera.com

Syria's opposition National Coalition has elected Ghassan Hitto, a communications executive who has been resident in the United States for decades, as prime minister for rebel-held areas of Syria….
The provisional prime minister is expected to appoint a cabinet over the next two to four weeks, Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith reported from Istanbul.
"One of the most significant appointments he'll have to make will be that of defence minister," Smith said, citing the challenge that minister will face in unifying the armed opposition under the umbrella of the provisional government.
Coalition members hope the new government will unite the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces and provide services to Syrians living in rebel-held areas, many of which have been battered by the country's civil war and suffer acute shortages of food, electricity and medical services.
The provisional leadership faces huge challenges, starting with its ability to gain recognition from rebel factions on the ground.
As rebels have progressed in northern and eastern Syria, a patchwork of rebel groups and local councils have sought to fill the gap left by the government's withdrawal by organising security patrols, reopening bakeries and running courts and prisons. It is unclear if these groups, many of which have taken charge of their own towns, will accept an outside authority.


2013-03-17 SAS ON SYRIA ALERT dailystar.co.uk

UK special forces are being pulled out of Afghanistan ahead of a planned mission to help Syrian rebels.
SAS and SBS commanders are drawing up top secret plans to give the fighters much-needed weapons.
A Whitehall source revealed SAS and SBS veterans are being “quietly” withdrawn from Afghanistan to prepare for their new mission.
They will be working with guidance from MI6 and their French counterparts, the Directorate-General for External Security, to get a £20million Brit-funded arsenal stockpiled in neighbouring countries into rebel hands.


2013-03-16 Assad calls on BRICS to intervene to end war in Syria: aide english.alarabiya.net

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday called on the BRICS nations to intervene to end the conflict in his country, in a letter delivered by his adviser Bouthaina Shaaban during a trip to South Africa.
The BRICS acronym refers to the nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, all developing powers which opposed the use of force in Libya.
Speaking to AFP, Shaaban said she had delivered the letter to South African President Jacob Zuma ahead of the BRICS summit in South Africa on March 26.
“Today I passed a message from President Bashar al-Assad to President Jacob Zuma, who will preside over the March 26 BRICS summit, on the subject of the situation in Syria,” Shaaban said, reached by telephone from Beirut.
“In this message, President Bashar al-Assad asks for intervention by the BRICS to stop the violence in his country and encourage the opening of a dialogue, which he wishes to start.”


2013-03-16 Syrian general and captain defect with the help of rebels english.alarabiya.net

A brigadier general in the Syrian army and his son, a captain, defected on Saturday after preparations with the country’s armed opposition.
Brigadier General Mohammed Khalouf and his son, Izz al-Din, said their plan to turn their backs on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces took time and planning to materialize.
“Preparations for my defection from the Assad regime started with coordinated planning with different factors of the Syrian revolution until it succeeded,” the brigadier general said.
Their defections coincided with that of the Syrian envoy in Cuba, Haitham Humaidan, sources told Al Arabiya on Saturday.
There have been a number of diplomats and officials who have defected from the Assad regime. However, Syria’s former prime minister, Riyad Hijab, who defected in August 2012, is said to be the highest ranking official to do so.
Syria’s foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, was also reported to have defected.
Recently, Britain and France said that they will lift an arms embargo on the Syrian opposition and will start funneling anti-Assad regime fighters with weapons despite some EU members’ rejection of such a move.
english.alarabiya.net


2013-03-14 Julian Borger. Iran and Hezbollah 'have built 50,000-strong force to help Syrian regime' guardian.co.uk

Iran and Hezbollah have built a 50,000-strong parallel force in Syria to help prolong the life of the Damascus regime and to maintain their influence after Assad's fall, Israel's military intelligence chief has claimed.
Major General Aviv Kochavi said Iran intended to double the size of this Syrian "people's army", which he claimed was being trained by Hezbollah fighters and funded by Tehran, to bolster a depleted and demoralised Syrian army.
Kochavi, the director of military intelligence in the Israel defence forces (IDF), also said Assad's troops had readied chemical weapons but had so far not given the order for them to be used.
At the same time, he warned of the increasing sway of extremist groups in the opposition, particularly the al-Nusra Front, which he claimed was beginning to infiltrate Lebanon and was making connections with a Sinai-based militant organisation, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, which is focused on attacks on Israel.
Israel opposes the western arming of Syrian rebels because of its fears that the weapons will end up in the hands of such groups. Defence officials say they are focused on Assad's sizeable arsenal of chemical weapons and missiles and they are prepared to carry out more air strikes to stop such arms being transferred to Hezbollah, even at the risk of what a senior official predicted would be an ugly new war in Lebanon…
In his speech on Thursday, Kochavi went much further and claimed Tehran was using Hezbollah to build up a large Syrian militia that would be Iranian-controlled even in the event of Assad's fall from power.
"The damages of the imminent fall of Syria are very high for both Iran and Hezbollah. Iran is losing a sole ally in the region surrounding Israel. It will lose the ability to transfer weaponry through Syria to Hezbollah. Iran and Hezbollah are both doing all in their power to assist Assad's regime.
"They support Assad operationally on the ground, with strategic consultation, intelligence, weapons," the intelligence chief told a security conference in Herzliya, Israel.
"Most recently, they are establishing a 'people's army' trained by Hezbollah and financed by Iran, currently consisting of 50,000 men, with plans to increase to 100,000. Iran and Hezbollah are also preparing for the day after Assad's fall, when they will use this army to protect their assets and interests in Syria."
Despite deep apprehension over Iran's role in Syria, Israel has warned the UK and France against arming Syrian rebels, arguing there will be no guarantees that sophisticated weapons such as portable anti-aircraft missiles will not ultimately find their way to al-Qaida affiliates and other extremist groups, and be turned against Israel.
Kochavi claimed the al-Nusra Front had sent "subsidiaries" into Lebanon and had forged connections with Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (also known as Ansar Jerusalem), which has launched attacks into Israel from the Sinai. He said al-Nusra intended to help the group establish cells in Lebanon.


2013-03-13 Luke Harding. Russia warns UK against arming Syrian rebels guardian.co.uk

The UK and Russia remain at odds over the supply of arms to Syria's opposition, with Moscow suggesting that any move by the British government to give the rebels military equipment would breach international law.
The foreign secretary, William Hague, held talks in London with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in a meeting also attended by defence ministers Philip Hammond and Sergei Shoigu.
Last week Hague announced that Britain was stepping up its support for Syria's opposition National Coalition and would be providing non-lethal equipment to rebel fighters. The government is inching towards arming the rebels, with David Cameron indicating on Wednesday that the UK might be prepared to bypass an EU arms embargo as events on the ground unfold.
Speaking after talks with Hague, however, Lavrov said the supply of lethal weapons to the rebels would be illegal. "International law doesn't allow, doesn't permit, the supplies of arms to non-governmental actors. It's a violation of international law," he claimed. Lavrov also raised the spectre of western arms falling into the hands of radical Islamist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, placed on a terrorist list by the US.
Hammond responded: "We can't rule out anything in future. You can be sure that any action will be legal with a strong basis in international law."
The differences between Moscow and the west over Syria are well known. The Kremlin has supplied large amounts of heavy weaponry to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, including attack helicopters. The UK and other EU states have backed moderate democratic forces within the Syrian opposition. Hague has promised it "increased support". Russia and the UK were interested in a "political transition" in Syria, he said, though they disagree how to get there.


2013-03-12 ANNE BARNARD. Syria Military Shows Strain in a War It Wasn’t Built to Fight nytimes.com

In Washington, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday and submitted written testimony saying that “the erosion of the Syrian regime’s capabilities is accelerating.” While the Syrian government has kept rebels from fully seizing the three largest cities, he said, “it has been unable to dislodge them” from their footholds there.
For President Bashar al-Assad’s government, the insurgency has overly taxed a military that was designed not for sustained asymmetrical combat, but to repel an Israeli invasion.
As the government wages a war that a pro-government newspaper suggested on Tuesday could go on “for years,” it continues to retreat from its initial approach of fighting the rebels wherever they popped up, focusing instead on protecting its strongholds. And in recent days it has placed new emphasis on mobilizing civilians to take up arms for what it paints as a battle for Syria’s existence against foreign-financed terrorists.
Some in Syria even report that the government has begun putting special pressure on Christians — who it assumes are supporters — to join the army. At the same time, the government has turned to the nation’s top Muslim cleric to press young people into military service, despite Mr. Assad’s assertion that he is defending a secular order.
The strategy, analysts say, aims to relieve the strained forces from the task for which they are most poorly suited — holding neighborhoods in an urban war — and conserve their considerable remaining strength to protect the hub of government power.
The results of that consolidation could be seen last week as rebels swept into the northeastern city of Raqqa and, with an air of confidence, began setting up the foundations for self-government. Although the government continues to pound the city with airstrikes, the capture of Raqqa expanded the rebels’ territory in the north.
Yet with the army still strong in the center, analysts say the country is increasingly divided between tight government control in Damascus, de facto rebel control in the north and some Damascus suburbs, and a bloody and increasingly sectarian paramilitary battle in contested cities like Aleppo and Homs.
...now, to fill the gap further, the government is increasingly relying on paramilitary groups, according to analysts and a recent United Nations report.
The groups began as the pro-government militias known as shabiha, some of them given formal status as Popular Committees. In recent months they have been organized under a structure called the National Defense Forces. The United States government has accused Iran, Syria’s ally, of helping build the groups on the model of Iran’s feared Basij militia.
In government-controlled areas of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, many of the ubiquitous checkpoints are now operated by those groups — usually made up of locals — rather than the army, said Peter Harling, the Syria analyst for the International Crisis Group, a conflict-monitoring organization. As people lose faith in the army, they are loath to risk death on far-flung army deployments, he said, while “holding your ground, protecting your own neighborhood, is far more appealing.”
The pro-government newspaper Al Watan declared Tuesday that the army had “at its disposal enough men and weapons to fight for years to defend Syria.”
But it also urged civilians to go to the army’s aid. “The army is fulfilling its duties, and citizens must now defend their districts, each according to their capacity, as they have done in Aleppo, Hama and Homs, where residents have taken up arms,” the paper said.


2013-03-12 Syria: UK's Cameron 'may veto EU arms embargo' bbc.co.uk

David Cameron has said the UK would consider vetoing any extension to the European Union's arms embargo on Syria.
The embargo is due to be renewed in May, but the prime minister said it was "not out of the question we may have to do things in our own way".
The government has already promised to give "non-lethal" assistance to forces opposed to President Assad.
Mr Cameron said the UK was "still an independent country", although he hoped the whole EU could reach agreement.
Last week, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the government would provide armoured vehicles and body armour to opposition forces in Syria "to help save lives", and offer millions of pounds in equipment, including search and rescue, communications, and disease-prevention materials.
France supports the UK in calling for an easing of restrictions.


2013-03-10 D.Steshina, A.Kots. Ankhar Kochneva escaped from her kidnappers kp.md


2013-03-10 Khaled Yacoub Oweis. Syrian opposition tries to punch through siege of Homs reuters.com

Syrian rebels launched a counter-offensive against a government siege of their positions in the strategic city of Homs despite coming under ferocious aerial bombardment on Sunday, opposition campaigners said.
The mixed city, inhabited by Sunnis and Alawites, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam who have dominated Syria since the 1960s, has emerged as a major battleground in the two-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, which has claimed about 70,000 lives so far, according to the United Nations.
Homs, 140 kms (88 miles) north of Damascus in central Syria, lies on a vital road juncture linking army bases on the coast, home to a large proportion of Assad's minority Alawite sect, and government forces in the capital Damascus.
Sunni Muslim rebels broke through government lines in the north and west to ease a months-long army siege on their strongholds in the center of the city, opposition sources said.
Fighters based in the provinces of Hama and Idlib advanced on Homs this weekend from the north while brigades from rural Homs attacked government positions in Baba Amro. This area was overrun by the army after a long siege a year ago and subsequently visited by Assad.
Both sides have taken heavy casualties since the army went on the offensive 10 days ago to take the central districts of Khalidya, al-Qusour and Old Homs, where rebel brigades have been dug in for months, according to opposition military sources.
Rebels repelled several army attempts to take Khalidya with infantry in the last 10 days and dozens from both sides have been killed, the sources said.


2013-03-10 SAM DAGHER. Islamists Try to Tighten Grip on Syria Regions online.wsj.com

Rebels led by Islamist groups—some with links to al Qaeda—are trying to strengthen their control in northeastern and eastern Syria along the Iraqi border as the Assad regime decides whether to dispatch its overstretched troops to remote areas.
Nearly a week after Islamist groups announced the capture of most of the city of Raqqa and the northeastern province bearing the same name, fierce clashes to gain control of the few outposts the government holds there continued Sunday, said opposition activists. Regime forces are battling insurgents on multiple fronts, including near Damascus, the capital.
The paper, widely seen as close to President Bashar al-Assad, said there was "no urgency" for the army to be dispatched to Raqqa, advocating instead "precision" aerial and rocket strikes against what it called terrorist positions there. It also said the tribes of Raqqa, which the regime armed several months ago, should be left to defend themselves because some tribal and religious elders refused to fight and surrendered the city to rebels to avert bloodshed.
In new video footage opposition activists posted online Saturday, Raqqa's governor and the local head of the governing Baath Party were shown praising the al Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel group known as Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, which is part of a coalition of Islamist groups that control most of the province and several areas close to the Iraqi border.
The regime is focusing its overtaxed military and security forces on defending Damascus, not losing the northern city of Aleppo and preserving reclaimed territory in the central provinces of Hama and Homs.
The challenges were underscored Sunday, with rebels in Homs launching a surprise attack on government forces in the neighborhood of Baba Amr, said the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group tracking the two-year conflict. It said this triggered clashes and aerial bombardment by the regime. Rebels were driven from Baba Amr one year ago after a bloody siege by regime forces. Syrian state media reported that rebels infiltrated Baba Amr from nearby farms but were chased out by government forces.
In Damascus, meanwhile, the sound of heavy artillery was heard throughout Sunday as government forces continued their monthslong campaign to keep rebels hemmed in on the outskirts. But rebels gained a foothold in the northeastern neighborhood of Jobar in early February and have been trying to make deeper forays into the capital.
Ignoring rebel advances in less-strategic areas along the borders with Iraq and Turkey poses other risks for Syria and its neighbors, particularly the threat from militants.
The same Islamist coalition—including the Nusra Front— that claimed the "liberation" of Raqqa also said over the weekend that it was in control of the town of Yarubiyah in Hasaka province, close to the Iraqi border.


2013-03-08 Julian Borger, Nick Hopkins. West training Syrian rebels in Jordan guardian.co.uk

Western training of Syrian rebels is under way in Jordan in an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition as a bulwark against Islamic extremism, and to begin building security forces to maintain order in the event of Bashar al-Assad's fall.
Jordanian security sources say the training effort is led by the US, but involves British and French instructors.
The UK Ministry of Defence denied any British soldiers were providing direct military training to the rebels, though a small number of personnel, including special forces teams, have been in the country training the Jordanian military.
But the Guardian has been told that UK intelligence teams are giving the rebels logistical and other advice in some form.
British officials have made it clear that they believe new EU rules have now given the UK the green light to start providing military training for rebel fighters with the aim of containing the spread of chaos and extremism in areas outside the Syrian regime's control.
According to European and Jordanian sources the western training in Jordan has been going on since last year and is focused on senior Syrian army officers who defected.


2013-03-06 Arab League says members free to offer Syria rebels arms reuters.com

Arab states are free to offer military support to rebels fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if they wish, a final statement of Arab League ministers said on Wednesday.
Previously the League had stressed that the Syrian opposition and rebels should be supported by humanitarian and diplomatic means.
However, a final statement issued at the end of a meeting of the ministers in Cairo said they had "stressed the right of each state according to its wishes to offer all types of self defense, including military, to support the resilience of the Syrian people and the Free (Syrian) Army."
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told a news conference that the ministers had invited the opposition Syrian National Coalition - an umbrella body for anti-Assad political and rebel groups - to occupy the seat of Syria at the League.


2013-03-06 UK to send armoured vehicles to Syrian opposition bbc.co.uk

The UK is to provide armoured vehicles and body armour to opposition forces in Syria "to help save lives", Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.
It will offer millions of pounds in "non-lethal" equipment, including search and rescue, communications, and disease-prevention materials.
Mr Hague said it was a "necessary, proportionate and lawful" response to "extreme human suffering".
Up to 70,000 people have been killed and a million refugees have fled.


2013-03-04 HANIA MOURTADA, ALAN COWELL, RICK GLADSTONE. Syrian Rebels Reported to Take Key City After Heavy Fighting nytimes.com

Syrian rebel fighters seized much of the contested north-central city of Raqqa on Monday after days of heavy clashes with government forces, smashing a statue of President Bashar al-Assad’s father in the central square and occupying the governor’s palace, according to activist groups and videos uploaded to the Internet.
If the insurgents manage to gain and retain control of Raqqa, capital of Raqqa Province, it would signify a potentially important turn in the two-year-old Syrian conflict. Raqqa, a strategic city on the Euphrates River, would be the first provincial capital completely taken over by the armed resistance to President Assad. For the government, the loss of Raqqa would diminish the prospects that Mr. Assad’s military, now fighting on a number of fronts, could retake a vast swathe of northern and eastern Syria from the rebels.
The Raqqa news coincided with reports from Iraq that at least 40 Syrian soldiers who had taken temporary refuge from rebels on the Iraqi side of the border on Sunday were killed on Monday as the Iraqi military was transporting them back into Syria on a bus. Iraqi officials said the bus was damaged by bombs and that unidentified gunmen killed most of the occupants. If confirmed, it would be the most deadly case of cross-border violence between Iraq and Syria since the Syrian conflict began.


2013-03-03 Richard Kerbaj, Malik Al-Abdeh. Dead at 21: Britain’s veteran jihadist thesundaytimes.co.uk

TO his friends, Ibrahim al-Mazwagi was “a bit of a joker” who enjoyed taking part in the rough and tumble of American football.
Unbeknown to most of them, however, al-Mazwagi spent his holidays indulging in a far more dangerous — and for him ultimately fatal — pursuit fighting alongside Islamic jihadists.
Al-Mazwagi was brought up in northwest London and studied at Hertfordshire University in Hatfield. He was killed last month, just a fortnight before his 22nd birthday, the first British-born jihadist known to have died fighting in Syria.
Known by his fellow fighters as Abu al-Fida’a — meaning father of redemption — al-Mazwagi is one of about 80 British men who are believed to have travelled to Syria in the past two years to fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.


2013-03-03 Syria rebels 'capture most of police academy' aljazeera.com

More than 200 troops and rebels reported killed in fighting for one of last regime bastions in western Aleppo province.
Syrian rebels have seized control of most of a police academy in the northern province of Aleppo in fierce fighting that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday at least 200 troops and rebels were killed after eight days of clashes in Khan al-Assal town.
The UK-based group said at least 120 army troops were among those killed in the battle for one of the last remaining bastions of the President Bashar al-Assad government in western Aleppo province. On Sunday, rebels killed more than 34 troops at the facility.
A police source in Aleppo confirmed that much of the academy had fallen into rebel hands, reporting that 40 security forces were believed dead. As many as 300 rebels were among those killed, he said.
The reports of violence came as opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib visited rebel-held areas in the outskirts of Aleppo.
The trip by the head of Syrian National Coalition was intended to strengthen ties between the main opposition coalition and rebels inside the country, an aide said.
Also on Sunday, rebels in the southern province of Daraa seized an artillery battalion in Jamla village near the armistice line with Israel, according to the Observatory.
Eight rebel fighters were killed in the battle, the group said, adding that the insurgents summarily executed the commander of the captured battalion.
In an unprecedented escalation of violence in the coastal province of Latakia, a regime stronghold, at least 15 rebel fighters were killed in a battle against troops, the Observatory said.
The army seized eight small villages in Al-Alwan area of the Jabal Turkman region of Latakia that had fallen into rebel hands in late 2012, a military official told the AFP news agency.


2013-03-01 Iraqi forces attack FSA positions inside Syria english.alarabiya.net

For the first time, Iraqi forces opened fire on Syria shelling the positions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) days after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned that a victory of the Syrian opposition would spread chaos in the region.
Al Arabiya correspondent near the Syrian-Iraqi border reported that Iraqi snipers took up positions on buildings near the Rebiya crossing while others forces shelled the positions of the Free Syrian Army.
The correspondent said that large reinforcements were being deployed by the Maliki government in Baghdad near the Syrian borders.
On Wednesday, Maliki warned if victory by Syrian rebels will spark sectarian wars in his own country and in Lebanon and will create a new haven for al-Qaeda that would destabilize the region.
“Neither the opposition nor the regime can finish each other off,” he said. “If the opposition is victorious, there will be a civil war in Lebanon, divisions in Jordan and a sectarian war in Iraq,” Maliki said in an interview with the Associated Press.


2013-02-28 Anne Gearan, Karen DeYoung. U.S. announces expanded battlefield aid to Syrian rebels, but not arms washingtonpost.com

The Obama administration will provide food and medicine to Syrian rebel fighters, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Thursday, announcing a cautious U.S. foray into front-line battlefield support that falls far short of the heavy weapons or high-tech gear the rebels seek.
“The stakes are really high, and we can’t risk letting this country — in the heart of the Middle East — be destroyed by vicious autocrats or hijacked by the extremists,” Kerry said following discussions among a group of Western and Arab nations that are funding, and in some cases arming, the fighters.
The United States will, for the first time, send supplies through the rebels’ central military headquarters, with U.S. advisers supervising the distribution of food rations and medical supplies, U.S. officials said. The shift is intended to give the U.S.-backed Syrian Opposition Coalition greater say over the aid, but it is also a test of the rebels’ ability to keep donated supplies out of the hands of extremists in their midst.
Washington also will send an additional $60 million to help the umbrella Syrian Opposition Coalition provide basic services such as sanitation and education in areas the rebels now control, Kerry said. That is on top of about $50 million spent on indirect help for the opposition. The goal of the new money is to counter the increasingly effective network of services provided by militants.
Kerry called President Obama’s decision to expand U.S. support “a significant stepping-up of the policy.”


2013-02-27 MARK LANDLER, MICHAEL R. GORDON. U.S. Offers Training and Other Aid to Syrian Rebels nytimes.com

The United States is significantly stepping up its support for the Syrian opposition, senior administration officials said on Wednesday, helping to train rebels at a base in the region and for the first time offering armed groups nonlethal assistance and equipment that could help their military campaign.
The training mission, already under way, represents the deepest American involvement yet in the Syrian conflict, though the size and scope of the mission is not clear, nor is its host country. The offer of nonlethal assistance is expected to come from Secretary of State John Kerry at a meeting on Thursday in Rome with opposition leaders. Mr. Kerry is also expected to raise the prospect of direct financial aid, though officials cautioned that the White House still had to sign off on all the elements.


2013-02-27 Report: Nasrallah's deputy injured in Syria blast ynetnews.com

The Free Syria Army (FSA) released a statement saying that Hezbollah's second in command Naim Qassem was injured in a convoy explosion together with high ranking Syrian officers.
The statement was quoted by the Lebanese newspaper Al-Mustaqbal, affiliated with the anti-Hezbo
The rebels said they attacked a Hezbollah convoy on the outskirts of Damascus on Tuesday.
Elaborating on the attack, the rebels claimed they laid mines on the Damascus-Beirut highway, on the Syria- Lebanon border.
The convoy, they said, was en route to Syria following a meeting in Lebanon in the presence of the Syrian officers. Unconfirmed reports said that no one in the convoy survived the blast.
In a Reuters interview a year ago, Qassem said he believes Syrian President Bashar Assad will continue to rule the country despite the crisis which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians.


2013-02-24 RACHEL KLEINFELD. The Case for Arming Syrian Rebels online.wsj.com

Wars are ugly. They are deadly. They have unintended consequences and spillover effects. And yet, sometimes, putting a thumb on the scales of war is the lesser evil. Sometimes, dealing in arms is the right thing to do.
Arming the rebels of Syria is such a cause. But don't take my word for it. As Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed this month in Senate testimony, they backed a plan last year to arm carefully vetted Syrian rebels. The plan was also backed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-CIA Director David Petraeus. They were vetoed by a White House that sees itself as tough and realistic—but is instead being myopic.
Why arm Syrian rebels? Let's start with Iran. The faster Syrian dictator Bashar Assad falls, the faster Iran loses its closest ally in the region and its main conduit for shipping weapons to terrorist groups that attack Israel and other U.S. allies. A Syria without Assad will further isolate Iran and could help force it to the nuclear negotiating table.
Meanwhile, the rebels aren't waiting for Washington to decide. They are getting arms where they can—often from private individuals and Gulf countries that support the most radical Islamists within the rebel factions.
In other words, the longer we stand aside, the more power radical Sunni factions and rebel groups engaging in war crimes gain over more secular and nationalist groups. The latter are disgusted with our inaction. We will have few friends in Syria, a crucial country in a bad neighborhood, when this bloodletting—60,000 men, women and children killed so far—is over.
I respect the Obama administration's security credentials, and am glad that this White House heralds a tougher brand of liberalism, one that recognizes the necessity of national security and is comfortable with force.
But in this case, the realists are not realistic. The young people spearheading the Arab Spring are trying to decide what America stands for—whether it cares about their human rights and empowerment or is merely seeking cheap global oil and easy alliances. Inaction in Syria is not good for the U.S. in a region where more than 60% of the population is under age 30. America can lose this generation for the next 50 years if it is not on their side now.
Deciding how to intervene in Syria is by no means easy. In 2011 the U.S. and its NATO allies intervened in Libya, failed to secure weapons caches—and newly armed Islamists struck in Mali. Many of the insurgents in Syria are connected with radical Islamists, and the U.S. must be careful not to arm them (though they are growing stronger through our inaction). When Assad falls there will likely be bloody conflicts afterward between rebel and ethnic groups—bloodshed that may be exacerbated by our weapons.
To do the most good, we would need to arm carefully chosen groups. Luckily, we have had intelligence assets on the ground for nearly a year vetting such groups to determine the most worthwhile options.
We should choose arms that are of the most use militarily and the least in civilian killing. This should include antitank weaponry calibrated to pierce lower-grade Syrian armor, not higher-level Israeli, NATO, and U.S. tanks. And we should be willing to provide the additional military support to ensure that those arms are used well. Half-measures can be worse than no action at all.


2013-02-23 'Israel monitors weapons transfers to Syrian rebels' jpost.com

Israel is closely monitoring the transfer of certain kinds of weapons to Syrian rebel groups, as the downfall of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime draws closer, Israeli military officials told US-based McClatchy News Agency.
"Israel isn’t going to interfere and stop weapons shipments to the rebels at this point, but it wants to make sure it knows what they have," one official reportedly said.
"On the one hand, there is a great deal of pressure on the Western world to bolster arms to moderate, what we call friendly, rebel groups so that they are on a level playing field with the groups that might be getting support from Islamist movements," this official told McClatchy. "On the other hand, once you send a weapon somewhere, you can’t control where it goes. The fear is that the same gun used to shoot a Syrian soldier will one day be used to shoot an Israeli soldier.
Israel wants to prevent weapons from entering the hands of some of their northern enemies, like the Jabhat al-Nusra Front or Hezbollah in Lebanon, the latter directly supporting Assad materially and militarily in combating the rebel groups. In fact, cross-border weapons transfers between Syria and Lebanon have been monitored by Israel since the beginning of 2012, when it was believed that the first non-conventional weapons belonging to Syria were passed over to Hezbollah.
Israel took direct action on January 30th when it allegedly destroyed a convoy in Syria that was suspected of carrying Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missile launchers to Hezbollah in a border area west of Damascus.


2013-02-23 BARBARA SURK. Battle for Syria's Aleppo airport intensifies chron.com

The battle for Syria's second-largest airport intensified Saturday as government troops tried to reverse recent strategic gains the rebels have made in the northeast in their quest to topple President Bashar Assad.
Assad's forces have been locked in a stalemate with rebels in Aleppo since July when the city, the largest in Syria, became a major battlefield in the 2-year-old conflict the United Nations says has killed at least 70,000 people. For months, rebels have been trying to capture the international airport, which is closed because of the fighting.\
The rebels have cut off the highway, which the army has been using to transport troops and supplies to a military base within the airport complex. Rebels have made other advances in the battle for the airport in recent weeks, including overrunning two army bases along the road to the airport.
The rebels also control large swaths of countryside outside Aleppo and whole neighborhoods inside the city, which is carved up into areas controlled by the regime and others held by rebels. Months of heavy street fighting has left whole neighborhoods of the storied city in ruins.


2013-02-23 BARBARA SURK. Syria Rebels Fight for Police Academy Near Aleppo abcnews.go.com

Rebels backed by captured tanks launched a fresh offensive on a government complex housing a police academy near the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, while the government hit back with airstrikes to try to protect the strategic installation, activists said.
If rebels capture the complex on the outskirts of Aleppo, it would mark another setback for President Bashar Assad. In recent weeks, his regime has lost control of key infrastructure in the northeast including a hydroelectric dam, a major oil field and two army bases along the road linking Aleppo with the airport to its east.
Rebels also have been hitting the heart of Damascus with occasional mortars shells or bombings, posing a stiff challenge to the regime in its seat of power.
On Saturday, opposition fighters in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour overran a military post believed to have once been the site of a partly built nuclear reactor that Israeli warplanes bombed in 2007.


2013-02-23 Liz Sly, Karen DeYoung. In Syria, new influx of weapons to rebels tilts the battle against Assad washingtonpost.com

A surge of rebel advances in Syria is being fueled at least in part by an influx of heavy weaponry in a renewed effort by outside powers to arm moderates in the Free Syrian Army, according to Arab and rebel officials.
The new armaments, including anti-tank weapons and recoilless rifles, have been sent across the Jordanian border into the province of Daraa in recent weeks to counter the growing influence of Islamist extremist groups in the north of Syria by boosting more moderate groups fighting in the south, the officials say.
The arms are the first heavy weapons known to have been supplied by outside powers to the rebels battling to topple President Bashar al-Assad and his family’s four-decade-old regime since the Syrian uprising began two years ago.
The officials declined to identify the source of the newly provided weapons, but they noted that the countries most closely involved in supporting the rebels’ campaign to oust Assad have grown increasingly alarmed at the soaring influence of Islamists over the fragmented rebel movement. They include the United States and its major European allies, along with Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two countries most directly involved in supplying the rebels. Security officials from those nations have formed a security coordination committee that consults regularly on events in Syria, they said.
Although the Obama administration continues to refuse to directly arm the rebels, the administration has provided intelligence assistance to those who are involved in the supplies, and it also helps vet opposition forces. U.S. officials declined to comment on the new armaments.


2013-02-22 Syria rebels seize nuclear research center jpost.com

Syria’s main opposition group agreed to set up a transitional government seeking recognition as the legitimate alternative to President Bashar Assad’s rule, as rebels said they seized control of a nuclear research center.
The Syrian National Coalition will name a premier for the new administration within 10 days, Haitham El-Maleh, a leading member of the group, said in a phone interview. He didn’t give further details.
Syrian rebel fighters seized control of a nuclear research center at Al Kibar, in the eastern province of Deir Ezzour, which was reportedly bombed by Israelis in 2007, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mail.
The opposition group won’t accept any political solution that doesn’t involve Assad’s departure, and will insist that the president and his military and security leaders be tried for crimes against Syrians, Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency reported today, citing a document drafted by the coalition after a two-day meeting in Cairo.


2013-02-21 Richard Spencer, Magdy Samaan. Damascus bomb one of deadliest of Syrian civil war telegraph.co.uk

Television footage showed body parts and charred corpses lying in the street in Mazraa after the explosion. It struck near the headquarters of the ruling Baath party and the Russian embassy, but opposition activists said most of the victims were civilians, including children. There was also a school nearby.
"There are children among the casualties and injuries as the bomb hit near Ibn Al-Atheer school, and at a time students were leaving school," an activist who was nearby, Iman Al-Huda, told The Daily Telegraph.
The attack, which bore the hallmarks of the jihadist rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, further highlighted the divide in the opposition.
Jabhat al-Nusra has conducted scores of such attacks in Damascus and other cities, but this one brought immediate condemnation from the opposition Syrian National Coalition, which described it as "heinous".
With the regime also launching indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas in Aleppo, Deraa and Deir Al-Zour in recent days, both from the air and by surface-to-surface missiles, John Kerry, the new US secretary of state, will also be under fresh pressure to strengthen American policy.
He will begin an introductory two-week tour of the Middle East on Sunday with officials at loggerheads. American media report that President Obama has vetoed requests by the State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA to allow non-jihadist rebel groups to be armed, but analysts and arms experts claim that new weaponry is being supplied in any case. Some point to a recent influx of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles from the Balkans, seen regularly on rebel videos, as evidence that somehow the policy on the ground has already changed, and that US allies such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been encouraged to infiltrate arms.
The centre of Damascus, which remains solidly in regime hands, is currently under fierce attack from rebel positions in the north, east and south, with one advance reaching within a mile of the historic Old City, one of the oldest continuously occupied settlements on earth.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday's attack, but Jabhat al-Nusra, which America has proscribed as a terrorist group for its alleged ties to al-Qaeda in Iraq, has admitted to at least seven similar bombings this month alone in the city. The Syrian foreign ministry blamed the bombing on "terrorist" groups linked to al-Qaeda, "that receive financial and logistic help from abroad".
Figures for the number of dead ranged from 53 to 59. The latter figure would make it the deadliest attack in Damascus since the start of the uprising two years ago.
Among the injured was Nayef Hawatmeh, head of the Palestinian splinter group, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Immediately after the attack, four more missiles hit the city, and eight people were killed by a car bomb in the suburb of Barzah.
Some opposition activists claimed that to get through government checkpoints to the city centre the bombers must have been backed by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.


2013-02-21 Syrian rebels attack Hezbollah's positions in Lebanon: FSA commander hurriyetdailynews.com

A commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) said Syrian rebels had started to attack Lebanon's Hezbollah Feb. 21, less than a day after the FSA chief of staff issued a 48-hour ultimatum warning the militant group to stop shelling territory held by the insurgents.
"We have bombed the territories of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. The Free Syrian Army will continue bombing these positions," Col. Hisam al-Avvak of the Group of Free Officers, which operates under the umbrella of the FSA, told Anatolia news agency. Al-Avvak also threatened that the FSA would target Hezbollah strongholds in the south of Beirut unless Hezbollah stops its joint operations with the Syrian army forces.
Gen. Selim Idriss, the FSA chief of staff, said on Feb. 20 that Hezbollah had long been taking part in hostilities in Syria, but had gone too far by shelling villages near Qusayr in Homs province from the Bekaa valley in Lebanon.
The commander said the rebels were giving Hezbollah a 48-hour deadline to stop the attacks and "as soon as the ultimatum ends, we will start responding to the sources of fire." Rebels in the Qusayr area would be backed by FSA fighters "equipped with long-range weapons from other areas," he said.
The FSA had also asked the Lebanese president and premier to intervene, Idriss said, but the office of Prime Minister Najib Mikati denied any contact with the Syrian rebels.
Hezbollah has repeatedly denied sending fighters into Syria. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, acknowledged in October 2012 that party members had fought Syrian rebels but said they were acting as individuals and not under the group's direction.


2013-02-20 Syria Talks: Russia, Arab League Offer To Broker Negotiations Between Assad, Rebels To End War huffingtonpost.com

Russia and the Arab League offered Wednesday to broker talks between the Syrian government and the opposition to end the country's two-year civil war.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia and the Arab League are attempting to establish direct contact between the two sides of the conflict, which the U.N. says has killed at least 70,000 people. He spoke as he hosted Arab League officials and the foreign ministers of Egypt, Lebanon and other countries in Moscow.
Lavrov said Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and the opposition need to "sit down at the negotiating table," which he said was the only possible way of ending the conflict without irreparably damaging Syria.


2013-02-18 Justyna Pawlak, Ethan Bilby. EU opens way for direct aid to Syrian rebels reuters.com

The European Union took steps on Monday to provide direct aid potentially including security advice to rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but stopped short of lifting an arms embargo on the country.
The decision, taken at an EU foreign ministers' meeting, was a compromise after weeks of clashes between Britain, which pushed for easing the embargo to help rebels, and EU countries worried allowing more weapons into Syria could fuel violence.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he foresaw more talks in coming months on how the EU can help the opposition in Syria, but now London would use the new measures to offer help.
"We will certainly use the full leeway provided by this amendment to the embargo in order to provide greater assistance for the protection of civilians," Hague told reporters after meeting his EU counterparts in Brussels.


2013-02-18 Patrick J.McDonnell. U.N. panel finds conflict in Syria 'increasingly sectarian' latimes.com

The situation in war-ravaged Syria “is deteriorating rapidly” and both sides have committed crimes against humanity in an “increasingly sectarian” conflict that threatens peace throughout the Middle East, a United Nations-commissioned inquiry said Monday.
“The destructive dynamics of the civil war not only have an impact on the civilian population but are also tearing apart the country’s complex social fabric, jeopardizing future generations and undermining peace and security in the entire region,” the report said.
Both sides were accused of committing massacres of civilians and of combatants, said the report, which covers a six-month period up to mid-January.
Among the government abuses enumerated were murder, torture, rape, “enforced disappearances” and a “disturbing pattern” of aerial bombardments targeting hospitals, bakeries and bread lines.
Opposition forces were accused of murder, torture and hostage taking, among other crimes, and of setting off car bombs and other explosives targeting non-military targets.
Though both sides committed atrocities, the report said that the scale of abuses by government forces dwarfed those attributed to the opposition.


2013-02-16 Israeli military says troops treat wounded Syrians, take them to Israel for further treatment foxnews.com

The Israeli military says troops have provided medical help to Syrians near the countries' border and transported them to a hospital in Israel for further treatment.
A military spokeswoman says soldiers treated five Syrians wounded Saturday near the northern security fence along the frontier in the Golan Heights. She would not elaborate and spoke on condition of anonymity in line with protocol.
Syrian activists reported fighting in the Quneitra region on Saturday, which is on the cease-fire line between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights.


2013-02-14 Barbara Sur. Syrian rebels capturing oilfield in northeast usatoday.com

Syrian rebels captured most of an oil field in the energy-rich northeast on Thursday, the latest in a string of strategic conquests this week that also included a dam and the defenses around a major airport.
The opposition fighters trying to oust authoritarian President Bashar Assad also captured the town of Shadadah, near the Jbeysa oil field in hotly contested Hasaka province.
The oil field is in an energy-rich area along Syria's border with Iraq. Abdul-Rahman said the rebels captured about 70 percent of the oil field but there was still sporadic gunfire in the area.
Opposition fighters were also battling regime forces for the third straight day for control of the main airport in the northern city of Aleppo.
On Wednesday, the rebels knocked down army defenses and closed in on the country's second largest airport in Aleppo, Syria's main commercial hub.
The airport stopped all flights weeks ago because of the fighting.
Earlier this week, rebels captured the nation's largest dam and a military base near Aleppo. They have also brought the fight closer to the heart of Damascus, seat of Assad's regime.
The United Nations says nearly 70,000 people have been killed in 23 months of fighting in Syria.


2013-02-14 David Arnold. Syria’s Civil War Could Drag On Much Longer voanews.com

For more than a year, Syria experts have been predicting the imminent fall of the 42-year-old Assad regime, but President Bashar al-Assad continues to hold power and shows no sign of giving it up.
Even as rebel forces have moved into the suburbs of Damascus and are trying to close in on the capital’s center, some experts on the civil war say it could drag on for another four years.
“I don’t look at this conflict in terms of ending in 2013,” said Aram Nerguizian, a Syria expert at the Center for Strategic International Studies, a Washington D.C. research organization. “I look at it in terms of 2015, 2016, 2017.
“It’s not because the regime is so strong or the opposition is so weak. It’s because this has become a much bigger conflict than just Syria,” Nerguizian says. “This is a conflict where a lot of scores are being settled. You have an influx of forces that are increasingly radical ….”
He says President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is now getting help from Iran, Russia and factions in Lebanon, and is learning how to fight an effective counter-insurgency war. The fighting, he adds, is settling into a drawn-out war of attrition.
According to the United Nations, the fighting so far has killed an estimated 70,000 and displaced more than five million.
On a map of Syria, the rebels control most of the landscape. But the government continues to hold Damascus and the cities of Homs and Hama to the north of the capital, two Mediterranean coastal regions including the port cities of Tartus and Latakia, and part of Aleppo, the largest city in the country.
“They own Damascus,” said Landis. “They own the downtown parts of almost every city.”
Opposition brigades now control many low-income suburbs and half of the nation’s large commercial city of Aleppo, “but the Christian quarters, the upper-class quarters are still in government hands and it’s difficult for the opposition to make those sorts of inroads because they will lose a lot of people…,” Landis said.
The Washington Post also reports that Hezbollah and Quds advisors in the Zabadani area are training newly recruited Alawites for Assad’s pro-government shabiha militia.
Assad draws most of his strength from his fellow-Alawites who share leadership of the nation.
“Syria is led by cousins and in-laws,” Landis said. “Traditional family values and a different kind of glue, a sectarian family of glue.”


2013-02-14 Shateri: Iran’s Regional Point Man asharq-e.com

The killing of a senior Iranian commander west of Damascus highlights Tehran’s military involvement in the Syrian civil war.
General Hassan Shateri is the highest ranking Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officer to be killed outside Iran. His death is likely to renew debate within the Tehran leadership regarding the future of the Assad regime. “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei has vowed to prevent Assad’s fall. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, has tried to distance Iran from Assad in the hope of preventing the emergence of a new anti-Iran bloc in the region.
Shateri, who was 58-years old, was gunned down as he was driving south to Beirut after a week of “consultations” with Syria’s military leaders.
The gun-battle, during which a Syrian military escort failed to protect the Iranian general, happened Monday. But it was only yesterday when Shateri was transferred to his native city of Semnan, east of Tehran, that the death was officially confirmed.
According to Tehran sources two of Shateri’s aides were also killed in the ambush set up by rebels fighting the Syrian despot Bashar Al-Assad. It is not clear whether the aides were also Iranian or Lebanese from the local branch of Hezbollah. The official media in Tehran claims that the attackers were “agents of world Zionism”, a cliché often used to point the finger at Israel for mishaps faced by Islamic officials.
The burial ceremony is scheduled for Friday with General Qassem Suleimani, Commander of the Quds (Jerusalem) Force heading the cortege.
The Quds Force, of which Shateri was a senior commander, is in charge of “exporting” the Islamic revolution. In practice, this means raising and leading pro-Iran militias and terrorist groups in countries of special interest to Tehran.
Shateri was sent to Lebanon after the mini-war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 to help rebuild the Iran-backed Shi’ite militia that had been shattered in the conflict. Shateri used the nom de guerre of Engineer Hessam Khosnevis with the title of “Special Representative of the President of the Islamic Republic” for the reconstruction in southern Lebanon where Shi’ites form a majority of the population.
According to Tehran sources, Shateri controlled several funds amounting to $200 million a year used to replace Hezbollah’s lost arsenal and rebuild its missile sites close to the demarcation line with Israel. He also launched a housing project that, over the past eight years, has helped over 600 Shi’ite families move into new homes.
As Special Representative of the IRGC, General Shateri sat on Hezbollah’s Central Command and helped shape the party’s policies with advice from Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.
Shateri’s key achievement was the creation of an “inner-state” in Lebanon. This consists of a set of communication networks, using fibre optic systems, built in parallel with the ones controlled by the Lebanese government. Thus, Iran has its own telephone, television, and satellite communication facilities across the Lebanon. The general also launched a real estate company to buy land, sometimes whole villages, from Christian and Druze minorities. The chunks of real estate thus obtained helped Iran establish territorial contiguity between the Bekaa Valley, on the Syrian border, with Beirut and thence the demarcation line with Israel in the south. This has created a seamless Shi’ite-majority entity in the very heart of Lebanon.
The business empire controlled by Shateri in Lebanon includes banks, shopping malls, hotels, transport companies, radio and television networks, newspapers, and travel agencies.
The general became a star in Tehran when he succeeded in ousting the pro-West government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, replacing it with that of Najib Mikati with Hezbollah in effective control.
The anti-Assad uprising in Syria provided General Shateri with a new challenge. Over the past two years, he has helped recruit and train special units to fight for Assad. He brought in some 400 members of the IRGC from Iran to run the scheme with help from Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.
Shateri has also secured “mooring rights” for the IRGC’s navy in the Syrian port of Tartus where Iran is building military and civilian “facilities”.
It is not clear whether IRGC’s Iranian personnel have been directly involved in fighting against Syrian rebels. Tehran denies any involvement. However, there is evidence that some of Shateri’s Lebanese men have died fighting for Assad in Syria. Anti-Assad forces claim that Iran and Hezbollah are both involved in Assad’s massacre of civilians in various parts of Syria.


2013-02-13 FARNAZ FASSIHI. Iranian General Is Killed in Syria online.wsj.com

A senior commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, Gen. Hassan Shateri, was assassinated on Tuesday, Iranian news agencies said.
Gen. Shateri was killed outside Iran by "Zionist agents," according to some Iranian news agencies. Iranian news site Balagh and a person with knowledge of the situation said he was killed in Syria, making him the highest-ranking Iranian official killed in Syria's uprising.
He was a senior commander in the Quds Forces, the IRGC unit that serves outside Iran's borders training proxy militia and safeguarding the Islamic Republic's interests in places like Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the person with knowledge of the situation.
Gen. Shateri headed Iran's efforts to help southern Lebanon rebuild after the 2006 war with Israel, according to Iranian media, which said he had arrived in Beirut immediately after the conflict. In Lebanon, Gen. Shateri worked under the alias Husam Khoshnevis, according to Iranian and Lebanese media, which have quoted Gen. Shateri and published his picture under that name in articles discussing rebuilding activities, suggesting he was hiding his military background while serving in a civilian role.
The Iranian Embassy in Beirut said in a statement Wednesday night that Husam Khoshnevis, the head of Iran's reconstruction project in southern Beirut, had been assassinated by armed terrorists on his way from Damascus to Beirut.
Gen. Shateri served during Iran's eight-year war with Iraq, and was also dispatched to Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in 2001, Iranian media said.
Gen. Shateri's death underlines Iran's continuing involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Iranian officials say they are willing to mediate between the Syrian opposition and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Tehran has been steadfast in its backing of Mr. Assad throughout the two-year conflict, offering the Syrian regime technical, financial and military support and training, and justifying its support by saying Syria is an important component of the so-called resistance front against Israel.
The commander of the Quds Forces, Gen. Qasim Sulaimani, confirmed Gen. Shateri's death and personally notified his family, according to Iran's ABNA news agency, which is affiliated with the government-funded Shiite Ahla-al Beit clerical institute.
"He was a loyal servant of the Supreme Leader who spent his life rebuilding war torn areas in Afghanistan and Lebanon," his friend and colleague Kazem Darrabi told the Fars news agency.
Gen. Shateri's funeral service will be held Thursday at a mosque inside the Mahalati compound, a gated community where commanders of IRGC reside in northern Tehran, Iranian news agencies reported. The Iranian Embassy in Beirut will also hold a memorial service.


2013-02-12 Syria crisis: Rebels 'seize northern air base' bbc.co.uk

Syrian rebels have captured a military air base near the northern city of Aleppo, activists say.
Fighters took control of al-Jarrah base after days of clashes there with security forces, reports said.
The reported capture comes a day after rebels in the north-east overran Syria biggest hydro-electric dam, delivering a strategic blow to the government.
Turkey's prime minister meanwhile has said a deadly blast at a crossing with Syria was caused by a car bomb.
At least 10 Syrians and three Turkish nationals died on Monday in the explosion at the Cilvegozu customs post on the Turkish side of the border, in the southern province of Hatay.
"A vehicle loaded with bombs was able to reach our customs gate because the customs gate on the Syrian side is not working and is not being controlled," Tayyip Erdogan was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.
Turkey is a staunch critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its territory has been hit intermittently by Syrian shelling and gunfire.
It also provides shelter to tens of thousands of refugees, many of whom pass through the Cilvegozu point.
Last month, rebels took control of the strategic Taftanaz military air base in north-western Syria after weeks of fierce fighting with government forces.
The base had been a logistically important supply centre and housed helicopters which had been used to drop bombs on rebel-held areas in the north.
In another setback to the government, rebels took control of the Thawra dam on the Euphrates in Raqa province on Monday.
The facility provides much of the electricity to the city of Aleppo, which has been fought over to a stalemate between the government and rebel forces since July.
The dam was reported to be still operational, with rebels under orders from their commanders not to interfere with the workers there.
The facility, the result of a major industrial project with the Soviet Union in the 1960s, holds huge symbolic value for the government. It lies on Lake Assad and after the dam was built the town was renamed Thawra - Arabic for revolution - in honour of the the coup which brought Hafez al-Assad to power in 1963.


2013-02-10 Karen DeYoung, Joby Warrick. Iran and Hezbollah build militia networks in Syria in event that Assad falls, officials say washingtonpost.com

Iran and Hezbollah, its Lebanese proxy, are building a network of militias inside Syria to preserve and protect their interests in the event that President Bashar al-Assad’s government falls or is forced to retreat from Damascus, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern officials.
The militias are fighting alongside Syrian government forces to keep Assad in power. But officials believe Iran’s long-term goal is to have reliable operatives in place in the event that Syria fractures into separate ethnic and sectarian enclaves.
A senior Obama administration official sited Iranian claims that Tehran was backing as many as 50,000 militiamen in Syria. “It’s a big operation,” the official said. “The immediate intention seems to be to support the Syrian regime. But it’s important for Iran to have a force in Syria that is reliable and can be counted on.”
Iran’s strategy, a senior Arab official agreed, has two tracks. “One is to support Assad to the hilt, the other is to set the stage for major mischief if he collapses.”
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
Tehran’s interest in preserving a Syrian base partly explains why the financially strapped Iranian government continues to lavish resources on groups such as Jaysh al-Sha’bi, an alliance of local Shiite and Alawite militias that receives weapons and cash from Iran, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern officials who have studied the organization. The groups are receiving military training from officers from Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
While ostensibly created to bolster Syria’s battered, overstretched army, Jaysh fighters — separate from Syria’s pro-regime shabiha, or “ghost,” units, which are notorious for reprisal killings of suspected rebel sympathizers — are predominantly a sectarian fighting force overseen by Iranian and Hezbollah commanders.
“Jaysh is essentially an Iran-Hezbollah joint venture,” said David Cohen, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department. “Given the other constraints on Iranian resources right now, it’s obvious that this is an important proxy group for them.”
In slapping sanctions on the militia in December, the Treasury Department said Iran had provided it with “routine funding worth millions of dollars.”
A Treasury statement noted that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard commander has said that Jaysh was “modeled after Iran’s own Basij, a paramilitary force subordinate to the IRGC that has been heavily involved in the violent crackdowns and serious human rights abuses occurring in Iran since the June 2009 contested presidential election.”
In a divided Syria, Iran’s natural allies would include Shiites and Alawites concentrated in provinces near Syria’s border with Lebanon and in the key port city of Latakia. Under the most likely scenarios, analysts say, remnants of Assad’s government — with or without Assad himself — would seek to establish a coastal enclave closely tied to Tehran, dependent on the Iranians for survival while helping Iran to retain its link to Hezbollah and leverage against Israel.
Experts said that Iran is less interested in preserving Assad in power than in maintaining levers of power, including transport hubs inside Syria. As long as Tehran could maintain control of an air- or seaport, they could also maintain a Hezbollah-controlled supply route into Lebanon and continue to manipulate Lebanese politics.


2013-02-09 Adel Al Toraifi. Assad Could Hold Out for at Least Two Years—Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki asharq-e.com

ynetnews.com
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, on the sidelines of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Cairo, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki revealed that he believes that embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could hold out for at least another two years. Al-Maliki said that he made these comments to US President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington in response to the American view that Assad could be ousted within two months. Al-Maliki retorted that Assad would not fall “even after two years.”
Maliki said, “I know Syria well. They will fight, along with the secularists, Christians and others”. He also called on Washington not to back the Damascus regime into a corner, warning against what would happen if Assad found himself in a no-win situation with no choice but to go on the offensive. He said, “The reality is that the Alawites are already displaying courage born out of desperation, and that is why they are fighting—men and women—for survival.”
As for the domestic situation in Iraq, and the controversy surrounding his decision to extend his premiership for a third term in office, Maliki said, “This was the decision of the Iraqi people, not my decision. We are not a one-party system; rather we have a group of parties and political forces, and mechanisms that seek decisions from the Constitution and the Iraqi people’s views.”
He added, “I would like to retire, but the decision belongs to the Iraqi people.”
The Iraqi Prime Minister also criticized Turkey, claiming that Ankara is seeking to control Iraq and Syria, as well as other countries, including Egypt. He said, “Turkey is relying on the sectarian element and financial support in its interference in Iraq” adding “dissidents and extremists are always gathering in Ankara.”


2013-02-02 Why didn't al-Assad even throw a pebble at Israel: Davutoglu hurriyetdailynews.com

"Why didn't the Syrian Army, which has been attacking its own innocent people for 22 months now from the air with jets and by land with tanks and artillery fire, respond to Israel's operation? Why can't al-Assad, who gave order to fire SCUD missiles at Aleppo, do anything against Israel?" Davutoglu said.
Davutoglu said they did not know the precise circumstances of the raid but added that Turkey would not stay unresponsive to an Israeli attack against any Muslim country.
Davutoglu also accused Syria's embattled leader of having made a secret deal with Israel. "Is there a secret agreement between al-Assad and Israel? Wasn't the Syrian army founded to protect its country and its people against this sort of aggression? The al-Assad regime only abuses. Why don't you use the same power that you use against defenseless women against Israel, which you have seen as an enemy since its foundation," he said.
Ynet. Is Turkey urging Syria to retaliate Israeli strike?


2013-02-01 Aaron J. Klein, Karl Vick. Air Raid on Syria: Why Israel is Concerned world.time.com

Israeli warplanes struck several targets inside Syria overnight Tuesday, including a biological weapons research center that was reportedly flattened out of concern that it might fall into the hands of Islamist extremists fighting to topple the government of Syrian president Bashar Assad, Western intelligence officials tell TIME.
So far only two airstrikes have been publicly reported, amid a flurry of conflicting initial reports. Syria officially complained of the destruction of the Scientific Studies and Research Center in Jamarya northwest of Damascus. And a variety of news organizations reported that Israeli jets hit a convoy carrying advanced anti-aircraft defense systems toward Lebanon’s Bakaa Valley, presumably for delivery to Hizballah, the militant Shi’ite group closely allied with the Assad regime. If they had been deployed, those SA-17 ground-to-air missiles would intimidated Israeli pilots who now operate over Lebanese airspace with impunity, forcing them to higher altitudes and other operational precautions.
A Western intelligence official indicated to TIME that at least one to two additional targets were hit the same night, without offering details. Officials also said that Israel had a “green light” from Washington to launch yet more such strikes.
Hizballah is not Israel’s only concern – or perhaps even the most worrying. Details of the Israeli strikes make clear the risk posed by fundamentalist militants sprinkled among the variegated rebel forces fighting to depose Assad. The jihadists are overwhelmingly home-grown Sunni militants but also include foreigners drawn to the fight from across the Muslim world. Loosely organized into several fighting groups, some fighters embrace the almost nihilist ideology associated with al-Qaeda. But jihadist groups are less vulnerable to the same levers that have proved effective against Syria and other states – such as threats to its territory — or even the frank interests of an organization like Hizballah, which as a political party plays a major role in Lebanon’s government.
“If we succeeded all these years to deter the Syrians and all the other surrounding countries that possess weapons of mass destruction [from making] use of it, it’s because we knew how to deliver the message, that the price would be very high,” Amnon Sofrin, a retired brigadier and former senior Mossad official, told reporters this week. “What kind of threat can you put in the face of a terror organization?”
In other words, it may be easier to attack the problem from the other side — simply destroy the weapons you’re afraid they’ll get their hands on. Among the buildings leveled at the military complex at Jamarya, outside Damascus, were warehouses stocked with equipment necessary for the deployment of chemical and biological weapons, relatively complicated systems typically manned by specially trained forces. The lab facilities dedicated to biological warfare were of special concern, given both the damage that can be done by even small amounts of biological agents, and the interest expressed in such weapons by Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri. No specific armed force was identified as threatening the compound. Intelligence officials said the concern was unconventional weapons “dripping” into control of extremists in the relative chaos of the rebel side.
One Western intelligence official told TIME the U.S. military was poised to carry out similar airstrikes around Aleppo if rebels threaten to take sites associated with weapons of mass destruction in that region.


2013-02-01 ARIEL BEN SOLOMON, YAAKOV LAPPIN. Report: IAF strike in Syria hit Iranian Guards jpost.com

Iraqi daily Azzaman quoted a Western diplomatic source as saying Thursday that the alleged Israeli attack on Syria reported on Wednesday caused heavy casualties among special Iranian Guards stationed at the Syrian facility. The source also said that the attack took place more than 48 hours before it was reported, eventually being leaked by Israel.
The source for the story, who was interviewed by the paper in London, said that the report about a strike on a convoy to Lebanon was probably meant to divert attention away from the main objective of the operation, which used F-16 aircraft to fire at least eight guided missiles at the facility.
The source also said that the base was heavily fortified and contained experts from Russia and at least three thousand Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who have been guarding the site for years. Many of these Iranian Guards suffered casualties.
Israel most likely got its intelligence, said the source, from penetrating deep inside Iran and from other operations meant to penetrate Hezbollah.
The report came as outgoing US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday that there are signs that Iran is sending growing numbers of people and increasingly sophisticated weaponry to support Syrian President Bashar Assad.


2013-02-01 Kian Mokhtari. Raid on Syria raises serious questions presstv.com

postskriptum.me
Anyone remember Tel Aviv’s ballyhoo about Iran’s possible acquirement of the Russian S-300 air defense missiles? In their haste to do Iran out of means to defend itself, Israeli officials went as far as calling the system a “game changer” in any military scenario.
Not so it seems from the evidence on the ground. Israel has now hit Syria from the air twice in a short span of five years and has got clean away with it. Syria possesses the S-300 high altitude air defense missiles and is experienced with operating the system. So why were Israeli aircraft “counted out and counted back in” without so much of a scratch on any of them?
Going back to the S-300 shortcomings: How can an air defense system with state of the art phased array radar designed for multiple engagements including incoming ballistic missiles be so easily defeated?
The answer is that the systems in operation in Syria are actually little different from those first brought into service by Soviet Union in 1985. Another problem is that Russia sold Cyprus the S-300PMU-1, which was then extensively tested for weaknesses by Israeli air force.
Russia stopped the sale of the weapons to Syria in 2012, but batteries of the system are employed in and around the capital Damascus, and the very “research center” bombed by the Israeli air force.
Another version of the story was broadcast by BBC’s rich Arab cousin Al Jazeera news network. Al Jazeera claimed that the target destroyed in Syria had been a convoy of air defense missiles destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. It went on with its cock and bull story to claim that the systems were being acquired by Hezbollah to prevent regular Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace in particular over the strategic Bekaa valley.


2013-01-31 Harriet Sherwood. Israel faces repercussions of air strike on Syria guardian.co.uk

Israel faces threats of retaliation after Wednesday's bombing on the Syrian-Lebanese border, with Russia and the Arab League describing it as a violation of Syria's sovereignty. Syria and Iran threatened to respond to the military intervention, which was widely ascribed to Israeli forces.
Warplanes targeted a "scientific research centre" near Damascus, according to Syrian state television. Other reports said a convoy believed to be carrying Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles across the border to Hezbollah in Lebanon was struck.
The Israeli military declined to comment.
A spokesman for the Arab League said the bombing was a "glaring violation" of Syria's sovereignty. The "silence of the international community about Israel's bombing of Syrian sites in the past encouraged it to carry out the new aggression, taking advantage of political and security deterioration in Syria," Nabil al-Arabi, the league's head, said.
The Russian foreign ministry said: "If this information is confirmed, then we are dealing with unprovoked attacks on targets on the territory of a sovereign country, which blatantly violates the UN charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motives to justify it."
Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamic militia, pledged full solidarity with the Syrian regime, saying Israel had "perpetrated a barbaric attack"."In line with its inherent spirit of aggression and criminality, and in accordance with its policy of preventing any Arab or Islamic power from developing technological and military capabilities, Israel perpetrated a barbaric attack against a Syrian installation for scientific research on Syrian territory, causing the death of a number of Syrians, the injury of others, and the destruction of the installation," the Hezbollah statement read. Two people were killed and five wounded in the attack, according to Syrian state television.
The Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul-Karim, said Damascus retained "the option... to retaliate". The Iranian deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, was quoted as saying the attack would have significant implications for Tel Aviv, which is within range of Hezbollah rockets.
The US administration was warned of the attack, according to the New York Times.


2013-01-31 ROBERT MACKEY, ELLEN BARRY. Vacation on Syria’s Front Lines Goes Wrong for Russian Judge thelede.blogs.nytimes.com

A Russian judge who decided to spend his vacation moonlighting as a war correspondent in Syria survived being shot in the face and arm this week in the Damascus suburb of Darayya, according to the Web news agency he writes for as a volunteer.
The shooting of the judge, Sergey Aleksandrovich Berezhnoy, was caught on video by the crew from the Abkhazian Network News Agency he was accompanying as it reported on a unit of the Syrian Army fighting rebel forces outside the capital. The ANNA video report shows him snapping photographs on a ruined street before the incident and includes graphic scenes from the emergency surgery in a Syrian military hospital that saved his life.
What exactly Mr. Berezhnoy, a 57-year-old deputy chairman of a provincial arbitration court in the Russian city of Belgorod, was doing on a Syrian front line on Monday remains unclear. His wife told reporters that her husband had traveled to Syria “on a charity mission,” Russia’s state news agency reported. His boss told a Russian news site that he knew Mr. Berezhnoy was on vacation but had no idea where he had gone until reports of his misadventure in Syria surfaced.


2013-01-31 What was the goal of Israeli strike on Syria? vesti.ru


2013-01-31 White House warns Syria over 'weapons to Hezbollah' bbc.co.uk

The White House has warned Syria not to transfer weapons to Hezbollah in neighbouring Lebanon.
The warning came amid contradictory claims of an Israeli strike in Syria.
Syria says Israeli war planes bombed a military research centre north-west of Damascus, but the US and others say lorries carrying weapons bound for Lebanon were hit.
Israel has maintained silence about the incident, but Syria has made a formal complaint to the UN.
Damascus says it reserves the right to defend itself, while its allies Russia and Iran have strongly denounced the attack.
The Syrian army statement about the incident, carried on state media, said Israeli fighter jets had carried out a direct strike on a scientific research centre in Jamraya, killing two people and wounding five.
But a US official told the BBC the target was a convoy carrying SA-17 surface-to-air missiles. Some rebel groups have said they targeted the Jamraya centre.
Israel has declined to comment.


2013-01-31 William Hague: I'm not condemning Israel over 'attack' on Syria bbc.co.uk

Syria has formally complained to the United Nations over a reported Israeli attack within its borders.
Syria's army said Israeli jets had targeted a military research centre north-west of Damascus on Wednesday. Israel has declined to comment.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said that rather than condemning the actions of Israel, attention should be focussed on addressing ''the root causes'' of the crisis in Syria.


2013-01-30 Officials to AP: Israel hit SA-17 missiles shipment ynetnews.com

Israel conducted an airstrike inside Syria overnight near the border with Lebanon, hitting a convoy of trucks, US and regional officials said Wednesday.
The regional officials said Israel had been planning in the days leading up to the airstrike to hit a shipment of weapons bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon. They said the shipment included sophisticated, Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, which would be strategically "game-changing" in the hands of Hezbollah.
A former senior security official in Lebanon told the Washington Post that the attack involved a missile fired by an unmanned Israel aircraft at a truck the Lebanon-Syria border. There were no casualties, according to him. The strike was on the Syrian side of the border, said the former official, who still has close ties to Lebanon’s senior security team and said he was told about the attack by a high-ranking official.
He said the truck was carrying weapons, although it was unclear what kind of weapons. It also was not immediately clear whether the truck was being used by the Syrian military or by Syrian rebel forces, who have been locked in a brutal, bloody civil conflict for almost two years.
Earlier on Wednesday, foreign and Arab media sources said Israeli forces attacked a target on the Syrian-Lebanese border overnight adding that 12 IAF jets breached Lebanon's airspace on Tuesday.
The US-based Al-Monitor website quoted Lebanese sources as saying the target was a weapons convoy traveling near Syria’s border with Lebanon. The report has not been corroborated by any Israeli source and the IDF refused to comment on the matter.
If Israel indeed conducted an airstrike, it may have been signaling to Bashar Assad that Jerusalem would not tolerate the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah. It is likely Syria is not interested in locking itself into a conflict with Israel for fear it would cause the Assad regime to collapse. Israel on its part, is not interested in engaging Hezbollah either.
Analysts estimate that Assad's regime has a clear interest in transferring advanced "game-changing" weapons to Hezbollah in order to repay it for its assistance in Syria's war against the rebels and to prevent the weapons from falling into rebels' hands.
Hezbollah in turn could use the long-range Scud-D missiles to threaten Israel's hinterland and defend itself against an Israeli airstrike.


2013-01-30 Syria 'confirms' Israeli air strike near Lebanon borde bbc.co.uk

The Syrian military has confirmed that Israeli jets have carried out an air strike on its territory, but denied reports that lorries carrying weapons bound for Lebanon were hit.
It said in a statement that the target was a military research centre northwest of the capital Damascus.
Two people were killed and five injured in the attack, it said.
Lebanese security sources, Western diplomats and Syrian rebels say an arms convoy was hit near Lebanon's border.
The attack came as Israel voiced fears that Syrian missiles and chemical weapons could fall into the hands of militants such as Lebanon's Hezbollah.
BBC Middle East correspondent Wyre Davies says none of the reports can be verified, although some well-placed diplomats and military sources say they would not be surprised if Israel had acted, given the recent instability in Syria.
Israel and the US have declined to comment on the incident.


2013-01-30 Syria says Israel attacked military research center ynetnews.com

Sana. Isareli war planes bom research center in Jamraya
Israeli warplanes attacked a military research center in Damascus province at dawn on Wednesday, Syria's military command said, denying reports that the planes had struck a convoy carrying weapons from Syria to Lebanon.
Two people were killed and five wounded in the attack on the site in Jamraya, which it described as one of a number of "scientific research centers aimed at raising the level of resistance and self-defense".
The Syrian army statement denied that the strike had targeted a convoy headed from Syria to Lebanon, instead portraying the strike as linked to the civil war pitting Assad's forces against rebels seeking to push him from power.
"This proves that Israel is the instigator, beneficiary and sometimes executor of the terrorist acts targeting Syria and its people," the statement said.
Residents near Damascus had previously told AFP that missiles had struck a military site for unconventional weapons on Tuesday at 11:30 pm.
A senior official with the Lebanese security forces told Turkey's Anatolia news agency that they were not aware of any attack on the Syria-Lebanon border area.
He did however say that an Israeli force had infiltrated the border strip in south Lebanon for several minutes on Tuesday night. Lebanese army sources said that the forces did not observe any Israeli activity overnight.


2013-01-29 Aamer Madhani. Obama announces additional $155 million in aid to Syria usatoday.com

President Obama announced on Tuesday that he has approved an additional $155 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian people.
With the new infusion of aid, the Obama administration has now committed $365 million in humanitarian assistance since the unrest against the Bashar Assad's regime began nearly two years ago.
"We're under no illusions," Obama said in a video statement announcing the new aid. "The days ahead will continue to be very difficult. But what's clear is that the regime continues to weaken and lose control of territory. The opposition continues to grow stronger. More Syrians are standing up for their dignity."
The announcement of the new aid also comes as Obama has come under increasing pressure from Syrian rebels working to topple the Assad regime and the larger international community for the U.S. to take a more active role in ending the bloodshed that has left 60,000 dead.


2013-01-28 E.Sultanov. Gas wars in Syria and in the Middle East kommersant.ru


2013-01-27 Medvedev: Assad's chances of retaining power in Syria are shrinking guardian.co.uk

The Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, has said Bashar al-Assad's chances of retaining power in Syria are getting "smaller and smaller" every day, according to the transcript of an interview with CNN released by Medvedev's office.
His remarks were the most vocal Russian statement that Assad's days could be numbered. But he reiterated calls for talks between the government and its foes and repeated Moscow's position that Assad must not be pushed out by external forces.
"I think that with every day, every week and every month the chances of his preservation are getting smaller and smaller," Medvedev was quoted as saying. "But I repeat, again, this must be decided by the Syrian people. Not Russia, not the United States, not any other country.
"The task for the United States, the Europeans and regional powers … is to sit the parties down for negotiations, and not just demand that Assad go and then be executed like [the late former Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi or be carried to court sessions on a stretcher like [Egypt's] Hosni Mubarak."
Russia has been Assad's most important ally throughout the 22-month-old Syrian conflict, which began with peaceful street protests and evolved into an armed uprising against his rule.
Medvedev made some of Russia's harshest criticisms of Assad to date, placing equal blame for the escalation into a civil war on "the leadership of the country and the irreconcilable opposition". He also said Assad was far too slow to implement promised political reforms.
"He should have done everything much faster, attracting part of the moderate opposition, which was ready to sit at the table with him, to his side," Medvedev was quoted as saying. "This was his significant mistake, and possibly a fatal one."
The wording of the interview suggested it was not just Assad's grip on power that was under threat, but his life. Medvedev's remark about the chances of his "preservation" diminishing came when he was asked whether Assad could survive.


2013-01-22 Saudi Arabia: Negotiated Syrian Settlement 'Inconceivable' voanews.com

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said on Tuesday the scale of violence used by Syria's government when fighting rebels meant a negotiated settlement of the country's crisis was unthinkable.
"Damascus, which has been a city for the longest period of time, is carpet bombed. How can you conceive of the possibility of a negotiated settlement with somebody who does that to his own country, to his own history, to his own people? It is inconceivable to us,'' Prince Saud al-Faisal told a news conference.
He was speaking after an Arab summit focusing on economic development, which was not attended by Syria.


2013-01-21 Syrian government-in-exile: Not without Qatar’s money middle-east-online.com

The Syrian opposition said on Monday it had postponed a decision on forming a government-in-exile at its meeting in Istanbul.
Sources at negotiations in Istanbul said that the head of Syria’s opposition coalition has flown to Qatar to secure promises of financial aid for a transitional government.
“Between the military effort and humanitarian and administration needs, a transitional government needs up to $40 million a day to operate. There is no point creating a government that cannot meet the aspirations of the revolt,” another source said.
The Syrian opposotion also says that it needs guarantees of support from dissident forces on the ground.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), a key component of the opposition, said the meeting held on Sunday formed a five-member panel to consult with the rebel Free Syrian Army, and other concerned parties on the issue.


2013-01-20 Ned Parker, Alaa Hassan. More young Syrians disillusioned by the revolution latimes.com

t was on a bus ride home from college that Ahmed lost his faith in the Syrian revolution.
The trip was long, about 400 miles across the desert from Damascus. As Ahmed swayed in his seat next to another man, the bus slowed and then stopped. Ahmed looked out the window. There were about 50 black-clad militiamen at a checkpoint, rebel fighters whose cause he had passionately supported.
Several entered the bus, gripping their rifles. They told the women on board, some without head coverings, to hide their faces. They told the men to take out their IDs and fold their hands behind their heads.
"We won't joke about this anymore," one warned. "This time, it's not a problem, but next time, women should cover their hair and behave like good Muslims."
Until that moment, Ahmed, a journalism student at Damascus University, had believed in the revolution. But as he watched the rebel soldiers, he saw his dreams of a democratic Syria being hijacked by extremists.
For Ahmed, at least for now, the revolution was over.
Many Syrian young people have followed a similar path in recent months. Excitement about the uprising that began in the spring of 2011 has turned to skepticism and fear as violence has grown and opposition militias, some funded by foreign extremists, have become increasingly influenced by Islamic fundamentalism.
As much as they may hate the violent, repressive regime of President Bashar Assad, these young people — largely educated and middle class — are horrified by the opposition's alliances with radical groups such as Al Nusra Front, which has ties to Al Qaeda.
They, along with many of their elders among Syria's educated urban class, feel caught between two unacceptable extremes. The opposition movement once offered hope of a more democratic future. Now, in much the same way that many "Arab Spring" sympathizers in Egypt feel betrayed by their revolution, many Syrians worry that they could be trading one repressive regime for another.
"We won't be with the regime, but neither are we with the opposition," said Ahmed. Like other Syrians in this article, he was interviewed from Damascus, the capital, through an Internet audio connection and asked not to be identified by his last name for fear of retribution.
"Many don't know who they hate most, the opposition or regime, because neither is offering a way forward. As they see it, they are both part of a system producing an absurd level of violence and destruction," said Peter Harling, an analyst for the International Crisis Group. "A lot of people have paid a price and are not sure what it is for anymore."
Walid, a 30-year-old rock and blues pianist, represents the Syrians who were thrilled by the movement in its beginning, but never got involved. Now he feels walled in on all sides.
Walid's family had to abandon its house, in a battle zone, and he was forced to leave behind his beloved piano. Now, depressed and living in an apartment in Damascus, he fears his technique is deteriorating. He has fallen into a listless gloom.


2013-01-19 Clashes rage in Ras al-Ain thenews.com.pk

The fighting in Ras al-Ain comes six months after Assad’s troops withdrew from majority Kurdish areas, and jihadists have since staged assaults on the strategic city, forcing most residents to flee.

Syria’s Kurds are divided over the 22-month revolt against Assad—some support his regime, others back the uprising and others are striving to stay neutral.
On Friday, fighters from radical groups Al-Nusra Front and Ghuraba al-Sham battled Kurdish militiamen a day after launching a new assault on the border town, residents and activists said.
On Thursday, “the fighting became more intense in the evening after Kurdish fighters received reinforcements to try to stop the fiercest rebel assault ever since insurgents first arrived in the city” in November, a resident identifying himself only as Mohammed told AFP.
Al-Nusra Front is listed by the United States as a “terrorist” organisation. A Kurdish resident of Ras al-Ain, who said he opposed Assad’s regime, said the jihadists crossed the Turkish border with three tanks into the city on Thursday. On Friday, “the Kurdish fighters seized one of the tanks,” the activist, who identified himself as Havidar, told AFP via the Internet.
While Turkey supports the revolt against Assad, it is also home to a sizeable Kurdish minority that has suffered much persecution and suppression.
Activists say they fear Turkey may be using jihadists in Syria to fight its own battle against the Kurds.


2013-01-16 Paul Owen. Syria: Russia blames opposition 'terrorists' for attack on Aleppo University – live updates guardian.co.uk

In Aleppo, suspicion is growing that the jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra was responsible for yesterday's attack on Aleppo University, which killed at least 87 people, reports Martin Chulov, who has spent the last two days in the city. The regime blames the opposition for the attack; other opposition groups blame the regime. Russia has backed the government's account, calling the attack "revenge by terrorists for significant losses they have sustained in the confrontation with government forces". Russia has been one of Assad's key international backers during the current crisis. Universities were closed across the country today in mourning for yesterday's dead. A video purporting to show the damage caused to dorms at the university was posted by activists. Such videos cannot be independently verified because most media organisations are banned from Syria.
• Government forces launched a renewed attack on Aleppo – which is divided between a rebel-held east and a regime-held west – today. Videos purported to show the fighting there. Martin Chulov said neither side was making significant gains and the front lines had not changed significantly since July.
• Simultaneous car bombs exploded in Idlib today, killing at least 22 people. The explosions seemed to be the work of suicide bombers. Videos posted by activists, which cannot be verified, purport to show the situation in the city and surrounding area.


2013-01-14 Riccardo Dugulin. Syria: Worst is yet to come ynetnews.com

President Barak Obama may have decided to bless the Syrian opposition with the White House recognition, while other European governments are also in the process of doing so, yet the problem regarding the nature of the multiple movements fighting regime forces is today impossible to ignore. Recent reports and articles have pointed at the growing role played in logistical coordination and combat operations by al-Qaeda-linked jihadi groups. The infamous Jabhat al-Nusra is gaining international notoriety by having been the first opposition force listed as a terrorist organization by the United States since the beginning of hostilities in 2011.
External support creates a system of allegiance which tends to weaken the link these groups have with the local people, as they receive funding and logistical support from foreign actors. This variable in the Syrian equation may generate a situation similar to a post-2003 Iraq, where armed factions divided among sectarian lines operate an effective partition of the country. In addition to this, a serious concern for the international community should be represented by the increasingly violent tone of radical elements such as the fundamentalist preacher Ahmad Al Baghdadi Al Hassani, calling for the conversion or the extermination of Christians living in Syria.
The overall risk is that with the fall of Bashar Assad, which may come in a time-span of less than six months, well-armed and better trained groups will launch a second wave of violence against the Syrian population aimed at ethnic and confessional cleansing areas of the country.
The above mentioned situation is worsened by the fact that the regime no longer has a monopoly over human rights abuses. In the early months of the rebellion against Assad's government, it was crystal clear that atrocities were carried out by regulars of the Syrian army and irregular forces loyal to the government. Since the second half of 2012, an increasing number of reports and unconfirmed sources have been highlighting the growing human rights abuses and war crimes committed by armed groups opposed to the government. This developing new reality presents the international community with a major challenge: By supporting and possibly arming Syrian opposition forces, one runs the risk of directly or indirectly creating more harm to the Syrian populations.


2013-01-14 Richard Spencer. Rape 'being used as widespread weapon of war in Syrian conflict' telegraph.co.uk

The study of the nearly 600,000 people who have fled the country since the start of the civil war stated it was a "staggering humanitarian disaster".
On top of those in neighbouring countries, mainly Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, 2.5 million had fled their homes but remained in Syria, while 4 million people were in need of help.
"The extent of the bloodshed, devastation, displacement and suffering inside Syria cannot be easily or precisely measured, but it is certainly extraordinary in its magnitude, and it is steadily worsening," the report for the US-based International Rescue Committee said. "Millions of Syrians are in desperate need and have little if any access to humanitarian relief."
Their overall comments reflect widespread feelings that despite promises from across the world not enough assistance is reaching the often bleak and frozen refugee camps on the country's borders.
However, while there had been allegations of rape and sexual abuse before, the scale suggested by the refugees was shocking.
Women were in particular danger of being dragged away and raped, sometimes gang-raped, at checkpoints set up by armed groups. The report did not single out either side as responsible, but the biggest network of checkpoints is in regime areas and the most serious allegations of human rights abuses have been made against regime troops and in particular its "Shabiha" militia.


2013-01-11 Blow to Assad: Jihadists seize key air base ynetnews.com

Islamic militants seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad took full control of a strategic northwestern air base Friday in a significant blow to government forces, activists said.
The Taftanaz air base in the northern Idlib province is considered the biggest field in the country's north for helicopters used to bomb rebel-held areas and deliver supplies to government troops.
Rebels from the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamic groups have been fighting for weeks for control of the sprawling facility and broke into it on Wednesday evening. Activists said the rebels seized control of buildings, ammunition and military equipment after ferocious fighting at dawn.
The rebel assault was part of a wider campaign to chip away at the Syrian government's air supremacy, which it has relied upon increasingly over the past year as it lost control of large swaths of territory. Airstrikes by warplanes and helicopters have proved the main obstacle to opposition fighters.
The rebels have been besieging Taftanaz for months, launching a fresh offensive on it in early November. While its fall will embarrass the regime, it will do little to stop airstrikes by government jets, many of which come from bases farther south.
Taftanaz lies near the highway between the capital Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo, a major front in the civil war that has stood at a stalemate for months.
Activists estimate that around 700 rebels are involved in the offensive on Taftanaz, almost all of them Islamic militants. They include members of Jabhat al-Nusra, affiliated with al-Qaeda, and groups with a similar Islamic ideology.
Members of al-Nusra, which the US has branded a terrorist organization, have been among the most effective fighters in the rebels' battle to oust Assad.
The opposition has seized several other air defense bases in the north and Damascus suburbs, making off with weapons and ammunition, but in most cases has not managed to retain the facilities.
Also on Friday, Arab media outlets reported that a car bomb exploded al-Tura Street in the Damascus.
Overnight opposition sources claimed Assad's army massacred more than 50 people in the Al-Houl region in Al-Hasakah District, located in Syria's northeast. The sources said most of the victims were women and children who were killed in aerial bombings and by artillery fire.
usatoday.com


2013-01-10 James Blit, Abigail Fielding-Smith. UK signals shift on Syria arms embargo ft.com

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William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, signalled on Thursday that the UK is looking to amend the EU arms embargo on Syria to allow the export of more non-lethal military equipment to rebels fighting the Assad regime.
In a statement to MPs in the House of Commons, Mr Hague said there was a “serious risk” that the violence in Syria would increase in the coming months and that the international community’s response “will have to be stepped up”.
He therefore said the UK will look to amend the EU arms embargo, indicating that equipment such as body armour and night vision goggles could be provided to opposition forces on the ground.
So far, Britain has provided £7.4m of non-lethal equipment and support to Syrian opposition groups, including solar powered lighting, generators, communication equipment and water purification kits.
The rebels have for some time been receiving weaponry from groups inside Saudi Arabia and Qatar. However, members of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, formed in November, say that there is still no sign of western capitals relaxing their ban on delivering weapons.
Rebels have also expressed concern that Gulf Arab governments, which armed opposition groups last year, are now supplying less materiel than they did in the past.


2013-01-04 Julian Borger. Syria rebels' arms supplies and finances drying up despite western pledges guardian.co.uk

Despite widespread pledges of support from western and Arab states, the main Syrian opposition coalition says it has still not seen any significant increase in funding or arms supplies.
Members of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, formed in November, say that there is still no sign of western capitals relaxing their ban on delivering weapons to the rebels and even Gulf Arab governments, which helped arm opposition groups last year, are supplying less each week.
"The supplies are drying up. It is still Syrian expats – individuals – who are providing the funding by and large," said a Syrian businessman who has helped fund the opposition since the uprising began 22 months ago.
Western governments have made disbursements of aid dependent on proven control over rebel forces in Syria and credible assurances that the assistance would not further the aims of extremist Islamist groups such as the Nusra Front, declared a terrorist organisation by the US. Opposition leaders complain that without significant aid they have little hope of rallying support or exerting any control over the chaotic anti-Assad effort.
"We don't even money for airplane tickets," one complained.
"It is little unfair of the international community and particular the French to bestow this title [of sole legitimate representative] on the coalition and not follow through," said Salman Shaikh, of the Brookings Institution's Doha centre thinktank, which played a role in bringing together disparate Syrian activist and opposition groups last year. "If they cannot provide for people in the north, which I suspect will come under full opposition control this year, then the people on the ground will question what is the point. And what you will get is just more factionalism."
He added: "I see a very dark period ahead of us, with a total breakdown like Iraq in 2006, with sectarianism on a scale we have not yet seen in Syria."
Mustafa Alani, the director of the national security and terrorism studies department at the Gulf Research Centre, said: "The people fighting on the streets are not controlled by people outside. They feel they can topple the regime without any help. They feel they are able to self-finance and self-arm and they can survive.
"Their focus has shifted. Their strategy is not to try to hold villages and towns so much, but to concentrate on air bases, to stop the aircraft flying and to build up pressure in Damascus. That is where the war will be decided."


2013-01-02 Syrian opposition claims it can produce, use chemical weapons todayszaman.com

The political adviser of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has claimed that the Syrian opposition is capable of putting together components of chemical weapons and using them if necessary.
Bassam Al-Dada told Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency on Wednesday that the Syrian opposition has the necessary capability and raw materials to produce chemical weapons.
He said if Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad threatens the Syrian opposition fighters with chemical weapons, he should know that “we also possess them.”
Noting that they have the ability to put together components to produce chemical weapons thanks to defected army officers who are experts in this regard, al-Dada added that they won't use them if the Syrian regime avoids using them. “If we ever use them, we will only hit the regime's bases and centers,” he stressed.
Last month, Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, warned that extremist groups could use chemical weapons against the Syrian people and blame the government. He said the Syrian government is "genuinely worried" that foreign countries could provide chemical weapons to armed groups "and then claim they had been used by the Syrian government."
Although the West has shown little desire to intervene in Syria, US President Barack Obama has said the regime's use of chemical weapons against the opposition fighters would be a "red line" and change his "calculus" about the conflict.
As the prospect of intervention gains traction, the Syrian government has been careful to never actually confirm it has chemical weapons and is instead trying to raise fears it may be framed by opposition fighters using such weapons to spur an outside attack.
Recent US intelligence reports, however, showed the Syrian regime may be readying its chemical weapons and could be desperate enough to use them.




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