Your sole source of information regarding persecuted Christians of Egypt.  [Learn More]

Education
Impact
Action
Donate

171 items tagged "Syrian civil war"

Results 1 - 171 of 171

Iran to Turkey: Get out of Syria

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 13 September 2016 07:16
Iran-TurkeyTurkey on Wednesday denied agreeing to a US- brokered truce with Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria, saying it would not compromise with a "terrorist" group a week into an unprecedented cross-border offensive.
 
Washington said Tuesday the two sides -- both US allies -- had agreed to a cessation of hostilities between their forces in Syria after deadly clashes at the weekend.
 
Also on Tuesday, the Islamic State group's top strategist Abu Mohamed al-Adnani was killed in a US-led coalition air strike in Syria's Aleppo province, in a major blow to the jihadists, the group said.
 
While Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies kept up the fight against IS, Ankara's bombardments of Kurdish-backed positions appeared to have eased, with no reports of any such strikes since Monday.
 
Turkey however rejected Washington's claim that it had agreed to hold fire on the pro-Kurdish coalition.
 
"We do not accept in any circumstances ... a 'compromise or a ceasefire reached between Turkey and Kurdish elements,'" EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik told state-run Anadolu news agency.
 
"The Turkish republic is a sovereign, legitimate state," Celik said, adding Turkey could not be put on an equal footing with a "terrorist organisation," referring to the US-backed Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).
 
After driving the Kurdish-backed fighters south away from the flashpoint border town of Jarabulus, the Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies on Tuesday fought Islamic State (IS) group jihadists to the town's west, Turkish media said.
 
Three Turkish soldiers were killed in a rocket attack on a tank near Jarabulus, the reports said.
 
Turkish warplanes later carried out airstrikes against "terrorist" targets nearby, state-run Anadolu news agency said, referring to IS.
 
'Loose agreement'
 
Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield on August 24 to clear the border area of jihadists and halt the westward advance of a US-backed Kurdish-led militia which Ankara considers a "terrorist" group.
 
After helping Syrian Arab rebels take Jarabulus from IS on the intervention's very first day, Turkey began strikes against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a YPG-dominated coalition that has been leading the fight against IS.
 
US Central Command spokesman, Colonel John Thomas, said Tuesday that the Turkish and Kurdish-led forces had reached a "loose agreement" to stop fighting each other.
 
Kurdish-backed militias said they had agreed to the truce.
 
Washington had expressed alarm after a weekend of clashes between its Turkish and Kurdish allies.
 
Ankara said it killed 25 "terrorists" in strikes on pro-Kurdish positions on Sunday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 40 dead and said the victims were mostly civilians.
 
Calling the escalation "unacceptable" the US urged the warring parties to stop fighting each other and concentrate on combatting IS.
 
Turkish media reported on Monday that Ankara summoned the US ambassador to protest the US criticism.
 
A spokesman for the Turkish foreign ministry, however, told AFP that there was only a "phone call" to Ambassador John Bass.
 
IS attack Turkish forces
 
Turkey sees the YPG as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged a bloody war against the Turkish state since 1984.
 
In the past few months Turkey has watched in alarm as the Kurdish militia advanced west to fight IS, raising the prospect of a Kurdish-controlled corridor running nearly the entire length of Turkey's border.
 
On Tuesday, Turkey again demanded guarantees from Washington on the group's promise to the US to retreat east of the Euphrates river.
 
The US-led anti-IS coalition has been backing the YPG with training and equipment to fight the jihadists.
 
On Tuesday, Turkish forces and their rebel allies came under attack in IS-held territory to the west of Jarabulus, with the jihadists claiming in a statement to have destroyed two Turkish tanks in a missile attack.
 
The group also claimed to have carried out a suicide car bombing against Turkish-backed rebels in the same area and said it had killed "dozens" of Turkish soldiers and allied fighters.
 
'Leave Syria,' Iran tells Turkey
 
Turkey's offensive has raised concerns that Ankara could be drawn even
deeper into the Syrian conflict.
 
Iran, a key backer of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, urged Turkey to quickly wrap up its campaign, saying it was a violation of Syrian sovereignty.
 
Turkey has said Syria was informed in advance of the operation by Russia.
 
"Although the fight against terrorism... is a principle for all peace-seeking governments, it cannot and must not justify military operations on another country's territory without coordination with its central government," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said.

Amnesty: Syrian rebels and jihadists are guilty of war crimes

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 19 July 2016 16:36
isisIslamist rebels and jihadists in Syria are guilty of war crimes, Amnesty International said in a report Tuesday, accusing them of "a chilling wave of abductions, torture and summary killings".
 
The London-based rights group named five Syrian anti-regime factions operating in northern Syria: Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, hardliner Ahrar al-Sham, Nureddin Zinki, the Levant Front and Division 16.
 
The groups have detained and tortured lawyers, journalists,and children – among others – for criticizing them, committing acts seen as immoral, or being minorities, the report said.
 
"Many civilians live in constant fear of being abducted if they criticize the conduct of armed groups in power or fail to abide by the strict rules that some have imposed," said Philip Luther, head of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa program.
 
"In Aleppo and Idlib today, armed groups have free rein to commit war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law with impunity," he added.
 
The report is based on 24 accounts of abduction by anti-regime groups between 2012 and 2016 and another five cases of torture.
 
Halim, a humanitarian worker, was kidnapped and tortured by Nureddin Zinki rebels in Aleppo city until he confessed to a crime.
 
"When I refused to sign the confession paper the interrogator ordered the guard to torture me," he said.
 
"He then started beating me with cables on the soles of my feet. I couldn't bear the pain so I signed the paper," Halim said.
 
Jihadist and hardline religious groups operate their own religious courts which punish crimes such as apostasy or adultery with death.
 
Saleh was held by Al-Nusra in late 2014, and was told by his guard that five women accused of adultery would "only be forgiven by death".
 
He said he later watched a video showing Al-Nusra jihadists publicly killing one of women execution-style.
 
Amnesty said it documented violations in Idlib, which is held by Al-Nusra and its allies, and Aleppo.
 
Al-Nusra has been an official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013 when its leader pledged allegiance to the group.
 
As well as fighting President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, the group has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State (ISIS) group. 
 
Syria's conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests but has since broken down into all-out war, leaving more than 280,000 people dead.
 
Rights groups have accused both the regime of Bashar Al-Assad and anti-government factions of indiscriminate attacks, torture and detention.
 
Amnesty called on world powers to "pressure armed groups to end such abuses and comply with the laws of war".
 
The report said regional powers must also stop providing weapons or other forms of support to any factions involved in war crimes or other violations.
 
It said some of the accused groups "are believed to have the support of governments such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the U.S.".

Israeli air force strikes Hezbollah in Qalamoun, Syria

Category: Reports
Created on Wednesday, 20 January 2016 09:50
Samir Kuntar -ReutersSyrian opposition sources claim the Israeli air force conducted airstrikes against Hezbollah positions in the mountainous Qalamoun region, along the border with Lebanon.
 
The alleged strikes were first reported by Syrian opposition outlet 7alpress, which claimed on Twitter that "two consecutive Israeli raids" targeted Hezbollah positions outside the town of Flita late Sunday night.
 
A subsequent report added that ambulance sirens were heard in Yabrud, southeast of Flita, "after Israeli aircraft targeted Hezbollah’s positions."
 
Lebanon's Now. news site cited several other rebel sources, some of whom said they counted as many as five strikes by aircraft on Hezbollah targets.
 
Other Lebanese media sources also reported on "unidentified" explosions in the area.
 
Israel is believed to have repeatedly struck Hezbollah positions and weapons convoys in Syria, as part of efforts to prevent the Iranian proxy group obtaining "game-changing" sophisticated weaponry, as well as to thwart attacks by Hezbollah and affiliated terrorist groups along the Golan Heights border with Israel.
 
The last reported Israeli air strike in Syria eliminated arch-terrorist Samir Kuntar, a one-time Hezbollah commander who was reportedly drafted by Iranian special forces to set up anti-Israel terror cells in southern Syria.
 
However, Israeli government officials have never commented openly about the strikes, as part of the government's policy of ambiguity regarding operations in the civil war-torn country. Despite the airstrikes Israel has largely managed to avoid being sucked into the bloody civil war.
 
The Qalamoun region is a strategically-important position recently seized by Hezbollah and pro-Assad militias from Syrian rebels, cutting off a crucial lifeline for opposition forces with supporters in Lebanon.

Clashes erupt between Syria Islamists, Kurds

Category: News
Created on Monday, 30 November 2015 13:20
Kurds AdvanceAt least 23 fighters have been killed in clashes between Syrian Islamist forces including Al-Qaeda's local affiliate and an alliance led by Kurdish forces, a monitor said on Monday.  
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 15 fighters from Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front and allied groups had been killed Sunday in fighting that began last week in northern Aleppo province.
 
The clashes also killed at least eight members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is dominated by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).  
 
Kurdish journalist Arin Shekhmos said the clashes began on Thursday, when Al-Nusra and allied fighters attacked posts belonging to Jaish al-Thuwwar, an Arab rebel group allied with Kurdish forces.
 
The attack, near the border region of Azaz, prompted sporadic clashes that drew in the SDF and have also seen Al-Nusra and its allies fire rockets at a Kurdish district of Aleppo city.
 
In addition, the Observatory said, Al-Nusra on Sunday beheaded two men it accused of working with Jaish al-Thuwwar.
 
Syria's Kurds have long had tense relations with parts of the armed opposition, particularly its hardline elements.
 
The minority community never officially joined the armed uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, despite having been oppressed by his regime, although there have been occasional deadly clashes between Kurdish and pro-regime forces.
 
It has refused to allow rebel forces to stage operations from Kurdish-majority regions, from which the regime withdrew in 2012, and has focused instead on building political and security autonomy.
 
The Kurds accuse Turkey of backing some of Syria's Islamist rebels and Ankara has often warned it will not allow the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region on its border.
 
However, the YPG, the main Syrian Kurdish armed group, has played a key role in fighting the Islamic State jihadist group (ISIS) in northern and northeastern Syria.
 
It has also allied with small Arab rebel groups, like Jaish al-Thuwwar, and recently announced the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition, which groups the YPG with Christian and Arab Sunni Muslim forces.  
 
The US-backed alliance has so far mostly been active in the northeastern province of Hasakeh, where it has captured some 200 villages from ISIS in recent weeks.

Syria: Al Qaeda rebels kill key ISIS commander

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 07:45
Abu Ali al-BaridiThe leader of a jihadist Syrian rebel faction that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group (ISIS) was killed Sunday in a suicide attack by rival jihadists, a monitoring group said.  
 
"Abu Ali al-Baridi, head of Al-Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade and nicknamed 'The Uncle', was killed in a suicide attack by Al-Nusra Front," Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
 
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said Baridi and two of his group's top leaders were killed in the town of Jamlah in the southern Syrian province of Daraa bordering Jordan.
 
Baridi's faction pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014 and operated in the south of the country, Abdel Rahman said.
 
Al-Nusra's official Twitter account confirmed it had attacked Baridi, calling it a "heroic infiltration operation."
 
The two jihadist factions had been clashing in Daraa "for months", Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that Al-Nusra fighters fired celebratory gunshots when they learned "The Uncle" had been killed.
 
At least 32 fighters from Al-Nusra, Al-Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade and other Islamist groups died in intra-rebel clashes earlier this week.
 
"With this assassination, Al-Nusra has asserted its control on the southwestern front of Daraa province, near the border with (Israel's) Golan," Abdel Rahman said.
 
Daraa province is largely under opposition control and is dominated by the pro-West Southern Front alliance, while the provincial capital is divided between regime and rebel forces.
 
Al-Nusra and ISIS were originally both part of Al-Qaeda's network in Syria, but ISIS split into its own faction in early 2014 and the groups have been fighting each other ever since.

Pentagon welcomes advance of ISIS-fighting alliance

Category: News
Created on Friday, 13 November 2015 08:50
ISIS-fighting allianceA coalition including Syrian Arab groups regained a swath of territory in northeastern Syria from Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists, a US military spokesman said Wednesday, calling it an encouraging success.
 
The fighters, who are from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its Syrian Arab Coalition subgroup, regained 87 square miles (255 square kilometers) near the town of al-Hawl, US military spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said.
 
The group "conducted an attack ... driving ISIL back," Warren said by videoconference from Baghdad, using an alternate acronym for ISIS.
 
"This is not a large tactical action," he said, but "we are encouraged by what we saw."  
 
The spokesman said the operation had pitted "well over a thousand friendly forces" against "several hundred enemies" in the vicinity, after heavy US airstrikes had cleared the way.
 
Warren said the United States intended to "reinforce" the action, seeming to hint at further ammunition air drops to US-allied groups after those that took place last month.
 
The Syrian Democratic Forces were formed in mid-October as an alliance between the powerful Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and other Syrian rebel groups.
 
The Pentagon's announcement came just a day after The New York Times published an article calling into question the capabilities of the SDF and the Syrian Arab Coalition.
 
Referring to the SDF, The Times said that "nearly all the group's fighting power comes from ethnic Kurdish militias" - suggesting it was not quite the coalition of Arabs and Kurds it claimed to be.
 
Meanwhile, the name "Syrian Arab Coalition," one senior official said, was "an American invention." The group is supposed to have 4,000 to 5,000 fighters.
 
The US military has been struggling to show substantial results of its support for anti-ISIS forces.
 
It has already scrapped a $500 million program to build a rebel army to fight ISIS, after many candidates failed to pass the screening process and one group gave equipment to an Al-Qaeda affiliate.
 
After the debacle, the United States decided simply to supply equipment and air support to certain rebel groups, particularly in northern Syria.
 
In mid-October, it parachuted 50 tons of small-arms ammunition and rockets to rebels fighting ISIS.  
 
The White House announced on Friday that US President Barack Obama had authorized the first sustained deployment of special forces to Syria, reversing a long-standing refusal to put US boots on the ground.
 
The president approved the deployment of "fewer than 50" special operations personnel in the north of the war-ravaged nation, but Warren said no special operations forces were on the ground in the latest operation.  
 
The al-Hawl offensive was supported by 17 air strikes that included A-10s - an anti-tank aircraft often called the "Warthog" - and an AC-130 Spectre gunship, a ground attack plane, from Incirlik, Turkey, Warren said.
 
The agreement by Turkey, a NATO ally, to allow US forces to fly Syria missions from Incirlik has given a boost to the US effort.
 
Warren called the recent advance of allied forces a "validator" for the latest US operation.
 
In Syria, the SDF and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which seeks to document abuses in that country's civil war, have confirmed the death during the al-Hawl offensive of a Canadian national fighting for ISIS.
 
An SDF spokesman said the man died Wednesday during a suicide attack by a jihadist.

Yet another senior Iranian officer killed in Syria

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 12 November 2015 21:12
senior Iranian officer killed in SyriaA senior officer in Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards unit has been killed in Syria, the fourth Iranian commander to die there in the last month, state media said Tuesday.
 
Colonel Ezzatollah Soleimani died during an "advisory mission" near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, according to Fars news agency.
 
Iranian media have since Saturday announced the deaths of five Iranians in Syria, bringing the total killed there to at least 20 since October 9.
 
Among those have been four Revolutionary Guards commanders, including General Hossein Hamedani, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, who was killed by the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group near Aleppo.
 
 
Iran supports the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and while it doesn't officially acknowledge sending troops to Syria, it has admitted to deploying military "advisers" to the war-torn country.

Russian airstrikes hit Syria's Palmyra region

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 12 November 2015 11:36
palmyraRussia's air force has struck the area around the Islamic State-held ancient city of Palmyra, the defense ministry said on Monday, as Moscow pressed on with its bombing campaign in Syria.
 
"Su-25 jets hit a fortified ISIS position in the Tadmur area of Homs province," Moscow's defense ministry said, according to the AFP news agency, using the Arabic name for Palmyra.
 
"As a result of a direct strike, a fortification, an underground bunker and anti-aircraft artillery were destroyed," it added.
 
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also said that Russian planes had targeted Palmyra with strikes on Monday.
 
He said several strikes hit the city's historic citadel, but had no further details.
 
Khaled al-Homsi, an activist from Palmyra, also reported Russian strikes on the citadel on the western edges of the historical site.
 
"The extent of the damage could not be verified," he told AFP.
 
The Russian defense ministry previously said its warplanes had struck close to the ancient city but insisted that it avoided historic sites.
 
Syrian state television said in early October that Russian warplanes, acting in coordination with the Syrian air force, had struck ISIS targets "in and around" the city.
 
ISIS, which has captured swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria to create a self-styled "caliphate" where it enforces an extreme form of Islamic rule, has destroyed ancient artifacts in Palmyra which it considers to be idolatrous.
 
In June, Islamic State blew up two ancient shrines in Palmyra that were not part of its Roman-era structures but which they regarded as pagan and sacrilegious.
 
ISIS also destroyed the Baal Shamin temple at Palmyra in late August and, a week later, destroyed the Temple Bel in the city, another heritage site.
 
ISIS has used Palmyra's grand amphitheatre for a massacre in which child members of the group killed 25 Syrian soldiers, execution-style, in front of residents.
 
It also beheaded Palmyra's 82-year-old former antiquities director in August. And last week, the jihadist group executed three people in the city by binding them to three historic columns and blowing them up.

New Kurdish-Arab alliance launches first anti-ISIS attack

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 11 November 2015 20:26
Kurds Cut Key ISIS Supply RouteA coalition of US-backed Kurdish militia and rebel groups has launched its first operation against territory controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group in northeast Syria, a spokesman said Saturday.
 
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were formed in mid-October as an alliance between the powerful Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and other Syrian rebel groups.
 
"This is the first step of the Syrian Democratic Forces," said Sherfan Darwish, spokesman for the Burkan al-Furat Arab rebel group, which is part of the SDF.  
 
Speaking to AFP by phone from Syria, Darwish said the operation began on Friday night and would target ISIS-held areas in the northeast province of Hasakeh, including the towns of Shadadi and Al-Hol.  
 
Darwish said the operation would receive air support from the US-led coalition striking ISIS in Syria since September 2014.
 
In a statement on its Facebook page the coalition later said that it had targeted ISIS tactical units and fighting posts outside Al-Hol on Friday.
 
In a video statement published online, the YPG confirmed the beginning of the operation "with all of the members of the SDF, and with support from and coordination with the international coalition, to liberate the southern parts of Hasakeh province."
 
Clashes on Saturday raged between the SDF and IS outside Al-Hol and Al-Ghazayleh, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
Both of those areas lie northeast of Hasakeh city in a thin slice of Syrian territory between the Turkish and Iraqi borders.
 
Abdel Rahman said the SDF were backed on Saturday by air strikes from the US-led air coalition.
 
Most of Hasakeh province is divided in control between Kurdish forces and ISIS jihadists, although regime forces are present in some provincial cities including the capital.  
 
In June, ISIS seized several neighborhoods in Hasakeh city but was expelled a month later after battles involving both regime troops and Kurdish fighters.
 
The SDF announcement came a day after the White House said it would send "fewer than 50" special forces personnel to Syria's north, reversing a long-standing refusal to put US boots on the ground.

Syrian MP: American troops are 'an act of aggression'

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 11 November 2015 10:10
Sharif ShehadehA Syrian member of parliament on Saturday blasted the United States' decision to send troops into Syria as an “act of aggression”.
 
Speaking to The Associated Press (AP), the lawmaker, Sharif Shehadeh, said the American troops will have no effect on the ground, but Washington wants to say it is present in Syria.
 
"What has happened to make America realize, after five years, that it should send between 30 and 50 military advisers?" asked Shehadeh, referring to the start of the country's civil war in March 2011 that has since killed more than 250,000 people.
 
"When America sends ground forces into Syrian territories without an agreement with the Syrian government it becomes an intervention and aggression," he stated. "Will America allow Russian ground forces to go into America without an agreement? I think the answer is no."
 
On Friday, President Barack Obama okayed a deployment of "fewer than 50" special operations forces in the north of Syria, in a bid to strengthen forces fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) group.
 
Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday refused to rule out more American commandos being sent to Syria beyond the 50 announced Friday.
 
Speaking in the Kyrgyz capital during a tour of Central Asia, Kerry said he fully supported Obama's decision to put troops on the ground in Syria - which comes just weeks after Russia's surprising deployment in the war torn state.
 
Asked whether he could rule out more troops being assigned to the mission, he said, "I can't predict what the future will bring when our policy is to destroy Daesh, to fight back against this evil. But I do think the president has made a judgment that I completely advocated for and concur in."
 
Meanwhile, State Department spokesperson John Kirby was put in the hot seat on Friday, when Reuters reporter Arshad Mohammed asked him at a press briefing about Obama's decision and whether he broke his word about not putting American boots on the ground in Syria.
 
Kirby claimed that he "didn't know" whether Obama had ruled out putting boots on the ground in Syria - even though Obama openly announced as far back as 2013 that he would not do so.
 
When pressed, Kirby said, "I’ll defer to my colleagues at the White House to speak to presidential policy here, I’m not aware that there was a policy about putting U.S. boots on the ground in Syria in any capacity whatsoever." 

Iran Ready to Commit More Troops to Syria

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 28 October 2015 12:00
Hezbollah military paradeIran is willing to send more soldiers to key ally Syria if Damascus requests them, a senior Iranian official said Thursday on a visit to the war-torn country.
 
"If Syria makes a request (for Iranian forces), we will study the request and make a decision," said Alaedin Boroujerdi, the chairman of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee.  
 
"What's important is that Iran is serious about the fight against terrorism," he added. "We have supplied aid and weapons and sent advisors to Syria and Iraq."
 
Iran is a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad's regime and has stood by the embattled president since protests against his regime began in March 2011.  
 
In recent days, thousands of Iranian fighters are reported to have arrived at a military airport in Syria's coastal Latakia province, according to Syrian military sources.
 
They would join senior Iranian military advisers and special forces troops already in the country, as well as thousands of fighters from the Tehran-backed Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, in bolstering the Assad's regime troops. Iran has also trained and equipped pro-regime paramilitary forces such as the National Defense Force (NDF) to supplement the overstretched Syrian Arab Army, and provided the Assad regime with weapons, equipment and funding to maintain its bloody campaign against Sunni rebels.
 
Another key Assad ally, Russia, has offered direct military support in the form of an aerial campaign that began on September 30.
 
Boroujerdi said Thursday that "military operations" currently underway in Syria "take place in support of a political solution and peace" in the country, in an apparent reference to Moscow's campaign.
 
Boroujerdi has been in Syria for three days and met Thursday morning with Assad to express Iran's continuing support for the government in Damascus.  
 
He also slammed the US-led coalition that has been carrying out air strikes in Syria since last year, saying it had "failed despite billions of dollars."
 
The comments come as Iran is still reeling from its most significant losses yet in Syria, with the death of one of the country's highest-ranking generals - General Hossein Hamedani - followed shortly afterwards by the loss of two other senior military officers fighting ISIS forces.

Hollande Tells Putin: Attack ISIS and Only ISIS

Category: News
Created on Monday, 19 October 2015 10:47
Francois HollandeFrench President Francois Hollande said on Friday he had told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin he must strike at “Daesh (the Islamic State or ISIS) and only Daesh” during Russian military action in Syria, the Al-Arabiya network reports.
 
Hollande was speaking after meeting Putin on Friday and ahead of talks on the future of Ukraine, where the two men were joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
 
“What I told President Putin was that the strikes should concern Daesh and only Daesh. On that basis we have to hold everyone to their responsibilities,” Hollande said after the meetings in Paris, using an Arabic name for the jihadist group which has taken over swathes of land in Iraq and Syria and declared a “caliphate”.
 
Hollande said no link was made during the four-way talks between the situation in Ukraine and the one Syria, according to Al-Arabiya.
 
Hollande and Putin had an in-depth discussion about Syria on Friday in which they “tried to narrow down differences on political transition,” an aide to Hollande said after the two met in Paris.
 
The aide did not say if the two had reached any agreements during the conversation.
 
The meeting comes several days after Russia conducted its first airstrikes in Syria. Moscow claimed it had been targeting ISIS in the Homs and Hama districts of the country, but an American official later said the targets were U.S.-backed "moderate" rebel groups fighting ISIS.
 
Russia only gave the United States an hour's warning ahead of the strikes and did not specify where they would occur, riling many in the Pentagon who had been hoping for clearer and more detailed lines of communication.
 
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter later accused Russia of inflaming Syria's civil war, saying Moscow's military involvement in the war-torn nation was "doomed to fail" and that Moscow's entry into the bloody conflict was akin to "pouring gasoline on the fire."
 
Iran, however, gave the Russian airstrikes its seal of approval on Thursday, with its foreign ministry spokeswoman saying the airstrike are a step to solving "the crisis" in the region.

France Launches Criminal Probe Against Assad

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 06 October 2015 11:42
Bashar Al-AssadFrench authorities have launched a criminal probe of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's regime for alleged war crimes committed between 2011 and 2013, sources told the AFP news agency.
 
Paris prosecutors opened a preliminary war crimes inquiry on September 15, a source close to the case told the news agency on Tuesday. A diplomatic source confirmed the launch of the probe.
 
The investigation is focusing on evidence provided by a former Syrian army photographer known by the codename "Caesar," who defected and fled the country in 2013, bringing with him some 55,000 graphic photographs of scenes from the brutal conflict.
 
The announcement comes as the four-year war in Syria takes centre-stage at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have clashed over how to bring an end to the crisis.
 
Obama and Putin met at the General Assembly on Tuesday, breaking a year-long silence between the two.
 
Syria dominated the 90-minute meeting, with the two agreeing to hold talks to prevent clashing in the embattled country.
 
Russia has stepped up its military involvement in Syria in recent weeks, with U.S. officials accusing Moscow of sending combat aircraft, tanks and other equipment to help the Syrian army.
 
The United States was so concerned about reports of Russia’s increased presence in Syria that Secretary of State John Kerry phoned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov a total of three times in ten days to discuss the situation.
 
But Obama seemed to have pledged to break the silence earlier Monday, pledging in his own UN address that he would be "willing to work with" both Russia and regional ally Iran to solve the Syria crisis. 
 
French President Francois Hollande has joined Obama in insisting Assad cannot play a role in the country's future, against opposition from Damascus's allies Russia and Iran.
 
"Russia and Iran say they want to be part of a solution," Hollande said, according to AFP.
 
"So we must work with these countries to explain to them that the route to a solution does not go through Bashar Al-Assad," he added.
 
France recently shifted its stance on Assad somewhat, saying it will not demand his departure as a precondition for peace talks.

Putin: American Support of Syrian Rebels 'Illegal'

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 01 October 2015 16:51
Russian President Vladimir PutinRussian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday claimed that United States support for rebel forces in Syria is “illegal and ineffective”, Reuters reported.
 
Speaking in an interview with U.S. networks recorded ahead of a meeting with President Barack Obama, Putin claimed American-trained rebels were leaving to join the Islamic State (ISIS) with weapons supplied by Washington.
 
The Russian President also said that his ally, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, deserved international support as he was fighting terrorist organizations.
 
Obama and Putin are scheduled to talk on Monday after Putin addresses the United Nations, although White House and Kremlin officials have disagreed on what the two leaders will discuss and even who initiated the meeting.
 
"In my opinion, provision of military support to illegal structures runs counter to the principles of modern international law and the United Nations Charter," he was quoted as having said in an excerpt of an interview with CBS and PBS released by the Kremlin.
 
Russia has stepped up its military involvement in Syria in recent weeks, with U.S. officials accusing Moscow of sending combat aircraft, tanks and other equipment to help the Syrian army.
 
The United States was so concerned about reports of Russia’s increased presence in Syria that Secretary of State John Kerry phoned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov a total of three times in ten days to discuss the situation.
 
Russia's sudden military build-up this month in support of Assad and a refugee crisis that has spilled over from the region into Europe have lent new urgency to attempts to resolve the Syria conflict, noted Reuters.
 
U.S.-Russian relations have slumped to a post-Cold War low over the Ukraine crisis, though the two sides shares concerns about the threat posed by Islamic State, while disagreeing on the approach.
 
Putin says Damascus should be included in international efforts to fight ISIS, a demand the United States rejects, and he criticized U.S. plans to train up to 5,400 Syrian rebels to fight the jihadist group.
 
"It turns out that only 60 of these fighters have been properly trained, and as few as four or five people actually carry weapons," he said. "The rest of them have deserted with the American weapons to join ISIS."
 
Putin also that said Russia's support for the Assad government was based on the UN Charter.
 
"We have been providing assistance to legitimate government entities only," he said, according to Reuters. "As of today it has taken the form of weapons supplies to the Syrian government, personnel training and humanitarian aid to the Syrian people."

Putin Considering Unilateral Airstrikes Against ISIS

Category: Reports
Created on Tuesday, 29 September 2015 12:15
Russian President Putin  ReutersRussian President Vladimir Putin, determined to strengthen his country’s only military outpost in the Middle East, is preparing to launch unilateral airstrikes against Islamic State (ISIS) from inside Syria if the U.S. rejects his proposal to join forces, two people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg on Wednesday.
 
Putin’s preferred course of action, though, is for America and its allies to agree to coordinate their campaign against the terrorist group with Russia, Iran and the Syrian army, which the Obama administration has so far resisted, according to a person close to the Kremlin and an adviser to the Defense Ministry in Moscow.
 
Russian diplomacy has shifted into overdrive as Putin seeks to avoid the collapse of the embattled regime of Bashar Al-Assad, a longtime ally of Russia, who’s fighting both a four-and-a-half year civil war and Sunni extremists under the banner of Islamic State.
 
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu flew to Moscow for talks with Putin on Monday, followed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday.
 
During the meeting with Netanyahu, Putin sought to calm Israeli concerns over the deployment of Russian soldiers in Syria, telling the Israeli Prime Minister his forces would act "responsibly," and noting the Syrian regime was in not fit state to attack Israel.
 
Putin’s latest proposal, which Russia has communicated to the U.S., calls for a “parallel track” of joint military action accompanied by a political transition away from Assad, a key U.S. demand, according to a third person who spoke to Bloomberg.
 
The initiative will be the centerpiece of Putin’s one-day trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly on September 28, which may include talks with President Barack Obama, the officials said.
 
Putin’s military buildup in Syria in recent weeks has alarmed U.S. officials who are still outraged by his annexation of Crimea and support for the insurgency in Ukraine, which prompted the American and European sanctions that have helped push Russia’s economy into recession.
 
The United States was so concerned about reports of Russia’s buildup that Secretary of State John Kerry phoned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov a total of three times in ten days to discuss the situation.
 
The U.S. is willing to discuss coordinating strikes to avoid hostile incidents with Russian planes, but America and its allies haven’t received a “concrete” proposal from Moscow and won’t include Assad’s forces in the effort, an official in Washington told Bloomberg, speaking on condition of anonymity.
 
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, didn’t respond immediately to a text message seeking comment.
 
Earlier on Wednesday, it was reported that Russia is building two new military bases on the Syrian coast. The information was based off of private satellite photographs.
 
The two sites are believed to be a weapons storage facility and a military outpost near the city of Lattakia, Assad’s Alawite heartland, and home to a sizable military force.

Former Bin Laden Lieutenant Killed in Syria Fighting

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 24 September 2015 11:17
Head of Al-Nusra FrontA former lieutenant of former Al-Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden, has been killed in fighting with pro-government militiamen in Syria, a monitor said Saturday, according to the AFP news agency.
 
“Abul Hassan al-Tunsi, an important leader of Al-Nusra Front, was killed in clashes Friday between Islamist rebels and pro-government militia around the Shiite villages of Fuaa and Kafraya in Idlib province,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman, according to the report.
 
Tunsi, who was in his 60s, arrived in Syria in 2012, Abdel Rahman said.
 
He was one of bin Laden’s “assistants and fought in Al-Qaeda’s ranks in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
 
Al-Nusra Front is one of the main Islamist rebel groups in Syria. It pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda in April of 2013 and was later blacklisted by the United Nations as a terrorist organization.
 
In addition to fighting the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, Al-Nusra has also been fighting other rebel groups, most notably the Islamic State (ISIS).
 
Al-Nusra and ISIS had temporarily agreed to work together several months ago but by June this year that alliance seemed to have ended, when ISIS jihadists beheaded 12 men from rival Syrian rebel movements. Three of those killed in the new video were from Jaysh al-Islam, one of the main rebel groups in the Damascus area, and a fourth from Al-Nusra Front.
 
Most recently, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri said that ISIS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are “illegitimate”, but also said his followers would join them in fighting the Western-led coalition in Iraq and Syria if possible.

Syrian Rebels Gain Ground Near Regime Heartland

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 04 August 2015 09:37
Syrian Rebels Gain GroundAl-Qaeda and other rebels led a major offensive Tuesday in northwest Syria, pushing back government troops in an area bordering President Bashar Al-Assad's coastal heartland, a monitoring group said, according to AFP.
 
Since Monday night, the Army of Conquest alliance has seized a number of positions from the Syrian army in Sahl al-Ghab, a large plain in Hama province bordering Latakia, bastion of the Assad clan.
 
In a video published by the alliance, which includes Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate Al-Nusra Front, a commander boasts of the "liberation" of several strategic hilltops, checkpoints, and a power plant.
 
The bearded military leader said "the army of Assad retreated to Alawite villages," referring to the sect to which Assad belongs.
 
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, the Army of Conquest's advance in Sahl al-Ghab, which also borders Idlib province, is highly significant.
 
"After this advance, there is nothing left for the regime in Idlib province -- which is almost completely held by rebels -- except the Abu Duhur airport and two Shiite villages, Fuaa and Kafraya," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
 
"And in Hama province, the positions taken by the rebels were the first line of defense for several towns held by the regime as well as Alawite villages," he added.
 
Abdel Rahman said the first village likely to be targeted by rebels would be Jureen, where the Syrian army operates a command base for its forces fighting in Sahl al-Ghab.
 
The Army of Conquest seized control of Idlib city, capital of the province by the same name, on March 28.
 
The rebel alliance has won a string of victories in Idlib, including the provincial capital, the key town of Jisr al-Shughur, and a massive military base.  
 
Syria's armed forces withdrew to reinforce their positions in Latakia in case of a rebel attack there.
 
More than 230,000 people have been killed since Syria's conflict began in March 2011, and millions have been forced to flee their homes.

Syrian Rebel Leader Killed in Double Suicide Bombing

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 26 July 2015 10:40
Syrian Rebel Leader abi kaled el soryA senior member of the Syrian Ahrar al-Sham rebel group was killed along with six other fighters on Tuesday in a double suicide bombing in northwestern Syria, a monitor said.  
 
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was believed to have been carried out by a group linked to ISIS.
 
The Britain-based monitor said seven members of Ahrar al-Sham, a conservative Islamist rebel group, were killed in the blast near the town of Salqin.  
 
Among them was Abu Abdel Rahman Salqin, described by Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman as "one of Ahrar al-Sham's most senior leaders."
 
Ahrar al-Sham is one of the most powerful rebel groups in northern Syria and belongs to an alliance with Al Waeda affiliate Al Nusra Front that has seized most of Idlib province in recent months.
 
Despite its Islamist ideology, Ahrar al-Sham is opposed to ISIS.
 
In September 2014, 47 members of Ahrar al-Sham's leadership were killed when a blast hit a meeting of its top religious and military chiefs in Idlib.
 
No group claimed responsibility for that bombing, which forced the group to quickly establish a new leadership, but it was also attributed to ISIS.
 
Ahrar al-Sham is one of the oldest and largest of Syria's armed opposition groups, established in 2011 by Islamists released by the Syrian regime early in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.  
 
Over the weekend, the group's foreign relations head wrote an opinion piece published in The Washington Post, criticizing US policies towards Syria.  
 
Labib Al-Nahhas accused Washington of too narrowly defining the term "moderate" and said Ahrar al-Sham had been "unfairly vilified."
 
More than 230,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011.

Syrian World Heritage Site Damaged in Blast

Category: Archeology and History
Created on Sunday, 19 July 2015 09:15
Syrian World Heritage Site Damaged in BlastA bomb explosion in a tunnel near Aleppo Citadel in Syria on Sunday damaged a wall of the fortress that is part of the UNESCO-listed Old City, state media and a monitor reported, according to AFP.
 
The blast partly destroyed the wall of the monumental 13th century citadel that overlooks the Old City, said the official SANA news agency and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
"A powerful explosion was heard after midnight Saturday. It was caused by the blowing up of a tunnel in the Old City near the Aleppo Citadel," the Observatory said.
 
"The blast caused the collapse of part of the wall of the citadel," said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
It was unclear who was behind the attack, he said, but it was immediately followed by clashes between rebels and government forces who are battling for control of the northern city.
 
SANA said "terrorists" blew up the tunnel, causing the damage to the historic citadel.
 
The Syrian government and its media describe as "terrorists" the various armed groups who have been battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad's regime since 2011.
 
Rebel fighters in Aleppo, Syria's second largest city and pre-war commercial hub, have often set off explosions in tunnels that they have dug under military targets before launching attacks on them.
 
The Aleppo Citadel, which contains the remains of mosques, a palace and bath buildings, is one of several sites in Syria on UNESCO's world heritage list.
 
One of the most famous is the ancient central city of Palmyra, which was seized by the jihadist Islamic State group from government forces on May 21.
 
Syria's ongoing civil war has caused the deaths of more than 230,000 people, turned more than four million Syrians into refugees, devastated the country's infrastructure and economy and inflicted damage in many heritage sites.

Nusra Front Suicide Bomber Kills 25 Soldiers in Aleppo

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 09 July 2015 21:45
syria aleppoA suicide bomber from the Al-Nusra Front terrorist group, Syria's Al-Qaeda offshoot, blew himself up in a Syrian army outpost in a contested neighborhood in the city of Aleppo on Monday night.
 
The bombing killed at least 25 soldiers and allied militia and injured scores, according to the Reuters news agency.
 
The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the violence across the country, said the explosion from the blast was heard across the city where several Islamist-led groups recently launched an offensive to control the remaining western parts of the city in government hands.
 
Rebel websites said there was heavy bombardment of rebel-held portions of Jamiyat al Zahra district, where rebels had gained ground and brought them closer to the heart of government controlled parts of the city, which was before the 2011 civil war the country's main industrial and commercial hub.
 
Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Observatory, was quoted by Reuters as having said that the Syrian army had responded with heavy firepower including aerial bombardment, in an attempt to stem the offensive.
 
The insurgents posted on social media images of fighters from the Al-Nusra Front heading towards the district, which the Syrian army has repeatedly said in recent days had not fallen into insurgent hands.
 
Al-Nusra Front has been an official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013, and dominates a swathe of northwest Syria despite months of international airstrikes.
 
As well as fighting President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, the group has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State (ISIS) group.
 
Al-Nusra Front recently reaffirmed its allegiance to Al-Qaeda and denied any plan to break away and become a more internationally acceptable rebel force, amid speculations on Internet social networks of a split between the jihadist allies.

Nusra Front Suicide Bomber Kills 25 Soldiers in Aleppo (2)

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 09 July 2015 21:45
syria aleppoA suicide bomber from the Al-Nusra Front terrorist group, Syria's Al-Qaeda offshoot, blew himself up in a Syrian army outpost in a contested neighborhood in the city of Aleppo on Monday night.
 
The bombing killed at least 25 soldiers and allied militia and injured scores, according to the Reuters news agency.
 
The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the violence across the country, said the explosion from the blast was heard across the city where several Islamist-led groups recently launched an offensive to control the remaining western parts of the city in government hands.
 
Rebel websites said there was heavy bombardment of rebel-held portions of Jamiyat al Zahra district, where rebels had gained ground and brought them closer to the heart of government controlled parts of the city, which was before the 2011 civil war the country's main industrial and commercial hub.
 
Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Observatory, was quoted by Reuters as having said that the Syrian army had responded with heavy firepower including aerial bombardment, in an attempt to stem the offensive.
 
The insurgents posted on social media images of fighters from the Al-Nusra Front heading towards the district, which the Syrian army has repeatedly said in recent days had not fallen into insurgent hands.
 
Al-Nusra Front has been an official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013, and dominates a swathe of northwest Syria despite months of international airstrikes.
 
As well as fighting President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, the group has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State (ISIS) group.
 
Al-Nusra Front recently reaffirmed its allegiance to Al-Qaeda and denied any plan to break away and become a more internationally acceptable rebel force, amid speculations on Internet social networks of a split between the jihadist allies.

Rebels Launch Offensive to Capture Syria's Largest City

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 08 July 2015 08:52
Terrorists to Capture Syrias Largest CityA new Islamist rebel alliance, including Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, was locked in a fierce battle Friday to seize government-held areas of Aleppo, the divided former economic capital.
 
Once a powerhouse of industry, Aleppo has been devastated by years of fighting between regime forces and a succession of rebel groups.
 
Clashes raged overnight as the Islamist alliance, which calls itself Ansar al-Sharia, sought to take control of the air force intelligence headquarters in Zahra, on Aleppo's northwestern outskirts, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
According to the British-based monitor, the 13 groups in the alliance announced the launch of the "Ansar al-Sharia operations room" on Thursday.
 
They said the aim was to "liberate Aleppo and the countryside" and "to draft a joint covenant to run Aleppo after its liberation in line with sharia" Islamic law.
 
The rebel fighters advanced to take control of several buildings in Zahra despite regime air strikes, according to Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.  
 
"There were at least 35 dead among insurgent ranks and dozens of killed and wounded on the regime side," he told AFP.  
 
Syrian state television said that the army had "foiled attempts to infiltrate Aleppo on several fronts, killing more than 100 terrorists" - the regime's standard term for all rebel groups.
 
Ansar al-Sharia launched a multi-district assault on government-held parts of Aleppo city on Thursday, in attacks that killed at least four civilians, the Observatory said.
 
Rebels fired several hundred rockets and projectiles into at least seven government-held neighborhoods, with the army returning fire and regime aircraft carrying out raids.
 
Fighting resumed Friday morning before dawn on pro-government areas of the Ashrafiyeh and Khaldiyeh neighborhoods in the city's north and western sectors, the monitor said.
 
Abdel Rahman said hundreds of shells fell on both government- and rebel-held areas of the city, in what he said was Aleppo's "worst night" since 2012, when rebels first attacked.
 
One Aleppo resident, a 23-year-old student who gave her name as Sahar, said fighting had been "intensive."   
 
"We are used to the sound of explosions but yesterday there were so many. We heard the blasts but because they were coming from everywhere we didn't know where the shells were falling," she told AFP by telephone.
 
City, province divided
 
The coalition, which includes Al Qaeda's Syrian branch Al Nusra Front, the rival of the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group, pledged "victory for the Muslims of Aleppo."
 
Control of Aleppo has been divided between government and rebel forces since shortly after fighting began there in mid-2012.
 
The regime largely controls the west of the city, with rebels from different factions present in the east.  
 
The situation is largely reversed in the countryside surrounding the city, and both government and rebel forces have at times sought to encircle their opponents and besiege them.
 
Activist Karim Obeid said the rebel coalition had targeted Aleppo's Zahra "because the (Syrian) army regularly bombs opposition-held locations from there."
 
Taking Zahra would help to open up rebel access to the border with Turkey, Obeid added.
 
In recent months, Al Nusra has allied elsewhere with Islamist rebels to win large swathes of territory from the regime, particularly in the northwestern province of Idlib.
 
Most of that province is now under rebel control, after a grouping named the Army of Conquest, which includes Al Nusra and its allies, seized the provincial capital and most remaining government strongholds.
 
Also overnight, anti-regime forces attacked an army outpost at the entrance to Zabadani near Damascus, according to the Observatory.
 
Zabadani is around 20 kilometers north of the capital and was one of the first towns to fall into rebel hands in early 2012.
 
Following a fightback aided by Shia terrorist group Hezbollah, the government has seized control of several towns and villages close to the Lebanese border and Zabadani is the last in rebel hands.
 
The Observatory said the army responded by dropping more than 40 barrel bombs - crudely made, non-guided missiles - on the town, after at least three rebels and five regime troops were killing in skirmishes.  
 
More than 230,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country's conflict began in March 2011.

Nervous of ISIS Invasion, Jordan Planning Buffer Zone in Syria

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 02 July 2015 11:13
Jordan Vows to Eradicate ISISA jittery Jordan is preparing to create a security zone in southern Syria to fend off a possible jihadist advance across the border, in what would be the first such humanitarian "buffer zone" established in the civil war-torn country.
 
According to the UK Financial Times, sources familiar with the plans say the buffer zone would cover the Daraa and Suwayda provinces, including the provincial capital city of Daraa, where the uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad first started in 2011.
 
The aim will be to create a "safe zone" for both civilian refugees and moderate rebel forces, according to the paper.
 
The idea of such a humanitarian buffer zone has been brought up on numerous occasions, particularly by Syrian opposition groups, but was never seriously considered by neighboring countries keen not to become enmeshed in a bloody sectarian conflict.
 
But given ISIS's advances in Syria in particular - despite simultaneous losses against Kurds in the far north of the country - Jordan is now drawing up plans for creating one.
 
Daraa city is currently in the hands of regime forces, but rebels have been making significant gains in the area and some analysts believe the city could fall in the near future. Although the rebel alliance fighting regime forces in the area is not a jihadist one, there are fears ISIS could do as it has done in the past: capitalize on the chaos and gradual withdrawal of regime forces and oust rebels, taking control of the area themselves.
 
Jordan has already been involved in a limited US program to train several hundred moderate Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group. The Hashemite kingdom is also a member of the anti-ISIS air coalition operating over Syria and Iraq.
 
But Jordan's government fears that despite a prolonged air campaign and ground offensives by indigenous forces - in particular Kurdish fighters - which have killed a large number of ISIS fighters, the jihadist group still could launch a cross-border offensive into Jordanian territory.
 
Islamic State has vowed to do just that on several occasions, prompting the Jordanian military to beef-up its presence along the country's porous border with Iraq in particular - where ISIS has come alarmingly close to its borders.
 
But with ISIS is now advancing towards Jordan's far larger border with Syria as well - recently capturing the ancient city of Palmyra and moving towards Daraa - Amman apparently fears that situation could become unmanageable without proactive action.
 
It is unclear whether moderate rebels from the Southern Front have been briefed on the plans, with several rebel commanders saying they hadn't heard anything about it.
 
A no-fly zone would not be officially implemented, but Assad forces would be warned that any attacks on the safe zone would be met with an immediate response.
 
The plan is believed to be backed by western members of the anti-ISIS coalition, but the Times cited key Obama administration officials as being hesitant to commit to any ground operation in Syria.

Eight Iranian 'Volunteers' Killed Fighting ISIS in Syria

Category: News
Created on Friday, 26 June 2015 19:54
Eight Iranian Volunteers KilledEight Iranian fighters have been buried in Iran Thursday after they were killed fighting ISIS in Syria, according to Iranian state media.
 
Three of the men, all of whom were described as "volunteers," were buried in the capital Tehran, while the others were buried in the northeastern city of Mashhad, according to the official IRNA news agency.
 
Thousands of people attended the funerals, it said.
 
Another Iranian state media outlet, Tasnim, published pictures of the men in civilian clothing. Neither outlet gave any indication of their rank or with what specific force they were fighting with.
 
Iran is the main backer of the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, supplying his embattled forces with weapons and equipment, and training and equipping numerous loyalist militias - including Hezbollah - to supplement the badly-overstretched Syrian national army.
 
However, though it admits to sending "military advisers," Tehran denies it is deploying combat troops on the ground - despite the steady stream of evidence, including a mounting body county.
 
As that role has become harder to deny, the Iranian regime has been attempting to explain the presence of Iranian fighters on the ground by encouraging "volunteers" from its various military and paramilitary forces to travel to fight in Syria and Iraq - all while still denying the government is actually sending fighters itself.

Syrian Rebels Begin Conquest of Regime-held Province

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 14 June 2015 10:51
Terrorists Conquest of Regime-held ProvinceSyrian rebels seized most of a military airport in regime-controlled Sweida province on Thursday, their first such advance in the Druze-majority region, a spokesman told AFP.
 
"The Southern Front has liberated Al-Thaala military airport and is carrying out mopping-up operations against remaining forces," the alliance's spokesman Major Essam al-Rayes told AFP.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human rights monitor also reported the rebel advance into the airport.
 
"They have control of parts of the airport, which is used by the regime for aircraft that bomb Daraa and Damascus provinces," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
But Syrian state television denied the claims, and interviewed the provincial governor, who accused media of spreading lies.
 
"There is no truth to claims that terrorist groups have occupied Al-Thaala in Sweida province," state television said, citing its reporter in the area.
 
The Southern Front advance into the airport comes a day after the alliance, which groups moderate and Islamist rebel forces, seized the 52nd Brigade base in neighboring Daraa province.
 
Abdel Rahman said many of the regime forces who fled the 52nd Brigade as it was captured on Wednesday had withdrawn to Al-Thaala, which lies some 10 kilometers (six miles) away.
 
Sweida province has been spared much of the fighting in Syria, and remains almost entirely under regime control.
 
Most of its residents are Druze, followers of a secretive offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, who made up around 3% of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million people.
 
The community has been somewhat divided during the country's uprising, with some members fighting alongside the government while others expressing sympathy for the opposition.
 
Mostly, the Druze have taken up arms only in defense of their areas, and have kept out of the fighting more broadly.

Rebels Seize Major Military Base in Southern Syria

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 13 June 2015 10:42
Rebels Seize Major Military BaseSyrian rebel forces seized a major army base in the southern province of Daraa on Tuesday, after 24 hours of fighting, a rebel spokesman and a monitor told AFP.
 
"The 52nd Brigade base was fully liberated from the regime army," said Major Essam al-Rayes, spokesman for the Southern Front rebel alliance operating in the province.
 
He said at least 2,000 rebel forces overran the base in a "short and quick" assault.
 
"This base was one of the main lines of defence for the regime forces. It was a nightmare, because they used it to shell all the areas to the east of the province," Rayes said.
 
The base lies near a major highway running from Damascus to Syria's southern border with Jordan.
 
"The base is also an important infantry base, from which the regime attacked towns and villages in the south," said Diaa al-Hariri, spokesman for Faylaq al-Awwal, one of the rebel groups in the Southern Front coalition.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said opposition groups had taken the 52nd Brigade base after clashes and intense shelling that left 14 rebel fighters and 20 government forces dead.
 
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said regime troops withdrew to the nearby village of Al-Dara.
 
Rebel groups control a majority of Daraa province and its capital, according to Abdel Rahman.
 
Syria's official news agency SANA did not mention the capture of the base.  
 
But earlier, citing a military source, it said the air force had struck the area, killing at least 40 "terrorists".

Over 230,000 Killed in Syria Since 2011

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 13 June 2015 10:16
Over 230000 Killed in SyriaSyria's brutal conflict has left more than 230,000 people dead, including almost 11,500 children since it broke out in 2011, a monitoring group said Tuesday.
 
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had documented the deaths of 230,618 people, according to AFP. 
 
The toll includes 69,494 civilians, among them 11,493 children and 7,371 women.
 
Combatants account for a majority of those killed, with 49,106 regime forces and 36,464 government loyalists among the dead.
 
The loyalist fighters killed were mostly members of local militias, but also included 838 from Lebanon's powerful Shiite terror group Hezbollah and 3,093 Shiite fighters from other countries.
 
The Observatory documented the deaths of 41,116 rebels, Syrian jihadists and Kurdish fighters.
 
Anti-regime foreign fighter deaths numbered 31,247, most of them jihadists.
 
Abdel Rahman said another 3,191 of those documented killed in the conflict remained unidentified.
 
The Britain-based Observatory relies on a broad network of activists, fighters, and medics across the war-ravaged country.
 
May was the bloodiest month of 2015 in Syria, with 6,657 killed -- the majority of them regime forces and jihadist fighters locked in fierce clashes on several fronts.
 
The Observatory's toll does not include some 20,000 people who have disappeared after being arrested, 9,000 people in government detention, and at least 4,000 people held by the Islamic State jihadist group.
 
The monitoring group said thousands of people had disappeared or were unaccounted for after clashes.
 
As a result, the Observatory estimates that the conflict's actual death toll is likely tens of thousands higher than its figure.

Exposé: Turkey Smuggled Jihadist Fighters into Syria

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 10 June 2015 10:08
Turkey Smuggled Jihadist Fighters into SyriaA Turkish daily on Friday published images it said showed the Turkish spy agency helping to smuggle jihadists into Syria, the latest allegations by the newspaper accusing the authorities of aiding extremist groups across the border.
 
The government had last week lambasted the Cumhuriyet daily for publishing video footage the paper said showed the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) helping send weapons to Syria early last year.
 
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said its editor Can Dundar would pay a "heavy price" and promptly filed a criminal complaint demanding he serves multiple life sentences.
 
But Friday's story showed the staunchly secular Cumhuriyet is not giving any ground in an increasingly tense standoff with Erdogan's Islamist government ahead of Sunday's legislative elections.
 
Cumhuriyet said that a group of jihadists were first brought to the Turkish border town of Reyhanli on January 9, 2014 from Atme refugee camp in Syria in a clandestine operation.
 
From there, they were smuggled into Tal Abyad, a border town used by the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) as a gateway from Turkey, on two buses rented by the MIT, Cumhuriyet claimed.
 
The daily showed images of the buses, which it said were stopped by police a day after the operation following a tip-off that they were smuggling drugs into Syria.
 
Erdogan's fury
 
It was revealed that the buses had been used to smuggle jihadists after investigators found bullets, weapons and ammunition abandoned in the buses, the paper said.
 
The drivers of the buses, who were briefly arrested, said in their testimony they were told that they were carrying Syrian refugees and the vehicles were rented by the MIT.
 
Last week Cumhuriyet published footage from January 19, 2014 showing Turkish security forces discovering boxes of what it described as weapons and ammunition being sent to Syria on MIT trucks intercepted near the Syrian border.
 
The story touched a nerve as it accused Erdogan of covering up arms shipments to Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, a claim the president vehemently denies.
 
Turkey's Islamist AKP government has long been accused of directly supporting jihadist rebels in Syria, including Al Qaeda's Nusra Front, and even turning a blind eye to ISIS advances, in order to quash Kurdish hopes for autonomy in Syria.
 
In his complaint to prosecutors, Erdogan demanded Dundar serves two life sentences and 42 years in prison for espionage and publishing false information, sparking outrage at home and abroad.
 
Tensions are running high in Turkey in the run-up to Sunday's parliamentary elections where Erdogan wants his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to secure a commanding majority in parliament.
 
This would allow the party to rewrite the constitution and create the powerful executive-style presidency Erdogan yearns for.

Iranian Commander Killed Fighting in Syria

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 07 June 2015 16:16
Iranian Commander KilledYet another Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander has been killed fighting in Syria Thursday, as Tehran ups its direct military intervention to prop up the increasingly desperate regime of Bashar al-Assad.
 
Syrian rebel sources first reported Iranian Akil Bakhtiyari had been killed in fighting in the Qalamoun region bordering Lebanon, where a pro-regime operation led by Hezbollah is seeking to root-out strategically-important rebel strongholds.
 
Bakhtiyari's death was confirmed by numerous Iranian media sources, including the state-controlled Press TV.
 
He is the second officer in the elite Revolutionary Guards to have been confirmed dead this week, after commander Jassem Nouri was reportedly killed fighting in neighboring Iraq.
 
Iran has invested heavily in both Syria and Iraq to secure its regional allies and proxies in the face of rebellions by Sunni rivals. In both countries, that aid has included arming and equipping pro-regime militias, as well as sending direct help in the form of Hezbollah and Iranian fighters.
 
The latest Iranian casualty in Syria comes one day after a Syrian official said Tehran would be sending thousands more fighters to secure Syria's capital Damascus from advancing rebel armies.

Syrian Army in Retreat as Rebels Tighten Grip on Idlib Province

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 31 May 2015 09:16
Rebels Tighten Grip on Idlib ProvinceSyrian troops retreated as regime warplanes bombarded Al Qaeda-led rebel fighters on Friday, a day after the insurgents overran the last government-held city in the key northwestern province of Idlib.  
 
Opposition forces now control the vast majority of Idlib after Al-Nusra Front and its allies in the Army of Conquest captured Ariha and surrounding villages on Thursday in a swift assault.
 
It was the latest blow to loyalist forces who have been battling myriad groups of rebels for four years, after the fall of the ancient city of Palmyra to the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) extremist group last week.
 
"The lightning offensive ended with a heavy pullout of regime forces and their allies Hezbollah from the western side of the city," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.  
 
"We can't even say there were real clashes with the government in Ariha."
 
The Army of Conquest - Jaish al-Fatah in Arabic - had also seized villages around Ariha as regime warplanes bombarded the city.
 
The rebel alliance has won a string of victories in Idlib, including the provincial capital, the key town of Jisr al-Shughur, and a massive military base.  
 
Government forces had retreated from these areas to Ariha, which Abdel Rahman said was heavily defended by fighters from Iran and the Lebanese Shia Islamist terror group Hezbollah.
 
But the city fell to the Al-Nusra-led alliance "in a few hours," he said.
 
'Rapid retreat'
 
"The territories that are vital to protect for the regime are Damascus, Homs, Hama, and the coast," a Syrian security source said.
 
"Idlib is no longer part of these calculations, which explains the army's rapid retreat," he told AFP.
 
President Bashar al-Assad's regime still holds the Abu Duhur military airport and a sprinkling of villages and military posts in Idlib.
 
The province borders Turkey to the north, coastal regime bastions to the west, and the flashpoint province of Aleppo to the east.
 
Abdel Rahman said the regime was suffering from a serious lack of fighting forces and "could no longer afford any more human losses".
 
"Even with the support of Iran and Hezbollah, it cannot make up the soldiers," he said.  
 
"If this continues, the regime might lose Aleppo."
 
Meanwhile in neighboring Iraq, government and allied paramilitary forces pressed an operation aimed at severing supply lines of the Islamic State group in the western province of Anbar.
 
Clashes with ISIS in nearby Salaheddin left nine dead among the security forces and Hashed al-Shaabi, an umbrella for Iranian-backed Shia Islamist militia and volunteers, an army lieutenant colonel and a source at Dujail hospital said on Thursday.
 
Anti-ISIS forces continued to close in on Ramadi, the capital of Anbar which jihadists captured on May 17, but no offensive to wrest back the city itself had begun.
 
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a recent BBC interview that ISIS had been using fleets of huge truck bombs packed with several tonnes of explosives, making it difficult for his troops to enter the city.  
 
Executed one by one
 
Also on Friday, Iraqi officials said at least nine people were killed and dozens wounded when bombs ripped through two upscale Baghdad hotels.  
 
The explosions, which struck the Ishtar and Babylon hotels, were heard across the city center just before midnight (2100 GMT) on Thursday.
 
Iraq's health minister said the country's authorities have exhumed the remains of 470 people believed to have been executed by ISIS near Tikrit last year in what became known as the Speicher massacre.
 
"We have exhumed the bodies of 470 Speicher martyrs from burial sites in Tikrit," Adila Hammoud told reporters in Baghdad.
 
In June 2014, armed men belonging or allied to IS abducted hundreds of young, mostly Shiite recruits from Speicher military base, just outside the city of Tikrit.
 
They were lined up in several locations and executed one by one, as shown in pictures and footage later released by IS on the Internet.
 
The highest estimate for the number of people killed in one of the worst ISIS atrocities stands at 1,700.
 
The exhumed remains came from four burial sites, including one which contained 400 bodies, said Ziad Ali Abbas, the chief doctor at Baghdad's main morgue.
 
"There were several layers of bodies all piled on top of each other," he said.
 
The Speicher massacre played a key role in the mass recruitment of Shia volunteers to fight the Sunni Muslim jihadists.

Video Shows Turkey Smuggling Arms to Syrian Jihadists

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 30 May 2015 10:14
isis-apImages and video footage allegedly showing trucks belonging to Turkey's state intelligence service carrying weapons en route to jihadist rebels in Syria were published Friday in a Turkish daily.
 
The Turkish government has vehemently denied earlier claims that it is arming rebels fighting in Syria and accused dozens of prosecutors, soldiers and security officers involved in the searching of trucks of attempting to bring it down by suggesting that it is doing so.
{youtube}yHfE-lK_Dts{/youtube}
 
Earlier this month, Turkey arrested four prosecutors who ordered searches in a similar incident in January 2014 and they are now in prison pending trial.
 
More than 30 security officers involved in that interception also face charges including military espionage and attempting to overthrow the government.
 
The footage published on opposition Cumhuriyet daily's website on Friday shows inspectors searching a metallic container watched by security officers, a prosecutor and sniffer dogs.
 
The officials first open cardboard boxes marked as "fragile" and full of antibiotics. But under those boxes they find dozens of mortar shells, the video, shot by an anonymous bystander, appears to show.
 
Cumhuriyet, which also published a series of still images, said the weapons were of Russian origin and had been supplied from ex-Soviet countries.
 
The daily claimed the trucks were carrying a total of 1,000 mortar shells, 80,000 rounds of ammunition for light and heavy weapons as well as hundreds of grenade launchers.
 
The Turkish authorities have sought to link the affair to US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of running a parallel state through supporters in the judiciary and police with the aim of usurping him.
 
Turkey has vehemently denied aiding jihadists in Syria such as the Islamic State (ISIS) group, although it wants to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad toppled.
 
Tensions are running high in Turkey ahead of June 7 parliamentary elections, with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) seeking to hold on to the dominance it has maintained since it first swept to power in 2002.

Kurds Drive ISIS From Christian Villages in Syria

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 27 May 2015 22:05
Kurds Drive ISIS From Christian VillagesKurdish forces have driven the Islamic State group from more than a dozen Assyrian Christian villages that the jihadists had captured in northeastern Syria, a monitor said Wednesday.
 
"Following a 10-day offensive, Kurdish fighters took control early this week of 14 Assyrian villages that IS had controlled since February," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
Assyrian Christians, who are from one of the world's oldest Christian communities, have been under increasing threat since IS seized control of large parts of Syria.  
 
Thousands of Christians fled an assault by the jihadists in the northeastern province of Hasakeh in February after a spate of kidnappings by IS, which is still holding 210 Assyrians hostage.
 
Assyrians number about 30,000 among Syria's 1.2 million Christians and mostly live in 35 villages in Hasakeh, all of which are now held by Kurdish or regime forces.  
 
Osama Edward, head of the Sweden-based Assyrian Network for Human Rights, said that the Kurds' recapture of the villages "was made possible by intense raids by the international coalition" led by the United States against IS.
 
He said that photos "show a lot of destruction of houses and churches".
 
"Most people are afraid to return because they fear that IS booby-trapped their houses before fleeing," he added.
 
The Observatory also reported that Kurdish militia took control of the strategic village of Al-Mabrukah, southwest of the flashpoint town of Ras al-Ain on the Syrian-Turkish border.
 
According to Abdel Rahman, the Kurdish advance could also open the road towards Tal Abyad, a border town used by IS as a gateway from Turkey.  
 
Over the course of 20 days, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) seized control of 4,000 square kilometers of territory from IS in Hasakeh province, Abdel Rahman said.
 
The extremist group's areas of control in Hasakeh are now limited to the province's southern fringes and the border with neighboring Raqqa, he added.  
 
Also on Wednesday, a rights group said the border town of Kobane - where Kurdish forces backed by US-led air strikes pushed back IS in January - was a "city of rubble."
 
Handicap International said four months of fighting and air raids had destroyed 80 percent of Kobane and left its neighborhoods riddled with unexploded devices and booby traps.
 
"What we saw in Kobane was beyond our worst nightmares: a significant part of the city is vastly destroyed and unexploded weapons contamination of all kinds have reached a density and diversity that has been hardly witnessed before," said Frederic Maio, who heads the group's mine action programs.  
 
The rights group called for the removal of weapons and rubble and for civilians to be educated on the danger of unexploded devices when returning to their homes.  
 
Syria's conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests but evolved into a complex, multi-front war that has left at least 220,000 people dead.

Clashes Resume Between ISIS, Palestinian Factions Near Damascus

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 27 May 2015 11:30
Clashes between ISIS and Palestinian FactionsIslamic State group jihadists in Syria are trying to retake positions they lost in previous fighting in the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus, a Palestinian official said on Tuesday.  
 
"There is intermittent fighting between Palestinian factions and IS and Al-Nusra Front which are trying to retake positions in the center of Yarmouk," Khaled Abdel Majid, head of the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front which is close to Syria's regime, told AFP.
 
When jihadists from the two groups entered Yarmouk on April 1, they took 60 percent of the camp before pulling back into around 40 percent.
 
They currently have a presence in the south near the Damascus district of Al-Hajar al-Aswad.
 
Abdel Majid said Palestinian groups control 40 percent of the camp, in its north, and that some 20 percent makes up the front line.
 
He said Syrian regime aircraft have bombarded Al-Hajar al-Aswad, which is jihadist-held.
 
A security source in Damascus said only that in Yarmouk the fighting "stops and then starts again".
 
Chris Gunness, the spokesman for UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency for Palestinians, expressed alarm at the reports of fighting.
 
"UNRWA calls for an end to all actions and hostilities that endanger the security and lives of Palestinian and Syrian civilians in Yarmouk, who endure - and continue to suffer - extreme humanitarian conditions," he said.  
 
Before the Syria conflict erupted in 2011, Yarmouk was home to 160,000 people, both Palestinian and Syrian.
 
UNRWA says that just 18,000 still live there.
 
"There must be active compliance with the obligation to respect and protect civilians in Yarmouk, including by allowing unhindered humanitarian access," Gunness said.

Gaza Terrorists Taught Tunnel Tactics to Syria Rebels

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 26 May 2015 10:02
Tunnel Tactics to Syria RebelsA powerful Syrian rebel faction has for the first time openly revealed that its forces were taught how to dig attack tunnels by Islamist terrorists in Gaza.
 
In a report for the pro-opposition Orient TV posted online earlier this month and translated by MEMRI, a reporter is given a tour of a tunnel dug by Ahrar al-Sham - an Islamist rebel faction which often fights alongside Al Qaeda's Nusra Front, and is considered one of the most prominent and powerful rebel forces in Syria.
 
The tunnel is located in Idlib province, where a rebel coalition including Ahrar al-Sham, called the "Army of Conquest," recently scored a series of victories against regime forces, seizing most of Idlib including its provincial capital.
 
{youtube}gEf8SnP011w{/youtube}
 
During the report, a grinning rebel commander shows off a huge stash of explosives packed in the tunnel, and boasts of an imminent "earthquake" when the explosives - located beneath a regime position - are detonated.
 
Explaining how his forces managed such an impressive technical feat, the commander says: "We asked for the advice of our brothers in Gaza... They even sent me a video, and we did it exactly the way they do it."
 
Syrian rebels have repeatedly employed attack tunnels to strike at regime forces throughout the country, detonating tons of explosives under positions including command centers and other concentrations of pro-regime troops.
 
The rebel commander does not say which Gazan terrorist group he contacted, but reports Hamas was training Sunni rebels in Syria - and specifically instructing them on how to dig attack tunnels - first surfaced in 2013. An article in the UK's Times newspaper cited Syrian opposition sources who claimed that "several hundred" Hamas terrorists were operating out of the numerous Palestinian Arab "refugee camps" in Syria, and transferring their skills honed in warfare with Israel with their Syrian rebel counterparts.
 
The reports were contentious due to Hamas's complicated relationship with Damascus, and elicited a quick denial by Hamas at the time. Today, rebel factions linked to Hamas operate openly in places such as the Yarmouk camp on the outskirts of Damascus.
 
The confirmation that Syrian rebels are targeting Assad regime forces with tactics learned from groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza contains no small measure of irony.
 
Those two factions - who control the Gazan tunnel network - are both funded, trained and equipped by Assad's key ally Iran.
 
But Tehran is also the key backer of the Assad regime, and many of the fighters targeted in rebel tunnel attacks belong to militias directly supported or even commanded by Iran, including Tehran's most important regional proxy Hezbollah.

Syria Regime 'Ready to Accept De-Facto Partition'

Category: News
Created on Monday, 25 May 2015 21:55
De-Facto Partition(AFP) Weakened by years of war, Syria's government appears ready for the country's de facto partition, defending strategically important areas and leaving much of the country to rebels and jihadists, experts and diplomats say.
 
The strategy was in evidence last week with the army's retreat from the ancient central city of Palmyra after an advance by the Islamic State group (ISIS or IS).
 
"It is quite understandable that the Syrian army withdraws to protect large cities where much of the population is located," said Waddah Abded Rabbo, director of Syria's Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the regime.
 
"The world must think about whether the establishment of two terrorist states is in its interests or not," he said, in reference to ISIS's self-proclaimed "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq, and Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front's plans for its own "emirate" in northern Syria.
 
Syria's regime labels all those fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad "terrorists," and has pointed to the emergence of ISIS and Al-Nusra as evidence that opponents of the regime are extremists.
 
Since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011 with peaceful protests, the government has lost more than three-quarters of the country's territory, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor.
 
But the territory the regime controls accounts for about 50 to 60 percent of the population, according to French geographer and Syria expert Fabrice Balanche.
 
He said 10-15 percent of Syria's population is now in areas controlled by ISIS - which geographically controls around half of the country's landmass, much of which is sparsely populated - while 20-25 percent in territory controlled by Al-Nusra or rebel groups and another five to 10 percent in areas controlled by Kurdish forces.
 
"The government in Damascus still has an army and the support of a part of the population," Balanche said.
 
"We're heading towards an informal partition with front lines that could shift further."  
 
'Division is inevitable'
 
People close to the regime talk about a government retreat to "useful Syria".
 
"The division of Syria is inevitable. The regime wants to control the coast, the two central cities of Hama and Homs and the capital Damascus," one Syrian political figure close to the regime said.
 
"The red lines for the authorities are the Damascus-Beirut highway and the Damascus-Homs highway, as well as the coast, with cities like Latakia and Tartus," he added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
 
The coastal Latakia and Tartus provinces are strongholds of the regime, and home to much of the country's Alawite community, the offshoot of Shia Islam to which Assad adheres.
 
In the north, east and south of the country, large swathes of territory are now held by jihadists or rebel groups, and the regime's last major offensive - in Aleppo province in February - was a failure.
 
For now the regime's sole offensive movement is in Qalamoun along the Lebanese border, but there its ally, Lebanon's Shia Hezbollah terrorist group, is taking the lead in the fighting.
 
"The Syrian army today has become a Praetorian guard that is charged with protecting the regime," said a diplomat who goes to Damascus regularly.    
 
He said the situation had left Syrian officials "worried, of course," but that they remained convinced that key regime allies Russia and Iran would not let the government collapse.
 
Some observers believe the defensive posture was the suggestion of Iran, which believes it is better to have less territory but be able to keep it secure.  
 
"Iran urged Syrian authorities to face facts and change strategy by protecting only strategic zones," opposition figure Haytham Manna said. 
 
Dwindling regime forces
 
The shift may also be the result of the dwindling forces available to the regime, which has seen its once 300,000-strong army "whittled away" by combat and attrition, according to Aram Nerguizian, a senior fellow at the US Center for Strategic and International Studies.  
 
"On the surface, the regime appears to have accepted that it must secure, hold and defend its core area of control... with its current mix of forces," he said.
 
Those are approximately 175,000 men from the army, pro-regime Syrian militias and foreign fighters including Shia Islamist jihadis from Hezbollah and elsewhere.
 
The Observatory says 68,000 regime forces are among the 220,000 people killed since the conflict began.
 
But the new strategy does not indicate regime collapse, and could even work in its favor, Nerguizian said.
 
"Supply lines would have far less overstretch to contend with, and the regime's taxed command-and-control structure would have more margin of maneuver."
 
Thomas Pierret, a Syria expert at the University of Edinburgh, said that to survive, "the regime will have to lower its expectations and concentrate on the Damascus-Homs-coast axes.
 
"Militarily, the regime probably still has the means to hold the southeastern half of the country long-term, but further losses could weaken it from within."

Hezbollah: We'll Apply Strategies in Syria to Conquer Galilee

Category: News
Created on Friday, 22 May 2015 16:19
Strategies in Syria to Conquer GalileeHezbollah officials say they are preparing to use the strategies and techniques they learned fighting Syrian rebels along the border with Lebanon to conquer Israel's northern Galilee region.
 
The Iranian-backed Shia Islamist group has been making steady gains in its hard-fought campaign to wrest control of the Qalamoun region in Syria from Sunni rebels, including jihadists from Al Qaeda's Nusra Front, despite itself incurring significant losses.
 
But although that battle is still ongoing, a series of remarks by Hezbollah officials and propaganda outlets, translated by MEMRI, reveal that the terror group still has its eye on a future conflict with Israel.
 
Among them was Hezbollah official Hashem Safi Al-Din, who told Lebanon's Al Mustaqbal newspaper that "the resistance can replicate its newly acquired experience from the Al-Qalamoun mountains and Syria in the Galilee."
 
Other unnamed Hezbollah officials echoed his comments to Kuwait's Al-Rai daily, explaining in more detail how Hezbollah plans to apply the lessons learned from its tough mountain battles with Syrian rebels to IDF forces in the Galilee.
 
"The internal front behind the defense lines will be attacked, and all the [military] positions, outposts and concentrations of forces will be shelled until direct contact is achieved through a direct attack on the settlements and military positions," one source explained, referring to both civilian and military targets.
 
According to MEMRI, officials also said that Hezbollah's leadership "was waiting to see the outcome of the battle in Al-Qalamoun in order to draw lessons from it and improve the performance of their troops. They assessed that the war in the Galilee will be easier than the war in Al-Qalamoun, where Hizbullah is fighting forces imbued with deep faith that impels them to fight to the death, 'unlike the Israeli army.'"
 
Hezbollah - and other jihadi groups - often attempts to portray the Israeli army as weak and faithless in its propaganda.
 
In an article hailing Hezbollah's capture of the strategically-important Tel Moussa - one of the highest peaks in the Qalamoun mountain range - Lebanese pro-Hezbollah daily Al-Safir said the achievement constituted "a message to Israel that the resistance [Hezbollah] is in better shape than ever and that the war in Syria has not exhausted it but has [only] strengthened it and improved its capabilities."
 
It added that Hezbollah's battle for Al-Qalamoun "may be a rehearsal for a similar scenario that may unfold in the occupied Upper Galilee in any future war that might erupt."
 
Al-Safir reporter Khalil Harb went further, suggesting Hezbollah victories in Qalamoun, in nearby Al-Qusayr and in the Homs area had granted it "strategic depth for any future conflict with Israel, which will provide the resistance axis with broader options in the field."
 
Harb went on to imply that Hezbollah would in fact have an easier time in the Galilee, given that the terrain there is not as difficult as the mountains of Qalamoun.
 
But, as noted in the MEMRI report itself, the bravado may be meant more for public consumption back in Lebanon than an actual statement of intent.
 
Hezbollah's involvement in brutal sectarian wars in Syria and Iraq - as well as more recently in Yemen, according to numerous reports - has turned Sunni public opinion, once broadly supportive due to its attacks on Israel, firmly against it. 
 
Even many of its Shia support base have voiced concern over how Hezbollah has been dragging a fragile Lebanon into the Syrian conflict, particularly in the aftermath of several deadly terrorist attacks by Sunni Islamists in revenge for Hezbollah's support of the Assad regime.
 
Portraying its role in the Syrian civil war as a dress-rehearsal for its struggle with Israel may well be an attempt to repair some of that damage.
 
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has threatened on numerous occasions that his terror group was prepared to "conquer the Galilee" in its next war with Israel and wipe the Jewish state from the map.
 
However, in a recent interview with Syrian state TV Nasrallah backtracked on his previous rhetoric, admitting that a now much-weakened Hezbollah - stretched throughout multiple theaters of war in the Middle East at Iran's behest - was in fact no match for the IDF.
 
"Are we supposed to lie to our people and ourselves, saying that we are capable of launching a war against Israel, wiping it off the map, and liberating Palestine? Hezbollah is incapable of doing this all by itself," Nasrallah said.
 
He added that his threats to conquer the Galilee were purely "hypothetical."
 
"I did not take an oath. I only said that this could happen," he cautioned.

Dozens Dead in Fighting for Syria's 'Ancient Jewel' Palmyra

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 17 May 2015 11:00
AntiquitiesSyrian government troops and militia put up fierce resistance on Sunday to an Islamic State group assault on one of the jewels of the country's heritage, ancient Palmyra.  
 
At least 23 regime loyalists and 29 jihadists were killed as ISIS overran northern neighborhoods of the adjacent modern town of Tadmur late on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
 
The Britain-based watchdog reported heavy artillery exchanges in the west of the town, close to the UNESCO-listed world heritage site.
 
But Syrian antiquities chief Mamoun Abdulkarim said clashes had subsided by mid-morning as troops pushed ISIS out of the northern part of Tadmur.  
 
"We have good news today, we feel much better," he told AFP by phone, saying he was in contact with staff in Palmyra every half an hour.  
 
"There was no damage to the ruins, but this does not mean we should not be afraid," Abdulkarim added.
 
ISIS had brought up reinforcements from its stronghold in the Euphrates Valley to the east after sustaining heavy losses in its advance on the oasis town northeast of Damascus, provincial governor Talal Barazi told AFP.  
 
The town's peacetime population of 70,000 has been swamped by an influx of civilians fleeing the ISIS advance.  
 
"We are taking all necessary precautions, and we are working on securing humanitarian aid quickly in fear of mass fleeing from the city," Barazi said.  
 
Abdulkarim voiced extreme concern for the ancient site and its adjacent museum, in light of the destruction wreaked by ISIS on pre-Islamic sites like Nimrud and Hatra in neighboring Iraq.  
 
The antiquities chief said he had been "living in a state of terror" that ISIS would destroy Palmyra's well-preserved architecture, regarded as one of the jewels of the ancient Middle East.

ISIS Seizes Part of Ancient Syrian City of Palmyra

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 16 May 2015 23:40
ISIS flag - ReutersJihadists from the Islamic State group (ISIS or IS) seized control Saturday of the northern part of Syria's ancient desert city of Palmyra after fierce clashes with government forces, a monitoring group said.  
 
"IS advanced and took control of most of northern Palmyra, and there are fierce clashes happening now," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
He said 13 jihadist fighters were killed in ongoing clashes near the Islamic citadel in the city's west.  
 
Abdel Rahman had no details on regime casualties.
 
Most of Palmyra's renowned ruins, including colonnaded streets and elaborately decorated tombs, lie to the southwest of the city.
 
ISIS began its offensive on Palmyra on Wednesday and inched closer to the ancient metropolis on Thursday and Friday, executing at least 49 civilians over those two days according to the Observatory.
 
The latest gains by ISIS in Syria come just a day after it seized the government compound in the Iraqi city of Ramadi on Friday and edged closer to what would be their biggest victory in Iraq this year.
 
The loss of the capital of Anbar province, which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had said would be the next target of government forces after wresting back Tikrit last month, would be a major setback.
 
The government stressed that Ramadi had not fallen yet and announced that a major counter-offensive was under way as Abadi held an emergency meeting with top security officials.
 
ISIS has threatened to take control of Ramadi for months, and the breakthrough came after a wide offensive on multiple fronts in the province, including an assault using several suicide car bombs in Ramadi on Thursday.
 
The jihadists seized the government complex at around 2:00 p.m. local time and raised the black flag, a police officer said, giving them nearly full control over Anbar's capital.

ISIS 'Barbarians' Threaten to Destroy Ancient Syrian City

Category: News
Created on Friday, 15 May 2015 16:59
AntiquitiesIslamic State group fighters advanced to the gates of ancient Palmyra Thursday, raising fears the Syrian world heritage site could face destruction of the kind the jihadists have already wreaked in Iraq.
 
IS fighters were battling Syrian troops less than two kilometers (barely a mile) from the remains of one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world, Syria's director of antiquities said.  
 
The jihadists reached the oasis town after a lightning advance across the desert in which they overran government forces in fierce fighting that cost the lives of 110 combatants, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
 
"Palmyra is under threat," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.  
 
Antiquities director Mamoun Abdulkarim said he was in touch with colleagues still in Palmyra every half hour.
 
"IS has not entered the city yet, and we hope these barbarians will never enter," Abdulkarim told AFP.
 
UNESCO describes Palmyra as a heritage site of "outstanding universal value".  
 
The ancient city stood on a caravan route at the crossroads of several civilizations and its 1st and 2nd century temples and colonnaded streets mark a unique blend of Graeco-Roman and Persian influences.
 
The jihadist advance on the well-preserved remains came as an international conference was under way in Cairo to address the destruction already wreaked by IS on the ancient sites of Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq.  
 
'International catastrophe'
 
Foreign affairs and antiquities officials from 11 Arab countries gathered in Egypt to condemn the jihadists' demolition of Iraq's heritage, with sledgehammers, bulldozers and high explosives.
 
Abdulkarim said Syria had not been invited to the conference and that he had not been contacted by any of those attending about the threat to Palmyra.  
 
He told AFP that antiquities officials would try to ensure the safety of artifacts found in archaeological digs over the years which are housed in an adjacent museum.
 
"We can protect the statues and artifacts, but we cannot protect the architecture, the temples," he said.
 
"IS will just destroy it from the outside."  
 
Abdulkarim said he had no doubt that if Palmyra fell to the jihadists, it would suffer a similar fate to ancient Nimrud, which they blew up earlier this year.  
 
"If IS enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction.
 
"If the ancient city falls, it will be an international catastrophe. It will be a repetition of the barbarism and savagery which we saw in Nimrud, Hatra and Mosul."  
 
It would not be the first time that government troops have lost control of Palmyra. Rebels held the site from February to September 2013 before government troops recaptured it.
 
One of the ancient city's masterpieces, the Temple of Baal, suffered some damage during the accompanying artillery exchanges.  
 
But those rebels did not share the fanatical devotion of ISIS to demolishing all of the region's pre-Islamic heritage.
 
There was ferocious fighting as the jihadists overran the town of Al-Suknah on Wednesday in their drive across the desert towards Palmyra.  
 
Provincial governor Talal Barazi said that 1,800 families who had fled the advancing jihadists were being sheltered in reception centers in the adjacent modern town of Tadmur.
 
Both sides suffered heavy losses in the battle for Al-Suknah, including senior commanders, the Observatory said.  
 
The army lost 70 men, including six officers. ISIS lost 40 men, including two commanders, one of them the leader of the offensive.
 
Jihadist websites named him as Abu Malik Anas al-Nashwan, who appeared in an ISIS video showing the beheadings of 28 Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians in Libya last month.

Bloodbath as Syrian Rebels Storm Regime-Held Hospital

Category: News
Created on Friday, 15 May 2015 09:22
Islam0At least 72 fighters were killed in a single day as the Syrian army battled to relieve some 250 besieged regime loyalists under rebel assault, a monitoring group said Monday.
 
President Bashar al-Assad had personally pledged to rescue the trapped troops and civilians, who are said to include senior figures and have been holed up in a hospital complex since rebels captured the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughur two weeks ago.    
 
As the relief column fought its way to within two kilometers (just over a mile) of the complex on Sunday morning, the rebels launched an all-out assault, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
 
At least 40 rebels and 32 government troops were killed in the heavy fighting that erupted inside the complex and with the advancing column, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
 
The clashes continued into the early hours of Monday with the rebels retaking some ground from the advancing troops before being pushed back.
 
Among the 250 people holed up inside the complex are around 150 government troops, including "high-ranking officers," as well as their family members and some civil servants, Abdel Rahman said.
 
It is unclear how much food and ammunition they have left.
 
The "Army of Conquest" rebel coalition assaulting the complex includes fighters of Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra Front.
 
They seized the rest of Jisr al-Shughur on April 25, extending their gains in Idlib province, where they have also captured the provincial capital and a military base in recent weeks.  
 
More than 220,000 people have been killed in Syria since anti-government protests broke out in March 2011 spiraling into civil war in the face of a bloody crackdown by security forces.

Senior Hezbollah Commander Killed in Syria

Category: Reports
Created on Thursday, 14 May 2015 13:23
Marwan MughniyehA senior Hezbollah commander has reportedly been killed battling Syrian rebels in the Qalamoun mountains on the border with Lebanon.
 
Syrian opposition-affiliated sources are claiming Marwan Mughniyeh was killed along with seven other Hezbollah terrorists during fierce fighting with the Army of Conquest - a rebel alliance led in great part by Al Qaeda's Nusra Front.
 
He was a cousin of Jihad Mughniyeh - himself a senior Hezbollah commanders killed in an Israeli airstrike in January - and Jihad's father Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah terrorist mastermind killed in 2008 in what is also suspected to have been an Israeli assassination.
 
Marwan Mughniyeh was one of scores of casualties on both sides in a pro-Assad regime offensive to wrest control over the remainder of the strategically-important Qalamoun area from rebels.
 
Hezbollah announced on its Al-Manar television channel that it and Syrian regime forces had taken Al Nusra Front's largest base in the region, at Sahlet al-Maaysra.  
 
On Tuesday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened to expel the insurgents from the area. Since then, the Iranian-sponsored terrorist group has taken several positions with regime air support, according to the Observatory and Syrian military sources.
 
The Qalamoun region straddles the Syria-Lebanon border and was a rebel stronghold until a major operation last year by Syrian regime troops backed by Hezbollah.
 
But rebels still retain a foothold in the region, which is a key supply line for weapons, supplies and fighters from their supporters in Lebanon.

Nasrallah Vows: Hezbollah Will Defeat Syrian Rebels

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 12 May 2015 14:01
Hassan Nasrallah01The head of Lebanon's Hezbollah vowed Tuesday his terrorist group would oust Sunni rebels from a region on the border with Syria, but declined to say when the assault might happen.  
 
In a televised address, the Shia Islamist group's leader Hassan Nasrallah said rebel forces in the mountainous border area posed an unacceptable threat to Lebanon's security.
 
"This issue needs radical treatment. We are talking about a real aggression that exists and is present," Nasrallah said of the rebels in the Qalamoun area.  
 
"The (Lebanese) state is not able to address this issue... so we will proceed with the necessary treatment and assume the responsibility and consequences."
 
The Qalamoun region straddles the Syria-Lebanon border and was a stronghold of rebel forces until a major operation by Syrian regime troops backed by Hezbollah fighters last year.  
 
While most of the region was recaptured, opposition fighters - including Sunni jihadists - remain entrenched in the mountainous area that runs directly along the border, which is porous and ill-defined.
 
From there, jihadists have launched attacks inside Lebanon, including in August 2014, when fighters from Al Qaeda's Syria affiliate Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State group briefly overran the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal.
 
A truce ended the attack, but the groups took several dozen Lebanese security forces with them as hostages when they withdrew from the town into the surrounding mountains.  
 
They have since executed four of them, and Al Nusra on Tuesday released a video showing some of the remaining 25 hostages warning they would pay the price of any operation in Qalamoun.
 
Speculation has been rife about a spring attack in Qalamoun by Hezbollah, which has bolstered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against rebels in battles throughout the country.
 
On Monday, Islamist rebels led by Al Nusra launched a preemptive attack against Hezbollah positions in the region, and a source close to the Al Qaeda affiliate said "the battle in the region has begun".  
 
But Nasrallah declined to say when Hezbollah would launch any major operation in the area.
 
"There are preparations, and people are seeing that and speculating about it," he said.  
 
"But we haven't announced anything official... and even when we start, we will not issue a statement," he added.
 
"When we begin, the operation will speak for itself."  
 
Hezbollah has been a key force multiplier for Assad as he has battled an uprising that began with anti-government protests in March 2011 and spiraled into bloody civil a war after a regime crackdown.
 
Last Thursday, Nasrallah reaffirmed his group's full commitment to defending the Assad regime, telling a senior Lebanese politician that "President Assad and his government cannot fall as it would also mean the fall of Hezbollah and the axis of resistance"
 
But the group's involvement has worsened existing sectarian tensions in fragile Lebanon, which fought a civil war between 1975 and 1990.
 
The country's Shia population largely backs Hezbollah and the Syrian regime, while Lebanon's Sunnis have broadly supported the Sunni-led uprising against Assad.
 
Earlier Tuesday, former prime minister Saad Hariri, who heads Lebanon's anti-Hezbollah bloc, warned against any operation in Qalamoun, suggesting it could threaten the country's security and the lives of the security forces being held hostage.  
 
Syria's conflict has regularly spilled into Lebanon in the form of battles along the border and bombings against Hezbollah strongholds, and the country is hosting more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees.
 
AFP contributed to this report.

Syrian Rebels, Hezbollah in Fierce Clashes Near Lebanon

Category: News
Created on Monday, 11 May 2015 19:45
Syrian Rebel - HezbollahIslamist rebels led by Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate launched a preemptive strike Monday on pro-regime forces in a mountainous area near the Lebanese border, setting off fierce clashes, a monitor said.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Al Nusra Front and other groups attacked positions belonging to the regime and Lebanon's Hezbollah, which backs the government, in the Qalamoun region.  
 
"Violent clashes are ongoing since this morning between Hezbollah, regime troops and pro-regime militiamen on one side and Islamist factions and Al Nusra on the other side," the group said.
 
Last year, government forces backed by the Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement managed to expel rebels from most of Qalamoun, which lies north of Damascus and runs along the Lebanese border.  
 
But opposition fighters remain entrenched in the mountainous area along the border with Lebanon, and have launched attacks from there.
 
A source close to Al Nusra confirmed the fighting underway in the region.    
 
"This is the zero hour and the battle in the region has begun," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
 
A Syrian source on the ground also described the clashes in the area.    
 
"The Syrian army and its allies blocked an attack by armed groups on army positions near the border with Lebanon," he told AFP.
 
He said a number of opposition fighters were killed and wounded when pro-government forces ambushed them and destroyed their equipment.
 
The Britain-based Observatory said clashes were ongoing and confirmed there were casualties among rebel ranks, but could not give further details.
 
"The attack by Al Nusra, as well as the Islamist and rebel factions, came as a preemptive strike against Hezbollah, which was expected to begin military operations (against the rebels) in Qalamoun in the coming days," said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
On Twitter, Al Nusra's official accounts said the organization had "finished training specialized rocket teams, and they have spread throughout the hills of Qalamoun in anticipation of an enemy advance."  
 
In recent weeks, local Lebanese media had reported an impending offensive by pro-government forces on Qalamoun.  
 
The rebel presence in the area has been a persistent problem for both the Syrian army and Lebanon's military, which has battled jihadists crossing from Syria in Lebanese border towns in recent months.
 
Last year, jihadists coming from Syria briefly overran the Lebanese border town of Arsal, seizing several dozen Lebanese security forces as hostages.  
 
Four have since been executed and another 25 - police and soldiers - remain in the hands of Al Nusra and the Islamic State (ISIS) group.  
 
A Lebanese security source said Lebanese troops were stepping up patrols along the Syrian border by Qalamoun.
 
"The patrols along the border have increased, and the role of the Lebanese army is to protect Arsal and the border," the source said.
 
Earlier Monday, the Nusra Front claimed responsibility for a daring assault in the heart of a regime-held suburb of the capital Damascus.
 
A senior Syrian general was among the injured in that attack.

Syria Rebel Victories Leave Lebanon Increasingly Isolated

Category: News
Created on Monday, 04 May 2015 08:17
Scene of explosion in Beirut Reuters(AFP) Lebanon's land exports to Gulf markets have been choked off, leaving millions of dollars in goods stranded after the closure of a vital crossing on the Syrian-Jordanian border last month.  
 
The Nasib border point was the last remaining gateway for Lebanese truck drivers transporting agricultural and industrial products to Iraq and Gulf countries.
 
After Syrian rebels seized Nasib on April 1, these exports came to an abrupt halt.
 
"Exports by land have stopped entirely," said Ahmad Alam, whose company exports Lebanese fruit and vegetables to Arab countries.
 
Goods transported overland made up 35 per cent of all of Lebanon's exports, economic analyst Nassib Ghobril told AFP.
 
The customs authorities say Lebanese exports to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in 2014 amounted to $920 million (821 million euros). Another $256 million was exported to Iraq.  
 
But all those potential exports are now effectively stuck in Lebanon, he said.
 
"The Nasib crossing was the only way for Lebanese products to be exported by land. Since it closed, there are no more land crossings now," Ghobril said.
 
Before the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, Lebanese products traveled frequently through Lebanon's neighbor, then on to Iraq to the east or to Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the Gulf to the south.  
 
The agriculture ministry says that agricultural products make up 6 per cent of GDP and 17 per cent of total exports.  
 
Agriculture hit hardest
 
As Syria's war worsened, its border crossings with Iraq closed, leaving Lebanese truckers with only one option: Nasib.
 
Omar al-Ali, head of Lebanon's Refrigerated Truckers Syndicate, told AFP that about 250 trucks would cross from Lebanon into Syria every day before the conflict.
 
That number dropped to 120 daily because of growing instability along Syria's major highways, and with Nasib closed, just a few trucks destined for the shrinking Syrian market only leave Lebanon every day.
 
Although one crossing along the Syria-Iraq border remains open, Ali said it is too dangerous to use.  
 
According to Ghobril, Lebanon's land exports have been affected the most by the Syrian crisis, apart from tourism.  
 
Road closures have hit agricultural exports the hardest, since they rely predominantly on land routes and cannot be easily transported by air or sea.  
 
"Our trucks transported our agricultural and industrial products. This is what carried Lebanon's economy," Ali said, adding that the losses could be in the millions of dollars.
 
"Now we have 900 refrigerated trucks that are just sitting inside Lebanon," with others stuck in the Gulf, he told AFP.  
 
Alam said he lost at least one million dollars in the three weeks after Nasib's closure.
 
According to the agriculture ministry, the sector employs 20 to 30 per cent of the Lebanese workforce.  
 
Livelihood on hold
 
Many truckers can now be found discussing their plight at their syndicate's offices in Bar Elias in east Lebanon.
 
Khaled Araji, 55, is just one of hundreds of Lebanese who used to drive goods through Syria to the Gulf, and whose livelihood has now on hold indefinitely.  
 
"I just spend my time in the house. I've worked in this business for more than 30 years, and if I don't see the (truck's) refrigerator every day, I can't relax. This job is in my blood," Araji told AFP.  
 
Ali said truck drivers made $1,500 a month "to provide for their families by generating activity in other sectors. All of this has stopped now."  
 
To make up for routes through Syria being closed, the Beirut government is looking at exporting these goods by sea.  
 
According to Ghobril, this alternative "requires more time than by land, and it's definitely more expensive, but it's still better than nothing".
 
But Alam downplayed the effectiveness of maritime transport, saying some green produce would not stay fresh long enough for the journey.
 
In his warehouse in Bar Elias, young men and girls pack oranges, apples and fresh lettuce - whose prices have dramatically dropped - into crates and boxes for export by air.    
 
As the peak harvest seasons in August and September draw closer, exporters and truckers are hoping for a speedy solution to the problem.  
 
But Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb, speaking after a cabinet meeting on the crisis last week, was not hopeful.  
 
"Unfortunately, we have become an island," he said.

Jihad on the Horizon: Al Qaeda, ISIS Clash Along Israeli Border

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 29 April 2015 07:37
Head of Al-Nusra FrontRebels and Al Qaeda's Syria affiliate clashed Tuesday with jihadists linked to the Islamic State group (ISIS) along Syria's border with the Israeli Golan Heights, a monitor and an opposition spokesman said.  
 
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP that rebel groups, as well as Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, fought ISIS-linked Jaish al-Jihad in the border town of Qahtaniya in the southern province of Quneitra province.
 
"These are key battles, because IS now has a presence in Syria's south and because they are close to the ceasefire line with the Golan," said Abdel Rahman.  
 
"This is the first time these groups have clashed with each other," he added.  
 
Abdel Rahman said 12 rebels, including Al Nusra fighters, were killed and Jaish al-Jihad lost seven fighters.
 
"Fifteen members of Jaish al-Jihad were also taken hostage," he said.
 
The clashes took place as Israel announced that two mortar rounds fired from Syria struck northern parts of the Golan Heights, without causing casualties. The IDF later stated that the mortar fire was the result of errant "spillover" from the conflict, and not a deliberate attack.
 
Jaish al-Islam is a relatively new group but is suspected to have very close ties to ISIS, according to Romain Caillet, a French expert on jihadists.
 
Essam al-Rayes, spokesperson for the Southern Front coalition which is fighting Jaish al-Islam, said the ISIS-linked group had a presence in and around the town of Qahtaniya.  
 
Speaking by phone from Jordan, Rayes said tensions among opposition fighters in the town rose after it was suspected that Jaish al-Jihad had pledged allegiance to ISIS.
 
The battles erupted on Monday after Jaish al-Jihad ambushed a Southern Front convoy and killed six rebels, Rayes added.
 
"Al Nusra Front then joined the fight, because Daesh is our common enemy," Rayes said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
 
Caillet said two Saudi commanders from Al Nusra's southern battalions were killed on Monday night.
 
The Southern Front had been planning a large offensive on regime-controlled areas north of Qahtaniya, but the latest clashes delayed their assault, Rayes told AFP.
 
Last month, rebel groups in southern Syria, including the Southern Front, said they would not cooperate with Al Nusra in future battles, after a dispute over a captured border crossing.  
 
Syria's conflict began in 2011 with peaceful protests, but has since become a complex civil war which has killed more than 220,000 people.

Syria: 42 Dead in Clashes Between Rebels

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 25 April 2015 20:55
Rebel-Jihadist WarAt least 42 fighters were killed in 24 hours of fierce fighting between Islamist rebels and the Islamic State group in Syria's Damascus province, a monitoring group said Wednesday.
 
"At least 30 Islamist rebels and 12 fighters from ISIS were killed in fighting since Tuesday" in the hilly region of Qalamun, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, according to AFP.
 
Qalamun is divided into a western portion, which borders Lebanon and is mostly controlled by the regime and its ally, the Lebanese Shiite terror movement Hezbollah.
 
The eastern sector has seen intense clashes between rebels and ISIS, and is strategic because it borders the "badiya," the Syrian steppe.
 
These plains are used by rebels to transport weapons from the Turkish border to the north and the Jordanian frontier in the south.
 
According to the Britain-based Observatory, ISIS has already cut off one of these routes and aims to take more to "suffocate" the rebels.
 
Meanwhile, at least 11 people were killed in regime bombardment of two towns in Damascus province.
 
"It is likely that there were even more killed in the attack, and the number will increase due to people in a critical condition," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman, according to AFP.
 
The fighting among rebel groups is nothing new, as different rebel groups have been fighting one another constantly in addition to fighting the Bashar Al-Assad regime.
 
Al-Nusra Front, a rebel group which has been an official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013 and dominates a swathe of northwest Syria, has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State (ISIS) group.
 
Last November, Al-Nusra and ISIS temporarily agreed to work together in order to combat the international airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Rebels in Southern Syria Split with Al Qaeda after Tensions

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 21 April 2015 08:26
Rebels in Southern Syria SplitRebels fighting in southern Syria will not cooperate militarily with Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Al Nusra Front, a spokesman said Wednesday.
 
Essam al-Rayes' comments come after tensions between local rebel groups and Al Nusra over the capture of a border crossing between Syria and Jordan.  
 
"We reject all forms of cooperation with Al Nusra Front because keeping silent on its excesses, its statements and its violations will only allow them to continue," Rayes told AFP.    
 
Speaking via Skype, he said the groups fighting under the Southern Front banner hoped their position would "tell Syrians that Al-Nusra's ties with Al Qaeda push the revolution away from its path and objectives."
 
"We do not want Syria to become a base for jihad, or the expansion of the Islamic State (ISIS)," he added.    
 
The comments came after several similar individual statements from battalions fighting in southern Syria.
 
Ties between the groups and Al Nusra have been strained since the April 2 takeover of the Nasib border crossing.
 
The Al Qaeda affiliate participated only in the last stages of the battle for the crossing, playing no role in the planning or initial attack.
 
Despite that, Al Nusra fighters seized parts of the border post, creating considerable resentment among the groups that carried out the operation.  
 
They asked Al Nusra to withdraw from the border point and the duty-free zone between the two crossings, which it did last week.
 
In recent days, the rebels have publicly disassociated themselves from the group.
 
Despite his comments, Rayes said the groups had no intention of fighting against Al Nusra. 
 
"This is not a declaration of war; we don't want any tensions on the ground because our battle is not against Al Nusra."  
 
Syrian rebel forces remain prominent in the south, unlike in the north, where Al Nusra and rival jihadist outfit ISIS have seized large swathes of territory.
 
In the north Al Nusra has in fact formed a joint army with other Islamist rebel groups - "The Army of Conquest" - which recently succeeded in capturing the major city of Idlib from regime forces.

UNRWA Chief Concerned about Civilians in Syria's Yarmouk

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 18 April 2015 05:49
Yarmouk SyrianA UN agency chief said Sunday he was deeply concerned for civilians stuck in a Damascus neighborhood after it was stormed by the jihadist Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIS.
 
"We remain very worried for refugees and civilians inside Yarmouk," Pierre Krahenbuhl, who heads the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said in Damascus.
 
"We are very determined to provide assistance to those who have decided temporarily to leave the camp and find shelter elsewhere," he added.
 
On April 1, ISIS launched an assault on Yarmouk, a neighborhood designated as a "Palestinian refugee camp", which was once a home to 160,000 Palestinian and Syrian Arabs but now has fewer than 18,000 residents.
 
The camp has seen violent clashes between pro-regime and opposition forces since 2012, and has endured a suffocating army siege since 2013.
 
Krahenbuhl spoke while visiting a school in the southern Damascus neighborhood of Tadamon, where displaced Palestinians from Yarmouk have sought refuge.
 
"It was of utmost importance for me to meet these people face to face, as an act of solidarity and support. Every conflict has a human face," he said.
 
"The people of Syria's merciless conflict are individuals, each with a dignity and destiny that must be respected and nurtured. The world community cannot abandon them in their hour of need," he added.
 
Krahenbuhl said UNRWA was "determined" to bring aid to Palestinians who have fled to Yalda and Babila, two neighborhoods on the outskirts of Yarmouk.  
 
Since the "dramatic changes" brought about by the IS assault on Yarmuk, "the focus is on how to provide assistance for people inside," he said.
 
"We are also thinking about how we can we improve the ability for people who wish to leave temporarily to come out safely and to receive assistance."  
 
More than 200 people have been killed since the beginning of the government's siege on Yarmouk, including dozens who died of hunger.
 
The Yarmouk "refugee camp" is in fact a sprawling neighborhood at the southern edge of Damascus. Most of the Palestinians who live there are descendants of Arab refugees from Israel's War of Independence, though few are themselves refugees. Uniquely, the UN founded UNRWA as a separate agency to its official refugee agency UNHCR in order to perpetuate "Palestinian refugee" status to all descendants of actual Palestinian Arab refugees.
 
No other group of refugees - including Jewish refugees from Arab states or from the Arab armies which occupied Judea, Samaria and Gaza in 1948 and expelled Jewish residents - are granted such hereditary refugee status.
 
rahenbuhl arrived in Damascus on Saturday on an "urgent mission" to discuss aid to civilians fleeing the violence in Yarmouk.
 
The UN's deputy special envoy to Syria Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy was also in Damascus on Sunday to discuss the Yarmouk crisis, a UN spokeswoman said.
 
Khawla Matar, head of UN envoy Staffan de Mistura's office, said Ramzy met Syria's deputy foreign minister, Faisal Meqdad, and spoke to the heads of several Palestinian factions and diplomats.
 
UNRWA's Krahenbul was also due to meet Syrian government representatives and Ramzy.
 
Syria's regime has said a military operation would be necessary to push ISIS out of Yarmouk.  
 
But UNRWA said Krahenbuhl's visit sought to find "peaceful approaches to addressing the humanitarian consequences of the situation".
 
The UNRWA chief called for "clear respect for civilians inside Yarmouk" and for a safe passage that would allow them to seek aid outside of the camp.  
 
According to Palestinian sources, some 2,500 civilians from Yarmouk have taken refuge in Damascus schools.

Syrian Kurds Struggling for Independence Against 'Arabization'

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 14 April 2015 18:20
Syrian KurdsThe Syrian Kurds have gained de facto autonomy in the crumbling Syrian landscape. With a large portion of Kurdish-majority territory tucked away in the northeastern corner of the country far away from the main habited zones around Damascus, the coast, Aleppo or along the Euphrates River, the tiny al-Hasakah province has been more focused on just holding the line against repeated pushes from Islamic State (ISIS) or regime loyalists in the area.
 
But it is more complicated than that, Sherkoh Abbas, the Chairman of the Kurdistan National Assembly (KNA) and the organization’s representative in Washington D.C., told Arutz Sheva.
 
Besides arguing that Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) stretches much further than al-Hasakah province, he says that Syrian Kurds should only be so lucky to think their current de facto government is diametrically opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
 
Abbas starts off defining where this Kurdish region would be. There are maps littered across the internet that try to approximate Kurdish settlement in Syria. According to Abbas, traditional Kurdish territory stretches from the sea all along the modern border with Turkey.
 
“It stretches from Jabal al-Akrad,” in the Nusayri Mountains, “north of Latakia up and then toward eastern Syria. Unfortunately, many of those Kurds have been Arabized.”
 
When asked if recent reports that indicate Kurdish forces control three pockets of territory around the cities of Afrin, Kobane and al-Hasakah were an accurate reflection of Kurdish regions, he said that those three pockets on the map are just fractions of territory that is inhabited by Syrian Kurds.
 
“Along the whole Turkish border is Kurdish. A pro-Assad group came out of nowhere and created a massive flood of refugees of 1 million Kurds from those areas. Those areas are not free.”
 
Abbas says that in a Syria affected for so many decades by Arab nationalism and diminishing of alternative identities, “many people do not acknowledge they are Kurdish.”
 
Still, he is optimistic that “those Kurds who exist there would revert back to their Kurdishness” if given the opportunity. Abbas emphasizes that Kurdistan would be significant for far more Syrians than people often think.
 
“Fully a third of Syria was Kurdish. Over the years, thanks to the Arabization policy and people hiding their identity to keep their homes and their jobs, Kurds today are thought to be only 10% of the country. The number is really closer to 25% of Syria.”
 
“Many of them who do not speak but people who retain language and culture along the border are at least 25% of Syrian people."
 
Finding an Alternative to the YPG
 
However, he sees a much more difficult issue – the lack of substantive material support for an alternative to the ruling Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a militia that has been reported to have reached understandings with the Assad regime and foregone any goals of Kurdish independence - much less creating a solely Kurdish federal region.
 
According to Abbas, between his KNA and the Kurdish National Council (KNC) there are 20 organizations and parties who work together, only maintaining separate organizations because his own group is more focused on external relations while the KNC on working with other Kurdish groups, particularly the KRG in Iraq.
 
“They are ready to work,” Abbas says of other forces on the ground in Kurdish northern Syria. “But unfortunately, the White House and State Department always want us to forget about this and they want us to focus on ‘democracy in Syria’ and only then to focus on rights for Kurds. They wanted us to work with Assad lieutenants. We cannot accept these same people.” 
 
“It doesn’t mean the KNC and KNA don't have resources. At the moment, we can't put them into the field because we don't have the resources to sustain the people who already have training and weapons. But we’re not in a position to help because we're isolated.”
 
“The best thing is to do is stay neutral in the meantime.”
 
There were reports in early 2014 that the YPG had struck a deal with the Assad regime, which Abbas indicates is correct. He accuses the YPG of abandoning the Kurdish cause and reaching an understanding with Bashar al-Assad, much to the Syrian Kurds’ detriment.
 
“The YPG is completely an Assad tool. There are major flights everyday between Qamishli (in the al-Hasakah province) and Damascus. The oil is still flowing. There are groups behind the scenes trying to facilitate a divide-and-conquer strategy against the Kurds."
 
But he says that Rojavans are not oblivious to this and have been agitated by the alleged collusion between the YPG and Damascus.
 
“They don't have more than 12,000 troops at the moment,” says Abbas, who suggests the number is probably closer to 10,000 members of the YPG. He says that when word got around that the connection with Damascus was strong, it had a polarizing and demoralizing effect on a significant chunk of the organization’s ranks.
 
“A third abandoned them when they realized they were serving Assad's interests. At least 80% of Kurds support our views,” says Abbas, referring to his own Kurdistan National Assembly.
 
“The PYD and YPG do not raise Kurdish issues and do not promote Kurdish autonomy or stand for anything Kurdish in their platforms. They are facilitating the creation of isolated Kurdish pockets.”
 
Abbas divides the PYD and YPG into several different constituencies. Without regard for those recruits he said have abandoned the force, he says a substantial number of fighters are PKK members, perhaps up to 3,000 of the alleged 10,000 members. There are also true idealists fighting Kurdish autonomy, people simply defending their homes and still others who are opportunistic and looking for cash.
 
“People are presented with a false dichotomy of 'me or ISIS.’ The regime says 'look at ISIS, they'll cut off your heads. Is that what you want?' I can cite many (independent) groups in Northwestern Syria begging the KRG and international community to get more international support. The world is faced with a choice when it comes to ISIS – work with Assad or work with the Kurds.”
 
“I don’t doubt there are many benefactors behind these groups,” asserts Abbas. “Yet, the main beneficiaries are Assad, Iran and Russia who empower ISIS to send a message to international community.”

Syria Offers Palestinians Military Aid against ISIS in Yarmouk

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 09 April 2015 09:36
Syria Offers Palestinians Military Aid in YarmoukThe Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad said Tuesday it is ready to offer Palestinian factions its firepower to support their battle with the Islamic State group  (ISIS) in the Yarmouk camp on the outskirts of Damascus, which has been evastated by clashes and aerial attacks.  
 
The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yarmouk has pushed the UN Security Council to demand greater access to residents trapped between the encroaching ISIS jihadists and besieging government forces.
 
The fierce clashes that began on April 1 have ceased, as ISIS has consolidated its control over the vast majority of the camp, but regime forces continue to drop barrel bombs on the camp, which lies six kilometers (nearly four miles) from central Damascus.
 
In the capital, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad met with a delegation from the Palestine Liberation Organisation headed by Ahmad Majdalani.  
 
"Syrian authorities are ready to support the Palestinian fighters in a number of ways, including militarily, to push IS out of the camp," said PLO official Anwar Abdul Hadi, who was at the meetings.  
 
Meqdad said the "Syrian government had used all its efforts to present humanitarian and medical aid to Palestinian refugees and that it had helped them exit Yarmouk safely."
 
"Syria and the PLO are determined to fight terrorism, which has reached Palestinian camps in Syria, notably Yarmouk," he said, quoted by the official SANA news agency.
 
Speaking after meeting with Meqdad, Majdalani told AFP they had "agreed on the need for a unified position for the Palestinian forces in Syria, in coordination with the Syrian government."
 
He said there would be continued cooperation between Syrian and Palestinian leaders "to defeat terrorism in Yarmouk".
 
A meeting among Syria's Palestinian terrorist factions is set for Wednesday to discuss a broader consensus.  
 
If achieved, this rapprochement would be significant for Yarmouk, which had seen fierce clashes since the end of 2012 between regime forces and rebels supported by Palestinian terrorist groups.
 
Most of the Palestinian factions in Yarmouk are opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The main faction in Yarmouk is Aknaf Beit al-Makdis, an offshoot of Hamas, which supports the rebels. But smaller Palestinian factions closely aligned with the regime - most notably the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) have since joined the fray alongside them.
 
ISIS arrival to Yarmouk sounded alarm bells in Damascus, as it was the closest jihadists had ever been to the capital.
 
Syrian troops currently hold the northernmost part of the camp, which ISIS would need to take to advance further into Damascus.
 
'Worse than a big prison'
 
Camp residents described a disastrous humanitarian situation.
 
"I used to call the camp a big prison... Now, it's different, it's even worse," Samer told AFP via Skype from inside the camp.
 
"There was a young man who was killed next to my house by barrel bombs. We picked him up in pieces."
 
Most of the camp's doctors had already fled, leaving only paramedics to care for the wounded.
 
A sniper shot dead a 12-year-old girl Tuesday on the edge of Yarmouk, another resident said, describing her as a child who "loved singing, music and playing the drums".  
 
On Monday, the Security Council called "for the protection of civilians in the camp for ensuring humanitarian access to the area," said Jordan's ambassador Dina Kawar, the council chair this month.
 
In a meeting with the council, Pierre Krahenbuhl, who heads the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, described the situation as "more desperate than ever" for the camp's roughly 18,000 remaining residents.
 
"What civilians in Yarmouk are most concerned about right now is bare survival," he said.  
 
Since 2012, Yarmouk has been under a nearly-impenetrable regime siege that has left about 200 people dead due to malnutrition and lack of medication alone, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
ISIS began an assault on Yarmouk last Wednesday and was initially repelled by Palestinian fighters but has since seized large swathes of the district.
 
At least 39 people, among them eight civilians, have been killed in the fighting, the Observatory said.
 
The Britain-based monitor said ISIS forces were present in the south, west and east of the camp, with Palestinian fighters largely confined to the north, apparently wedged between ISIS and regime positions.   
 
The ISIS attack is just the latest blow for Yarmouk, which was once a thriving, working-class residential district of the capital, home to some 160,000 people, Syrians and Palestinians.
 
In violence elsewhere on Tuesday, at least seven people were killed, including two military commanders, in a car bomb blast targeting a base used by Islamist groups including Al Qaeda's Nusra Front in Marea, a town in Aleppo province of northern Syria, the Observatory said.
 
Reports claimed the bombings were carried out by ISIS, which is locked in a bitter rivalry with Al Qaeda.

Syrian Kurds are Waiting for Israel

Category: Reports
Created on Tuesday, 07 April 2015 08:59
Kurds in Hasakah province in northeastern Syria - Reuters/StringerMost of Israel’s major allies in the Middle East keep their ties to the Jewish State a secret. This is standard operating procedure for countries like Saudi Arabia, or even Egypt and Jordan with whom Israel has signed treaties but whose citizens still harbor extreme anti-Semitic sentiment and anti-Israel politics.
 
The same also goes to some extent for Iraqi Kurdistan (or the Kurdistan Regional Government – KRG), although anti-Semitism and extremism in general is far less present among Kurds than their Arab neighbors.
 
In fact, Israel has had security ties with Iraqi Kurds for decades. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the prospect of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan has enamored Israelis with the possibility of a new strategic ally. Most experts assume there are high-ranking communications between the two governments right now, but are Kurds as eager as Israelis to come out as linked?
 
“I’d say they are eager,” says Professor Ofra Bengio, head of the Kurdish Studies Program at the Moshe Dayan Center. “I can’t talk about all the Kurds but many are very eager, including some from Iraq and some from Turkey. Their problem is that they feel it is too dangerous to come out publicly.”
 
Bengio highlights the main issue for Kurds – they might contend with accusations of treachery from Iraqi Arabs, thus creating another point of contention. “On the one hand they want to be public but on the other hand they are reluctant.”
 
Bengio also notes northern Syria’s Kurdish population. The northeastern pocket of Syria has gained de facto autonomy with the collapse of the country in its civil war, giving what is known as the “West” (Rojava) in Kurdish a taste of independence.
 
Links with Israel are, however, much more elusive with Kurds in Syria. “They don’t have too many links” explains Bengio, but she says “We (in Israel) should be very much interested in developing a relationship with them. Some Kurdish groups in Rojava are very much interested in developing relations with Israel”
 
For decades, it was not just Kurdish concerns of Arab enmity that kept Israel and Kurdistan quiet – it was also Israel’s alliance with Turkey. Israel is believed by some to have had a major hand in capturing Abdullah Ocalan, the former leader of the oft-labeled terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). During a several-year war with Turkey, 40,000 people are said to have died in fighting and PKK attacks. With the capture of Ocalan – who now sits in a Turkish prison – Turkey and its Kurdish citizens have entered into a years-long reconciliation process.
 
The PKK though has not yet earned legitimacy in the eyes of the world, much less Turkey. Rojava’s de facto army - the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) - has been linked to the PKK in the past and thus represents an intolerable thorn in the side of Turkey even today.
 
So, would linking up with the Rojavans represent a problem for Israel vis-à-vis Turkey?
 
“I think that this is a myth that doesn’t hold water any longer,” outlines Bengio. For one, the PKK are not launching attacks anymore. Two, the peace process (with Turkey) has been going for a long time now.”
 
Beyond Kurdish relations with the Turks, Israel does not have to worry about sacrificing anything with Turkey, which has unilaterally severed the relationship with Israel.
 
“Thirdly, Turkey is coming out so openly in support of Hamas that we should ask, ‘Why should we sit quietly and be afraid of even talking to these people?’”
 
“We were worried about Turkey and they used to blame us for making the Kurds (in Iraq) a state or Arab countries would accuse us of using the Kurds as a ploy.”
 
Still, Bengio says Israel is equally eager to bring the relationship out into the open.
 
“For a long time we were very happy it was quiet and we are still happy. Even though Netanyahu said they deserve a state, he didn’t address relations or how deep they are. Says it would be a positive development. No one has come out and said anything.
 
Bengio then alludes to a mutual interest of both Israel and KRG, that Israel get closer to Kurds beyond just Iraq.
 
“Fourth, it is also of interest to the Kurds in the KRG (in Iraq) that we develop relations with other Kurds as well.”
 
When Arutz Sheva asked if that meant that a possible Syria partition might change the dynamics of diplomacy in the Middle East and be good for both Jerusalem and Erbil, she hinted that it might be, but that the only thing we can say with certainty right now is that Syria will indeed fragment.
 
“It is a fait accompli. I do not see how anyone will hold Syria together, or Iraq together or Yemen or Libya.”
 
“It’s not that it’s (necessarily) positive. There is nothing there that Israel can affect or change.”
 
When asked if fragmentation could create several states who would not align with Sunni Arab states or becomes satellites that would fall into Iran’s orbit, Bengio said we are living in the time of a “paradox.”
 
“It is a paradox in that Sunni and Arab worlds are aligning with Israel. It does not depend so much on whether they are Sunni or Shiite, but if they are moderate or extremist Sunnis, or moderate or extremist Shiites.”
 
When asked if last year’s Kurdish oil shipment to Israel was indicative that Kurdistan wanted to lay the ground work for a more open relationship or at the least strengthen economic ties ahead of such an announcement, Bengio said that the Kurds were also restricted about being public with economic connections, hence the strong denials from Erbil. However, she said that Israel gives Kurdistan a degree of reassurance while being pressured by Iraqi Arabs, Iran and the Turks.
 
“They also want us to be very strong in regards to Iran. It gives them certain strategic depth.”

Syria: Islamists Kidnap 300 Kurdish Civilians

Category: News
Created on Monday, 06 April 2015 19:30
Islamists Kidnap CiviliansIslamist fighters on Monday kidnapped some 300 Kurdish civilians at a checkpoint in northwestern Syria, Kurdish officials and a local journalist told AFP.
 
It was not immediately clear which group was responsible for the kidnapping, though Kurdish officials accused Al-Qaeda's affiliate Al-Nusra Front, which is active in Idlib province.
 
"A group of 300 people on five coaches and a mini-bus coming from Afrin were kidnapped at a checkpoint as they went to Aleppo to collect their salaries," said Newaf Khalil, a spokesman for the Kurdish Democratic Union
Party (PYD).
 
The kidnapping was confirmed by a second official from the PYD, the main Kurdish party in Syria, and a journalist in Afrin, who said the women in the group had been freed but the men and children taken.
 
"There were 300 people on five buses, and they were kidnapped in Dana, which is under the control of Islamist factions and Al-Nusra Front," said journalist Ali Abdul Rahman.
 
The PYD officials accused Al-Nusra of being behind the kidnapping, but Abdul Rahman and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said it remained unclear which group was responsible.
 
The Observatory reported similar details on the kidnapping, but said it was not immediately clear how many people were being held.
 
The Observatory said the captors had demanded, through the released women, that three men arrested by authorities in Afrin be freed.
 
There was no immediate confirmation of those demands from PYD officials or residents of Afrin, which is under Kurdish control.
 
The kidnapping occurred in northwestern Idlib province, where Al-Nusra and its allies wield considerable influence.
 
The Al-Qaeda affiliate helped capture the provincial capital Idlib city on March 28 along with a coalition of other opposition groups.
 
The incident is not the first mass kidnapping in Syria, where large groups of Kurds and Christians have been held, mostly by Al-Nusra's extremist rival, the Islamic State group.
 
ISIS fighters are accused of kidnapping over 200 Assyrian Christians from Hasakeh province, and last year held more than 150 Kurdish schoolchildren kidnapped in Aleppo province.
 
Al-Nusra has also been implicated in kidnappings.
 
It has been accused of holding journalists and aid workers and in 2013 kidnapped a group of 13 nuns who were later released in a prisoner exchange.
 
More than 215,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-regime protests that spiralled into a bloody civil war after a government crackdown.

ISIS Beheads Senior Hamas Operative in Syria

Category: Reports
Created on Monday, 06 April 2015 12:29
isis-beheading-syriaAmong the Palestinian Arab fighters beheaded by the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) in Damascus's Yarmouk camp was a senior Hamas figure in Syria, according to emerging reports.
 
On Saturday, senior Israel Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toumeh posted a graphic image which appeared to show the severed head of Sheikh Abu Salah Taha, held aloft by an ISIS fighter in Yarmouk.
 
ISIS has been involved in fierce clashes inside the camp since Wednesday, as it seeks to wrest control of it from Palestinian Islamist rebels aligned with Hamas.
 
As of Sunday morning, ISIS were said to be in control of between 50-90% of Yarmouk, according to various reports. The takeover of the camp - located at the southern edge of the Syrian capital - is the closest ISIS has come to the heart of the Assad regime. Even more alarming for the regime are reports that ISIS's Yarmouk offensive was made possible with the cooperation of the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's official arm in Syria, which until now has been involved in a bloody rivalry of its own with ISIS.
 
Concerns over the possibility of further jihadi advances into Damascus have even reportedly spurred the regime into making the unprecedented move of facilitating military aid to rebels inside the camp to fend off the ISIS assault.
 
Yarmouk has been under siege by government forces for nearly two years, with some 18,000 civilians still trapped inside, and the regime is currently in control of its northernmost areas, to block off any rebel advances further into the capital. Around 2,000 of those remaining civilians have been evacuated over the weekend as the fighting worsens, according to Palestinian sources.
 
Regime airstrikes have also been witnessed in the past several hours, although as yet there is no word on any casualties.
 
Despite that ISIS appears to have the upper hand, and has reportedly set about beheading Palestinian fighters and civilians alike in areas under its control in a grisly campaign of retribution, posting evidence of its atrocities online.

Al-Qaeda-Backed Rebels Seize Syria-Jordan Border Crossing

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 05 April 2015 20:40
Al-Nusra Front terroristsRebels backed by Syria's Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front, on Wednesday seized control of the last border crossing with Jordan that had been under the control of the Damascus regime, a monitor said, according to AFP.
 
"Armed groups, joined today by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, took over the Nasib border point from regime soldiers" on the Syrian side of the frontier, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
Abdel Rahman added that regime troops had withdrawn from Nasib, leaving no Syrian government presence along the entire border with Jordan.
 
There was no immediate information on any casualties. The Jordanian government had said earlier that it had closed the crossing on its side of the frontier to both travellers and goods, noted AFP.
 
Earlier this week, the Al-Nusra Front  seized the city of Idlib, the second provincial capital to fall from government control.
 
Al-Nusra Front has been an official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013, and dominates a swathe of northwest Syria despite months of international airstrikes.
 
As well as fighting President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, the group has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State (ISIS) group. Last November, Al-Nusra and ISIS agreed to work together.
 
Al-Nusra Front recently reaffirmed its allegiance to Al-Qaeda and denied any plan to break away and become a more internationally acceptable rebel force, amid speculations on Internet social networks of a split between the jihadist allies.

What Syrian Refugees Mean for the 'Jordan is Palestine' Argument

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 01 April 2015 04:48
suriye-syria-refugeeConflicts in Iraq and Syria are changing the Middle East. As a result of ethnic warfare, literally hundreds of thousands of Arabs of different cultural backgrounds have fled for safer borders around the region. The result, claims Pinhas Inbari of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, will have major implications on Israel’s immediate neighbors: Jordan and the Palestinians.
 
Jordan has had a tumultuous relationship with Palestinians since the Israeli War of Independence. Many Arabs fled to Jordan and residents of Judea and Samaria became full citizens of Jordan while the country occupied it. But Jordan has been reluctant to extend that courtesy to the descendants of refugees living in Jordan. The monarchy fears that were that to happen, they would open the door back up to the "Jordan is Palestine" argument.
 
During the Iraq War, some 1 million Iraqis fled to Jordan, and there they have stayed as far as Inbari is aware. The remarkable part of the community is that it is diverse: a substantial portion, if not half of those refugees, are Shiite. Today, upwards of perhaps 500,000 people in Jordan are Shiite.
 
“Jordan has never had a (large) Shiite population in its history; this is the first time they’ve had one inside the kingdom.”
 
Jordan does not publish official data on the number of refugees in the country based on its older fear that a demonstration of high numbers might reinforce those refugees’ demands for permanent residency or citizenship. The Wikipedia article on the topic, Iraqis in Jordan, cites a lower number of 200,000 total Iraqis living there, but that there is not a single citation for that fact demonstrates how ambiguous the situation is.
 
Either way, the number is still high.
 
What’s more is that many of those Iraqis who went to Jordan were from the Iraqi middle class. Many are thought to have blended into the population using their financial resources, making it hard to track them down. Add to this another million Sunni refugees from Syria, and you have a much more diverse demographic landscape in Jordan.
 
“Jordan is now witnessing a tremendous demographic change,” remarks Inbari. “It’s not farfetched to imagine they might demand rights, for example to build Shiite mosques or be recognized as a sect. This does not even speak to the possible security infiltration by terrorists.”
 
A plethora of militias were fighting in Iraq when those refugees arrived in Amman; the same is true of Syria today. But what could be significant to Israel in the long term is that this might secure King Abdullah II’s resistance to letting Jordan be "too much" of the solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 
“That means the Palestinian percentage of the Jordanian population is declining,” said Inbari in an article referencing the phenomenon last June. “And indeed it is now doubtful whether it can still be asserted that Jordan has a Palestinian majority.”
 
That might allow Jordan a number of options, but mainly puts to rest the argument that Jordan could somehow become the Palestinian state, he says.
 
This could also present a different problem. Not well known today is that the Palestinian Authority’s professed national flag is actually the old flag of the entire Pan-Arab movement. With the influx of so many Arabs from other countries, could a new sort of pan-Arab identity take hold inside Jordan?
 
“This touches on an important point,” said Inbari. “The Palestinian problem belongs to this issue of pan-Arabism - they speak now in the open that the Palestinian problem is part of a larger conflict between pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism, represented by the PLO on the one side and Hamas on the other (respectively).”
 
For now, Israel’s main concern might be security-minded though, in the event that organizations like ISIS or other Islamist groups in Syria might look to penetrate the Israeli border from the much more peaceful boundary with Jordan. But Inbari says that the vast majority of the refugees cannot think about politically causing problems for Amman right now, much less conflict with Israel.
 
“Everybody is converging in Amman. The Jordanians are trying to contain Syrian refugees in northern part of the country in order to return them at the first opportunity, but they are spreading out. I was told that many are in the Jordan Valley on the Jordanian side.”
 
“They aren't politically minded – they want to find jobs and escape their economic distress.”

Jihadist Syrian Rebels Capture Regime Helicopter, Take Hostages

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 24 March 2015 22:31
Jihadist SyrianIslamist rebels captured four crew members of a regime helicopter which crashed in the Idlib province of northwest Syria on Sunday, while a fifth serviceman was killed, a monitor said, reported AFP.
 
"A regime helicopter was forced to land in the region of Jabal al-Zawiya in the northwest, which is a bastion of (Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate) Al-Nusra Front," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the news agency.
 
"Four of the crew were captured and a fifth man was killed by armed men in a neighboring village," he added.
 
Abdel Rahman said the Al-Nusra Front held two of the servicemen, including the helicopter's pilot.
 
Official Al-Nusra Front accounts on Twitter published photos and videos with the caption "Helicopter pilot in the hands of jihadists," according to AFP.
 
The images depict the bandaged pilot sitting in front of Al-Nusra Front's official flag.
 
"To the Muslim children, to their mothers, who died two days ago because of their chlorine attack," a bearded fighter says in the video, pointing to the pilot.
 
On March 17, a family of six died in Idlib province after a regime gas attack on the village of Sarmin. Opposition forces accused the regime of using chlorine, a toxic agent that can be considered a chemical weapon.
 
Two other servicemen from the helicopter crash were captured by another Islamist group, and at least one more crew member was believed to be on the run, Abdel Rahman told AFP.
 
Regime helicopters are often used to drop crudely constructed barrel bombs on rebel-held areas.
 
Pictures provided by the Observatory showed groups of men gathering around a damaged helicopter lying on its side on a rocky hilltop.
 
Syrian state television confirmed a military helicopter had crashed in Idlib, saying it was due to a technical failure and that search efforts were underway to locate the crew.
 
Al-Nusra Front has been an official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013, and dominates a swathe of northwest Syria despite months of international airstrikes.
 
As well as fighting President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, the group has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State (ISIS) group. Last November, Al-Nusra and ISIS agreed to work together.
 
Al-Nusra Front recently reaffirmed its allegiance to Al-Qaeda and denied any plan to break away and become a more internationally acceptable rebel force, amid speculations on Internet social networks of a split between the jihadist allies.

Al-Nusra Front Reaffirms Allegiance to Al-Qaeda

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 11 March 2015 08:22
Al-Nusra Front terroristsAl-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front, on Monday reaffirmed its allegiance to the global extremist network and denied any plan to break away and become a more internationally acceptable rebel force.
 
The angry statement followed weeks of speculation on Internet social networks of a split between the jihadist allies, AFP reported.
 
Al-Nusra "completely denies reports of a break-up with Al-Qaeda," the group said in a statement released on Twitter.
 
The statement added that Al-Nusra "remains the backbone of jihadists" in Syria, "the first into battle, dedicated to unifying the ranks around sharia (Islamic law)... righting injustice and defending the disadvantaged".
 
It denied "completely all reports of a meeting with Qatari or other intelligence services or seeking Qatari or Gulf funding, as this is contrary to the principles on which Al-Nusra has been based from the start".
 
An official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013, the group dominates a swathe of northwest Syria despite months of international airstrikes.
 
As well as fighting President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, it has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State (ISIS) group. Last November, Al-Nusra and ISIS agreed to work together.
 
Al-Nusra was formed in January 2012 by jihadists who had previously fought in Iraq, including its chief Abu Mohamed al-Jolani.
 
The group's military chief Abu Hammam al-Shami and several top commanders were last week reported to have been killed in Syria, although there was contradictory information on the circumstances.

40 Killed as Kurds Battle ISIS for Key Syrian Town

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 08 March 2015 20:46
Kurds Battle ISISAt least 40 Kurdish fighters and Islamic State group (ISIS) jihadists have been killed in clashes for control of a strategic town in north Syria, a monitor said on Sunday.  
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that 11 civilians were killed in a government air raid on the rebel-held town of Irbin northeast of Damascus.  
 
The clashes that erupted on Saturday as ISIS launched an offensive aimed at seizing Tal Tamr in Hasakeh province from Kurdish forces have killed 40 fighters on both sides, it said.
 
"Fierce battles broke out during the past 24 hours around Tal Tamr... that killed 40 fighters," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
He said the fighting erupted when ISIS advanced close to the town, but the Kurds called in reinforcements and were able to repel the Islamists.  
 
IS has been trying to capture Tal Tamr because of its strategic location.
 
Taking it would allow ISIS to dominate a key road between the eastern part of Hasakeh and the town of the same name that are held by the Kurds, and also gain access to the Iraqi border and the jihadist bastion in Mosul beyond.
 
Sunday's raid on Irbin near Damascus during which missiles were fired at the town also wounded 50 people, some of them critically, the Observatory said.  
 
It also reported several civilians wounded in regime-held areas of Damascus by rebel rocket fire, without giving a precise toll.  
 
Elsewhere, clashes were still under way around the Aleppo province villages of Handarat and Bashkoy between regime forces and fighters from the Al Qaeda affiliate, Al Nusra Front.
 
The Observatory said that a child and a local Nusra commander were killed in the fighting.  
 
A military source told AFP that loyalist forces had launched an overnight offensive on rebel positions in Handarat after failing to recapture it last month.

US, Turkey Agree to Arm and Train Syrian Rebels

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 15:36
Syrian RebelsThe United States and Turkey have agreed "in principle" on a deal to train and equip Syrian rebel forces, the State Department said Tuesday.
 
"As we have announced before, Turkey has agreed to be one of the regional hosts for the train-and-equip program for moderate Syrian opposition forces," department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
 
"We expect to conclude and sign the agreement with Turkey soon," she said, without providing any further details about the train-and-equip program, which is expected to begin next month.
 
The announcement puts an end to months of difficult negotiations between allies Washington and Ankara on how to train Syrian rebel forces to eventually take on the Islamic State (ISIS) group.
 
Last month, the Pentagon said it would send nearly 1,000 troops to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar as part of the effort.  
 
More than 400 trainers would be backed by a similar number of support troops that will provide help with logistics, communications and intelligence, spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said. 
 
The total troop number "for this mission could approach 1,000," Kirby said on January 16. "It might even exceed that."  
 
The US government hopes the effort can begin by late March, so the first rebel forces trained can be operational by year's end, according to the Pentagon.   
 
The goal is to train more than 5,000 Syrians in the first year of the program.
 
But such a deal with Turkey specifically raises some difficult questions about its own murky role in the Syrian conflict.
 
Turkey's Sunni Islamist government openly backs the Sunni rebellion against the Assad regime, and has repeatedly called for international intervention to remove the Syrian dictator. 
 
But many - including Turkey's Kurdish community - says Ankara's support for the rebels is also geared towards a more sinister objective of snuffing-out Kurdish hopes for self-determination in the region. They accuse Turkey of directly supporting Islamist rebels including Al Qaeda's Nusra Front and even ISIS in their battles against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
 
Turkey denies those charges, but has failed to explain how Islamist fighters and weapons destined for jihadists are able to flow freely through its borders into Syria.

Nearly 100 Killed in Clashes Between Hezbollah, Syrian Rebels

Category: News
Created on Monday, 16 February 2015 11:01
Funeral of Hezbollah fighter killed in Syria file - ReutersNearly 100 fighters on both sides have been killed in a week of fighting in southern Syria between regime forces and rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday.
 
The army, backed by fighters from Lebanon's powerful Shiite group Hezbollah, began an offensive at the beginning of the week in Daraa, the province bordering Israel that was the cradle of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.  
 
Regime forces had indicated that the operation was aimed at "breaking the band of territory (the rebels) are trying to create" along the border.  
 
At least 50 rebels were killed and 43 soldiers, members of Hezbollah, Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Syrian pro-regime militia, according to the Britain-based monitor, which has a network of civilian, medical and military sources across Syria.
 
The Observatory also said 10 soldiers had been executed after being accused of collaborating with rebels in Daraa by giving them information about military movements.
 
"Hezbollah doesn't have a lot of confidence in the Syrian army because there have been several cases of soldiers giving the rebels information," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
 
His group said Hezbollah, which is reported to have some 5,000 fighters in Syria, is leading the regime offensive in the south. 
 
The rebels and their Al-Nusra Front jihadist allies have been making advances in southern provinces that are strategic because of their proximity to Damascus, Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
 
Since the start of October 2013, rebel forces have controlled a band of territory in the sector along the border with Jordan.

New Al Qaeda Video Shows Steady Advance along Israeli Border

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 12 February 2015 13:54
Israeli BorderThe Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, has released a new propaganda video documenting its steady gains in southern Syria, along the border with Israel.
 
The 48-minute video is a clear attempt to reassert the Al Qaeda franchise in the jihadi propaganda sphere, where it has been eclipsed by the slick productions of rival jihadi outfit ISIS.
 
It comes as Al Nusra is experiencing a resurgence on the ground in Syria as well, where until a few months ago it appeared to be losing its momentum, in stark contrast to ISIS's lightening offensives in Iraq and Syria. Recently, Al Nusra has made significant gains against both regime and rival rebel forces, including the capture of large swathes of territory in the Syrian Golan Heights, which borders Israel.
 
Unlike many previous Nusra Front productions, production-wise this one is on-par with those made by Islamic State/ISIS.
 
There are, however, several key distinctions. Most notably, while it does showcase sometimes graphic raw footage from battle scenes, the video contains none of the kind of ultra-violent and gory sequences usually included in ISIS's videos, such as beheadings and other executions. This is in-line with statements made by Al Qaeda leaders in opposition to the gratuitous nature of ISIS's violent actions, which it sees as counterproductive in the arena of public support.
 
It also lacks some of the more melodramatic flourishes and special effects often used by ISIS.
 
Additionally, the video is entirely in Arabic without any subtitles - unlike ISIS productions, which usually include subtitles in one or several foreign languages. That difference is an indication of how Nusra's support base and pool of potential recruits differs to those of ISIS.
 
While the Al Qaeda rebel faction does also include many foreign fighters among its ranks, the proportion of foreign fighters to native Syrians are lower than in ISIS. Those foreign recruits it has received come primarily from the Arab world, where major jihadi Muslim scholars have by and large supported Al Qaeda over ISIS. In contrast, ISIS's effective use of social media has given it a clear edge in western countries and other regions outside the Arabic-speaking world less influenced by or exposed to such Arab scholars.
 
And while the video does contain a clear message to western leaders, the group is clearly attempting to brand itself within the context of the Syrian rebellion against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, as opposed to ISIS's open, ostentatious declarations of its intent to achieve world domination.
 
Interspersed among the various scenes are graphic illustrations of the Nusra Front's steady gains along the border with Israel, as it cooperates with other rebel groups to steady oust forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad. It charts how Nusra has been pushing northwards and capturing key strategic positions - a development Israeli intelligence services will be keeping a close eye on.
 
But the battle along Israel's border - which has on occasion spilled over into Israeli territory - is far from over.
 
Having being ejected from the majority of their positions by the border, regime forces have reportedly turned to Hezbollah for help - with some reports claiming the Iranian proxy group is even leading regime operations against the rebels there.

Syria: At Least 7 Dead in Damascus Bus Bombing

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 01 February 2015 09:55
Wreckage of bus destroyed in Damascus violence file - ReutersAt least seven people were killed when a blast ripped through a bus carrying Shiite pilgrims in a central district of the Syrian capital on Sunday, a monitoring group said.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was not immediately clear what had caused the blast near the Souq al-Hamadiyeh neighbourhood of Damascus.
 
The explosion was also reported by Syrian state media, with the official SANA news agency saying at least four people had been killed and 19 wounded.  
 
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the bus had a Lebanese licence plate and was carrying Shiite Muslim pilgrims visiting religious sites in the city.
 
Lebanese media reported that Lebanese nationals were among the dead and wounded, but there was no immediate official confirmation.
 
Syrian state television showed footage from the scene of the blast, with men in military uniforms picking through the wreckage of the bus.
 
Its front half was mostly blown off, leaving only the metal frame, and bags of belongings were strewn across the remaining seats.
 
The channel also showed images from inside a hospital where the wounded were being treated, including a woman whose black robes had been lifted up, revealing a bloodsoaked undershirt.
 
In the last few minutes, a social media account associated with Al Qaeda's Al Nusra Front posted a message claiming responsibility for the bus attack. That claim has not yet been independently verified.
 
Parts of Damascus have remained relatively unscathed by the fighting raging across much of Syria since an uprising erupted in March 2011.  
 
But rebels regularly fire rockets into the capital from rear bases in the surrounding countryside, and the city has also been hit by bombings.
 
Despite the conflict, the road from the Lebanese border to Damascus remains relatively safe, and Lebanese Shiite pilgrims have continued to visit religious sites in Syria.
 
More than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict started, and around half of the country's population has been displaced.

Syrian Opposition Agree on 10-Point Plan for 'Radical Change'

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 25 January 2015 08:49
Free Syrian Army fighters pose with their weaponsSyria's opposition factions called Saturday for "radical democratic change" in the war-torn country ahead of April talks aimed at unifying their plan for a political solution to the conflict, AFP reports.
 
In a two-day conference held in Cairo, the regime-tolerated opposition met with members of the exiled National Coalition and agreed on a 10-point vision, as well as announcing fresh talks slated for April. 
 
The groups agreed that "any negotiation process should lead to... a democratic regime and a sovereign civil state," according to a joint statement. 
 
They added that any political solution to Syria's four-year civil war "must guarantee a radical democratic change that criminalizes violence and sectarianism".   
 
The National Coalition was informally represented in Cairo by several members, including Ahmed Jarba, a former coalition chief who is close to Saudi Arabia.   
 
A Coalition source had earlier said its members were not attending the Cairo meet in an official capacity.
 
The next opposition general conference "aims at agreeing on a unified political vision and to unify the opposition's efforts," said Saleh al-Nebwani, member of the regime-tolerated domestic National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change. 
 
The Coalition and top opposition figure Moaz al-Khatib previously announced they will not attend talks with the Syrian regime in Moscow this month aimed at finding a political solution to the war that has killed more than 200,000 people so far.
 
But the internal opposition said on Saturday that some invited members were expected to attend the meeting. 
 
Fayez Sarah from the National Coalition said the Cairo meeting did not discuss the Moscow talks "because a decision was already taken" on this issue.   
 
Moscow's effort to host the peace talks comes after two UN-brokered meetings in Geneva last year between regime and opposition representatives failed to produce results. 
 
Russia is the most powerful backer of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

MI5 Busted Three UK Terror Attacks in the Past Month

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 10 January 2015 08:14
Generic-policeThe Syrian Civil War and Wednesday's attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine headquarters in Paris are connected, the head of London's MI5 security agency stated Thursday, saying unchecked Islamism is threatening the West on the large scale. 
 
"We know... that a group of core Al-Qaeda terrorists in Syria is planning mass casualty attacks against the West," MI5 head Andrew Parker told AFP Thursday. "Although we and our partners try our utmost, we know that we cannot hope to stop everything."
 
Parker stated that Islamists from Syria are intent on bringing their "twisted ideology" to the West, and plan to carry out major terror attacks at European and North American landmarks. 
 
"We still face more complex and ambitious plots that follow the now sadly well-established approach of Al-Qaeda and its imitators - attempts to cause large-scale loss of life, often by attacking transport systems or iconic targets," he said.
 
Parker concluded that the attacks were a "terrible reminder" of the Islamist threat, and went on to reveal that MI5 had stopped three attacks on British soil in the last month alone. 
 
Twelve people were killed in Wednesday's jihadist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo - five cartoonists, three contributors, a guest at the magazine's editorial conference and a maintenance worker, along with two police officers.
 
The three Islamists who are the prime suspects in the attack - named by French police as 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad who voluntarily handed himself over to authorities on Wednesday night, and brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, who are still at large - stated to cartoonist Corrine Rey before the shooting that they were working on behalf of Al-Qaeda.
 
Both Kouachi brothers had reportedly trained with Al-Qaeda, one in Yemen and one in Iraq. 

Syria Complains to UN: McCain Violated Our Sovereignty

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 06 January 2015 19:28
John McCainhas complained to the United Nations (UN) about several officials who, it claims, entered the country without visas in violation of its sovereignty.
 
These include Republican Senator John McCain, former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith, according to Reuters.
 
Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the 15-member Security Council to pressure governments to take "the necessary measures against their nationals who enter Syrian territory illegally."
 
"Such actions are a blatant violation of Syria's sovereignty and of the resolutions of the Security Council concerning Syria," Ja'afari wrote in a letter dated Dec. 30 and seen by Reuters on Monday.
 
He complained generally about "certain journalists and prominent figures" entering Syria illegally but singled out McCain for entering Syria in June 2013. McCain visited Syria in May 2013 and met with some Syrian rebels, his spokesman said at the time.
 
Ja'afari also cited Kouchner for visiting in November 2014, Galbraith for traveling to Syria in December 2014 with other U.S. political and military leaders, and former Kuwaiti politician Walid al-Tabtaba'i for entering Syria in September 2013.
 
McCain, been a vocal opponent of President Barack Obama's Syrian policy, has in the past repeatedly called for his country to take action in the civil war in Syria, saying that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will make no effort to end the country’s civil war as long as he is winning on the battle field.
 
Syria has used the tactic of complaining to the UN over “violation of its sovereignty” in the past, including complaining against Israel over alleged airstrikes in the country.

Rival Syrian Rebels Clash over War Booty

Category: Islam
Created on Monday, 22 December 2014 06:56
Syrian TerroristsDespite facing common enemies in the Assad regime and Islamic State/ISIS terrorist group, Syrian rebels appear as fractured as ever.
 
As Syria's bloody civil war continues to rage on with no end in sight, a recent video obtained and translated by MEMRI offered an insight into the tensions simmering between different rebel battalions - including rival Islamist groups.
 
{youtube}3yPE20zafaA&list=UUpBvIBfZ-foo5ZbLH5O0N4g%3Fautohide%3D1{/youtube}
 
The video shows an angry group of fighters from several allied battalions belonging to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) - a loose coalition of rebel groups - clashing with members of Al Qaeda's Nusra Front. 
 
The FSA fighters were led by Sharif Al-Safouri, Commander of the Haramain Battalion, who claimed that Nusra fighters had stolen war booty taken from Assad regime troops.
 
"As we were loading the booty taken from the Bashar Al-Assad regime... We in the Haramain Battalion were loading the booty, along with the Murabiteen Battalion and the Al-Sabatten Battalion. Then we were attacked by Jabhat Al-Nusra people, who brandished their weapons in our faces," he says. "They brandished their weapons at their Muslim brothers. Everybody here can attest to that."
 
After a brief tussle with a masked Nusra Front fighter Al-Safouri can be heard shouting: "Aren't we Muslims?! Aren't we Muslims?! They are not our brothers. Anyone who points his gun at me is no brother of mine."
 
"See what kind of foreign fighters have come to our aid... They point their guns at their Muslim brothers," he adds sarcastically of the Nusra fighters, many of whom are non-Syrians.
 
At one point other commanders direct the camera to the Nusra commander, calling for him to be punished.
 
Despite the angry protests it appears that the detachment of Nusra fighters were able to make off with the weapons - an illustration of just how much more powerful the Al Qaeda affiliate is than many other rival rebel groups.
 
In fact, according to MEMRI, the angry exchange backfired completely on Al-Safouri, who was arrested by Nusra and forced to "confess" to being a collaborator with Israel - a charge which could result in his execution.

ISIS Changing the Entire Middle East

Category: Reports
Created on Friday, 26 September 2014 12:50
isis-revisedIslamic State (IS or ISIS) is changing the Middle East, Middle Eastern affairs expert Dr. Eldad Pardo told Arutz Sheva Tuesday - and the Arab world's response to it will ripple into Israeli foreign relations as well. 
 
Pardo first related to the Iranian nuclear question, noting that cooperation with the US on the diplomatic front "is inconvenient to the Iranian regime," which opposes the US's Middle-Eastern policies in the first place.
 
"They say American proposals are not serious and that ISIS was established by the US by aiding the Syrian opposition," Pardo said. 
 
He believes that Tehran is sharpening its positions and aggrandizing its power to clarify to Washington and the West - as well as its regional neighbors - that a nuclear deal will not work unless it is a major player in its final form. 
 
"For the Iranians, ISIS is less of a threat than in the Sunni world," he noted. "This is because ISIS cannot conquer Iran - which is both strong and Shi'ite, so too with Jordan and Saudi Arabia." 
 
ISIS may still prove a threat in the long run, however, through a "war of attrition" the terrorist organization is waging by overwhelming Iran's regional partners, Syria and Lebanon.
 
The ripple effect of ISIS - and its effect on a nuclear deal - may extend so far, he said, to interfere even with Israel's relations with the rest of the Middle East.
 
"If the United States would give up the nuclear issue, it would be dangerous for Israel and the Sunni world," Pardo stated. "Iranians want to build the ancient Iranian Empire. They see themselves as some kind of Aryans facing the primitive Arabs."
 
"On the other hand, there is pressure for change from within Iran," he continued. "What Hezbollah [in Lebanon] has been experiencing in recent years and the rise of Sunni extremists will change public opinion in Iran. Economic sanctions drive [change] as well, and perhaps it will lead them to postpone nuclear development for a few years."
 
"If it happens, Israel will benefit," he added.
 
ISIS-produced chaos within the Arab world, meanwhile, has given Israel the opportunity to make new diplomatic ties in the Middle East over common security needs, according to Pardo. 
 
The expert noted that ISIS's takeovers in Iraq and Syria could see Israel cooperate - if indirectly - with the Kurds and opposition groups inside Syria, to form an unlikely coalition. 
 
Hezbollah, too, may be placated, according to Pardo - as it "understands when to remain quiet along Israel's borders," like it had with Syria during Syrian President Bashar Assad's rule. 
 
Overall, he said, "all the parties in the Middle East are trying to take advantage of the ISIS crisis to their advantage" - including Israel.
 
"When fighting against Hamas, the ISIS crisis helped us [in terms of public opinion]," he explained. "The Iranians, also, are seen as moderates in light of what is happening with ISIS, even if they conduct public executions." 
 
"Assad has killed more people than ISIS through gas and violence, but he is proud to reject ISIS," he noted. "There's very much a struggle for image and for basic moral values here." 

UN: Assad Responsible for More Atrocities in Syria Than ISIS

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 21 September 2014 15:56
United NationsDespite the high-profile and shocking nature of the so-called "Islamic State" and its push through Iraq and Syria, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is still responsible for the majority of war crimes being committed in that country, according to the author of a special UN report into the Syrian civil war.
 
With no end in sight to the three and a half year conflict, a special United Nations panel presented its findings Tuesday in a depressing 17-page report.
 
Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who led the four-person panel, said he had "run out of words to depict the gravity of the crimes committed inside Syria."
 
He noted that the Islamic State, which recently beheaded three western hostages James Foley, Steven Sotloff and David Haines, has similarly subjected countless other Syrian civilians to similar public executions and brutal punishments.
 
The report is based on eyewitness testimonies from Syrians interviewed by the team, hailing from across the country.
 
Pinheiro also highlighted the mass-killings of prisoners of war - as occurred after IS's recent capture of Tabqa airbase in northern Syria - as well as of dissenters and political opponents.
 
Women are particularly vulnerable to abuse at the hands of the Islamist terror group, with several already being stoned to death based on accusations of adultery, or publicly flogged for minor offenses such as walking in the street without a male chaperone.
 
Nevertheless, Pinheiro pointed out that the regime of Bashar al-Assad "remains responsible for the majority of the civilian casualties, killing and maiming scores of civilians daily."
 
Civilians are being slaughtered at the hands of the regime in a variety of ways - from indiscriminate shelling, air raids and "barrel bombings", to shootings and summary executions at the hands of soldiers and pro-government militiamen.
 
Those captured or arrested by the regime were subjected to horrific torture and denied food or water for prolonged periods of time. Female prisoners were regularly raped or otherwise sexually abused.
 
Pinheiro said that the inaction on the part of major world powers to intervene - via the UN Security Council or otherwise - has helped fuel the conflict. It's most recently "beneficiary", he said, was the Islamic State - but the Syrian government has been able to escape justice for its massacres for longer still.

Syrian Jets Hit Rebels Close to the Israeli Border

Category: News
Created on Friday, 29 August 2014 11:42
Syrian Jets Hit RebelsSyrian jets shelled rebel positions near a border crossing close to the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, rebels and residents told Reuters overnight Wednesday.
 
Al-Qaeda's Syria wing, the Al-Nusra Front, alongside moderate rebel groups who had launched the attack early on Wednesday on the border post were "holding ground" despite the heavy bombardment, according to a source in the Islamist Beit al Maqdis brigade, whose fighters were involved in the fighting.
 
Abu Iyas al Horani, a spokesman for another rebel group operating in the area, told Reuters that at least six rebels were killed in the latest spillover of violence in the area that lies almost 20 kilometers west of the town of Quneitra.
 
The reports of the aerial attacks come hours after two incidents on Wednesday in which fire from the civil war in Syria spilled over to the Israeli side.
 
On Wednesday morning, six mortar shells careened into Israeli territory from the Quneitra area, lightly-to-moderately wounding an IDF officer and causing damage to several vehicles.
 
In response to the mortar shells, IDF artillery fired at a Syrian military position.
 
Later in the day, one Israeli was lightly wounded by tank fire in the area, after a possibly errant shell struck an Israeli community in the region.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 Syrian soldiers and 14 rebel fighters were killed in the clashes between the sides. The organization gathers information from all sides in the Syrian war.
 
The United Nations referred to the shells fired from Syria which hit the Israeli side of the Golan Heights and called on all sides to “exercise restraint”.

Intelligence: Islamic State Planning Terror Attack in US, Europe

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 23 August 2014 06:42
Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant -ReutersMembers of the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS) are planning to carry out major terror attacks against targets in the United States or in Europe, American intelligence officials said Saturday.
 
Five intelligence officials stated to Bloomberg News that there is evidence that the organization is running a sleeper cells around the world, outside of Iraq and Syria. The goal: to gain a greater foothold in the Islamic world - politically and militarily. 
 
According to retired U.S. Army Colonel Derek Harvey, the Middle East is gripped in a “competition for jihadi leadership” between IS and Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, following the falling out between the two groups last year.
 
Harvey also said that US President Barack Obama has severely underestimated IS's current hold in Iraq and Syria, due to a reluctance to put his "toe, foot, and then leg" back in Iraq. 
 
Social networks and foreign nationals have contributed significantly to the upswing in IS influence in the Middle East, additional sources said, as the US struggles to update its outdated estimation that IS has just 10,000 combat soldiers in the region. 
 
The intelligence community has since discovered that IS is working to recruit foreign fighters to carry out terror attacks abroad, an alarming fact revealed in January by a former member of Al Qaeda. 
 
In addition, forty people were recently arrested in Kosovo over IS connections, a figure intelligence cites as proof that the number of foreign nationals being recruited is far higher than what official data states. 
 
Brett McGurk, deputy assistant US Secretary of State for Iran and Iraq, warned that IS is more formidable than Al Qaeda.
 
“[IS is] better equipped, they’re better manned, they’re better resourced, they’re better fighters, they’re better trained than the Al Qaeda in Iraq that our forces faced,” McGurk said on the Charlie Rose show last week, referring to the group's previous Iraqi incarnation.
 
“It is a global expansionist, global jihadist organization” he said. “It is swollen with foreign fighters and suicide bombers” who will go “wherever the organization tells them to go. And that could very easily be capitals in the region, it could be capitals in Europe and, God forbid, it could be here.”
 
For the moment, however, there is a shred of hope: IS is not as technically apt as Al Qaeda is, intelligence officials say - leaving out the possibility of the group being able to carry out a wide-scale attack, at least for the time being. Economic limitations may also plague the terror organization; IS's rumored two-billion-dollar net worth may make them the richest-ever terrorist organization, but the self-styled "Caliphate" is plagued by economic instability throughout its territory as civil wars in Iraq and Syria continue to rage, making its "state" one of the world's poorest.
 
Meanwhile, IS has suffered significant losses in US airstrikes in Iraq over the weekend; rumblings, however weak, have also begun in Europe against the Islamists.
 
On Sunday, British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the threat, urging action against IS recruitment in the Middle East and in Britain in the Sunday Telegraph. 
 
"If we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain," he said. "I agree that we should avoid sending armies to fight or occupy, but we need to recognize that the brighter future we long for requires a long-term plan."
 
Cameron argued that security could only be achieved "if we use all our resources - aid, diplomacy, our military prowess." He also said Britain needed to work with countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Egypt, Turkey "and perhaps even with Iran."
 
The statements surface days after IS slaughtered more than 400 ethnic Yazidis in Iraq in a short period, sparking concerns over ethnic cleansing spreading to other IS-controlled areas of the Middle East. 

Britain's Secret Plan to Arm Syrian Rebels Revealed

Category: News
Created on Monday, 07 July 2014 16:48
Syrian RebelsThe United Kingdom drew up plans to train and equip a 100,000-strong Syrian rebel army to defeat President Bashar Al-Assad, the BBC reported on Thursday.
 
The secret initiative, put forward two years ago, was the brainchild of the then most senior UK military officer, General Sir David Richards.
 
It was considered by Prime Minister David Cameron and the National Security Council, as well as U.S. officials, but was deemed too risky, according to the BBC.
 
Insiders told the BBC that Richards, then chief of the defense staff but since retired from the military, warned Downing Street there were only two ways to end the Syrian civil war quickly - to let Assad win, or to defeat him.
 
With ministers having pledged not to commit British "boots on the ground", his initiative proposed vetting and training a substantial army of moderate Syrian rebels at bases in Turkey and Jordan, according to the report.
 
Cameron was reportedly told the "extract, equip, train" plan would involve an international coalition. It would take a year, but this would buy time for an alternative Syrian government to be formed in exile.
 
Once the Syrian force was ready, it would march on Damascus, with the cover of fighter jets from the West and Gulf allies.
 
The plan envisaged a "shock and awe" campaign, similar to the one that routed Saddam's military in 2003, but spearheaded by Syrians.
 
Throughout the civil war in Syria, there have been calls on the West to arm the rebels in order to help them fight Assad’s forces. Small-scale weapons aid and some military training has already been supplied to select rebel groups, along with "non-lethal" aid such as medical supplies and other equipment. More extensive assistance has been ruled out, due to fear that jihadist rebel groups, such as the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, might get their hands on these weapons.
 
Last week, officials in Washington said that the Obama administration has proposed a $500 million program to train and equip the moderate opposition fighting in Syria, a plan which the BBC noted was similar to the British plan.
 
A leading Syrian opposition figure recently said that western states could send desperately-needed arms to rebel groups in Syria "within weeks" and a recent report indicated that Obama is close to authorizing a military-led mission to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight the regime and Al-Qaeda-linked groups.

Syrian Forces Bomb Sunni Targets in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 02 July 2014 07:27
Bombing in Aleppo - ReutersIraqi officials accused Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces of taking advantage of the crisis near Baghdad Wednesday, saying that Syrian warplanes struck several border areas in Anbar province Tuesday. 
 
At least 57 Iraqi civilians were killed and 120 wounded in the attacks, local officials told CNN, in cities controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). 
 
This is not the first time this week Syrian forces have fired into a neighboring country. On Sunday, Syrian forces lobbed a mortar shell into the Golan Heights, killing a 13 year-old boy and seriously wounding a Ministry of Defense civilian subcontractor. Israel responded with airstrikes. 
 
If true, the report would indicate an even broader spillover of the Syrian Civil War, which has mushroomed since 2011 from a statewide dispute into an all-out Islamic holy war between Sunni and Shi'te groups. 
 
Sabah Karkhout, the head of Iraq's Anbar provincial council, told CNN that Tuesday's airstrikes hit markets and fuel stations in Rutba, al-Walid and Al-Qaim Karkhout said he was certain the warplanes were Syrian because they bore the Syrian flag.
 
"Also, the planes flew directly from Syrian airspace and went back to Syria," he added. 
 
Nickolay Mladenov, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, confirmed Wednesday that the 
 
warplanes that bombed the Iraqi cities were not Iraqi jets, but told reporters he did not have information beyond that.
 
State-based media in Syria called the reports "completely baseless," blaming them on "malicious media outlets." 
 
Meanwhile, the Iraqi military continue to hold the entire area between Samarra and Baghdad, according to several international media outlets, despite constant skirmishes with advancing ISIS forces.
 
The ISIS has already controlled the Iraqi city of Fallujah for five months, and has also led one of the strongest rebel movements fighting Assad in Syria. 
 
This month's offensive has seen the ISIS claim an unprecedented number of victories in a lighting-fast takeover of the flashpoint region. 
 
So far, the Islamists have made a systemic advance from northern Iraq and southward. Several weeks ago, ISIS leaders seized Mosul; just 48 hours later, Tikrit - birthplace of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein - fell to the terrorists.

Susan Rice Hints U.S. Providing Weapons to Syrian Rebels

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 08 June 2014 16:04
Susan RicePresident Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, hinted on Friday that the United States was sending weapons to the Syrian rebels, when she said Washington was taking important steps in Syria by offering both "lethal and non-lethal" aid to the moderate opposition.
 
The comments were made in an interview Rice gave to CNN.
 
“The United States has been the single largest contributor of humanitarian assistance, providing over 1.7 billion dollars,” she said.
 
“That's why the United States has ramped up its support for the moderate vetted opposition, providing lethal and nonlethal support where we can to support both the civilian opposition and the military opposition,” added Rice.
 
The comments appear to confirm recent speculations that Washington was ready to arm the Syrian rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
Small-scale weapons aid and some military training has already been supplied to select rebel groups, along with "non-lethal" aid such as medical supplies and other equipment, but both Congressional caution and a hesitant White House have prevented anything further, mainly due to fear that the jihadist rebel groups would get their hands on any weapons.
 
A leading Syrian opposition figure recently said that western states could send desperately-needed arms to rebel groups in Syria "within weeks" and, last week it was reported that Obama is close to authorizing a military-led mission to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight the regime and Al-Qaeda-linked groups.
 
CNN noted that in a speech last week at West Point, Obama said he wanted to increase support to rebels “who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.”
 
Following that speech, officials said they were working with Congress to approve the increased support. They said lawmakers’ approval might be required under the War Powers Act.
 
Rice said on Friday the United States was working with Syria’s neighbors to help alleviate the dire situation of refugees, as well as working to confront an increasing threat that Syria’s becoming a hotbed for terrorists.
 
“We're working on the counterterrorism challenge because as we have seen there are increasingly emanating from Syria the threat of terrorism to the neighbors and beyond,” she told CNN.
 
“Our efforts are increasing and why we'll remain very much engaged, both in trying to support the Syrian people and trying to support the Syrian opposition,” she continued.
 
Critics have cited Obama’s record in Syria as evidence of a failed foreign policy, saying his decision to forgo air strikes after Assad deployed chemical weapons displayed weakness to rivals.
 
Rice countered those claims by pointing to still-strong alliances between the U.S. and partner nations.
 
“I don't think the criticism has been fair,” she said. “I think the fact of the matter is we're living in complex times, there are many different challenges that the United States and the world faces. But our leadership is unmatched. Our role is indispensable.”

Syrian 'Elections' Begin

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 03 June 2014 20:52
Syrian ElectionsPolling stations in Syria opened for presidential elections Tuesday, as political analysts predict that President Bashar Assad will win for a third consecutive presidential term against the backdrop of a bloody civil war. 
 
Six other candidates have now announced their intentions to run against Assad, including the first female presidential candidate; this is the first election in Syria since 1970 to have more than one candidate. 
 
Analysts remain pessimistic over the outcome, however - noting that Syria has a long history of rigged elections, and that Assad won his first term in 1999 with a 99% vote - and maintain that the competition is merely a veneer for legitimacy. 
 
"It's a coronation of Assad, it's a celebration of his ability to survive the violent storm and basically go on the offensive," Fawaz Gerges, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, told CNN Tuesday. 
 
The New York Times added that observers at the scene include representatives from Syria's allies, many of which are no more democratic than Syria itself - including Russia, Iran, and North Korea. 
 
Rigged or real?
 
Assad announced the elections just days after stating that he believed his forces were gaining ground in the war, which so far has killed at least 150,000 people and displaced over one million Syrians. 
 
Assad has consistently insisted that the elections are democratic, despite criticism from rights groups and the EU. 
 
"The Syrian presidency... maintains an equal distance from all candidates in order that Syrians can choose their... president freely and transparently," Assad maintained, in a statement translated by AFP in April. 
 
Syria's Foreign Ministry also responded sharply to the criticism, claiming the decision to hold the election was a "purely sovereign" one and that foreign interference would not be tolerated. 
 
"If these countries, foremost among them the Western nations, are calling for democracy and freedom, then they should listen to the views of Syrians and who they choose through the ballot box," state television quoted the ministry as stating. 
 
On Monday, Syria’s interior minister, Major General Mohammad al-Shaar, called on all Syrians to vote “to express the Syrian people’s aspiration for life and stability and to confront terrorism and sabotage.”
 
He also denied rumors that identification cards and passports would be stamped to create a record that their holders had voted, and reassured a nervous public that the voting would take place in private booths. 
 
Local dissent
 
Meanwhile, Syrian rebels have maintained that the elections are "pointless" - and a distraction from the real issues in Syria and the "tyranny" of Assad's regime.
 
{youtube}BS9vf2jFopM{/youtube}
 
Syrian refugees - now numbering into the hundreds of thousands and spread in camps throughout Lebanon and Jordan - agree. 
 
"Where are the people who will vote for him?" one Syrian refugee, a resident of a northern Jordan camp, told CNN Monday. "Will the people he killed vote for him? Will the hundreds of thousands he has detained, who have disappeared [vote for him]?"
 
"[Assad] has reduced us to beggars," Hiba, a refugee holding a two-month old baby, added. 
 
Syrians stranded in Lebanon enthusiastically told the Times that they would vote for Assad - some emphatically pledging their loyalty, some musing he was "the lesser of two evils" when compared with Islamists, and others whispering rumors that they would be killed if they returned and had not voted. 
 
Others expressed doubts, however, vowing to boycott the elections based on a simple fact: that polling stations were open in the "no-man's land" at the Syrian-Lebanese border. Many potential voters, wary of being killed or injured after the long journey to refugee camps abroad, decided to stay home. 

American Citizen May Have Carried Out Syria Suicide Bombing

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 29 May 2014 11:43
american bomberAn American citizen carried out a suicide bombing in Syria on behalf of an Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group on Sunday, the first time a U.S. citizen has carried out such an attack in the Syrian civil war, NBC News reported on Wednesday.
 
Law enforcement and counterterrorism officials who spoke to NBC on condition of anonymity, confirmed the suicide bombing and said they have identified the American. They declined to release his identity or hometown.
 
Word of the American’s death in the suicide bombing first surfaced Tuesday in tweets from the Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda-linked group fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
The head of Al-Nusra Front has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the group has been blacklisted as a terrorist organization by both the U.S. and the United Nations.
 
According to NBC, the tweets identified the bomber only by his Arabic nom de guerre, “Abu Hurayra al-Amriki,” (Abu Hurayra the American) and said he carried out one of four suicide bombings of Syrian government sites in Jabal al-Arbaa'in in Idlib Province, the scene of heavy fighting in recent weeks and months.
 
The tweet included an image of a young, bearded and smiling Caucasian man holding a cat, as well as images of the bombing it said he had carried out. Another tweet, this one in Arabic, included a photo showing the same light-skinned man sitting on the ground wearing what appeared to be a suicide vest.
 
Separately, a video circulating on jihadi forums showed what appears to be the same man loading artillery shells into a truck bomb and then the bomb exploding in the city.
 
Syrian rebel sources based in London told NBC News that other jihadi tweets suggest the American was of Palestinian Arab descent.
 
The incident is believed to be the first suicide bombing by a U.S. citizen in the Syrian civil war. Three Americans were confirmed to have carried suicide attacks in Somalia on behalf of another Al-Qaeda linked group, Al-Shabaab, between 2009 and 2011.
 
Foreign fighters entering Syria and fighting alongside the rebels has been a great concern for several countries.
 
In February it was estimated that at least 50 U.S. citizens are fighting in Syria against Assad, and are liable to bring terrorism back to their home country once the war is over.
 
Other published statistics say that over 75,000 foreign nationals have been fighting in the Syrian civil war. While the majority are from Muslim countries, there are also Russians, Germans, Canadians and French citizens taking part in the fighting.

Obama Close to Authorizing Training for Syrian Rebels

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 29 May 2014 08:28
Barack Hussein Obama  U.S. President Barack Obama is close to authorizing a military-led mission to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight the regime and Al-Qaeda-linked groups, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
 
A new military training program, if implemented, would supplement a small train-and-equip program led by the Central Intelligence Agency that Obama authorized a year ago.
 
In a commencement address at the United States Military Academy at West Point on Wednesday, officials said Obama will signal backing for the new training effort by saying he intends to increase support to the armed opposition to fight the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, including by providing them with training.
 
Obama isn't expected to provide details about how, or where, that training would be done, according to The Wall Street Journal.
 
"The president will make clear his intention to expand our support to the moderate Syrian operation and increase our support to Syria's neighbors, who are dealing with the terrorist threats emanating from the situation Assad has created in Syria," a senior administration official said, according to the report.
 
Defense officials said it was unclear when training, which would be undertaken by U.S. special-operations forces, would start. They cited obstacles that include how the Pentagon will vet prospective rebels for the program.
 
Small-scale weapons aid and some military training has already been supplied to select rebel groups, along with "non-lethal" aid such as medical supplies and other equipment, but both Congressional caution and a hesitant White House have prevented anything further, mainly due to fear that the jihadist rebel groups would get their hands on any weapons.
 
A leading Syrian opposition figure said last week that western states could send desperately-needed arms to rebel groups in Syria "within weeks."
 
The comments were made by Syrian National Coalition (SNC) president Ahmed Al-Jarba in an interview with the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat, and came on the heels of whirlwind of meetings in the U.S., UK and France, in which Al-Jarba appealed for greater support for the rebel Free Syrian Army.
 
Syria's fractured rebel movement has faced a series of setback in the past few months, with regime forces capitalizing on infighting to claw back territory from opposition factions.
 
In March, an American official said the Obama administration was considering allowing shipments of new air defense systems to Syrian rebels.

Israeli Arab Arrested for Helping Relatives Join Syrian Rebels

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 28 May 2014 09:15
Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terroristsThe Israel Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet), along with the Israeli police, successfully apprehended an Israeli Arab who helped two of his relatives leave Israel and join jihadists in Syria, according to news permitted for publication Tuesday.
 
The detainee is Idris Ahmed Abu Taleb Alkayaan, 23, a resident of the Hora Bedouin settlement in the Negev. Alkayaan, a Salafist, helped two relatives, also Negev residents, join the Islamist, Al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). 
 
Idris was arrested on April 28, 2014, on suspicion of helping his relatives Othman Abu Alkayaan and Shafiq Abu Alkayaan, also residents of Hora, leave for Syria to join the fight against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. 
 
During the interrogation, Idris admitted that he knew in advance about the intentions of the two to leave for Syria, and concealed it from others; that he helped coordinate the trip to Syria via Turkey; that he gave them money to finance the trip; that he gave the two details of other officials in the Islamist movement; and that he carried out much of this criminal activity via social networking sites.
 
On May 15, 2014 the ISA filed charges against Idris Abu Alkayaan, at the Be'er Sheva Magistrate Court, for the offenses of conspiracy to commit a crime and assisting others to exit Israel unlawfully.
 
Foreign nationals from around the world have been joining the fight, including from Israel. 
 
Increasingly, however, western states have become uneasy over the growing influence of radical Islamist elements among the rebel movement. Recently, funding for some "extremist" rebel groups has been revoked, but foreign nationals - including many western citizens - continue to pour into Syria, and western security services are concerned about what this means for their own countries' future security. 
 
The West has become so concerned, in fact, that they have reached out to Assad's regime forces over the issue - but no progress has yet been made. In the meantime, eyewitness accounts have confirmed what analysts have long suspected: that Al Qaeda is training Western nationals in the war-torn country to bring fundamentalist Islam - and terrorism - back home with them. 

Syrian Opposition Head: US to Supply More Weapons 'Within Weeks'

Category: News
Created on Friday, 23 May 2014 08:44
an anti-tank missile in Idlib province -ReutersA leading Syrian opposition figure has claimed western states could send desperately-needed arms to rebel groups in Syria "within weeks".
 
The comments were made by Syrian National Coalition (SNC) president Ahmed Al-Jarba in an interview with the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat, and came on the heels of whirlwind of meetings in the US, UK and France, in which Al-Jarba appealed for greater support for the rebel Free Syrian Army. The international tour followed a meeting of the Core Group of the Friends of Syria in London earlier this month, in which opposition leaders appealed for more material support in their campaign to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
 
Syria's fractured rebel movement has faced a series of setback in the past few months, with regime forces capitalizing on infighting to claw back territory from opposition factions.
 
The fall of the city of Homs - formerly the epicenter of the revolt against Assad - earlier this month, was one of the most serious blows yet to the rebel movement. 
 
More "moderate" rebel brigades aligned with the SNC, who tend to operate under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), have been increasingly eclipsed by Islamist factions such as the Islamic Front and other even more radical elements, a development which has alarmed western states and fed skepticism over support for the rebels.
 
But SNC and FSA leaders have said western states are partially to blame for failing to back verbal support with meaningful military aid.
 
All that might be about to change, however, according to Al-Jarba
 
"We knocked on the door of the US administration, the US Congress and the American media" to ask for weapons, he said. "Compared to our direct contact with the Americans last year, these [latest] meetings were positive... and I can at this point tell you that we have certainly made advances".
 
"I told them that we do not want your children to come to Syria [to fight] or for your air force to carry out any strikes. What we want is arms to defend ourselves from [the Assad regime's] air raids and barrel bombs, while we at the same time support a political solution," he said, addressing fears that Islamists from western countries were being radicalized in Syria. 
 
Small-scale weapons aid and military training has already been supplied to select rebel groups, along with "non-lethal" aid such as medical supplies and other equipment, but both Congressional caution and a hesitant White House have prevented anything further until now.
 
But with the Iranian-backed Assad regime making steady progress, western states are reportedly warming to the idea of upping the level of aid in order to force him to the negotiating table. Last month the first clear evidence of rebels using advanced US-made anti-tank weapons emerged. It was unclear whether they were supplied directly by Washington or via Saudi Arabia, which backs the rebels - but either way some analysts have seen it as a hint that the US is preparing to up the ante.
 
It's a sentiment Al-Jarba said he tapped into.
 
"We can only reach such a resolution by convincing Bashar Al-Assad that there is no military solution to the conflict, and that is why you must provide us with substantial military assistance."
 
"I have truly sensed that there is real seriousness that this will take place in the coming days, which will be translated... on the ground in the coming weeks."
 
He also claimed US officials had been convinced by his guarantees that weapons would not fall into the hands of extremists.
 
"We reject terrorism and are fighting against it on the ground... So it would be impossible that these arms would end up in the hands of those we are fighting," he asserted.
 
That statement may be somewhat misleading, however; although mainstream rebel groups have largely turned against Al Qaeda breakaway ISIS, many others - including FSA groups - openly admit to cooperating and even sharing weapons with Al Qaeda's official Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front.
 
Meanwhile, pro-government forces continue to make gains in the north of the country, reportedly breaking a year-long siege of Aleppo prison.

Syria Death Toll Tops 160,000 and Counting

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 21 May 2014 08:15
Muslim TerroristThe death toll in Syria’s three-year conflict has exceeded 160,000 and no end is in sight, an activist group said Monday, according to The Associated Press (AP).
 
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it has documented 162,402 deaths since the uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad’s government began in March 2011.
 
The figure includes civilians, rebels and members of the Syrian military, the Observatory said.
 
It also includes militiamen, such as Lebanese Hezbollah members, who have been fighting alongside Assad’s forces, and foreign fighters battling with the rebels for Assad’s ouster, according to AP.
 
The Observatory remains the sole organization providing a reliable tally of Syria’s dead, after  the UN stopped updating its own tally of the Syrian dead, saying it can no longer verify the sources of information.
 
The Observatory bases its tally on information it gets from a network of activists on the ground in Syria. The figures are based on the names of those killed, collected by activists who document the dead in hospitals, morgues and identify them from video materials.
 
The updated tally comes a month and a half after the Observatory said that the death toll had topped 150,000.
 
As the civil war continues, Syria is preparing for a presidential election to take place in June.
 
Campaigning for the June 3 election began last week. Assad, who is competing for his third seven-year term, will face Hassan bin Abdullah al-Nouri, a 54-year-old lawmaker from Damascus, and 43-year-old Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar, a lawmaker from the northern city of Aleppo.
 
Opposition activists and Western countries have condemned the elections as a sham as voting is expected to be held only in government-controlled territory.
 
Assad has dismissed the claims, saying, “The Syrian presidency... maintains an equal distance from all candidates in order that Syrians can choose their... president freely and transparently.”

Obama May Provide Syrian Rebels with Manpads

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 30 March 2014 17:09
Moderate Syrian RebelsThe Obama administration is considering allowing shipments of new air defense systems to Syrian rebels, a U.S. official said Friday, according to The Associated Press (AP).
 
President Barack Obama’s possible shift would likely be welcomed by Saudi Arabia, which has been pressing the White House to allow the man-portable air-defense systems, known as “manpads,” into Syria.
 
Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Friday for meetings with King Abdullah.
 
Allowing manpads to be delivered to Syrian rebels would mark a shift in strategy for the U.S., which until this point has limited its lethal assistance to small weapons and ammunition, as well as humanitarian aid.
 
The U.S. has been grappling for ways to boost the rebels, who have lost ground in recent months, allowing Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to regain a tighter grip on the war-torn nation.
 
A report in January said that the U.S. had been supplying “moderate” rebel groups with light arms and that Congress had approved funding for months of further deliveries.
 
There has been pressure to arm the Syrian rebels for quite some time, particularly since the U.S. government confirmed that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against rebel forces on multiple occasions, thus violating the “red line” set by President Obama.
 
However, lawmakers were concerned that weapons could reach factions like the Al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
 
Islamist rebel factions such as Al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)  have performed atrocities during the ongoing civil war, including publicly beheading those accused of collaborating with the Assad regime, and even executing members of rival rebel groups.
 
According to Friday’s AP report, if Obama does indeed decide to supply rebels with manpads, the actual manpad shipments could come from the Saudis, who have so far held off sending in the equipment because of U.S. opposition.
 
The president is not expected to announce a final decision on the matter during his overnight trip to the Gulf kingdom, according to the report. U.S. and Saudi intelligence officials have been discussing the possibility of injecting manpads into the crisis for some time, including during a meeting in Washington earlier this year.
 
Rebels said back in June of 2013 they had received Russian-made “Konkurs” anti-tank missiles supplied by Saudi Arabia. Other reports said that the Central Intelligence Agency had begun moving weapons to Jordan from a network of secret warehouses and plans to start arming small groups of vetted Syrian rebels within a month.
 
Earlier this week, Syria's opposition called for "sophisticated" arms at an Arab summit in Kuwait. At the same summit, Saudi Arabia stressed the need for a change in military balance to "end the impasse".
 
The Syrian rebels recently suffered a series of setbacks, particularly after Assad’s troops captured the key town of Yabroud on the Lebanese border from rebel groups.
 
The more moderate rebel groups have also been dealing with attacks from the jihadist rebel groups, who consider fighting the moderates “more important than fighting Jews and Christians

Saudi Provides Inside Look at Syrian Rebel War

Category: Media
Created on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 23:55
A-terrorist-from-Jabhat-alA testimony from Syria has shed light on the inter-rebel civil war that has been raging in the country.
 
In a recent TV interview, former Saudi Internet celebrity Suleiman Al-Subaie, known as “Sambateek,” recounted how he became involved in Jihad in Syria after his brother was killed there.
 
Al-Subaie, who later turned himself in to the Saudi authorities, said in the interview that he had become disillusioned when he saw that the Jihadi factions were fighting one another, instead of fighting the regime. The interview aired on March 5 and was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
 
{youtube}PQbCU3TrGG4{/youtube}
 
“At first, we all concentrated on how to fend off the regime, and to bring an end to the injustice and massacres from which the Syrian people suffer. But then all the discussions took a different direction. Recently, all the factions have begun to accuse one another of heresy. Each faction would accuse the other of heresy in order to fight it,” he said.
 
“After a while, there was another development. The ISIS organization and Jabhat Al-Nusra began fighting each other. There was also fighting between them and the other factions. The most disturbing thing was that Saudis were fighting Saudis, although, if you asked them, they would all tell you that they came to fight the regime.”
 
Al-Subaie further said that “recently, there has been nothing that could be called Jihad. All the fighting takes place between the factions. The regime used to be the only target, but now there is no fighting against it. All the factions are fighting one another.”
 
“I advise the young people there to leave if they can,” he added.
 
The comments provide a closer look at the infighting between Syrian rebels, in what has essentially turned into a second civil war.
 
The civil war in Syria has attracted many jihadist rebel groups which have been fighting the more moderate rebel groups. In recent months, the jihadists have also turned on one another.
 
Three powerful rebel alliances – among them Islamist groups - have teamed up to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which they have warned is even worse than Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
 
ISIS has been accused of several human rights abuses, including torturing and murdering prisoners, among them children and teenagers, and forcing Druze men to convert to Islam or die. Most recently, members of the group amputated the hand of a thief and live-tweeted the amputation.
 
The leader of another jihadist group, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, last week gave ISIS an ultimatum to accept arbitration by clerics or be expelled.
 
The threat came after ISIS rebels killed an Al-Qaeda emissary in Aleppo.

Head of Syrian Jihadist Group Gives Rivals an Ultimatum

Category: News
Created on Friday, 07 March 2014 04:37
A fighter from the Al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front fires a mounted machine gun - ReutersThe inter-rebel war in Syria is heating up, after the leader of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated rebel group in Syria on Tuesday gave rival jihadists an ultimatum to accept arbitration by clerics or be expelled.
 
The BBC reported that Abu Mohammed al-Golani of the Al-Nusra Front warned the rival Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) that it would be driven from Syria and "even from Iraq" if it did not comply within five days.
 
The threat came after Sunday’s killing of an Al-Qaeda emissary, Abu Khaled al-Suri, at the hands of ISIS rebels.
 
Al-Suri, a commander from the Ahrar al-Sham group who fought alongside Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and was close to its current chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed by a suicide attack carried out by ISIS members.
 
Al-Suri had reportedly been sent to end the clashes between ISIS and other rebels, reported the BBC.
 
The civil war in Syria has attracted many jihadist rebel groups which have been fighting the more moderate rebel groups in what has turned into a second war.
 
In recent weeks, the infighting between rebels has worsened, as three powerful rebel alliances – among them Islamist groups - have teamed up to fight ISIS, which they have warned is even worse than Assad’s regime.
 
ISIS has been accused of several human rights abuses, including torturing and murdering prisoners, among them children and teenagers, and forcing Druze men to convert to Islam or die.
 
In an audio message produced by Al-Nusra's media arm and posted on jihadist websites on Tuesday, Al-Golani said Al-Suri had been a "man who solved problems, not one to create conflicts" and that they had seen each other a few days before his death.
 
"We say to his killers: may your hands perish and your deed be damned. You, those who give you your orders, and those who write your fatwas are wretched, O deceived ones," he said, according to the BBC.
 
Without naming ISIS, Al-Golani denounced those attacking fellow rebels in Syria, using a derogatory term for President Bashar Al-Assad's Alawite sect.

Syrian Rebel Forces Extorting Christian Population

Category: Reports
Created on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 09:47
Terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ISIS - ReutersThe Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) released a document last week demanding a "protection payment," or "Aqed al-Thima," from the Syrian Christian population, according to Fox News, leading to concerns that the rebel forces have been "mining" Christian communities in the embattled country for gold. 
 
The pact was reached with 20 Christian leaders and ISIS, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, in the northern town of Raqqa, according to the report. The two-page document could not be independent verified but has nonetheless raised concerns about the ongoing threats to Christian communities in Syria and across the Middle East. 
 
“It underscores that fact that, as a Christian, you are left with the choice between siding with a dictator or siding with the rebels,” Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which advocates for Christians in the States and in the Middle East, told Fox. “If the Civil War ends, what will stop them from being in danger from extremists?”
 
“This is the difficult choice that they [Christians in Syria] face—try to survive or lose your faith and die or side with a dictator whose crimes have repulsed the world?”
 
Under the strict Islamic Sharia doctrine, non-Muslims living under their sovereignty must pay a special tax -- known as the "Jizyah" -- in return for the ruler's protection, or “Thima.”
 
The amount was set at "four golden dinars," saying each is worth 4.25 grams (0.15 ounce). It said the middle class would pay half of what the rich pay, while the poor would pay only "one golden dinar." Payments could be made in annual installments. 
 
In addition to agreeing on payment for protection, the Christian leaders in Raqqa reportedly agreed to refrain from refurbishing churches or monasteries in Raqqa, to hold back all religious symbols, such as displaying crosses in public or using loudspeakers in prayer, adhering to a "modest" dress code and refraining from trading in pork meat and alcohol and drinking it in public.
 
It has been charged by many that Christians in the Middle East are in grave danger, particularly in the current unrest since the so-called "Arab Spring" unrest began.
 
Christians have been caught in the crossfire of Syria's war. On December 2, Syrian rebels captured the historic Christian town of Maalula, reportedly kidnapping 12 nuns. Meanwhile Islamist rebels publicly beheaded a Catholic priest in July, in the northern Syrian town Idlib.
 
One Christian leader told BBC that a third of Syria's Christians have fled the country, joining the 2.2 million refugees of the bloody conflict.

Syrian Jihadists Tell Women: Cover Your Faces or Else

Category: Islam
Created on Sunday, 23 February 2014 09:59
Muslim womenIslamist rebels in eastern Syria have ordered women to put on the Islamic veil, warning that anyone not doing so would be held to account, Reuters reports.
 
According to the report, an organization calling itself the Islamic Law Council of Deir al-Zor said in a statement released Wednesday that women have until Saturday to don the face veil.
 
The group did not say what punishment would befall women who fail to comply with the order.
 
Armed Islamist groups have become the most powerful force in the almost three-year-old uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
"Given that sins are the main reason delaying victory, the legal council in the town of Deir al-Zor is obliged to promote virtue and prevent vice," said the statement posted by an activist on Facebook and also reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
The civil war in Syria has attracted rebel groups with links to Al-Qaeda, such as the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). In addition to fighting President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, these groups have been fighting the more moderate rebel groups in what has turned into a second war.
 
These Al-Qaeda-linked groups have been heading to war-torn Syria from many other countries since fighting broke out in 2011.
 
In recent weeks, the infighting between rebels has worsened, as three powerful rebel alliances – among them Islamist groups - have teamed up to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which they have warned is even worse than Assad’s regime.
 
ISIS has been accused of several human rights abuses, including torturing and murdering prisoners, among them children and teenagers, and forcing Druze men to convert to Islam or die.
 
Last month, the New York-based Human Rights Watch reported that ISIS and another jihadist group, Al-Nusra Front, were enforcing their strict interpretation of Islamic law by requiring women to wear head scarves and full-length robes.
 
Several months ago, ISIS members raided a wedding party in a suburb of Aleppo, which Islamist rebels have declared to be an independent Islamist state, and ordered that music and singing be stopped.
 
The groups’ leader reportedly asked the man in charge of the wedding to memorize a verse of the Quran and attend several religious courses at Al-Qaeda’s center in Maskana, near Aleppo.
 
Some of the Islamist groups have attempted to soften their image in an attempt to win hearts and minds - holding stand up comedy shows and handing out toys to local children.

Russia Rejects Obama's Criticism Regarding Syria

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 13 February 2014 11:18
Obama - PutinRussia on Wednesday rejected U.S. President Barack Obama's criticism of its stance on Syria, a day after Obama criticized Moscow for threatening to veto a UN Security Council resolution that would impose sanctions against the Syrian government.
 
On Tuesday, during a press conference with French President Francois Hollande, Obama slammed the Russians over their threat to veto the resolution, which is a measure to help millions in desperate need of humanitarian aid.
 
"It is not just the Syrians that are responsible" for the plight of civilians but "the Russians, as well, if they are blocking this kind of resolution," Obama declared.
 
Commenting on Obama's criticism of Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday accused Washington of a "biased distortion" of the Russian stance on Syria, reported The Associated Press (AP).
 
It said that Russian diplomats were working with Syrian authorities to help humanitarian efforts and challenged the U.S. to use their influence with the rebels for the same purpose.
 
The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the Western-backed UN draft resolution raising the prospect of sanctions on Damascus if it fails to create conditions for unrestricted humanitarian aid deliveries as "unbalanced and counterproductive."
 
Russia is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and has blocked all attempts to condemn him at the Security Council.
 
The last time Russia vetoed a resolution on Syria was in January, when it blocked a UN Security Council statement that would have expressed outrage at deadly airstrikes by Assad's forces and condemned the use of missiles and "barrel bombs" in towns.
 
The longstanding deadlock on the Security Council was briefly broken in late September and early October when the 15-nation body agreed a resolution demanding the eradication of Syria's chemical weapons program and a statement calling for increased aid access and humanitarian pauses in the fighting.
 
Russia supplies Assad with ground-to-surface interceptor missiles as well as warplanes and helicopters and other heavy machinery meant for national self-defense.

More than 75,000 Foreign Nationals Fight in Syria

Category: Reports
Created on Monday, 03 February 2014 13:20
Free Syrian Army fighters pose with their weaponsDisturbing statistics have surfaced from Syria Sunday: over 75,000 foreign nationals have been fighting in the Syrian Civil War, according to a local website. 
 
The majority are from majority-Muslim countries or regions - where foreign nationals have been stirred to join by government forces, national-cultural ideologies, and religious fervor. According to the site, 14,000 hail from Chechnya; 12,000 from Saudi Arabia; 11,000 from Iraq; 5,600 from Turkey; 4,400 from Libya; 4,000 from Tunisia; 1,900 from Pakistan; 1,600 from Yemen; and 1,200 from Afghanistan.
 
Statistics show that Israel may be caught up in the effect the foreign nationals - who are being trained to bring terror home with them - could have on the Middle East. Among Israel's neighbors, 9,000 Lebanese, 2,600 Egyptians, and 2,400 Jordanians have joined the war; as have at least 5,000 Palestinian Arabs. 
 
Among Europeans, 750 Russian nationals, 660 Germans, and 450 French citizens have reportedly joined the fight.
 
It is not entirely clear how the statistics were compiled, but they do more or less reflect the kinds of numbers estimated by Western security agencies. On Saturday, French Prime Minister Francoise Hollande claimed that both France and Great Britain had seen up to 700 Muslim citizens each leaving their shores to fight in Syria.
 
While Western countries - especially the US and United Kingdom - have backed the rebel forces during the three year conflict, western states have become uneasy over the growing influence of radical Islamist elements among the rebel movement.
 
Recently, funding for some "extremist" rebel groups has been revoked, but foreign nationals - including many western citizens - continue to pour into Syria, and western security services are concerned about what this means for their own countries' future security. 
 
The West has become so concerned, in fact, that they have reached out to Assad's regime forces over the issue - but no progress has yet been made.
 
In the meantime, eyewitness accounts have confirmed what analysts have long suspected: that Al Qaeda is training Western nationals in the war-torn country to bring fundamentalist Islam - and terrorism - back home with them. 

Junior Jihad: Syrian Rebels Present Four-Year-Old Fighter

Category: Islam
Created on Saturday, 01 February 2014 18:13
Child in Islamic Jihad summer camp in GazaIn the latest alarming evidence of child soldiers being used by Syrian rebel forces, an Islamist brigade linked to Al Qaeda released footage of a four year old it claimed as its youngest recruit.
 
In the video (below), the child - who can barely hold the AK-47 rifle he is firing - lets off two shots to cheers of "Allahu Akbar". The tiny boy is clad in a black ski mask and is forced to rest the barrel of the rifle on what appears to be a section of a roadblock to prevent himself from falling over.
 
{youtube}aEieWqsY45w{/youtube}
 
Britain's Daily Mail reported that the child is believed to be the son of an Albanian jihadi, one of thousands of foreign Islamist fighters who have flocked to fight on both sides of the Syrian civil war, which is increasingly being waged as a sectarian conflict between Islam's Shia and Sunni sects.
 
In December, a video by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) illustrated the numerous cases of young Syrian children - often orphans who parents were killed by the Assad regime - fighting among the ranks of the country's various rebel factions.
 
The video comes as French Prime Minister Francois Hollande claimed that both France and the UK had seen up to 700 foreign Islamist fighters from each of their countries leave to fight in Syria.
 
"We have young people who live in our respective countries who are being manipulated, and they are going off to the combat areas," he said after a press conference with his British counterpart David Cameron. "Today we were exchanging figures – 600 to 700 young people are involved in each of our countries."
 
Western security officials are concerned that some of the scores of fighters from Europe and North America could eventually return - radicalized and well-trained - to their native countries and commit attacks there.
 
Earlier this month a report revealed how an Islamist network led by British Muslim extremist Anjem Choudary was actively recruiting young British Muslims to fight in Syria, under the noses of British authorities.

Congress Approves 'Light Weapons' to 'Moderate' Syrian Rebels

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 23:48
Moderate Syrian RebelsLight arms supplied by the United States are flowing to "moderate" Syrian rebel factions in the south of the country, officials said on Monday, according to Reuters.
 
American funding for months of further deliveries has been approved by Congress, U.S. and European security officials cited in the report said.
 
The weapons, most of which are moving to non-Islamist Syrian rebels via Jordan, include a variety of small arms, as well as some more powerful weapons, such as anti-tank rockets, according to Reuters.
 
The deliveries do not include weapons such as shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, known as MANPADs, which could shoot down military or civilian aircraft, the officials said.
 
The weapons deliveries have been funded by the U.S. Congress, in votes behind closed doors, through the end of government fiscal year 2014, which ends on September 30, two officials said.
 
The apparently steady weapons flow contrasts with the situation last summer, when lethal U.S. aid to the Syrian rebels dried up for a time due to congressional reservations.
 
Congressional committees held up weapons deliveries for months over fears that U.S. arms would not prove decisive in the rebels' efforts to oust President Bashar Al-Assad and his government and could well end up in the hands of Islamist militants.
 
A U.S. official familiar with recent developments said national security officials and members of Congress are more confident that weapons delivered to southern Syria are going to, and remaining in, the hands of moderate rebels rather than militant jihadist factions.
 
Congress approved funding for weapons deliveries to the Syrian rebels in classified sections of defense appropriations legislation, two sources familiar with the matter said. It was not clear when the funding was approved, but unclassified defense funding passed Congress in late December.
 
There has been pressure to arm the Syrian rebels for quite some time, particularly since the U.S. government confirmed that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against rebel forces on multiple occasions, thus violating the “red line” set by President Obama. This confirmation came even before the major chemical attack near Damascus in August, which killed hundreds
 
The U.S. said at the time that it will increase the “scope and scale” of its assistance to rebels in Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.
 
However, lawmakers were concerned that weapons could reach factions like the Al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
 
Islamist rebel factions such as Al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)  have performed atrocities during the ongoing civil war, including publicly beheading those accused of collaborating with the Assad regime, and even executing members of rival rebel groups.
 
In recent days, the fighting between ISIS and other Syrian rebels has escalated, with hundreds having been killed in the fighting between rival groups.
 
Officials who support providing U.S. arms to the rebels acknowledged that the latest approval of arms has not greatly increased U.S. expectations of victory by anti-Assad forces, whether moderate or militant.
 
"The Syrian war is a stalemate. The rebels lack the organization and weapons to defeat Assad; the regime lacks the loyal manpower to suppress the rebellion. Both sides' external allies... are ready to supply enough money and arms to fuel the stalemate for the foreseeable future," said Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA analyst and sometime foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama.
 
Both U.S. and European officials said that "moderate" rebels had recently consolidated their positions in the Syrian south, where they are pushing out elements linked to al-Qaeda. More militant factions remain dominant in the north and east.
 
Rebels said back in June of 2013 they had received Russian-made “Konkurs” anti-tank missiles supplied by Saudi Arabia. Other reports said that the Central Intelligence Agency had begun moving weapons to Jordan from a network of secret warehouses and plans to start arming small groups of vetted Syrian rebels within a month.
 
A White House spokeswoman had no comment on Monday’s report. Other U.S. agencies did not respond to requests for comment.
 
As for "non-lethal" aid like communications and transportation equipment, the United States hopes to resume deliveries to moderate groups in Syria soon, a U.S. official said on Monday, according to Reuters.
 
The United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to northern Syria in December after reports that Islamist fighters seized Western-backed rebel weapons warehouses, highlighting fears that supplies could end up in hostile hands.
 
Non-lethal aid was resumed to civilian groups in that region in late December.

France: Jihadists as Young as 15 and 16 Joining Syrian Civil War

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 18:10
Jihadists as Young as 15 and 16Two French teenagers from Toulouse have joined the Syrian Civil War, according to French and global media. The two are only 15 and 16 years old. 
 
One of the teenagers, known only as Hakim, bought plane tickets to Turkey over the internet for the pair using his parents' credit card, with plans to sneak over the border into Syria and join a rebel training camp, an investigation revealed. The boys then sent anonymous notes to their school announcing that they would not be attending classes. 
 
The boys' parents are in shock - and claim that the boys have been brainwashed by Islamist material via the internet. One of the teenagers has no known criminal record; the other was known to police. At least one of the boys doesn't even speak Arabic, according to a parent. 
 
“From the start of December, my son was brainwashed online,” one of the teenager's fathers told French news outlet La Depeche. “There were exchanges on Facebook, videos about the war in Syria. With his computer and on his phone, he was always on social media with his friend.”
 
It is unclear if the boys will ever return.
 
“He said we wouldn't hear from him for a month, if he was still alive,” the father said. “He was with al Qaeda fighters. During his last phone call to us, he was talking about the fighters as his brothers.”
 
France: Another Western Country Affected by the Syrian Jihad Machine
 
President Francois Hollande stated earlier this month that at least 700 French citizens have joined the fighting in Syria, according to the New York Daily News. French intelligence officials noted that of those, 12 were minors - and 21 have been killed.
 
“Today we see a mass recruitment [for the Syrian Civil War],” an anonymous intelligence official told French daily Le Figaro. “This is like a factory.”
 
France is only one of the many Western countries experiencing something of a "jihadist drain," with hundreds of Western nationals joining the conflict. Since 2011, the war - which has killed over 130,000 people - has mushroomed from a regional conflict to an all-out Islamic holy war between the Middle East's Shia and Sunni populations. 
 
Foreign nationals from around the world have been joining the fight. Canadian, American, and European fighters have made jihad videos from Syria; British Muslims, in particular, have been flocking to the war from all sectors of society. 
 
Al Qaeda officials have been suspected of reaching out specifically to British university graduates, according a Daily Mail report last month. Some British Muslim women have also joinied the rebel forces, marrying Islamists "in the name of a global Jihad".
 
Western countries - especially the US and United Kingdom - have backed the rebel forces during the three year conflict.
 
Increasingly, however, western states have become uneasy over the growing influence of radical Islamist elements among the rebel movement. Recently, funding for some "extremist" rebel groups has been revoked, but foreign nationals - including many western citizens - continue to pour into Syria, and western security services are concerned about what this means for their own countries' future security. 
 
The West has become so concerned, in fact, that they have reached out to Assad's regime forces over the issue - but no progress has yet been made. In the meantime, eyewitness accounts have confirmed what analysts have long suspected: that Al Qaeda is training Western nationals in the war-torn country to bring fundamentalist Islam - and terrorism - back home with them. 

Syria: ISIS Executes Members of Rival Islamist Groups

Category: Islam
Created on Friday, 17 January 2014 16:10
Rebel-Jihadist WarThe Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has executed dozens of rival Islamists over the last two days, activists told Reuters on Sunday.
 
The executions took place as the group recaptured most territory it had lost in the northeastern Syrian province of Raqqa, according to the activists.
 
One of the activists, who spoke from the province on condition of anonymity, said that up to 100 fighters from the Nusra Front, another Al-Qaeda affiliate, and the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, captured by ISIS in the town of Tel Abyad on the border with Turkey, the nearby area of Qantari and the provincial capital city of Raqqa, were shot dead.
 
There was no independent confirmation of the report.
 
"About 70 bodies, most shot in the head, were collected and sent to the Raqqa National hospital," the activist told Reuters.
 
"Many of those executed had been wounded in the fighting. The fact that Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham are ideologically similar to the ISIS did not matter," he added.
 
In recent days, the fighting between ISIS and other Syrian rebels has escalated. Earlier Sunday it was reported that close to 500 people had been killed in the fighting between rival groups.
 
Three powerful rebel alliances – among them Islamist groups - have teamed up to fight ISIS, which they have warned is worse than Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
 
The fact that ISIS executed rivals it caught should come as no surprise. The group has been accused of several human rights abuses, including torturing and murdering prisoners, among them children and teenagers, and forcing Druze men to convert to Islam or die.
 
The Al-Qaeda linked group has vowed to “crush” other rebel groups in Syria.
 
The group’s growth has alarmed Western nations, who are pushing the opposition to attend peace talks in Switzerland later this month, and has helped Assad to portray himself as the only secular alternative to Islamist extremism.
 
ISIS regrouped and recaptured much of its stronghold in Raqqa city on Sunday, activists told Reuters, dealing a blow to rival rebel groups backed by Gulf Arab and Western states.
 
Among those reportedly executed on the weekend was Abu Saad al-Hadram, Nusra Front's commander for Raqqa province who was captured several months, opposition sources said.

Turkey: Assad and Jihadists Are 'Partners'

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 15 January 2014 22:57
Nazi flag hoisted by Turkish flotilla supportTurkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claimed on Thursday that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and the Al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) are “backstage partners,” Al Arabiya reported.
 
“Certain circles showcase threats of al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant so as to manufacture a perception that the Assad regime is the lesser of two evils, trying to cover up the oppression of a regime which is responsible for the killings of over 150,000 people,” Davutoglu was quoted as having said in a televised interview.
 
“The regime and the ISIS are backstage partners,” he claimed, according to Al Arabiya.
 
The Turkish minister said a “psychological war” was being waged against his country with claims that it is supporting extremist terrorists in Syria.
 
“The Syrian regime accuses the opposition with terrorism and thus they gain legitimacy to suppress the so-called act of terrorism with a bigger act of violence,” he said. “This situation triggers more clashes.”
 
The Syrian civil war has gotten more complex in recent days, as several groups of Syrian rebels united for the purpose of launching a new “revolution” against ISIS, which is part of a group of jihadist rebels that declared Aleppo to be an independent Islamist state. ISIS members have summarily executed members of the Western-backed rebel groups.
 
The fighting between rebels killed at least 50 Syrian rebels on Sunday alone. On Wednesday, Syrian Islamist rebels from the Islamic Front said they had captured a key Al-Qaeda base in Aleppo.
 
Last week, the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC) made similar accusations to those of Davutoglu’s, accusing ISIS of having ties to the Syrian regime, after fighters from the group killed an opposition doctor in northern Syria.
 
Davutoglu stressed that the Syrian opposition National Coalition should attend a peace conference scheduled for January 22 in Geneva. He said Iran, an ally of President Assad, could attend if it accepts conditions agreed on in Geneva 1.
 
Turkey is a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and has openly supported the rebels fighting his regime, but has always denied arming them.
 
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been especially vocal about ousting Assad, branding him “a terrorist who uses state terror”. After a chemical weapons attack near Damascus in August, Erdogan called for military intervention in Syria that would topple Assad’s regime.
 
The heightened tensions between Turkey and Syria have led to several cross-border incidents, including the explosion of a Syrian mortar in Turkish territory, which killed five civilians last year. Last week, Turkish security forces seized a truck laden with weapons bound for Syria and arrested three people.
 
That incident was blamed on IHH, the same organization that was behind the 2010 flotilla aimed at breaking Israel’s naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Syrian Rebels Exchange Insults

Category: Media
Created on Tuesday, 14 January 2014 07:50
Members of the Free Syrian Army perform prayers in Damascus ReutersFighting the “moderate” rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) takes precedence over fighting Jews and Christians, according to a rebel from the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
 
In a two-way radio conversation between ISIS and FSA fighters, which was posted on the internet on Monday and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), rebels from rival Syrian groups can be heard exchanging insults.
 
{youtube}ZbY9uU3kQc0{/youtube}
 
In recent days, several groups of Syrian rebels united for the purpose of launching a new “revolution” against the Al-Qaeda-affiliated ISIS, which is part of a group of jihadist rebels that declared Aleppo to be an independent Islamist state and have summarily executed members of the Western-backed rebel groups.
 
In the video, one ISIS fighter is seen and heard speaking with an FSA fighter and saying that members of the FSA are not Muslims.
 
When the FSA fighter on the other side says that ISIS does not belong in Syria and should go fight Israel, the ISIS member replies, “Fighting apostates takes precedence over fighting original infidels. Fighting apostates, like you people, who curse Allah and His Messenger, and violate the honor of Muslims, takes precedence over fighting the Jews and the Christians. All imams concur on that.”

Iran Not Invited to Syria Peace Talks

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 07:03
Irans Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei R meets Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Tehran Dec. 15 2009.Iran will not be part of the planned Geneva II peace conference on Syria, despite President Bashar Al-Assad’s wish to have his key ally attend, Al Arabiya reported on Monday.
 
According to the report, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday started sending out invitations to the peace conference, but Iran was not on the first list.
 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet on January 13 in a bid to decide on whether Iran should take part in the conference due to be held on January 22, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told Al Arabiya.
 
American officials in Brussels have said that Iran could participate in the talks if it helps put an end to the Syrian regime’s bombardment of Aleppo and improve humanitarian access to trapped civilians.
 
“There are also steps that Iran could take to show the international community that they are serious about being a positive player,” a senior State Department official told reporters travelling with Secretary of State John Kerry.
 
“Those include calling for an end to the bombardment by the Syrian regime of their own people, it includes calling for encouraging humanitarian access,” the official said, according to Al Arabiya.
 
One U.S. official said Washington still believed it was ‘less likely than likely’ that Iran would play any role at the peace conference, even on the sidelines.
 
Another official said Iran and the United States had not discussed the matter directly. All the officials declined to be named.
 
Washington has long opposed Iranian participation in the talks without it signing up to a June 2012 accord calling for a transitional government to replace the Assad regime.
 
Ban last month launched a fresh appeal for Iran to take part, but UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said that the United States was blocking this from happening.
 
"It's no secret that we in the United Nations welcome the participation of Iran, but our partners in the United States are still not convinced" that "Iran's participation is the right thing to do," he said.
 
Kerry on Sunday opened the door to possible involvement by Tehran in the conference.
 
“Could they contribute from the sidelines? Are there ways, conceivably, to weigh in? Can their mission that is already in Geneva be there in order to help the process? It may be that there are ways that can happen,” Kerry said.
 
“We’re happy to have Iran be helpful,” he added.
 
Throughout the civil war in Syria, Iran has provided Assad with military support during his fight against the rebels.
 
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad personally sanctioned the dispatch of officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria to fight alongside Assad’s troops.
 
An Iranian parliamentarian recently boasted that his country sent “hundreds of battalions” to fight in Syria alongside Assad’s troops.

Syria: Rebel-Jihadist War Claims at Least 50 Lives

Category: News
Created on Monday, 06 January 2014 19:42
Rebel-Jihadist WarAt least 50 Syrian rebels were killed on Sunday as the country’s “second civil war” between moderate and jihadist rebels continued, AFP reported.
 
The latest deaths came one day after several groups of Syrian rebels said they had united for the purpose of launching a new “revolution” the Al-Qaeda-affiliated the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP the rebels were killed in fighting, car bombings and summary executions by forces loyal to the jihadist group.
 
Sunday's deaths came on day three of fighting that began when rebels, including Islamists, attacked checkpoints and bases manned by ISIL, which is accused of horrific abuses in areas where its fighters operate.
 
ISIL has been taking key roads and checkpoints from its rivals, and some opponents of President Bashar Al-Assad have even accused it of serving regime interests.
 
At least nine fighters from the jihadist group were also killed on Sunday, the Britain-based Observatory said.
 
Most of the non-ISIL fatalities were in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, where the fighting began on Friday.
 
Among the dead were "seven who were summarily executed by ISIL", AFP quoted the group as saying.
 
Clashes also erupted in Raqa and Hama provinces on Sunday, in a sign the fighting was spreading.
 
Scores of fighters on both sides have been killed in the past three days, the Observatory says.
 
"The rebels have made significant gains (since Friday) in the west of Aleppo province, in the north of Idlib and east of Maaret al-Numan (Idlib)," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
The Observatory also said ISIL fighters were laying down their arms and withdrawing from some areas, without elaborating.
 
The Islamic Front, the country's biggest rebel alliance, issued a strong warning to the jihadists.
 
"We fight against whoever attacks us and whoever pushes us to battle, whether they are Syrian or foreign," said the alliance grouping tens of thousands of anti-Assad rebels.
 
Meanwhile, an ISIL statement similarly warned the rebels to stop pressuring them, or they would withdraw from the front lines in Aleppo city and let in Assad's forces.
 
The Islamic Front on Sunday said it was "thankful to the foreigners who came to help us" but "we will not accept any group that claims to be a state".
 
ISIL is one of several jihadist rebel groups operating in Syria and which at one point split off from the Western-backed Syrian National Council opposition force, declaring Aleppo to be an independent Islamist state.
 
In addition to its involvement in the Syrian war, the Al-Qaeda affiliate seized the city of Fallujah in neighboring Iraq on Saturday, and claimed a suicide bomb attack in a Beirut stronghold of Hezbollah, the movement fighting alongside Assad's forces.

Britain Revokes Citizenship of Nationals Who Join Syria War

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 16:16
TerroristsBritain has been revoking the citizenship of its nationals who join the Syrian civil war, several British news outlets reported Monday.
 
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism first broke the story, reporting that Home Secretary Theresa May has revoked the citizenship at least 37 Britons since May 2010. 
 
An explicit link has not been confirmed between the rise in revocations and Britain's crackdown on its nationals fighting in the bloody conflict.
 
Media outlets have juxtaposed the two, however, leading some analysts to believe that Britain's goal is to prevent its nationals from returning home - and bringing fundamentalist Islam with them. 
 
The Bureau notes that May told members of Parliament last week, "There are people who will choose to go and fight in Syria from the UK, and not just from the UK [but] from other countries in Europe and around the rest of the world and who will then return to their country of origin, that is, where they have nationality."
 
"Obviously there are a number of options that can be taken in certain circumstances in relation to the deprivation of citizenship."
 
Britain's Home Office declined to comment on the specific reasons for the rise in citizenship revocations.
 
It did state, however, that "citizenship is a privilege, not a right, and the Home Secretary will remove British citizenship from individuals where she feels it is conducive to the public good to do so."
 
Citizenship in the UK can be revoked without notice, and can take years of legislative appeals to reverse. 
 
For now, the Home Secretary is limited to using the right to revoke citizenship on individuals with dual nationalities; she cannot make an individual "stateless."
 
The Home Office is reportedly trying to change that restriction, however. The Independent adds that May has also been attempting to amend Britain's citizenship laws further, allowing her to remove the citizenship of British nationals who have renounced their previous citizenship but are accused of acts “seriously prejudicial to the vital interests” of the UK.
 
A former senior official also reported to the outlet that there are at least 240 British nationals estimated to be currently fighting in Syria.
 
The move appears to be the latest in a series of steps Britain has undertaken to reduce its involvement in the Syrian civil war. Earlier this month, Britain and the US revoked funding for Syrian rebel groups. 
 
The foreign national problem is not a new one; British Muslims have been flocking to the war from all sectors of society. 
 
The Daily Mail reported Monday that a 19 year-old private school student may be among the latest to join the fighting, and speculates that he may have been recruited by Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS).
 
In addition, Al Qaeda officials have been suspected of reaching out specifically to British university graduates, according to that report. 
 
Britain's Muslim women have also been joining the rebel forces - marrying Islamists in the name of a global Jihad - as revealed earlier this year. 
 
Meanwhile, Lebanese news outlet The Daily Star reported Monday that another British citizen has appeared in a recent video, alleging he is from the Free Syrian Army (FSA). 
 
{youtube}vXmQPm5-vrw{/youtube}
 
While the video is one of several depicting British citizens involved in the conflict - which has mushroomed since 2011 from a regional clash to an all-out Islamic Holy War - the video sparks particular interest for investigators because of the man's regional accent, according to the Star.
 
The video has been taken as a striking illustrative example of the breadth of foreign national involvement in the conflict, as more and more Europeans have also become involved in the fighting. 

Russia: West Understands that Assad is Better than Rebels

Category: News
Created on Monday, 23 December 2013 09:10
President Bashar al-Assad AFPWestern diplomats are increasingly saying that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad keeping power is a better option for Syria than the country being ruled by Islamist rebels, Gulf News reports, citing Russia’s foreign minister.
 
“Not only in private meetings but also in public comments, the idea is occurring to some Western colleagues that ... Assad remaining in office is less of a threat for Syria than a takeover of the country by terrorists,” Sergei Lavrov was quoted as having told the RIA Novosti news agency in an interview published on Friday.
 
Russia has been Assad’s most important supporter during Syria’s civil war. It says his removal from power must not be a precondition for holding peace talks.
 
Russia has used its power as a permanent member of the Security Council to veto at least four western proposed resolutions which sought to increase pressure on the Syrian leader.
 
The last such incident was this past Thursday, when Russia blocked a U.S.-drafted resolution condemned the Syrian government's increasing military offensive on the city of Aleppo.
 
The West’s backing of Assad is likely due to the fact that the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been significantly weakened recently.
 
A new rebel group calling itself the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF) was formed last month and unites the largest Islamist rebel brigades under a single command. The Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Shams (ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front were not included in the alliance, although Islamic Front brigades have cooperated with them at times on the battlefield.
 
The group now represents Syria’s largest armed opposition grouping some tens of thousands of fighters opposed to Assad. The new group recently overran the northern headquarters and two warehouses belonging to the FSA, causing Washington to cut off non-lethal aid to the main secular military opposition in the north.
 
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius recently admitted that the that the moderate opposition to the Syrian regime was in "serious difficulty".
 
According to Gulf News, UN-Arab League Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met in Geneva with U.S. and Russian delegations to try to agree which nations should be invited to Syria peace talks in Geneva next month.
 
Brahimi later said that the Americans were “blocking” Iran’s participation in the upcoming  Geneva II peace talks.
 
The American opposition comes due to Iran's open backing of Assad. In November, an Iranian MP boasted of his country's large military presence in Syria fighting for Assad. It has also been revealed that Iran is behind its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah's involvement in the Syria war.

Again: Russia Vetoes Resolution on Syria

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 21 December 2013 17:42
UN Security CouncilIn what has become routine since the start of the Syrian civil war, Russia on Thursday night once again blocked a UN Security Council statement on Syria.
 
This time, the U.S.-drafted resolution condemned the Syrian government's increasing military offensive on the city of Aleppo, according to AFP.
 
The move heightened diplomatic tensions ahead of a key Russia-U.S.-UN meeting in Geneva on Friday on organizing an international Syria peace conference.
 
Russian diplomats refused to allow any mention in the statement of President Bashar Al-Assad's tactics, diplomats said.
 
In the face of the obstacles, the United States decided to withdraw the draft which needs the approval of all 15 Security Council members to be released.
 
A spokesman said that Washington was "very disappointed" at the Russian blocking.
 
The United States wanted the statement to express "outrage at the use of air strikes by the Syrian government, in particular the use of heavy indiscriminate weapons, including Scud missiles and 'barrel bombs,' which were dropped on Aleppo" this week.
 
The Doctors Without Borders group says at least 189 people have been killed and nearly 900 wounded in the Aleppo bombings since Sunday.
 
The statement would have expressed concern at the general "escalating level of violence in the Syrian conflict and condemned all violence by all parties," reported AFP.
 
Russia, a close ally of Assad’s, has used its power as a permanent member of the Security Council to veto at least three western proposed resolutions which sought to increase pressure on the Syrian leader.
 
Russia supplies Assad with ground-to-surface interceptor missiles as well as warplanes and helicopters and other heavy machinery meant for national self-defense.
 
"We are very disappointed that a Security Council statement expressing our collective outrage at the brutal and indiscriminant tactics employed by the Syrian regime against civilians has been blocked," said Kurtis Cooper, deputy spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, after Russia vetoed the latest resolution.
 
"These barrel bombs -- and the explosive materials contained within them -- further underscore the brutality of the Assad regime and the lengths they will go to attack and kill their own people," he added.
 
The Russian veto came hours after Moscow seemed to take a step back from its uncompromising support of Assad. Earlier Thursday, the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister criticized statements that Assad wanted to seek another term in 2014.
 
"Exchanging such rhetorical statements just makes the atmosphere heavier and does not make the situation calmer,” said Mikhail Bogdanov.
 
In response, Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister said that nobody can stop Assad from seeking re-election.

Syria: Turkey Supplied 47 Tons of Weapons to Islamist Rebels

Category: News
Created on Monday, 16 December 2013 08:55
Turkey Supplied Weapons to Islamist RebelsThe Turkish government has supplied Syrian rebel forces with more than 47 tons of weapons in the past few months it has been revealed - this despite the Islamist government strenuously denying such charges in the past.
 
According to official documents filed under UN Comtrade (the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database), Turkish arms have been flowing into Syria since June. Recent months have seen the highest volume of traffic, with almost 29 tons of weaponry transferred in September alone. 
 
After initially denying the report, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Levent Gümrükçü eventually confirmed the UN figures, admitting to Turkey's Hürriyet daily that they were based on previous records from the Turkish Statistics Institute (TÜİK),
 
The weaponry was reportedly filed as "guns without military uses" - a category which includes shotguns and hunting rifles, but excludes assault weaponry such as AK-47s, and allows states to bypass the Syrian weapons embargo. It is not clear, however, what the deliveries actually contained.
 
Turkey has been regularly accused of supplying Sunni Islamist rebels in Syria with advanced weaponry. Kurdish factions in particular have charged that the Turkish government is using Islamist militias as proxies to target Syria's emboldened Kurdish population, which recently alarmed Ankara by setting up an autonomous region which abuts the Syrian-Turkish border.
 
Other Syrian opposition forces have also alleged that the AKP government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has provided military and logistical support for Islamist brigades inside Syria, citing the free movement of Islamist fighters both to and from Turkey - sometimes even being openly bused through the border in broad daylight.

Hagel: We Still Support 'Moderate' Syrian Rebels

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 15 December 2013 08:26
A series of car bombs killed at least 16 people and wounded dozens of others.AFPUnited States Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that his country would continue to support "moderate" rebel forces in Syria, but will withhold non-lethal assistance to the rebels until it can assess who is in control of arms depots and border crossings.
 
According to AFP, Hagel told reporters that setbacks for Syria's Western-backed opposition are a "big problem" and the United States is assessing the damage.
 
"I think what has occurred here in the last couple of days is a clear reflection on how complicated and dangerous this situation is and how unpredictable it is," Hagel said at a joint press conference with Singapore's defense minister.
 
The comments came a day after the United States and Britain both announced that they have rescinded funding for Syrian rebel groups. This was done because more extreme Islamist groups took over a base run by the Western-backed groups.
 
According to AFP, a powerful rebel faction, the Islamic Front, last week seized the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Turkish border and weapons warehouses from the Free Syrian Army, which is led by General Selim Idriss.
 
A U.S. official confirmed to the news agency that the Islamic Front seized a compound near the Turkish border belonging to the Free Syrian Army, or the Supreme Military Council (SMC).
 
"Following that, SMC officials fled other compounds out of fear that they could be attacked as well," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
 
"The initial incident occurred at a single compound but there were ripple effects," the official said.
 
Some media reports claimed Idriss had fled Syria, but a spokesman said he was on a working trip to Turkey.
 
"We continue to support General Idriss and the moderate opposition," Hagel said.
 
"But this is a problem, I mean, what has occurred here, a big problem. And we're going to have to work through it and manage through it with General Idriss and the moderate opposition," he added, according to AFP.
 
Asked who was in control of the arms depots, Hagel said, "We're evaluating right now. We're assessing what has happened, where we are."
 
He said there were "very dangerous elements" in the opposition that "complicates our support" for the rebels.
 
Delivery of non-lethal assistance would be withheld "until, first of all, we can get a clear assessment of what has happened," Hagel said.
 
The West has been weary of arming the Syrian rebels because of the presence of jihadist groups among them, such as the Al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
 
Al-Nusra is one of 13 factions in the radical Islamist rebel council that announced its secession from the main opposition force and declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo. Members of the group have performed atrocities during the ongoing civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with the Assad regime.

Former Jihadi Warns of Syrian Rebels with '9/11 Ideology'

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 18:40
makeshift memorial for Boston Marathon attack victimsA French Islamist who fought as part of a jihadi rebel faction in Syria has said that foreign fighters with a "9/11 ideology" could return to the West, where they would pose a definitive security threat.
 
In an interview with the BBC the anonymous former rebel fighter told of how he had fought for an unnamed Islamist brigade, before leaving after it pledged its allegiance to Al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS), saying that he opposed the brutal methods of the group - but not necessarily its vision for Syria.
 
The interview offers an intriguing insight into the mindset, ideology and motivations of the increasingly dominant Islamist rebel movement in Syria, which has eclipsed the more secular Free Syrian Army. It also once again highlights the growing security concerns shared by most Western countries over the increasingly large number of Western-born Islamists fighting in Syria - and the prospect of there return to their countries of birth at some point in the future.
 
Western states have recently opened diplomatic channels with the largest such faction - the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF) - in a bid to gain their support for upcoming peace talks in Geneva. The move has also been seen as an attempt to drive a wedge between the non-Al Qaeda-aligned factions fighting under the banner of SIF, and Al Qaeda franchises such as Al Nusra Front and ISIS, with whom they sometimes coordinate operations, particularly in the north of the country.
 
But such efforts are fraught with risks.
 
As the unnamed fighter, who chose to hide his identity, presumably out of concerns for his safety after publicly declaring his desertion, explained to his interviewer, whilst he and other Islamists in Syria did not support the killing of "blasphemers" or even the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, "the final goal is an Islamic state".
 
"We are all Al Qaeda in the sense of ideology and mindset," he declared.
 
Illustrating his point, he explained how his unit did not view members of the Shia Islamic sect as Muslims, and viewed the conflict through the prism of a religious sectarian war.
 
Echoing sentiments made by Al Qaeda leaders, he said that the Syrian civil war is "Definitely a fight against the Shia. Shia is not a sect of Islam. The difference between Sunni and Shia are so huge that they are not related to our religion in any way."
 
Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is a member of the Alawite sect - an offshoot of Shia Islam whose adherents make up around 10% of the Syrian population. His forces are backed by pro-government Shia and Alawite militias raised from within Syria itself, as well as foreign Shia jihadis from Iraq and Lebanon - most notably Hezbollah.
 
Shia Iran has provided crucial support to the Assad regime, including sending members of its own armed forces to train and fight alongside regime troops.
 
Relating how his brigade would treat members of Syria's tiny Shia minority in the areas they controlled, the former rebel said they found it so "irritating" to hear Shia referring to themselves as "Muslims", that "in areas we controlled we would force them to stop calling themselves Muslims."
 
Neither the interviewer nor the former jihadi revealed which precise brigade he had been fighting with, but given his description and the fact that it is said to have "pledged allegiance" to ISIS it was likely to have been the Nusra Front, which did precisely that back in August of this year. Many within the Nusra Front were unhappy about the decision to effectively merge the two groups at the time, and resisted it - causing some tension between different factions within the group ever since.
 
He also revealed how many Islamists are motivated to join the conflict and were encouraged on the battlefield itself by a saying - or "Hadith" - attributed to Mohammed, the founder of Islam, in which he declared that "if Islam in the Greater Syria region is corrupted, there will not be any correct Islam anywhere in the world."
 
The fact that such fundamentalist religious sentiments are shared by Al Qaeda-linked and independent Islamist rebel groups alike illustrates just how easy the ideological journey into the fold of Al Qaeda would be for many foreign fighters - a trend he claimed is on the increase.
 
And crucially - despite saying that he himself did not share such beliefs - he warned that "the same people with the same 9/11 ideology" existed among the large contingent of European Muslim extremists currently fighting in Syria. Alarmingly, he claimed that "Europeans" were the third-largest group of foreign jihadis in Syria, after "the Saudis and Chechens".
 
"Yes, I think they would be a danger to the West," he said, "I wouldn't want them to go back."

Hamas Announces Renewed Ties with Iran

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 10 December 2013 12:09
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei illustration - ReutersHamas has "resumed" relations with Iran after a temporary falling out over the Syrian conflict, according to AFP.
 
"Relations between Hamas and Iran have resumed," senior official Mahmud al-Zahar told reporters at a Monday news conference in Gaza. 
 
Ties had been "affected by the Syria situation, and Hamas has withdrawn from Syria so that it can't be identified with this or that side," he said. "We've confirmed we are not interfering in the Syrian case, or in any other Arab country."
 
Shia Iran had long supported the Sunni Hamas against Israel, which is viewed as a common enemy. But exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal left his base in Damascus after the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, criticizing President Bashar al-Assad, a key ally of Iran, and moving to the Sunni Gulf state of Qatar.
 
But the Hamas leader made remarks in October of this year supporting the Assad regime and calling for an end in sectarian fighting at a Jerusalem conference. The move was subsequently slammed by powerful rebel group Army of Islam, who denounced Hamas's ties with the Assad ally and claimed that they were trying to restore funding to Gaza by exploiting their position on the conflict. 
 
Media reports indicate that the constant switching of sides has led to a huge decrease in Hamas's funding - especially from Iran. 
 
But Zahar denied there had been a complete severing of ties. "Our relations with Iran were not cut, and we don't wish to cut ties with any Arab countries either, even those that are fighting against us," he said. The latter reference was to Egypt, which has taken a hard line against the Islamist group since the military overthrow of president Mohammed Morsi in July.
 
Hamas is an affiliate of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which has been the target of a massive crackdown in Egypt in recent months that has seen hundreds of Morsi supporters killed and more than 2,000 arrested.
 
Zahar said there was still cooperation with Egypt on getting supplies, including fuel, into the Gaza Strip, but "there is no political contact, because the current (Egyptian) regime is against it."
 
Since July, Egypt's military has destroyed hundreds of tunnels used to bring crucial supplies, including fuel, into the blockaded Strip. It has also launched efforts to stop terror tunnels into Egypt and Israel and battled terror factions in the Sinai desert, angering Gaza officials. 
 
Having initially spoken out against Egypt's new military regime, Hamas has sought to avoid a further deterioration in relations with Cairo.

Powerful Explosion Heard in Golan Heights

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 07 December 2013 10:23
Golan Heights - Powerful Explosion ArchiveA powerful explosion was heard on Friday evening in the Golan Heights, near an IDF vehicle that was on routine patrol along the Syrian-Israeli border, near the slopes of Mount Hermon.
 
No one was injured as a result of the explosion, but damage was caused to the rear window of the military vehicle.
 
The explosion was so powerful that it was heard for kilometers away, and many forces were called to the scene to investigate. It is believed that the explosion was caused either by an explosive device, a mine that was swept away in the winds and the rain, or an explosion from the Syrian side of the border relating to the civil war in that country.
 
The army is expected to continue the investigation in daylight.
 
If the explosion is related to the Syrian civil war, it will not be the first time that the country’s civil war has spilled over into Israel.
 
On Monday, IDF forces on the Golan Heights near the Syria border were shot at from a Syrian army outpost. The IDF returned fire and identified a direct hit on a Syrian soldier. No IDF soldiers were injured.
 
The clash followed a mortar shell fired into Israel from Syria earlier in the day. The shell landed 50 meters (160 feet) from a house in the Israeli Druze town of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights and caused no injuries or damage.
 
In October, two Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded by cross-border fire in the Golan Heights, along the border with Syria.
 
Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor has sent a letter of complaint to the Security Council denouncing a series of Syrian violations of the 1974 ceasefire agreement between the two countries. 
 
In one such incident, gunfire from the Syrian side of the border hit close to an IDF patrol in the northern Golan Heights. There were no injuries or damage.

Syrian Rebels Capture Christian Town, Kidnap Nuns

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 03 December 2013 16:45
Syrian RebelsSyrian rebels, including jihadist groups, captured the historic Christian town of Maalula north of Damascus on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP.
 
Rebels assaulted the town by rolling explosive-filled tires down the hills onto regime forces and were able to reach the city center after three days of intense fighting, with clashes still raging in the surrounding areas, reported the organization. The town is considered a symbol of the ancient Christian presence in Syria.
 
The fighting came as the regime has been battling to gain control of a string of nearby towns and villages along the strategic Damascus-Homs highway north of the capital.
 
The Observatory told AFP that several groups, including the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, had taken part in the capture of the town.
 
The rebels abducted 12 Syrian and Lebanese Orthodox nuns from their convent after moving into the town, Vatican Radio reported.
 
Syrian state news agency SANA had earlier said the rebels had entered the Mar Takla convent, in the middle of the city, which had previously been controlled by the army.
 
The convent is home to some 40 nuns and orphans, some of the few residents of the town who remained after rebels first entered in September, prompting fierce fighting with the army.
 
Jihadist rebel groups have carried out atrocities throughout the civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest in Idlib in July. The priest was executed because he was accused of collaborating with President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
 
In Aleppo, several Islamist groups split off from the Western-backed Syrian National Council and declared the region to be an independent Islamist state. The jihadists in Aleppo have set up a court based on Sharia (Islamic law) which is authorized to issue execution orders for serious offenses.
 
Rebels, however, are not the only ones to have carried out atrocities. Assad’s troops have also carried out war crimes and on Monday, for the first time, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that these war crimes were authorized "at the highest level," including by Assad himself.
 
It is the first time Navi Pillay has directly accused Assad of crimes against humanity, and could pave the way to an international prosecution - although with western states and Russia pinning their hopes on an upcoming "peace conference" in Geneva, that seems an unlikely prospect.
 
Pillay made the statements based on the findings of a special inquiry into abuses by both sides in the Syrian civil war, and added that "the scale and viciousness of the abuses being perpetrated by elements on both sides almost defies belief."

Syria Jihadists Execute Members of Rival Faction

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 01 December 2013 08:52
Jihadists Behead the Wrong ManIn the latest atrocity of the Syrian civil war, Reuters reports that Al-Qaeda-linked rebels have executed the commander of a rival rebel faction and six of his men.
 
An amateur video of the public execution was posted online, the news agency reported.
 
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a jihadist group fighting to overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad, has taken advantage of a power vacuum in rebel-held areas to assert its authority over more moderate elements of the armed opposition.
 
The video, posted online by the anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group on Wednesday, shows armed men in black standing below an ISIL banner.
 
The Observatory said the video was taken in the northern Syrian town of Atarib in Idlib province. Its authenticity could not be independently confirmed.
 
A masked man on the video identifies seven men kneeling as members of the Ghurabaa al-Sham brigade, a moderate Islamist group that was one of the first to fight Assad. A man who appeared to be the group’s commander, Hassan Jazera, was among them.
 
“Hassan Jazera is the most corrupt and the biggest thief,” said the man. He spoke into a microphone to a crowd of men, some of whom used their mobile phones to film the killing.
 
The man, reading from a piece of paper, said Jazera’s men were also charged with kidnapping and had been tried in a religious court run by ISIL. They were then shot in the head.
 
Jazera and his men were arrested by ISIL a month ago, the UK-based Observatory said, according to Reuters.
 
The rebels have long ago split into rival factions and have begun fighting one another, essentially creating a second civil war in Syria.
 
In Aleppo, several Islamist groups split off from the Western-backed Syrian National Council declared the region to be an independent Islamist state.
 
The jihadists in Aleppo have set up a court based on Sharia (Islamic law) which is authorized to issue execution orders for serious offenses.
 
These executions, usually carried out by beheading those convicted, are a regular occurrence and an example of atrocities carried out by the rebels.
 
Several weeks ago, jihadist rebels had to ask for "understanding and forgiveness" after they beheaded the wrong man.
 
The rebels published a video showing the head of a man they said was part of a Shiite militia fighting for Assad. As it turned out the head belonged to a member of another jihadist rebel group.
 
Several months ago, a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with Assad’s regime was publicly beheaded, with the execution filmed and posted to the Internet for all to see.
 
Some of the Islamist groups have attempted to soften their image in an attempt to win hearts and minds - holding stand up comedy shows and handing out toys to local children.
 
A British think-tank said this week that more than 11,000 children have died in Syria's civil war, including 128 killed by chemical weapons.
 
In addition to clashes between rebels, there have also been numerous clashes between Arab rebel groups and Kurdish militias in the northern part of Syria - essentially a third civil war.

American Jihadist in Syria: Entire World Will Be Muslim

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 27 November 2013 05:59
Western jihadests - ReutersA US citizen, who joined the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) in Syria, has sent a video message to the West expressing his desire to wage total war against the "infidels" and impose Islamic rule over the entire world. 
{youtube}8DK955ulD5c{/youtube}
The video features "the American Abu-Dj'ana," brandishing a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a bayonet, who says the following:
"This is a message to people in the West from the Mujahideen (lit. "holy warriors") in Syria. We came here from different countries to protect this land, this Islamic land; to spread the Law of Allah on earth; and to dedicate our lives for Jihad in order so that we can get to heaven."
 
"We are coming to kill all the infidels in the West and beyond to spread Allah's law (Sharia) and the book of Allah (Koran) and to raise them to the highest level," he continues. 
 
"We came to kill anyone that stands in our way. The flag that says that 'there is no God but Allah' will be raised over Parliament Buildings and in capital cities around the world [. . .] with these simple weapons we will liberate this country and this people and  bring Islamic law to control all the world - Europe, U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Asia and Africa. "
 
Western states have grown increasingly worried over the influx of foreign fighters - many of them from Europe and North America - to take part in the Syrian civil war. Although many of them are fighting with non-Al Qaeda-aligned groups, a growing number are joining the ranks of its affiliates such as ISIS and the Nusra Front. Western intelligence officials worry about "the day after", when those battle-hardened Islamists return to their home countries, posing a real security threat there.
 
Videos like these, showcasing Western-born Islamists fighting for Al Qaeda in Syria, are still rare, but have become increasingly common as ISIS and the Nusra Front seek to bolster their presence and encourage new recruits, in the face of mounting losses both against government forces and Kurdish militias in northern Syria.
 
Over 11,000 children alone have been killed in the bloody conflict, which has raged in the region since 2011. Foreign nationals have been pouring into Syria to engage in the Civil War, which has mushroomed from a national conflict into an all-out holy war between various Islamic factions. Even among the rebels, there has been a marked lack of unity, with Al Qaeda groups like this one dividing the rebel camps, as some rebels focus more on domestic issues and less on a global Jihad campaign. 

Syrian Jihadists Behead the Wrong Man, then Apologize

Category: Islam
Created on Friday, 15 November 2013 11:37
Jihadists Behead the Wrong ManJihadist rebels in Syria had to ask for "understanding and forgiveness" after they beheaded the wrong man, the British Telegraph reports.
 
In a public appearance filmed and posted online, members of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), one brandishing a knife, held up a bearded head before a crowd in Aleppo.
 
The jihadists triumphantly described the execution of what they said was a member of an Iraqi Shiite militia fighting for President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
As it turned out, reported the Telegraph, the head belonged to a member of Ahrar al-Sham, which is a Sunni jihadist rebel group that often fights alongside ISIS, though it does not share its Al-Qaeda ideology.
 
After inquiries, an ISIS spokesman admitted the beheaded man was Mohammed Fares, an Ahrar commander reported missing some days ago.
 
The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, an organization which monitors deaths in the Syrian conflict, said that ISIS rebels misunderstood comments Fares had made, resulting in his beheading.
 
Other reports indicate that in the fog of battle, Fares - who was wounded in fighting around Aleppo - thought he had been captured by a Shia militia, and offered up Shia prayers in an attempt to hide his Sunni identity. Sunni Islamist fighters overheard his prayers, assumed he was a Shia, and beheaded him.
 
The incident underlines not only the cruelty of the jihadist rebels, but also the deep divisions between the jihadist rebels and the Western-backed more moderate rebels.
 
Nearly a year ago, several Islamist groups split off from the Western-backed Syrian National Council opposition force and declared Aleppo to be an independent Islamist state.
 
The jihadists in Aleppo have set up a court based on Sharia (Islamic law) which is authorized to issue execution orders for serious offenses.
 
Beheading those who are deemed to be “collaborating” with the Assad regime is a regular occurrence and an example of atrocities carried out by the rebels. Several months ago, a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with Assad’s regime was publicly beheaded, with the execution filmed and posted to the Internet for all to see.
 
Some of the Islamist groups have attempted to soften their image in an attempt to win hearts and minds - holding stand up comedy shows and handing out toys to local children.
 
A second civil war has begun in war-ravaged Syria as the more moderate rebel groups and the Islamist extremist groups are also fighting each other, in addition to fighting Assad’s troops. There have also been numerous clashes between Arab rebel groups and Kurdish militias in the north of the country. 

Massive Explosion at Syria Missile Site, Israel Blamed

Category: News
Created on Friday, 01 November 2013 10:45
Massive Explosion at Syria Missile SiteThere was a massive explosion early Thursday morning at an aerial defense base near the city of Latakia in northeastern Syria, Walla reports, based on reports from the Syrian opposition.
 
Opposition sources said the base, which held anti-aircraft missiles, was destroyed in the blast.
 
Sources in Syria and Lebanon blamed Israel for the strike. However, they offered alternate versions of events: while Syrian sources said the base was hit by a strike from at sea, Lebanese media outlets reported that Israeli planes were seen in the area before the blast.
 
Israel was widely assumed to be responsible for two airstrikes targeting Syrian weapons in May 2013.
 
An Israeli source confirmed that Israel bombed a shipment of “game changing” weapons headed for Hezbollah in early May. Israel was later accused of bombing the Jamraya research center in Damascus as well.
 
Israeli also implicitly confirmed it was behind an air strike in Syria in late January that targeted surface-to-air missiles and a military compound believed to house chemical agents.

Assad: Western Backing of Rebels Must Stop

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 31 October 2013 11:04
President Bashar al-Assad AFPForeign support for Syrian rebels must stop for peace to take place in the war-battered country, President Bashar Al-Assad told visiting UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Wednesday, according to Al Arabiya.
 
“The success of any political solution is tied to stopping support for terrorist groups and pressuring their patron states,” Syrian state television quoted Assad as saying.
 
“Terrorists” is the term used by the Assad regime to describe the rebels trying to oust him.
 
Ahead of a planned peace conference in Geneva, Assad also told Brahimi that a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis cannot be dictated by foreign powers.
 
“The Syrian people are the only ones who have the right to decide on Syria's future, and any solution or agreement must have the acceptance of the Syrian people, and reflect their desires,” Assad said.
 
Assad warned there must not be “any foreign intervention” in seeking a solution to Syria's civil war, in which an estimated 115,000 people have died in 31 months according to AFP.
 
Brahimi seemed to agree with Assad, saying, “The efforts being made for the Geneva conference to be held are focused on finding the way for the Syrians themselves to meet and to agree on solving the crisis as quickly as possible.”
 
Wednesday’s gathering is the first direct talks between the two men since December when Brahimi angered the Syrian ruling family by saying that it has been leading the country for too long.
 
Brahimi’s meeting with Assad comes as part of a regional tour aimed at bringing together the Syrian government and opposition parties on the same table during Geneva II.
 
Opposition and rebel groups have so far refused to take part in the Geneva II unless Assad agrees to leave power.
 
The Geneva II peace conference, backed by Russia and the United States, has been constantly postponed due to disputes over which parties and countries, including Iran, should participate.
 
Last week there were conflicting reports on whether a date had finally been set for the long-delayed conference.
 
Arab League chief Nabil el-Araby said that Brahimi informed him that the talks will convene on November 23. Brahimi, however, denied that any date has been set.
 
The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition is to meet on November 9 to decide whether to take part in the peace talks but has stated emphatically it will only attend if there are guarantees Assad will step down.
 
In recent weeks, dozens of major insurgent groups across Syria said the Western-backed umbrella group had "failed."
 
The Syrian National Council, a key group within the SNC, had said it would not attend proposed peace talks in Geneva and would quit the Coalition if it participated.
 
This group was later followed by nearly 70 rebels groups which declared that the SNC had failed and announced they no longer recognize the Western-backed group.
 
This week, 19 Islamist groups fighting to topple Assad declared that attending peace talks or negotiating with the regime would be an act of betrayal.
 
Assad has refused to step down and has even declared that he is not ruling out running for another term.

Experts Warn of Al Qaeda Biological Weapons Threat

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 19 October 2013 10:59
Chemical Weapons
 
As international attention in Syria focuses on efforts to dismantle the Assad regime's chemical weapons stockpile, British experts are warning of another, potentially more lethal threat.
 
Experts from the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) have issued a stark warning over what they say is the "clear and present danger" of Al Qaeda gaining possession of the Assad regime's stockpile of biological weapons, claiming to have substantial evidence that Al Qaeda-linked groups may already have possession of toxic agents.
 
Unlike chemical weapons, which utilize chemical agents to poison victims, biological weapons make use of diseases, toxins and other contagious agents. Biological weapons have the potential to kill far greater numbers, and are also far harder to detect or protect against.
 
Both are banned under international treaties, but the Syrian government possesses active programs in both fields. However, whilst the use of chemical weapons during the Syrian civil war has been seen on numerous occasions - most notably, but by no means exclusively, during the August 21 attack which killed more than 1,000 people in a number of Damascus suburbs - biological weapons have not been used by either side.
 
That is likely because bioweapons are notoriously difficult to control or contain.
 
But the HJS report, released on Tuesday, says that jihadists in Syria are actively seeking to gain control of the regime's biological weapons' stockpile and, chillingly, suggests they may already have done so.
 
The report claims that the Assad regime is losing control of its bioweapons arsenal, in part because it was never centrally-controlled in the way the country's chemical weapons stockpile has been.
 
"Unlike chemical weapons, maintained in military designated stockpiles which are generally identifiable and which Assad maintains command and control over, the structure of Syria's biological warfare programs are latent, compartmentalized and spread across its remaining bio-pharmaceutical infrastructure. The programs are designed to be highly agile to allow swift production if required."
 
Worryingly, the report suggests that the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front may already have possession of "biological pathogens or weaponized agents either of which would pose a threat to the international community."
 
It points to the widespread looting of bio-pharmasuitical laboratories throughout the country, and cites a "credible eyewitness" as claiming to have personally witnessed "a looted pharmaceutical laboratory," near Aleppo, where Syria's biological weapons program is concentrated, "which was probably a cover for a biological weapons production site."
 
The fact that a Malaysian Al Qaeda operative named as Yazid Sufaat, identified as "Al Qaeda's primary biological weapon expert", was arrested in February as he attempted to enter Syria, was said to indicate the clear interest that the group has in developing such a program in the country.
 
Other Al Qaeda branches, most notably in Yemen and North Africa, have previously attempted to obtain such weapons, and the group's founder, Osama Bin Laden, had expressed an interest in them prior to the infamous 9/11 attacks.
 
While the report does not cite any clear and definitive evidence of Al Qaeda physically possessing biological agents, the circumstantial evidence paints a fairly alarming picture.
 
On the other hand, analysts will find some solace in the fact that neither Al Qaeda nor any other terrorist group has successfully manufactured and deployed biological weapons to lethal effect.
 
But HJS's Associate Fellow Dr Bellamy van Aalst, a former EU and NATO bio-defence consultant, warned against complacency, in light of the relative availability of already-weaponized and readily-deployable biological weapons in Syria.
 
“Establishing the extent to which Assad may have developed biological WMDs is extremely difficult, given that their production is indistinguishable from benign biological lab processes.
 
“But this is certainly a risk to which we should not turn a blind eye. If Assad has been developing biological weapons, as the evidence suggests, and if those weapons fall into the hands of extremists, global health security could be in grave danger.”

Rebels Kill Top Syrian Intelligence Officer

Category: News
Created on Friday, 18 October 2013 08:13
Major General Jamaa JamaaSyrian rebels have killed a top intelligence officer in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, Syrian state media said on Thursday, according to AFP.
 
"Major General Jamaa Jamaa was martyred while carrying out his national duties to defend Syria and its people and pursuing terrorists in Deir Ezzor," state television said in a breaking news alert.
 
Jamaa was head of military intelligence in the province, where the regime has been battling armed opposition fighters seeking to overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
State media gave no immediate details on where in the province Jamaa was killed or how, but jihadist forums said he died during clashes with jihadist fighters in the city of Deir Ezzor.
 
Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights NGO, said initial reports suggested Jamaa had been shot by a sniper in the Rashdiya district of Deir Ezzor city, but there was no confirmation.
 
The group also reported fierce fighting between regime troops and rebels in several parts of the province, including the city, which is the largest in eastern Syria.
 
Jamaa was one of Syria's top security officers in Lebanon during Damascus's military deployment in the country between 1976 and 2005.
 
He was interrogated over the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri though he was not charged in connection with his death.
 
In 2006, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it was blacklisting him and another Syrian general for their role in supporting "terrorist groups" and over the presence in Lebanon.
 
He is believed to be from Jableh, a town in coastal Latakia province, a stronghold of the Syrian regime.
 
On Wednesday, Syrian rebels assaulted the regime-controlled central prison in the main northern city of Aleppo.
 
Abdel Rahman said the assault was carried out primarily by rebels from the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front and from another Islamist faction, Ahrar Al-Sham.
 
As the fighting in Syria continues, Assad’s forces have also recorded some victories, having retaken a key town to the south of the capital Damascus earlier this week.
 
The Syrian army seized control of the town of Bweida with the help of foreign fighters from Iraq and Lebanon.
 
The push appears to be part of a concerted effort by regime forces to dislodge rebels from areas of Damascus under their control.

Lebanese Army Diffuses Car Bomb in Hezbollah Stronghold

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 15 October 2013 12:14
Car Bomb in Hezbollah StrongholdThe Lebanese army claims to have thwarted another car bomb attack on a Hezbollah-dominated neighborhood in Beirut on Monday.
 
Bomb disposal experts were summoned after a "suspicious" vehicle was seen in the Maamura area of the capital's southern suburbs.
 
Upon closer inspection the vehicle turned out to be "rigged with explosives," according to an army source, and it became clear that a bombing attack against the Iranian-backed group and its supporters had been narrowly averted.
 
Fighters from both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide in Lebanon have been streaming across the border to fight on opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, threatening the already tense status-quo between different sectarian groups inside Lebanon itself. 
 
Sunni radicals have targeted the Shia terrorist group numerous times over the past year, after it was revealed that Hezbollah was sending fighters to back embattled Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad against the primarily Sunni rebel movement. 
 
Hezbollah has been accused of participating in the slaughter of Syrian civilians, as well as other war crimes. In a recently released video, Hezbollah fighters are seen executing unarmed prisoners after dragging them from a van.
 
At least 20 people were killed on August 15 by a large explosion in the Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut. A month earlier, over 50 people were wounded when a car bomb exploded in the same area.
 
On August 23, more than 45 people were killed after twin car bombs exploded outside Sunni mosques in the Lebanese city of Tripoli.
 
The increased pressure on Hezbollah is seen as a key reason in the group's recent decision to withdraw more than one thousand of its fighters from Syria.
 
The increasingly sectarian civil war in neighboring Syria has threatened the already tense status-quo between different sectarian groups in Lebanon.

'Terror Tunnel' Discovered - This Time in Damascus

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 15 October 2013 08:30
Syrian rebels of shoulder-launched missile systems including the U.S.-made Stingers. AFP
 
Syrian regime forces operating in the suburbs of the capital Damascus on Monday made a startling discovery: a "terror tunnel" along the lines of the one recently discovered by Israeli security forces along the perimeter with Hamas-controlled Gaza, leading all the way to neighboring Deraa.
 
Rebel forces had apparently been using the tunnel to shuttle men and equipment between the southeastern suburb of Damascus to the flashpoint city of Deraa, which has strategic significance due to its close proximity to the Al-Mazza military airport.
 
The tunnel was approximately 10 meters deep, 250-300 meters long and was equipped with lighting and openings for ventilation.
 
The discovery of the tunnel comes just days after a similar, though somewhat more sophisticated tunnel was discovered by Israeli security forces leading from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip towards neighboring Israeli communities. Security sources have speculated that the tunnel could have been used to carry out attacks against Israeli soldiers or civilians.
 
Since the start of the uprising against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the Hamas movement - once close to Damascus - quickly shifted its allegiance to back the rebels, prompting the Syrian government to expel the movement from its Damascus headquarters.
 
Hamas has since attempted to keep a low profile on the conflict, seeking to avoid clashing with either of its major patrons - Qatar, which supports the rebels, and Iran, which supports the regime. However, reports soon surfaced of Hamas fighters training rebel fighters in urban warfare, including the use of tunnels to launch attacks and move equipment, a tactic which the group has carefully honed over years of conflict with Israel.
 
Though the use of tunnels in asymmetrical warfare is nothing new, in light of the above - as well as the fact that the skills necessary for such an operation would require significant training from somewhere - means that the similarities between the two cases may be more than a coincidence.
 
The fact that Hamas' own tactics - once sponsored by the Assad regime as a means to murder Israeli civilians - are now being utilized in the battle to oust its former ally, bears testament to the unpredictable nature of the Middle East's patchwork of competing and ever-changing alliances.  
 
Though the use of tunnels in asymmetrical warfare is nothing new, the similarities between the two cases may be more than a coincidence.

Palestinians in Syria 'Eating Cats and Dogs'

Category: News
Created on Monday, 14 October 2013 11:01
CatIn his Friday sermon, an imam at the Palestinian Al-Yarmouk camp south of Damascus gave local residents permission to eat dead cats and dogs. The camp has been under siege for three months, the humanitarian situation there has severely deteriorated and the supply of food has not been steady, reports Shalom Toronto.
 
Palestinians in Syria are, generally speaking, loyal to Bashar al-Assad's regime, but gunmen from the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) entered the strategically located Yarmouk camp in large numbers, prompting the Syrian army to attack the camp.
 
The Syrian army, reinforced by Shiite forces from Iraq – the Abu Fadel Abbas militia – and Hizbullah forces from Lebanon, recently launched a massive attack on the rural areas south and east of Damascus in an attempt to clenase them of rebel forces.
 
South of Damascus, the Syrian effort is directed mainly at Ma'adamia al-Sham, which is located next to an air force base, and toward communities located along the highway that leads to the city of Al-Saida Zainab, which is sacred to the Shiites and where Shiite forces from Iraq and Lebanon are stationed.
 
Syrian television reported advances on both fronts. At Ma'adamia al-Sham, the civilians were evacuated with the aid of the Red Crescent. On the eastern front, several villages were reportedly captured.
 
Gil Ronen contributed to this report.

Syria: 50 Killed as Rebels Fight Each Other

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 12 October 2013 20:44
RebelesAlmost 50 rebel fighters have been killed in three days of skirmishes between jihadists and mainstream rebels in the Syrian city of Aleppo, reports Al Arabiya.
 
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday that the violence began on Thursday between members of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and a battalion linked to the Arab and Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), both of which are fighting to overthrow Syria’s embattled President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
“At least 30 fighters from the Ababil Brigade and 14 from ISIL have been killed in combat, and that toll could rise further,” the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman said, according to AFP.
 
Rahman said that fighting broke out in several district of the city, with ISIL making gains in several areas.
 
Since July last year, Aleppo’s east district has been held by the rebels, and the west has been held by forces loyal to Assad.
 
The 13-member Islamic Front for the Liberation of Syria, which split off from the Syrian National Council opposition force, declared the northern commercial hub city of Aleppo to be an independent Islamist state months ago.
 
Since that time, a second civil war has begun in war-ravaged Syria, between the more moderate rebel groups and the Islamist extremist groups.
 
Members of Al-Nusra and other Syrian rebels groups have committed atrocities during the Syrian civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
 
Some of the Islamist groups have attempted to soften their image in an attempt to win hearts and minds - holding stand up comedy shows and handing out toys to local children.

Cracks Continue to Appear in Syrian Opposition

Category: News
Created on Friday, 27 September 2013 06:01
Members of the Al-Baraa bin Malek batallion - AFPThe already fractious Syrian rebel movement has seen a widening gulf emerge between rebel battalions on the ground inside Syria, and the mainly foreign-based "political" opposition.
 
On Tuesday, Syria's 13 most powerful Islamist rebel battalions signed a joint declaration rejecting the Syrian National Coalition, which has received much international diplomatic recognition, but which stands accused of irrelevancy by Syrian rebels in conflict zone itself.
 
"The National Coalition and the proposed government under (recently chosen) Ahmad Tomeh does not represent us, nor do we recognize it," said the statement according to The Telegraph, written on behalf of armed Islamist factions ranging from the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front to independent and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups.
 
Reflecting the Islamist character of the battalions it represented, the declaration went on to call for the implementation of "Sharia" (Islamic law) in Syria, as well as a move towards "national unity" and away from factional infighting.
 
Its timing is significant, coming as internecine fighting between rebel groups in Syria continues to escalate beyond the pre-existing tensions between Arab and Kurdish groups, and radical Islamists and more secular battalions.
 
"Sex jihad"
 
It also comes as Islamist rebels face potentially damaging accusations of sex trafficking, which have already harmed their standing in certain Arab states.
 
Tunisia in particular has seen a large number of its citizens travel to engage in fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. But in recent months Tunisian authorities have also raised the alarm over a phenomenon that jihadi rebels are referring to as "sex jihad," whereby Muslim women are encouraged to travel to Syria in order to "satisfy" Islamist rebels on the battlefield. 
 
Women claiming to have been to Syria for that purpose have been interviewed by a number of Arabic-language media outlets, and often return pregnant and infected with sexually-transmitted viruses. Syria's Interior Minister recently lashed out at Islamist groups accused of recruiting young men and women in Tunisia, in a televised statement to the Tunisian parliament.
 
A joint statement of this kind will be seen as an attempt to present a coherent and united alternative to the sidelined "political" opposition, as a means of shoring up the rebel movement's base of support abroad.

Arab-Israeli Killed in Syria Fought with Jihadists

Category: News
Created on Friday, 20 September 2013 08:33
Islamic Jihad terrorists ReutersThe family of an Arab-Israeli confirmed on Wednesday that their relative has died while fighting in the Syrian civil war, AFP reported.
 
According to the family, 28-year-old Muayyed Zaki Jumaa Ighbariya was fighting on the side of the Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group Al-Nusra Front.
 
Ighbariya left his village near the Arab-Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm in the north of the Jewish state and crossed into Syria via Turkey about a month ago, a relative who requested anonymity told AFP.
 
Ighbariya's family said prayers for him on Wednesday morning, having learned of his death the day before, the relatives said, though they did not specify how they had received the news.
 
Ighbariya is thought to be the first Arab-Israeli killed in the Syrian conflict, but Israeli police told AFP they had arrested three other Arab citizens who went to fight against President Bashar Al-Assad's forces for "leaving the country illegally and travelling to a hostile state.”
 
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the three men had also joined the Al-Nusra Front, which has been blacklisted by the United States as a terrorist organization.
 
Two of them were sentenced in August to 19 months in prison each, reported AFP.
 
Members of Al-Nusra and other rebel groups have committed atrocities during the Syrian civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
 
Al-Nusra was once was the largest faction in the Islamist Front for the Liberation of Syria (ISIS), the 13-member rebel coalition that broke away from the main opposition force and has declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo.
 
This week, Al-Nusra said that its fighters killed dozens of Alawites, the community to which Assad belongs.
 
The group said the attacks on the Alawites were revenge for the chemical attack near Damascus on August 21. Al-Nusra previously vowed revenge strikes against villages from the Alawite community over the chemical weapons attack.

Syria Hands Russia 'Proof' of Rebel Chemical Weapons Use

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 19 September 2013 09:11
Chemical WeaponsA Russian official has claimed to have received evidence of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian rebels, and dismissed a UN report suggesting the Syrian regime used poison gas as unreliable.
 
Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also slammed a UN report on an August 21 chemical weapons attack in the Syrian capital Damascus, which killed over 1,000 people, as "politicized and one-sided." The report - which concluded that Sarin gas had been used in the attack on a rebel-held Damascus suburb - did not explicitly apportion blame for the attack, but western leaders claimed it was proof that the Assad regime was indeed behind the deadly attack.
 
But Ryabov rejected the report's reliability, saying that inspectors only examined evidence of the August 21 attack, and ignored three previous incidents of alleged chemical weapons use.
 
He also claimed to have been handed evidence by the Syrian government which pointed to the use of chemical weapons by rebel forces.
 
His comments came following a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem in Damascus.
 
Russia is a key ally of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, providing material support to his forces on the ground, as well as diplomatic support in the arena of international politics. Most notably, Russia holds a veto-position on the UN Security Council, and - along with fellow veto-wielding power China - has staunchly opposed any international intervention in Syria.
 
The Russian government has long voiced its skepticism over allegations of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime - although Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently brokered a deal whereby the regime would hand over its chemical weapons stockpile to international observers, in order to fend off threat of military intervention by western forces.
 
The Syrian government for its part has consistently denied its involvement in such attacks, and regularly issues counter-claims suggesting the use of chemical weapons by rebel battalions. By publicly lending its support to such counter-claims, the Russian government is signalling its continued and unreserved support for the Assad regime.

Syrian Jihadists: We Killed Dozens of Alawites

Category: News
Created on Monday, 16 September 2013 12:21
Syrian supporters of the Al-Nusra groupAl-Nusra Front, the jihadist Syrian rebel group that has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda, said on Sunday that its fighters attacked three villages in Syria's Homs province and killed dozens of Alawites five days earlier.
 
“The people's wall of fear has been broken, as this was the first time these villages were entered and such a high number was killed,” the group said in a statement published on a jihadist forum and quoted by the AFP news agency.
 
Al-Nusra said its fighters entered the villages of Massudiyeh, Maksar al-Hissan and Jab al-Jerah on Tuesday and killed 30 members of the Alawite community, to which President Bashar Al-Assad's clan belongs.
 
The statement said Al-Nusra members were urged by an Islamic jurist “to kill the Nusairis, enemies of God”, using a pejorative term for Alawites.
 
The attack was “in revenge for the killing in cold blood of Muslims and their women in Eastern Ghouta” near Damascus, where the opposition claims 1,400 people were killed in a chemical weapons attack on August 21.
 
The statement comes just several weeks after Al-Nusra vowed revenge strikes against villages from the Alawite community over the chemical weapons attack.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported this week on the attack, saying that 12 civilians were killed, before updating its toll on Sunday to 22 civilians killed in Maksar al-Hissan.
 
It said among them were 16 Alawites, including four above the age of 80 and four children aged between nine and 12, reported AFP.
 
The watchdog said five soldiers loyal to Assad were also killed.
 
The region, mostly home to Alawites and Bedouins, has been largely free of fighting over the past year.
 
Other areas of Homs province have seen some of the fiercest fighting in Syria's 30-month war.
 
Members of Al-Nusra and other rebel groups have committed atrocities during the Syrian civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
 
Al-Nusra was once was the largest faction in the Islamist Front for the Liberation of Syria (ISIS), the 13-member rebel coalition that broke away from the main opposition force and has declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo.

Assad: Striking Syria Could Lead to a Regional War

Category: News
Created on Monday, 02 September 2013 18:01
Assad
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad challenged the United States and France on Monday to produce proof that his regime attacked civilians with poison gas, warning in an interview that any military strikes against Syria would risk triggering a regional war.
 
"The Middle East is a powder keg, and today the flame is coming very near. We cannot talk merely about the Syrian response, but about what might take place after the first strike. But nobody knows what will happen. Everyone will lose control of the situation when the powder keg explodes. Chaos and extremism will spread. There is a risk of regional war," Assad told the French newspaper Le Figaro.
 
He dismissed the findings from both the United States and France, which have both said they have proof that his regime was behind an August 21 chemical attack near Damascus, which the U.S. said killed more than 1,400 people.
 
"It is for those who are making the accusations to provide the proof. We have challenged the United States and France to put forward a single proof. Obama and Hollande have been unable to do so, even to their own people,” said Assad.
 
“I'm not at all suggesting that the Syrian army does or does not possess such weapons. Let's suppose that our army wishes to use WMD: is it really going to do so in an area where it is actually present and where soldiers have been wounded by these weapons, as the UN inspectors found during their visit to the hospital where they were being treated? Where is the logic in that?" he said.
 
On Monday, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault shared intelligence with lawmakers which he said proves the chemical attack on 21 August came from government forces.
 
The dossier shared with the French parliament reportedly includes satellite images showing a large offensive on the Damascus neighborhood of Ghouta coming from government controlled areas to the east and west of the area held by rebel forces.
 
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the administration had new evidence that sarin gas was used in the chemical attack.
 
"We know that the regime ordered this attack," he said. "We know they prepared for it. We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed. We know the damage that was done afterwards."
 
There has been pressure on President Barack Obama to respond to the chemical attack by striking in Syria.
 
The United States has delayed its military strike on Syria for now, with Obama announcing on Saturday that he plans to wait for Congress' approval before deciding whether to intervene in Syria.

Syrian Intervention Could Begin 'Within a Week'

Category: Reports
Created on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 09:31
The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Montpelier
British and American naval vessels are currently preparing for military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, following an alleged chemical attack by the regime against its own civilians, according to The Telegraph.
 
According to the paper, military commanders are currently drawing up a list of potential targets to strike, in a operation that would resemble the opening phase of the western intervention in Libya which helped oust Colonel Gaddafi.
 
In that operation, western forces used air and naval forces to back rebels fighters on the ground, but stopped short of sending "boots on the ground" of their own.
 
Talks between western leaders are still ongoing, but a potential military intervention involving a joint air and naval attack could potentially begin within a week, according to British government sources.
 
The report comes soon after British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu upped the ante by claiming United Nations approval was not necessarily needed for intervention to take place.
 
"Is it possible to act on chemical weapons, is it possible to respond to chemical weapons without complete unity on the UN Security Council?" Hague asked, rhetorically. 
 
"I would argue, yes it is. Otherwise, of course, it might be impossible to respond to such outrages, such crimes and I don’t think that is an acceptable situation."
 
Davutoglu was quoted by the newspaper Milliyetas as saying on Monday that Turkey "always prioritize[s] acting together with the international community, with United Nations decisions," but insisted that "if such a decision doesn’t emerge from the UN Security Council, other alternatives ... would come onto the agenda.”
 
As the war of words continues, Syrian President Assad has dismissed claims his forces used chemical weapons, countering that it was in fact rebel troops who used them.
 
Assad threatened that any western intervention would end in failure.
 
“The United States faces failure (if it attacks Syria), just like in all the previous wars they waged, starting with Vietnam and up to our days,” he said.
 
Intervention in Syria would be more complex and potentially messy than the relatively smooth western intervention in Libya.
 
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had succeeded in isolating himself from most potential allies, paving the way for widespread international support, or at the very least the absence of any meaningful objection, to military intervention. Syria, on the other hand, can count on the vetoes of Russia, and potentially China, in any UN Security Council vote on intervention.
 
But it is not just political support that the Assad regime is relying on. Apart from the stream of arms and ammunition provided by his Russian allies - including far more advanced weaponry than Gaddafi's forces were able to field, and which could pose a greater challenge to western forces - he is also backed by the Iranian regime and its Lebanese proxies, Hezbollah, both of whom have a vested interest in preventing the establishment of a Sunni-dominated state that would effectively cut off Iran from its Lebanese allies.
 
Any western intervention would likely see the deaths of Iranian and Lebanese fighters, which could prompt an escalation in tensions between Tehran and the west.

Syrian Jihadists Threaten Revenge on Alawites

Category: News
Created on Monday, 26 August 2013 08:38
Nusra front
Al-Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda-linked Syrian jihadist group, on Sunday vowed revenge strikes against villages from President Bashar Al-Assad's Alawite community over claims his forces used chemical weapons, AFP reports.
 
"The Alawite villages will pay the price for each chemical rocket that struck our people in Damascus," Al-Nusra front chief Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani said in an audio message posted on the Internet and on his Twitter account.
 
He added that "one thousand rockets will be used for this purpose".
 
"It is a debt towards... our relatives in the eastern Ghouta," he said, according to AFP.
 
"This regime attacked the eastern region (of Damascus province) with dozens of chemical rockets that killed hundreds of children, women and men," Jawlani said, calling on opposition fighters across the country to take revenge.
 
Jawlani called on "the soldiers of Al-Nusra" to "spread their fire... before the end of the day and the setting of the sun."
 
Assad hails from the Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam unlike most Sunni rebel groups fighting to topple him, including Al-Nusra, whose chief in March pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda.
 
Members of Al-Nusra and other rebel groups have committed atrocities during the Syrian civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
 
Al-Nusra was once was the largest faction in the Islamist Front for the Liberation of Syria (ISIS), the 13-member rebel coalition that broke away from the main opposition force and has declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo.
 
Syria's main opposition body, the National Coalition, has accused Assad's forces of "massacring" more than 1,300 people in chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus on Wednesday, which his regime has denied.
 
On Friday it was reported that a preliminary assessment made by U.S. and allied intelligence agencies has concluded that chemical weapons were indeed used by Syrian forces in the attack near Damascus.
 
It is believed the attack was carried out with high-level approval from Assad’s government.

British Navy Ready to Attack Syria

Category: Reports
Created on Monday, 26 August 2013 07:46
British Navy
 
Britain is planning to join forces with the United States and launch military action against Syria in response to the chemical attack believed to have been carried out by President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, the British Telegraph reported on Sunday.
 
Royal Navy vessels are being readied to take part in a possible series of cruise missile strikes, alongside the United States, as military commanders finalize a list of potential targets, the report said.
 
Government sources said talks between Prime Minister David Cameron and international leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, would continue, but that any military action that was agreed could begin within the next week.
 
The escalation comes as a direct response to what the British Government is convinced was a gas attack perpetrated by Syrian forces on a civilian district of Damascus last Wednesday.
 
The Assad regime has been under mounting pressure to allow United Nations inspectors on to the site to establish who was to blame for the atrocity. One international agency said it had counted at least 355 people dead and 3,600 injured following the attack, while reports suggested the true death toll could be as high as 1,300.
 
According to the Telegraph, Cameron interrupted his holiday for talks with Obama, French President Francois Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel. After discussions over the weekend, all the leaders agreed on the need for a “serious response”, according to the report.
 
Government sources confirmed to the Telegraph that military action was among the options “on the table” but said no decisions had been taken.
 
The Prime Minister, however, is believed to have abandoned hope of securing any further meaningful response from the UN amid opposition from Russia, which has already vetoed several Security Council resolutions condemning the Assad regime, including one from last week after the chemical attack.
 
The Royal Navy declined to comment on the current positions of its submarines, but said they regularly pass through the area on their way to the Suez Canal.
 
Pressure has been piling up on the West, particularly on Obama, to respond to the attack. Obama said last year that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a "red line" and force a tough U.S. response, but so far has failed to deliver such a response other than deciding to directly arm selected Syrian rebel groups without publicly specifying the extent of the support.

Obama Meets Advisers to 'Gather Facts' on Syria Attack

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 25 August 2013 21:33
Barack Hussein Obama  U.S. President Obama met on Saturday with top national security advisers following widespread reports about the Syrian government using chemical weapons on civilians.
 
The president will continue to gather facts before deciding on a course of action, the White House said, according to Fox News.
 
The reports of thousands killed or stricken by chemical weapons Wednesday near Damascus is the latest allegation about such tactics in the Middle East country’s roughly two-year-long civil war.
 
A preliminary assessment made by U.S. and allied intelligence agencies has concluded that chemical weapons were indeed used by Syrian forces in an attack near Damascus this week.
 
It is believed the attack was carried out with high-level approval from the government of President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
Obama said last year that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad would “cross a red line.”  However, the White House has been reluctant to take direct military actions, instead supplying rebel forces with non-lethal aid, weighing military options and trying to garner international support.
 
The president and his National Security Council considered eyewitness accounts and medical-records reports but “the U.S. intelligence community continues to gather facts to ascertain what occurred,” the White House said Saturday.
 
In addition to the president holding the meeting, he spoke Saturday with United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron.
 
The leaders talked about shared security challenges, including the continued violence in Syria, and expressed their “grave concern” about the reported use of chemical weapons. And they will continue to consult closely about “possible responses by the international community,” the White House said.
 
The White House meeting was attended by at least 15 members of the president’s security council, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
 
Hagel suggested Friday that the Pentagon might move Naval forces closer to Syria in preparation for a possible decision by Obama to order military strikes.
 
However, U.S. defense officials told The Associated Press on Saturday that the Navy has already sent a fourth warship armed with ballistic missiles into the eastern Mediterranean Sea, but without immediate orders for any missile launch into Syria.
 
In a CNN interview, Obama on Friday called the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians "a big event of grave concern," but was very cautious as regards the possibility of using force in Syria, noting that there is still a war going on in Afghanistan.

Obama: Time is Nearing for a Definitive Response on Syria

Category: News
Created on Friday, 23 August 2013 19:51
Barack Obama
 
U.S. President Barack Obama, who is under pressure to act on reports that the Syrian government staged a chemical attack on civilians, said on Friday that the time is nearing for a potentially definitive U.S. response to the alleged Syrian government atrocities.
 
The U.S. remains "one indispensable nation" in the volatile Middle East and elsewhere, Obama told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
 
"We have to think through strategically what's going to be in our long term national interests," he said.
 
Asked whether the U.S. government is now facing a "more abbreviated time frame" on key decisions in Egypt and Syria, Obama repeatedly gave a one-word response: yes.
 
Asked about claims by anti-regime activists in Syria that Bashar Al-Assad's government used chemical weapons in an attack that was said to have killed more than 1,300 people, Obama responded that officials are "right now gathering information" and that "what we've seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern."
 
"It is very troublesome," he stressed. On Thursday, Obama ordered local spy agencies to urgently probe claims of the chemical attack in Syria.
 
He said U.S. officials are pushing "to prompt better action" from the United Nations, and are calling on the Syrian government to allow an investigation of the site of the alleged attack outside Damascus.
 
"We don't expect cooperation (from the Syrian government), given their past history," Obama conceded.
 
He quickly followed up with a warning, however, that "core national interests" of the U.S. are now involved in Syria's civil war, "both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region."
 
Cuomo asked Obama to respond to harsh criticism from his 2008 presidential rival, Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain, who told CNN a day earlier that America's credibility in the region has been damaged by a slow administration response in both Syria and Egypt.
 
"When the president of the United States says that if he uses these weapons that it would be a, quote, 'red line and a game-changer,' (Assad) now sees that as a green light," McCain said.
 
In response, Obama said, "I am sympathetic to Senator McCain's passion for helping people work through what is an extraordinarily difficult and heartbreaking situation, both in Syria and in Egypt. But what I think the American people also expect me to do as president is to think through what we do from the perspective of what is in our long term national interests."
 
Obama said last year that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a "red line" and force a tough U.S. response, but so far has failed to deliver such a response other than deciding to directly arm selected Syrian rebel groups without publicly specifying the extent of the support.
 
"If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a UN mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it," Obama told CNN.
 
"Do we have the coalition to make it work?" he asked. "You know, those are considerations that we have to take into account."
 
The costs of military action "have to take those into account as we try to work within an international framework to do everything we can to see Assad ousted," Obama concluded.

Heavy Losses for Hizbullah in Syria

Category: Reports
Created on Thursday, 25 July 2013 09:50
Hizbullah posterThe Lebanon-based Hizbullah terrorist organization is taking heavy losses in Syria, according to a report released by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC).
 
The assessment, sent to media this week, indicates the terror group’s involvement in the two-year-long savage civil war across Israel’s northern border has cost Hizbullah more than 180 men.
 
In addition, several hundred more of its guerrilla fighters have been wounded in the effort to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, ITIC estimates. Many of them will never return to active service.
 
The terror monitoring watchdog based its assessment on having located 82 names of operatives recently killed, in addition to another 96 names of those previously found.
 
Most met their deaths during the campaign for the city of Al Qusair, according to ITIC, the majority in the final battle that began on May 19 and dragged on through June 5. Ultimately, Assad’s forces succeeded in taking control over the city together with Hizbullah.
 
A number of others were killed in other battle sites, among them the Aleppo region in northern Syria.
 
Part of the reason for the high number of casualties has to do with Hizbullah’s unfamiliarity with the local terrain, according to ITIC. Moreover, Hizbullah's fighters encountered fierce resistance from rebel fighters, including the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra (Al Nusra Front)., who are equally dedicated to the concept of jihad and “fighting to the death for the glory of martyrdom.”
 
But the glory felt by fighters on the battlefield is beginning to pall among family members at home, where the large numbers of dead has begun to inspire criticism of the terror organization inside Lebanon. There has been sporadic fighting related to the Syrian civil war inside Lebanon as well.
 
A senior IDF intelligence officer told the Tazpit news agency he estimates Hizbullah has lost more than 250 fighters, and there have been reports the terror organization’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, lost his own brother, Khader Nasrallah, in the fighting as well.

 

Head of Syrian Jihadists: We Support an Islamic Caliphate

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 15:37
Rebels clash with Syrian government forces - AFPThe leader of the jihadist Syrian rebel group Jabhat Al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front) has declared that his group is in favor of establishing an Islamic caliphate in civil war torn Syria.
 
In an audio recorded that has been disseminated over the past several days, Abu Mohammad al-Julani stresses that he strongly opposes parliamentary elections or any political settlement in the country which would be achieved through international intervention.
 
"Being Muslims, we do not believe in political parties or parliamentary elections, but rather in an Islamic regime based on the Shura (advisory council) and which implements justice ... Our heading towards the establishment of Islamic law (Sharia) is jihad in Allah's way," Julani says in the recording.
 
Al-Nusra Front several months ago pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and has blacklisted by the United States and the United Nations as a terrorist again.
 
In the recording, Julani is unfazed by his organization being blacklisted and, in fact, says he is proud to be blacklisted by the U.S.
 
Julani attacked the Hizbullah terror group which is assisting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in fighting the Syrian rebels, saying, "We thank Allah for the stupidity of the leader of this organization (Nasrallah) who revealed the organization's disguised hatred against Sunni Muslims."
 
Al-Nusra Front is part of the 13-member Islamic Front for the Liberation of Syria, which split off from the Syrian National Council opposition force. The front declared the northern commercial hub city of Aleppo to be an independent Islamist state already months ago.
 
However, a senior figure in the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) told the A-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper this week that the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization is set to officially announce an independent Islamic state in northern Syria.
 
Members of Al-Nusra and other jihadist Syrian rebels groups have committed atrocities during the Syrian civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with Assad’s regime.

Syrian Kurds Capture Al Qaeda Head in Syria

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 21 July 2013 13:57
Kurdish YPG fightersSyrian Kurdish rebels say they’ve captured the emir of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – the merged organization representing the jihadist Syrian rebel groups linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq.
 
A photo of the captured leader was posted on the Twitter mini-social networking site by the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG), one of two Syrian Kurdish rebel groups which is preparing to declare autonomy in Syria.
 
Mutlu Civiroglue, a Washington-based Kurdish journalist, posted the announcement, along with the tweet: “Captured Amir of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) Abu Musab is currently under YPG custody! 
 
For more than a year, Syrian Kurds have been threatened by the Islamic extremists who long ago split from the more secular and so-called “moderate” National Syrian Council opposition forces.
 
The Kurdish National Council, a pro-opposition umbrella group of Syrian Kurdish parties, in January condemned what it said was an ongoing assault “against unarmed civilians” by jihadist insurgents on the city of Ras al-Ain along Syria’s border with Turkey. The Kurds called on the Free Syrian Army to “pressure these militants to stop this criminal war which is detrimental to the Syrian revolution,” AFP reported at the time.
 
Clashes between the Al Qaeda-linked jihadists and the Kurdish forces have continued for nearly a year, with ISIS having seized the town months ago. 
 
Last week, Kurdish forces ousted them in a bloody battle, retaking parts of the city that for months had been under control of the Islamists who intended to declare an independent Islamic state in northern Syria, to be divided into emirates.
 
But YPG has been joined by PYD, Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party, and Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization both in Turkey and the United States. And linked together, the three are now planning to declare an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria, with a transitional administration for the next three months, to be followed by elections for a “permanent” government within six months.
 
PKK issues "final warning" to Ankara
 
Once that is accomplished, it is not clear what the implications will be for Turkey across the border. On Friday, Kurdish rebels issued what they said was a “final warning” to Ankara to take concrete steps to advance a peace settlement or be responsible for what follows after 30 years of tensions.
 
Jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was engaged in talks with the Turkish government last October to halt the conflict, which has so far left 40,000 dead and many more wounded in Turkey’s southeastern region, where there is a high Kurdish population.
 
Ocalan, known by his followers as APO, suffers from an eye ailment and is imprisoned on the island of Imrali, south of Istanbul.
 
Turkey is calling on the PKK to withdraw its fighters to the Iraqi Kurdistan side of the border before it will launch reforms set out under the talks. The PKK is demanding the AK Party-led government abolish an anti-terrorism law under which thousands were jailed for having links to the PKK, as well as grant full Kurdish-language education, and lower the threshold of votes needed by parties to enter the parliament.
 
The Kurdish nation is the largest people without a state in the Middle East. The region of Kurdistan is occupied by Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, though the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq has a large degree of autonomy from the Iraqi central government.

Wall Street Journal: Netanyahu Has Red Lines, Obama Doesn't

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 18 July 2013 08:55
Netanyahu embraces ObamaA Wall Street Journal editorial has claimed that Israel has attacked Syria at least four times in 2013.
 
The editorial, which appeared in the print edition of the newspaper on Tuesday, was critical of U.S. President Barack Obama over his inaction on Syria, while noting that Israel has red lines and it acts on them when they are crossed.
 
It asserted that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s comments during an interview with CBS this week were confirmation that Israel had carried out air strikes near the Syrian port city of Latakia to destroy Russian-supplied anti-ship missiles.
 
I'm not in the habit of saying what we did or we didn't do," Netanyahu said, adding, "My policy is to prevent the transfer of dangerous weapons to Hizbullah and other terror groups.”
 
“So Israel has red lines after all,” said the Wall Street Journal. “Mr. Netanyahu's non-denial amounts to confirmation that Israel has launched at least four attacks on Syrian targets this year. Previous targets include a convoy of surface-to-air missiles headed for Lebanon, and an arms depot near Damascus believed to contain Iranian ballistic missiles that could have brought Tel Aviv within Hizbullah’s range.”
 
The article then went on to criticize Obama, who has in the past said that use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would be a red line that “would change my equation.” The editorial quoted two similar statements by Obama, one dated August 2012 and another one from this past March.
 
“As everyone—most especially Bashar Assad—now knows, Mr. Obama has no red lines regarding Syria or chemical weapons,” the editorial charged. “Even his belated policy change to deliver small arms to the opposition is bogged down in bureaucratic inertia and congressional resistance. Readers may or may not think the U.S. should involve itself in Syria, but serious powers cannot issue empty threats and not expect consequences.”
 
The U.S. government, which has confirmed that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against rebel forces on multiple occasions, has said it will increase the “scope and scale” of its assistance to rebels in Syria in response.
 
U.S. sources said last week that congressional committees are holding up a plan to send U.S. weapons to rebels fighting Assad, fearing such deliveries will not be decisive and the arms might end up in the hands of Islamist rebel groups.
 
Finally, noted the Wall Street Journal editorial, “In his CBS interview, Mr. Netanyahu was also asked when he would be prepared to take military action to stop Iran's nuclear programs. ‘Well, I can tell you I won't wait until it's too late,’ he replied. The Prime Minister has been saying this for nearly two years, perhaps waiting for the U.S. to act instead, but he is learning in Syria that Israel will have to enforce its own red lines.”

Syria: Dozens of Bodies Found in Well

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 07:46
Destruction in Syria fileThe civil war in Syria continues and atrocities are being committed on a daily basis, both by troops loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad as well as by the rebel forces fighting to oust Assad.
 
Videos documenting the atrocities are uploaded to the internet every day. One clip that was uploaded this past week shows completely charred and unrecognizable bodies. The speakers in the video explain that the Assad regime took the men, executed them and then burned their bodies.
 
Another video, filmed in the community of Al-Safira in the Aleppo district on northern Syria, documents the locating of bodies of dozens of civilians who were executed and then thrown into a well.
 
Rebels who located the well indicate in the video that that the decomposing bodies that were found inside are unrecognizable and include dozens of murdered men and women.
 
Rebels have also committed atrocities during the civil war, particularly the extremist factions among them such as the Al-Nusra Front which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. These atrocities included publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with the Assad regime.
 
Meanwhile, the Syrian rebels are also turning on each other, as fighters from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) are clashing with jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
 
Last week, Syrian rebels linked to Al-Qaeda killed a senior figure in the FSA.

Al-Qaeda Linked Rebels Kill Free Syrian Army Officer

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 13 July 2013 09:05
Syrian supporters of the Al-Nusra group - AFPThe Syrian rebels are continuing to turn on one another. Syrian rebels linked to Al-Qaeda killed a senior figure in the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Thursday, an FSA source told Reuters.
 
Kamal Hamami, a member of the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council, known by his nom de guerre Abu Bassel al-Ladkani, was meeting with members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the port city of Latakia when they killed him, Qassem Saadeddine, a Free Syrian Army spokesman, told the news agency.
 
"The Islamic State phoned me saying that they killed Abu Bassel and that they will kill all of the Supreme Military Council," Saadeddine said from Syria.
 
"He met them to discuss battle plans," Saadeddine added.
 
Reports earlier this week indicated that local infighting between Islamist rebel factions – and between the jihadists and the more moderate opposition forces – has begun in Syria.
 
The violence is taking place despite the fact that the civil war between the opposition fighters and loyalists defending President Bashar Al-Assad has not yet ended.
 
A merger formed between the Islamic State of Iraq, and al-Sham (ISIS), the Syrian unit, has been working to swallow northern Syrian real estate over the past year.
 
It also is becoming increasingly clear that ISIS has swallowed the local Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front), which once was the largest faction in the Islamist Front for the Liberation of Syria – the 13-member rebel coalition that broke away from the main opposition force.
 
Members of Al-Nusra have performed atrocities during the ongoing civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with the Assad regime.
 
There has been growing pressure to arm the Syrian rebels, particularly since the U.S. government confirmed that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against rebel forces on multiple occasions, thus violating the “red line” set by Obama.
 
However, there has also been reluctance by some to arm the rebels, out of a fear that the weapons may end up in the hands of the radicals.

Free Syrian Army Accuses Hizbullah of Using Chemical Weapons

Category: News
Created on Friday, 21 June 2013 08:09
Lebanons Islamist group Hezbollah
 
The opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) reported on Wednesday that chemical weapons had been used in a Damascus town by Hizbullah terrorists and forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
According to Al Arabiya, the town of Zamalka, outside of Damascus, was targeted by chemical weapons, which caused victims to choke and led to a number of casualties, opposition activists said.
 
Assad’s government has faced accusations from the United States, Britain and France of using banned weapons, including the nerve gas sarin, in attacks that have reportedly killed many.
 
The U.S. government confirmed last week that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against rebel forces on multiple occasions, adding that America will increase the “scope and scale” of its assistance to rebels in Syria in response.
 
France had previously revealed that it had firm evidence sarin had been used by the Syrian regime in at least one case.
 
The Lebanon-based Shiite Hizbullah has been playing a key role in supporting the Syrian government, which is mainly controlled by the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
 
Initially Hizbullah said it wanted only to defend 13 Syrian villages along the border where Lebanese Shiites live, and the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine near Damascus, which is revered by Shiites around the world.
 
However, its terrorists later encircled Qusayr with regime troops before the launch of a withering assault on the strategic border town.
 
Last week Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah promised that his group will be wherever is needed in Syria.
 
Meanwhile on the ground Wednesday, more cities and towns were bombarded by Syrian regime forces, according to activists who spoke to Al Arabiya.
 
Tanks reportedly deployed at the entrance of the southwestern city of Zabadani shelled its agricultural lands, causing extensive damage.
 
In the province of Idlib, battles between opposition fighters and regime forces killed a number of Syrian army forces.
 
Meanwhile, the FSA said that it managed to take control of a military airport in the area of Deir Al-Zour.

Syrian Rebels: We've Received Heavy Weapons from Saudis

Category: News
Created on Friday, 21 June 2013 07:46
Al Nusra terrorist in Raqa - ReutersThe first delivery of heavy weapons has arrived on Syria’s front lines following President Barack Obama’s decision to put Western military might behind the official opposition, rebels told the British Daily Telegraph on Wednesday.
 
The sources told the newspaper that Russian-made “Konkurs” anti-tank missiles had been supplied by America’s key Gulf ally, Saudi Arabia. They have already been used to destructive effect and may have held up a promised regime assault on Aleppo, the report said.
 
A handful of the missiles were already in use and in high demand after opposition forces looted them from captured regime bases.
 
More have now arrived, confirming reports that the White House has lifted an unofficial embargo on its Gulf allies sending heavy weapons to the rebels.
 
Last week, the White House said it would send military support to Syria’s opposition after concluding that President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime had used chemical agents against them.
 
Unlike rocket-propelled grenades, the Konkurs – Contest in English – can penetrate the regime’s most advanced tanks, Russian-made T72s, noted the Telegraph.
 
“We now have supplies from Saudi Arabia,” a rebel source said. “We have been told more weapons are on their way, even higher-end missiles.”
 
At the G8 this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the West’s attempts to send arms to the opposition, even though he did not rule out fulfilling existing arms contracts with the regime.
 
On Syria’s front lines, rebels are already using Russian missiles to destroy the regime’s Russian tanks, the Telegraph reported.
 
Thanks to Russian backing over the last half century, Syria’s army was the best equipped in the region, and its captured bases have handed a limited number of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to the opposition.
 
But the number of Konkurs missiles seen in videos escalated at the beginning of this month, tangible evidence of the new Saudi supply line, noted the newspaper.
 
Assad warned this week that Europe will “pay the price” if it arms Syrian rebels. European Union foreign ministers agreed at the end of May to lift an arms embargo in order to supply weapons to Syrian rebels, but British Foreign Secretary William Hague said at the time that "no immediate decision" would be made on sending arms to the rebels.
 
“If the Europeans deliver weapons (to rebels), Europe’s backyard will become a terrorists’ place and Europe will pay the price for it,” Assad told the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
 
He said that chaos in Syria would result in "the direct export of terrorism to Europe”, adding, "Terrorists will return to Europe with fighting experience and extremist ideologies."
 
Referring to statements that his regime has used chemical weapons on rebels, Assad said, "If Paris, London and Washington had only one piece of evidence backing up their allegations, they would have unveiled it to the world.

Syrian Rebels Murder Hizbullah Men in Lebanon

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 20 June 2013 19:58
A group of Syrian rebels claims it killed four Hizbullah terrorists across the border in Lebanon this week. The "Syrian Mujahedeen Unit" posted a video on the Internet Tuesday, featuring one fighter saying his unit killed the men as they were crossing the border into Syria.
 
The Sunni Islamist rebel group claimed the victims were Shi’ite members of the Hizbullah terrorist organization now fighting alongside loyalists defending Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
 
It is not clear which "Mujahedeen" unit posted the video, but most of those which use the title are affiliated with the Jabhat al-Nusra – the Al Nusra Front terrorist organization, linked to Al Qaeda. The Al Nusra Front, outlawed in the United States and in the European Union, is part of the larger Islamic Front for the Liberation of Syria, a radical Islamist council that split off from the original Syrian National Council opposition group, whose military wing is the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
 
The Lebanon-based Shi’ite Hizbullah terrorist organization is generously funded and sponsored by Iran, as is the Alawite Assad regime. Alawites practice a form of Islam that is split off from Shia, also observed in the Islamic Republic (of Iran).
 
While Russia has made it clear it will continue to provide materiel support to the Assad regime, Saudi Arabia began recently sending missiles to help arm the rebel fighters, according to Arab media.
 
U.S. diplomat Dan Kurtzer noted Wednesday in a panel discussion at Israel's fifth annual Presidential Conference in Jerusalem that the situation in Syria is not likely to end with the conclusion of this civil war, particularly if the Assad regime falls. "Another civil war is very likely to follow," Kurtzer commented, explaining that if the rebels win, the competing secular and Islamist factions will most likely battle each other for control of the country next.
 
Even if the rebels lose, there is still a savage battle being waged between Al Qaeda and Hizbullah -- proxies, perhaps, for Saudi Arabia and Iran.
 
The Syrian Mujahedeen Unit has also posted a second video, showing the identification cards of the four allegedly murdered men. In the second video were also displayed two pistols and two assault rifles the group said were taken from the men that were killed.
 
The Syrian civil war has spilled over the border into Lebanon in the past year. Both Assad forces and rebels have targeted areas in Lebanon where Sunnis are living side-by-side with Shi’ites, and where the two sects support different sides in the Syrian conflict.
 
According to the latest United Nations figures, at least 93,000 Syrians have died since the start of the war in March 2011. More than 1.6 million refugees have fled their homeland to neighboring countries. Millions of others have been displaced within Syria, left homeless by the shelling that has pummeled their homes into rubble.Rebeles

Syrian Minister: Morsi Should Close Israeli Embassy

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 16 June 2013 21:53
Mohammed Morsi - AFPEgyptian President Mohammed Morsi should close down the Israeli embassy in Egypt and not the Syrian one, a Syrian minister said on Sunday.
 
Omran Zoubi, Syria’s Information Minister, was responding to Morsi’s announcement from Saturday that Egypt was cutting diplomatic ties with Damascus and has ordered Syria's embassy in Cairo to be closed.
 
Morsi also urged world powers to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria.
 
"We would have expected Morsi to announce he is closing the Israeli embassy in Egypt, but these are the ways of a leader who refuses to accept such positions," Zoubi said on Sunday, adding that “the heretic project taking place in Egypt is part of the Zionist project.”
 
A Syrian official source quoted by the Xinhua news agency slammed Morsi’s decision as "irresponsible," adding that his calls for foreign intervention and imposing a no fly zone on Syria constitute an infringement upon the region's sovereignty and serve only the interests of Israel and the United States.
 
"We condemn Morsi's irresponsible stance that mirrors his attempt to implement the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood," the Syrian source said, scoffing that Morsi should have saved his "enthusiasm" to the time when he boycotts Israel “that is still killing Palestinians.”
 
Egypt sides with the Islamist rebels who are trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose offshoot movement, Hamas, has already been removed from Damascus due to its support for the rebels.

Syrian Rebels Are Cannibals; Don't Arm Them

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 16 June 2013 21:39
Screen shot of a Syrian rebel cutting out and eating the organs of a regime soldier. Al ArabyiaThe Syrian rebels are “cannibals” and should not be given arms, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday.
 
"I think 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," Putin said at a joint press conference in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
 
Putin was referring to video footage posted on the Internet last month of a rebel fighter eating the heart of a government soldier.Putin in Israel
 
"Is it them who you want to supply with weapons?" he said, adding that this behavior does not correspond with international humanitarian norms.
 
Putin’s comments mark the first time that he has publicly responded to a decision by the United States last week to provide arms for the rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Russia is an open supporter of Assad and has indicated that it plans to provide him with advanced missile systems.
 
The U.S. government announced on Thursday that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against rebel forces on multiple occasions, adding that America will increase the “scope and scale” of its assistance to rebels in Syria in response.
 
An aide to Putin said on Friday that Russia is not convinced by the evidence which the U.S. provided alleging that the Assad government used chemical weapons against rebel forces.
 
“The Americans tried to present us with information on the use of chemical weapons by the regime, but frankly we thought that it was not convincing,” the aide, Yury Ushakov, said.
 
On Sunday, The Independent reported that Iran is sending 4,000 new troops to help Assad crush rebel forces in the country’s ongoing civil war.
 
The report in warned that the U.S. decision to arm rebels “has plunged America into the great Sunni-Shia conflict of the Islamic Middle East… the U.S. is now fully engaged on the side of armed groups which include the most extreme Sunni Islamist movements in the Middle East.”

U.S. Considering Options to Help Rebels

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 13 June 2013 15:41
John Kerry in Ramallah - AFPThe United States is considering what steps it can take in order to help the Syrian opposition, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday.
 
"We have said that we will do everything we can, that we are able to do, to help the opposition achieve that goal and to reach a point where that can be implemented, and that's what we trying to do," Kerry said during a joint news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, according to the AFP news agency.
 
He said the U.S. administration was meeting "to talk about various balances in this issue right now."
 
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's choice of weapons "challenges anybody's standards of human behavior and we're going to have to make judgments ourselves about how we're going to be able to help the opposition deal with that," Kerry said, according to AFP.
 
He stressed, "Nobody wins in Syria the way things are going. The people lose and Syria as a country loses."
 
Reports this week said that President Barack Obama is close to approving arms for the rebels fighting to oust Assad.
 
Officials said that the Obama administration could decide this week to approve lethal aid for the rebels and are also scheduled to weigh the merits of a less likely move to send in U.S. aircraft to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria.
 
To date, President Obama has only committed non-lethal aid, despite lawmakers' calls for more forceful action from the U.S. as the civil war there intensifies and threatens neighboring countries.
 
One of the reasons for the hesitation in arming rebels is that they include radical, jihadist groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
 
Hague said on Wednesday that Britain and its allies must be "prepared to do more" to save innocent lives in Syria.
 
"The United Kingdom believes that the situation demands a strong, coordinated, and determined approach by the UK, the U.S., and our allies in Europe and the region," Hague said, according to AFP.
 
Calling the conflict in Syria "the most urgent crisis anywhere in the world today," Hague warned that Assad’s regime "seems to be preparing new assaults, endangering the lives and safety of hundreds of Syrians who are already in desperate need."
 
"The scale of the regime's repression and the human suffering that it has caused beggars belief -- a campaign of murder and tyranny that they have waged for more than 800 days now. It is not only a moral outrage -- it's a grave threat to the wider region," the British minister said.
 
He confirmed that he had discussed the Syrian conflict, now in its third year, with Kerry in their talks, saying the "innocent victims of war and repression" had been "at the forefront of our minds."
 
Kerry insisted the goal of diplomatic efforts was to reach a political solution and transition of power that "gives the Syrian people the chance to have a new beginning where they choose their future leadership."

Tensions in Syrian Rebel Factions Over Teen Killing in Aleppo

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 13 June 2013 08:51
Muhammad Qattas coffee standThe execution of a 15 year old coffee vendor in the streets of Aleppo earlier this week has sparked rage among residents and galvanized moderate Syrian rebels to condemn the radical Islamist factions that have taken over the city.
 
Muhhamad Qatta' was first beaten and tortured, and then shot to death publicly in front of a crowd near his coffee stand after he refused to give someone a free cup of coffee. "Even if Muhammad came down from heaven, I would not give you a coffee on credit," he told the person. Three men, including the one who asked for the coffee, declared he had committed blasphemy by insulting the prophet of Islam, Muhhamad, according to a witness. The boy was then kidnapped by the men, and returned shortly after to the site, where he was summarily shot in the head and the neck. His executors announced to the crowd the same fate awaited anyone else found guilty of a similar transgression.
 
Witnesses said two of the men spoke classical Arabic – but the boy’s horrified parents, who were in the crowd at the time, said the third was a resident of Aleppo, according to the BBC.
 
Louay Meqdad, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), called the public killing of the young teen by Al Qaeda-linked rebels an act of terrorism. He emphasized the group responsible was not connected to the FSA, according to the pan-Arabic Aljazeera news network, and said the perpetrators should turn themselves in to the "legitimate authorities" in Aleppo.
 
The question, however, is, who the FSA considers to be the "legitimate authorities" in Aleppo. The city is currently controlled by the same radical Islamist rebel faction that earlier in the year declared the city would become a separatist Shari’a (Islamic law) state – and which sometimes fights together with the FSA when it becomes necessary to unite to fight off Syrian government forces.
 
The FSA and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have both blamed the "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham" – a group formed as the result of a merger between Syrian Islamists and Al Qaeda in Iraq.
 
The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) activist network in Syria also condemned the murder, calling it a "heinous crime."
 
As the secularist groups attempt to distance themselves from the execution, residents in Aleppo told reporters they found little difference between the brutality of radical Islamists shooting a teenager to death for a flippant remark about Muhammad, and the brutality of government troops doing the same more than two years ago over an Arab Spring slogan scrawled on a wall – the one that ignited the uprising in the first place.

15 Yr Old Publicly Executed for Blasphemy in Aleppo

Category: Islam
Created on Tuesday, 11 June 2013 07:57
Al Nusra terrorist in Raqa - ReutersThe UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Sunday that Islamist rebels in the city executed 15-year-old Muhamma Qatta’ in the Sha'ar neighborhood of Aleppo, before the horrifed eyes of his parents. 
 
The punishment came after the boy was overheard by someone during an argument while he was working. “Even if Muhammad comes back to life, I won’t lend,” the boy reportedly said in his workplace, where he sold coffee and from where he was detained at 10 p.m. Sunday. He was later returned by the rebels to the area, his shirt covering his head and with his body marked from torture and beating.
 
The men who escorted him then announced to the crowd in classical Arabic that apostasy and cursing the prophet is a “terrible vice” and that anyone who does so will face a similar fate. The SOHR reported the boy was then shot by the two men with an automatic rifle in front of the crowd – which included the boy’s mother and father -- once in the neck and once in the head. The two men then drove away in their car, leaving the boy’s body behind.
 
An extremely graphic photo of the teen’s face, shot in the mouth and throat and covered in blood, is posted on the SOHR Facebook page. “The SOHR demands that the killers of the child be brought to justice,” said the Observatory in a statement on Facebook. “It is important to note that the Shari’a court of Aleppo has a security branch in the area but did not stop the summary execution of the boy.
 
Meanwhile, Syrian government troops are preparing for a siege of Aleppo, currently held by the rebel forces who plan to declare the northern commercial hub a separatist Islamist state.
 
Troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are “deploying heavily in the countryside near Aleppo in preparation for a battle that will be fought inside the city and on its outskirts,” said Syria’s al-Watan pro-government newspaper. 
 
Just days after Assad forces recaptured the town of Qusair with aid of Lebanese Hizbullah guerrilla fighters, the government troops now plan to do the same in Aleppo “in the coming hours or days.” The report went on to say, “Beseiged areas will be freed in the first stages and troops which have been on the defensive will on the offensive. The Syrian army will take advantage of its experience in Qusair and Eastern Ghouta (near Damascus) to advance in the provinces of Hama and Homs.”
 
A security source told the AFP news agency, “It is likely the battle for Aleppo will start in the coming hours or days, and its aim is to reclaim the towns and villages in the province.” Shi’ite fighters from the Hizbullah terrorist organization and from Iraq have been reinforcing the Syrian Army soldiers in their battles.  Last month, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah vowed to fight “to the end” to put down the uprising and to “defend Lebanon” from “jihadist extremists.”

Obama Close to Approving Arms for Syrian Rebels

Category: Reports
Created on Monday, 10 June 2013 09:29
Screen shot of a Syrian rebel cutting out and eating the organs of a regime soldier. Al ArabyiaUnited States President Barack Obama is close to approving arms for the rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, officials told the Associated Press on Sunday.
 
The sources said that the Obama administration could decide this week to approve lethal aid for the rebels and are also scheduled to weigh the merits of a less likely move to send in U.S. aircraft to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria.
 
According to the officials, White House meetings on the issue are planned over the coming days. Opposition leaders have warned Washington that their rebellion could face devastating and irreversible losses without greater support, prompting the U.S. to consider drastic action, the report said.
 
U.S. officials said Obama was leaning closer toward signing off on sending weapons to vetted, moderate rebel units.
 
To date, President Obama has only committed non-lethal aid, despite lawmakers' calls for more forceful action from the U.S. as the civil war there intensifies and threatens neighboring countries.
 
One of the reasons for the hesitation in arming rebels is that they include radical, jihadist groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
 
Al-Nusra is one of 13 factions in the radical Islamist rebel council that announced its secession from the main opposition force and declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo. The group was recently blacklisted by the United Nations Security Council.
 
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed a bill that would approve sending weapons to moderate rebel forces. The committee's chairman, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., stressed that "now is the time" to act to tip the balance toward resistance fighters.
 
U.S. Senator John McCain last week repeated his call for his country to take action in the civil war in Syria.
 
“The longer we wait to take action, the more action we will have to take,” the Arizona Republican said, noting that there are no easy options to ending Syria’s civil war, which has killed 80,000 according to UN figures.
 
McCain has long been a vocal opponent of Obama's Syrian policy.

Qaradawi Slams Hizbullah as 'Party of Satan'

Category: News
Created on Monday, 10 June 2013 09:05
Hezbollah-FightersInfluential cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, slammed on Sunday the Lebanese Hizbullah terrorist group as the “party of Satan” that seeks to “sow discord” among Muslims.
 
Speaking to Al Arabiya, Sheikh Qaradawi lamented his previous defense of Hizbullah and Iran at a time when major Muslim scholars, notably in Saudi Arabia, had voiced skepticism over the group’s plotting in the region.
 
“When Hizbullah was fighting against Israel, I defended it. I stood against the Muslim scholars in Saudi Arabia, the most renowned scholars who warned us against Hizbullah,” Qaradawi told Al Arabiya.
 
“They warned us against Hizbullah’s plans to sow discord. They warned us against their ideology and intentions. I stood up and defended [Hezbollah],” he added.
 
He described the group as a “party of Satan” that seeks to sow discord in the Muslim land.
 
“Those who are fighting against the Syrian people and call themselves Hizbullah (Party of God) in Arabic are the Party of Satan,” he told Al Arabiya.
 
The prominent Muslim scholar declared that Saudi religious scholars were “more mature and knowledgeable” about Hizbullah and Iran than him.
 
“I believed things were as they seemed to be. I wanted to unite all Muslims; Muslims fighting against Israel, how can I support Israel? But it seems that the scholars –may they rest in peace if they died, and may God bless them if they are still alive – they were smarter than me,” he said.
 
“Those, whom I defended, went and killed their brothers in Syria. We thought that they were our brothers, but apparently they are not,” he added.
 
Qaradawi made similar remarks at a rally in Qatar last week, calling on Sunni Muslims to join the rebels fighting the Syrian regime and carry out “jihad” against the Hizbullah terrorists who are backing him.
 
"Every Muslim trained to fight and capable of doing that [must] make himself available" to support the Syrian rebels, he said.
 
"Iran is pushing forward arms and men [to back the Syrian regime], so why do we stand idle?" Qaradawi added.
 
Initially Hizbullah said it wanted only to defend 13 Syrian villages along the border where Lebanese Shiites live, and the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine near Damascus, which is revered by Shiites around the world.
 
However, its terrorists later encircled Qusayr with regime troops before the launch of a withering assault on the strategic border town that is home to 25,000 people.
 
Qaradawi, who is a citizen of Qatar and close to the Muslim Brotherhood, in the past provided the religious sanction for the suicide bombing campaign against Israel. In January 2009 he claimed that Hitler had put the Jews in their place and that the Holocaust was "divine punishment."
 
He recently headed a delegation to Gaza, where he said that Israel has no right to exist, adding that nobody was allowed to cede "any part of Palestine."
 
The civil war in Syria, meanwhile, has turned into an all-out sectarian religious war which splits the Muslim world between Sunnis and Shiites.

Israel Cannot Depend on UN Forces For Security

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 09 June 2013 10:50
Binyamin NetanyahuPrime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Russia’s President Vladimir Putin over the weekend that Israel will hold its fire against Syria – as long as Syria holds its fire against Israel.
 
In a statement at the opening of the government’s regular Sunday morning Cabinet meeting Netanyahu said he had discussed the situation with Putin in a phone conversation, warning him that “the situation is becoming daily more complex.
 
“Only last week, we saw battles close to our border on the Golan Heights. Israel is not intervening in the Syrian civil war, as long as fire is not being directed at us,” the prime minister said.
 
“The crumbling of the U.N. force on the Golan heights underscores the fact that Israel cannot depend on international forces for its security,” however, he pointed out. “They can be part of the arrangements. They cannot be the basic foundation of Israel’s security.”
 
On another front, Netanyahu added that he would also discuss, once more, the need to jumpstart final status talks with the Palestinian Authority with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, saying that he has already spoken with him about the issue before, and will speak with him about it again.
 
“Together we will try to advance a way to find an opening for negotiations with the Palestinians with the goal of reaching an agreement. This agreement will be based on a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish State, and on solid security arrangements based on the IDF.
 
Netanyahu also noted that the government is changing the date for the conclusion of daylight savings time, and listed the accomplishments already reached thus far in the new coalition’s first few months, such as passing the budget and the ‘Open Skies’ agreement, both controversial pieces of legislation that sparked protests.
 
“I would like to re-emphasize that the citizens of Israel chose us to focus on getting things done, not on petty politics,” he commented with some asperity, “and this we will do.”

Syrian Civil War Becomes a Religious Sectarian War

Category: Islam
Created on Friday, 07 June 2013 16:20
sunni-vs-shiaThe civil war in Syria is becoming a religious war which splits the Muslim world between Sunnis and Shiites, notes Arab affairs expert Dalit Halevi.
 
The rebels belong to Sunni Islam while the regime is Alawite, a branch of Shiism supported by Iran and assisted by fighters from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, units from the Shiite group Hizbullah and Shiite volunteers from Iraq.
 
Rebels in Deir ez-Zor proclaimed war against the Shiites following their defeat in the battle in Al-Qusayr. In a video posted to YouTube they announce the launch of a sectarian war, while chanting "Death to the Shia" and recalling the 637 The Battle of al-Qadisiyyah, when Muslim Arab forces defeated the Persians.
 
Senior clerics in Saudi Arabia have backed the position of Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, who attacked Iran and Hizbullah over their support of Assad and warned of the Shiites’ attempts to take over Sunni states. Fatwas issued in Saudi Arabia stipulate that all Muslims are religiously obligated to take part in the jihad in Syria, whether by giving money to jihad or by physically participating in the fighting against the Assad regime.
 
The Syrian army, with the help of Hizbullah, has managed to retake the city of Al-Qusayr which borders Lebanon, but this military success is not necessarily indicative of the regime's ability to reverse the situation, says Halevi. Many other areas continue to be under control of the rebel forces, who have the support of the population.
 
A rebel Sharia court has been established in Aleppo in northern Syria, and it often functions as a court martial for “traitors” and “criminals.” A recently released video documented executions of two people who allegedly collaborated with the Assad regime and who were involved in acts of corruption and crime.
 
After the verdict of the Sharia court was read, the two were executed by a firing squad, as a message to all "government agents and traitors."
 
The video is difficult to watch, and so it was decided not to post it here.

Radical Qaradawi Calls for 'Jihad' Against Syria and Hizbullah

Category: Islam
Created on Tuesday, 04 June 2013 21:55
QaradawiRadical Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi has called on Sunni Muslims to join the rebels fighting the Syrian regime, AFP reported on Saturday.
 
Qaradawi lashed out at the Shiite terror group Hizbullah for sending its men to fight the mostly-Sunni insurgents in Syria.
 
Qaradawi, a controversial figure in the West but who has millions of supporters, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood, also hit out at Iran for backing the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, according to AFP.
 
"Every Muslim trained to fight and capable of doing that [must] make himself available" to support the Syrian rebels, he was quoted as having said at a rally in Doha late Friday.
 
"Iran is pushing forward arms and men [to back the Syrian regime], so why do we stand idle?" he said, branding Hizbullah as the "party of Satan".
 
"The leader of the party of the Satan comes to fight the Sunnis... Now we know what the Iranians want... They want continued massacres to kill Sunnis," Qaradawi said, according to AFP.
 
The cleric blamed himself for previously backing Hizbullah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah.
 
"I defended the so-called Nasrallah and his party, the party of tyranny... in front of clerics in Saudi Arabia," said Qaradawi.
 
"It seems that the clerics of Saudi Arabia were more mature than me," he added.
 
Initially Hizbullah said it wanted only to defend 13 Syrian villages along the border where Lebanese Shiites live, and the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine near Damascus, which is revered by Shiites around the world.A Hizbullah supporter
 
However, its terrorists later encircled Qusayr with regime troops before the launch of a withering assault on the strategic border town that is home to 25,000 people.
 
At least 75 Hizbullah members have already been killed fighting alongside Assad’s soldiers, and Hizbullah head Hassan Nasrallah vowed last week to continue the group’s support for Assad.
 
Qaradawi, who is a citizen of Qatar and close to the Muslim Brotherhood, in the past provided the religious sanction for the suicide bombing campaign against Israel. In January 2009 he claimed that Hitler had put the Jews in their place and that the Holocaust was "divine punishment."
 
He recently headed a delegation to Gaza, where he said that Israel has no right to exist, adding that nobody was allowed to cede "any part of Palestine."

Hamas's Mashaal: Assad Refused to Accept Political Solution

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 04 June 2013 18:12
Khaled MeshaalThe Hamas terrorist group left Syria because President Bashar Al-Assad refused to consider a political solution to the conflict in the country, its leader Khaled Mashaal said.
 
In an interview with Britain’s Channel 4, which aired on Thursday, Mashaal said, “The military approach is wrong. It makes the crisis worse. It doesn’t solve anything, it only makes it more complicated. What we are witnessing today proves our advice was right.”
 
The interview came amid reports that the head of Hamas in Lebanon, Ali Barakha, was informed by Hizbullah that his people were no longer welcome in the country, and that Hamas members should evacuate the country immediately. The message raised the possibility that the two Islamist groups could end up fighting each other in Lebanon, as each vies for influence with opposing parties in Syria, analysts said.
 
Mashaal denied that his group was supporting the rebels fighting Assad, saying, “We do not interfere in Syrian internal affairs nor do we interfere in the Syrian crisis and this is our policy towards the Arab Spring and all other Arab and non-Arab countries in the world.
 
“Hamas policy is against any foreign intervention in our countries,” he added. “This is our general principle. But at the same time we support the rights of people to freedom, democracy and reform and we are against the use of force and violence, massacres, and military options against them. We support people to win their rights, but we are against foreign intervention.
 
“The international community has been talking about this for months and I think there is a kind of deception going on, and that there is a hidden agenda from many international parties to prolong the Syrian crisis and destroy Syria. These parties do not want to see recovery for Syria…they use positive slogans but in reality their attitude identifies with the Israeli agenda of destroying Syria, more death, and prolonging the Syrian crisis,” said the Hamas leader.
 
He denied that Hamas’s leaving Syria and moving its headquarters to Qatar was a message to Assad that he needs to go.
 
“This is not what we meant. We, as the leadership of Hamas, had to leave Damascus the moment we felt that our efforts to convince the Syrian leadership to choose a solution other than the military one failed,” said Mashaal. “On the other hand, the Syrian leadership was not happy with Hamas’ political stance and also, I felt they wanted to put pressure or demand on us to stand by the official Syrian position and support the leadership in their military solution to the Syrian issue … this is why we did not feel then I could stay, so we left – circumstances forced itself on us, but if Assad goes or stays, that’s up to the Syrian people not to us.”
 
In the first months of the uprising, Hamas’s leaders expressed support in principle for the struggle of the Syrian people while also highlighting the importance of the movement’s historical relationship with the Syrian regime.
 
However, as the rift deepened, reports surfaced that Hamas was moving its headquarters from Damascus and strengthening itself in the Sinai and in Qatar.
 
Some reports claimed that the Damascus-based Hamas leadership left Syria after the Syrian government asked the Hamas leaders to leave. In November, Syrian security forces shut down all the offices belonging to Hamas in the country.
 
In the interview with Channel 4, Mashaal also slammed Israel for its “assault against Gaza” and claimed that it is an “occupying force”. The remarks were made in response to a question by the interviewer, Alex Thomson, that Hamas and Israel were “close to being on the same side” because of the rift between Hamas and Assad.
 
“Israel looks after its own interest and has its own policy of assault no matter which country it’s assaulting, if it’s Lebanon or Syria or any other country in the world. Israel is our enemy,” Mashaal stated.
 
“I am surprised that the world keeps concentrating on the recognition of Israel and its right to exist, while it is an existing state on the ground, occupying the land and expelling its people while practicing all manner of killings, aggression and terror,” he added. “In all civil and religious laws in the world, there is no legitimacy to anyone who establishes themselves by means of violation and the seizure of land and the rights of others. Does the international community accept this equation?”
 
He stressed that PA Arabs “are the real owners of the land. We have the right to live freely without occupation, settlements, aggression, prisons and Jewishization of the land. The law I believe in, and I think it’s the same for every human being in the world, not only the Arabs and all Muslims, is that there is no legitimacy or future for occupation or aggression.”
 
Asked if there were any circumstances in which he could conceive shaking hands with the Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Mashaal replied, “Although the question is legitimate, how can I have peace with a killer like Netanyahu. Think logically. I am the Palestinian victim, my land is occupied, and my people are displaced. Netanyahu is waging war against my own people, and denies my rights, so why would the world expect me to shake his hand in the future? There was a historical handshake between Rabin and Arafat, in the White House garden, but what was the result? This hand, Arafat’s, the hand that shook Rabin’s hand, was poisoned and killed by Rabin’s followers after that.”
 
Several months ago, Mashaal claimed in a CNN interview that Hamas would accept a Palestinian state along the indefensible pre-1967 borders but would refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

UN Blacklists Syrian Al-Nusra Front

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 04 June 2013 17:05
Syrian supporters of the Al-Nusra groupThe UN Security Council on Friday blacklisted the Syrian group Al-Nusra Front and added it to its global sanctions list because of its links to Al-Qaeda, Al Arabiya reported.
 
The group, a feared force battling President Bashar al-Assad, is now subject to an international asset freeze and arms embargo, according to an announcement made by the Security Council’s Al-Qaeda sanctions committee.
 
Al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani last month pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, confirming suspicions of ties between the rebel group and the terrorist group founded by Osama bin Laden.
 
The announcement followed a message from Zawahiri, urging rebels to fight to establish an Islamic state in Syria, and was received with caution by the mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army.
 
The U.S. government designated Al-Nusra a terrorist organization last year and added al-Jawlani to its terrorist blacklist this month.
 
Al-Nusra is one of 13 factions in the radical Islamist rebel council that announced its secession from the main opposition force and declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo.

Rebels to Hizbullah: Stop Attacking Us Or We'll Hunt You to Hell

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 30 May 2013 08:45
HizbullahAn official with the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) warned the Hizbullah terror group on Tuesday to end its involvement in the Syrian conflict and stop backing government troops.
 
Brigadier General Salim Idris, the current chief of Staff of the Supreme Military Council of the FSA, told Al Arabiya, “If the attacks of Hizbullah [on] Syrian territory do not stop within 24 hours, we will take all measures to hunt Hizbullah, even in hell.”
 
“I will no longer be bound by any commitments I made if a decision to stop the attacks... is not taken and implemented,” he warned.
 
Idris said “everyone” should “excuse FSA” for retaliating as “we are being subjected to genocide conducted by Hizbullah.”
 
Qusayr, a town in the central province of Homs, became the flashpoint of confrontation between Hizbullah terrorists and the armed opposition battling President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
 
The Iran-backed Hizbullah sent almost 1,700 fighters to Qusayr more than a week ago to support the regime’s assault on the rebel stronghold.
 
Initially Hizbullah said it wanted only to defend 13 Syrian villages along the border where Lebanese Shiites live, and the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine near Damascus, which is revered by Shiites around the world, noted Al Arabiya.
 
However, its terrorists later encircled Qusayr with regime troops before the launch of a withering assault on the strategic border town that is home to 25,000 people.
 
A draft resolution condemning the Syrian regime’s use of foreign fighters in the rebel-held area will be debated on Wednesday by the UN’s top rights body, AFP reported.
 
The draft resolution, presented on Tuesday, “condemns the intervention of foreign combatants fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime in al-Qusayr,” an implicit reference to the involvement of Hizbullah in the fierce battle for the strategic town.
 
At least 75 Hizbullah members have already been killed fighting alongside Assad’s soldiers, and Hizbullah head Hassan Nasrallah vowed Saturday to continue the group’s support for Assad.
 
Meanwhile, the fighting in Syria has continued to spill into Lebanon. On Monday, cross-border mortar shells from Syria killed one person and wounded another near the eastern Lebanese town of Hermel.
 
The incident came one day after two rockets exploded in southern Beirut on Sunday morning. The rockets hit the Hizbullah-dominated neighborhood of Dahiya, injuring at least four people.

Jordanian MPs in Fistfight

Category: News
Created on Monday, 27 May 2013 17:38
Water bottle about to be launchedFisticuffs broke out in the Jordanian parliament's plenum session Sunday as Prime Minister Dr. Abdallah al-Nussur replied to a parliamentary query from MP Kamal al-Zrul regarding the rising price of electricity.
 
MP Yahia al-Saud interrupted the Prime Minister and demanded that electricity prices not be raised.
 
At this point, MP Muataz Abu Raman intervened and called on Saud to allow the prime minister to reply to the question.
Saud took this badly. He approached Abu Raman, grabbed him and hit him in the arm. The two began to trade punches. In the course of the fight, one threw the Jordanian Constitution at the other, and the book of parliamentary rules was also hurled in the air, as were water bottles.
{youtube}tMFE98RCfcM{/youtube}
The Syrian civil war has worsened economic conditions in Jordan, which has had to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees. Jordan has asked for assistance from Western countries, and Israel, too, has helped by increasing the amount of water that is transferred to Jordan.

Syrian Minister: All Possibilites Open After Israeli Attacks

Category: News
Created on Monday, 06 May 2013 21:22
F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jetSyria responded angrily to the overnight air strikes on military targets that it accused Israel of carrying out, warning that the attack "opens the door to all possibilities."
 
"We will not accept to be humiliated," Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoubi said at an afternoon press conference, according to ABC News.
 
"We are all in a state of anger. We are abused by this attack," he added.
 
Israel has not confirmed or denied the series of strikes early Sunday morning, which the Syrian foreign ministry said had targeted three military sites: a "research center" at Jamraya, a "paragliding airport" in the al-Dimas area of Damascus, and a site in Maysaloun.
 
Syria accused Israel of "coordination" with the extremist rebel groups it is fighting, including Jabhat al-Nusra, which has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda's leadership.
 
Zoubi’s warning came after Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Feisal al-Mekdad, earlier called Israel's bombing of a weapons transport in Syria a “declaration of war.”
 
Speaking in an interview on CNN, al-Mekdad said that Israel was siding with “Islamist terrorists” to unseat President Bashar al-Assad, and that Syria would respond “at the time and in the manner that it chooses to.”
 
President Barack Obama, who has faced growing questioning over the American role in the conflict that has left more than 70,000 dead, did not confirm the Israeli attacks, but said on Saturday that Israel has a right to stop its enemies from getting advanced weapons.

 

Lebanese Youth Sign Up for 'Jihad' Against Hizbullah

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 25 April 2013 08:00
HezbollahLebanese youth from the city of Saida, south of Beirut, began on Wednesday to sign up for “armed Jihad in Syria”, Al Arabiya reported.
 
The youth were responding to a call a day earlier by Sunni cleric Ahmad Assir, who called on Lebanese youth to fight the Hizbullah terrorist group.
 
Individuals in charge of enlisting the youth told Al Arabiya that “hundreds” have signed up so far and that the number is expected to reach thousands.
 
On Tuesday, Sheikh Assir lashed out at Hizbullah for helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces fight the predominately Sunni opposition in the country.
 
Sheikh Assir had announced the formation of “Free Resistance Brigades” to go fight Hizbullah in Syria.
 
In an interview with Al Arabiya, Assir said his call came in response to “Hizbullah’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 Hizbullah and the Syrian regime.
 
Assir slammed the Lebanese government for not being able to prevent Hizbullah from interfering in Syria.
 
Reports in a Saudi daily last week indicated that over 1,000 Hizbullah members had entered Syria over a period of a few days via waterways in the Mediterranean Sea.
 
The daily quoted sources as having said that the regime in Damascus "is resorting to the aid of fighters from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, which implies that the Syrian recruits' desire to fight alongside the regime is decreasing."
 
Several months ago, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah publicly offered to place his terrorists at Assad’s disposal.
 
Syria's opposition warned this week that Hizbullah’s role in fighting in Homs province amounts to a "declaration of war," while the terrorist group said it is merely protecting Lebanese people.
 
Analysts told AFP on Wednesday that Hizbullah’s decision to fight openly alongside the Syrian regime will increase Lebanon's involvement in Syria's conflict, despite a policy of neutrality.
 
Despite the inflaming tensions, however, the country is unlikely to face serious instability as a result, because none of its political forces have an interest in such a scenario for now, the analysts added.
 
"Hizbullah’s public involvement is no longer the world's worst-kept secret, and now we are in a crisis where the Lebanese are not only politically divided... but also militarily divided," Ghassan al-Azzi, a professor of political science at the Lebanese University, told AFP.
 
"Hizbullah’s involvement in the Syrian crisis now involves all of Lebanon because we've heard from the other side calls to fight jihad alongside the opposition to the Syrian regime," he added, referring to Lebanon's Sunni community.

Syrian Opposition Denounces Hizbullah's Role in Civil War

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 23 April 2013 07:41
Destruction in Homs - AFPSyria's opposition warned on Monday that Hizbullah’s role in fighting in Homs province amounts to a "declaration of war," while the terrorist group said it is merely protecting Lebanese people, AFP reports.
 
The comments came as a watchdog said the Lebanese Shiite terror group was leading the battle in the Qusayr area of Homs, which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has reportedly termed "the main battle" his troops are currently fighting.
 
"What is happening in Homs is a declaration of war against the Syrian people and the Arab League should deal with it on this basis," George Sabra, the interim chief of the opposition National Coalition, was quoted by AFP as having said.
 
"The Lebanese president and the Lebanese government should realize the danger that it poses to the lives of Syrians and the future relations between the two peoples and countries," he told a news conference in Istanbul.
 
"We hope that the brotherly Lebanese people will raise their voices against the murder of free Syrians," said Sabra, shortly after his appointment was announced.
 
"We call in particular on our Shiite Lebanese brothers to stop their sons from going to kill Syrians and becoming victims of the conflict as well," he added, according to AFP.
 
Hizbullah, a close ally of the Assad regime, has defended any involvement of its forces in Syria as a bid to protect Lebanese citizens in a string of villages inside the war-torn country.
 
"What Hizbullah is doing with regard to this issue is a national and moral duty in the defense of the Lebanese in border villages," Lebanon's official news agency quoted senior Hizbullah leader Sheikh Nabil Qauk as saying on Monday.
 
"To those who ask us to allow our brothers in these border villages to be victims of murders, kidnaps, massacres and expulsions, I respond to you: 'Can we leave these Lebanese hostage to this situation?" he added.
 
"Hizbullah’s martyrs are the martyrs of the entire nation because they are defending their Lebanese compatriots," he said.
 
Fighting has raged in the Qusayr area of the central province of Homs for days, with regime troops winning control of a series of strategic villages in the area during the weekend.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog said Hizbullah forces were leading the battle in the area.
 
The area is of strategic importance because it runs along the border with Lebanon and is near the route from Damascus to the coast.
 
Nasrallah publicly offered to place itself at Assad’s disposal.
 
But already several months earlier, a soldier from the Free Syrian Army told The Independent newspaper, published in the UK, that Hizbullah's Shiite Muslim terrorists are full military allies of the Syrian army and that "everyone knows they have fighters there."
 
Reports in a Saudi daily last week indicated that over 1,000 Hizbullah members had entered Syria over a period of a few days via waterways in the Mediterranean Sea.
 
The daily quoted sources as having said that the regime in Damascus "is resorting to the aid of fighters from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, which implies that the Syrian recruits' desire to fight alongside the regime is decreasing."

U.S. to Double 'Non-Lethal Aid' to Syria's Opposition

Category: News
Created on Monday, 22 April 2013 08:09
Syrian rebels patrol in town of Jisr al-Shughur - AFPThe United States said on Saturday it would double its aid to Syria's opposition, including with new non-lethal military equipment, but paid no heed to calls for arms supplies or a direct intervention, AFP reports.
 
In a statement after talks among the pro-opposition "Friends of Syria" group in Istanbul, Secretary of State John Kerry said U.S. assistance to the opposition would double to $250 million.
 
Some of the money will be used to "provide an expanded range of support" to rebel fighters battling President Bashar al-Assad, beyond the current provisions of food rations and medical kits, "to include other types of non-lethal supplies," the statement said, according to AFP.
 
It did not elaborate, but U.S. media reported that Washington is preparing to provide the rebels with protective battlefield equipment such as body armor, armored vehicles and night-vision goggles, as well as communications gear.
 
"The president directed me to step up our efforts," Kerry told a news conference.
 
"The stakes in Syria couldn't be more clear: chemical weapons, the slaughter of people by ballistic missiles and other weapons of huge destruction, the potential of a whole country," he said.
 
"This bloodshed needs to stop."
 
The pledge fell short of opposition demands for foreign backers to supply the rebels with arms, institute a no-fly zone and carry out airstrikes on positions used by the Assad regime to launch missiles.
 
Many in the West have raised concerns about arming the rebels, fearing weapons could end up in the hands of radical Islamist groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, which this month pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda.
 
Western diplomats have said increased military support will hinge on the opposition showing it can be more inclusive and that it could ensure weapons would be secure. They would also have to reject the use of chemical weapons and guarantee respect for human rights.
 
The head of the main opposition Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, offered reassurances after the talks.
 
"Our revolution is for the entire Syrian people. We are not supporting one group at the price of another and we shall never allow that to happen," he told the news conference, according to AFP.
 
The Coalition said in a separate statement that the opposition rejected "all forms of terrorism and any extremist ideology" and promised that "weapons will not fall in the wrong hands."
 
The opposition had also voiced frustration earlier at the lack of a strong international response.
 
"Assad is firing missiles against densely populated areas... without consequences," said Yaser Tabbara, a spokesman for the opposition's interim prime minister Ghassan Hitto.
 
"Throwing money at the problem won't solve it."
 
Washington has been gradually shifting its policy on providing assistance to the opposition, with Kerry announcing at the last Friends of Syria meeting in February that the U.S. would start providing direct non-lethal aid to rebel fighters.
 
Britain and France had been pushing for a European Union arms embargo to be allowed to expire by the end of May. Paris has since appeared more wary about arms supplies since the Al-Qaeda pledge from Al-Nusra.
 
Supporters of arms supplies have said the rise of Islamist groups such as Al-Nusra is only a stronger argument for providing weapons to more moderate voices in the Syrian opposition.

Syria's Muslim Brotherhood: There's No Extremism in Syria

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 17 April 2013 07:22
Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Riad Shakfa R - AFPSyria's Muslim Brotherhood sought on Monday to defuse fears that Islamist extremists were seizing Syrian territory, saying that a "united front" controlled land captured by the rebels.
 
"It is not true that extremists are in charge of liberated lands," the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, Mohammad Riad Shakfa, was quoted by AFP as having said at a press conference in Istanbul.
 
"The land ... belongs to a united front of the opposition," he said.
 
Speaking in Arabic, Shakfa added, "As far as I know, there is no extremism in Syria."
 
His comments came days after the jihadist Al-Nusra Front, one of the fiercest forces battling the Syrian regime, pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda, sounding alarm bells in the West and triggering concerns among the main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC).
 
The announcement followed a message from Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri urging rebels to fight to establish an Islamic state in Syria, and was received with caution by the mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army.
 
Western powers have been cautious in how they aid the opposition amid fears they could bolster Islamist extremists.
 
The powerful Muslim Brotherhood also denied it controlled the SNC, saying such claims were "manufactured" by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as part of a "defamation campaign."
 
"What we are up against is a campaign to defame us," Shakfa said. "We make up less than 10 percent of the SNC and we have never influenced its decisions," he added.
 
Shakfa was particularly referring to the election of Syria's rebel prime minister Ghassan al-Hitto last month in a majority vote that had exposed rifts in the SNC.
 
"They claim Mr. Hitto was elected because he is our representative... We didn't even know him before he was elected," he said.
 
The Brotherhood, a strong Islamist component of the fragmented Syrian opposition, supported Hitto because he was "more in tune with the wish of the majority," according to Shakfa.
 
On Sunday, the SNC said Al-Nusra's alleged merger with al-Qaeda would "only serve the goals of the Assad regime," and called on the group "to stay within the ranks of the nationalistic Syrians."
 
Al-Nusra is one of 13 factions in the radical Islamist rebel council that announced its secession from the main opposition force and declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo.

More than 1,000 Hizbullah Terrorists Enter Syria to Help Assad

Category: News
Created on Monday, 15 April 2013 17:17
HezbollahHizbullah is continuing to assist Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in his fight against the rebels. Over 1,000 members of the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group entered Syria in the past few days via waterways in the Mediterranean Sea, the Saudi daily Al-Watan reported on Sunday.
 
According to the report, around 1,200 fighters arrived at Syria's Tartus port in order to fight alongside regime troops.
 
The armed members who arrived from Lebanon to Syria committed "a hideous crime" in the town of Talkalkh, the daily said, adding that tens of thousands of fighters entered from Iraq to aid the Syrian regime.
 
The daily quoted sources as having said that the regime in Damascus "is resorting to the aid of fighters from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, which implies that the Syrian recruits' desire to fight alongside the regime is decreasing."
 
The source added that reservists are also not complying with the army command's repeated calls to join the regime troops in their fighting.
 
The regime has also been arresting men in their forties and forcing them to join recruitment camps so they join the fighting between regime troops and the rebels, Al-Watan reported.
 
Last week, twelve members of the Hizbullah terrorist group were killed in an ambush near Damascus.
 
More than 20 other Hizbullah members, part of a military brigade deployed in Syria to defend Assad, were also wounded in the attack, according to sources in the terror group.
 
Last July, as the ongoing civil war in Syria continued, the terror group led by Hassan Nasrallah publicly offered to place itself at Assad’s disposal.
 
But already several months earlier, a soldier from the Free Syrian Army told The Independent newspaper, published in the UK, that Hizbullah's Shiite Muslim terrorists are full military allies of the Syrian army and that "everyone knows they have fighters there."
 
On Tuesday, Bahrain became the first Arab country to blacklist Hizbullah as a terrorist organization.
 
Its alleged backing and training of radical Shiite groups against Bahrain was the main reason given for the decision, the report said.
 
The United States, Canada and Israel have long blacklisted the Shiite group, but in Europe, only the Netherlands lists Hizbullah as a terrorist group, while Britain blacklists its military wing.
 
In recent months, pressure on the European Union to add Hizbullah to the list of recognized terror groups has increased, particularly since Bulgaria named the terror group as being behind the terrorist attack in Burgas last July, in which five Israelis were killed.
 
However, diplomats have indicated that it is unlikely that Europe will name Hizbullah a terrorist organization because of its political strength in Lebanon.

Rebels clash with Syrian government forces AFP file

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 13 April 2013 13:15
Rebels clash with Syrian government forces - AFPPresident Barack Obama authorized the release of as much as $10 million in additional aid to rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday, as calls continued for the U.S. to arm the rebels.
 
The president, in a directive to the secretaries of state and defense, said the U.S. would draw on the inventories of government agencies to provide “nonlethal commodities and services” as well as food and medical supplies, Bloomberg reported.
 
“The humanitarian crisis has gotten worse” in Syria, Obama told reporters at the White House before starting a meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The president said he and Ban share the view that the conflict there is “at a critical juncture.”
 
Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who heads the Foreign Relations Committee, said he will introduce legislation to allow the U.S. to provide weapons to the Syrian opposition.
 
“The time has come, in some form, to provide military aid,” to Syrian rebels, Menendez said at a committee hearing, according to Bloomberg. The chairman also proposed that the U.S. give Syrian rebels training and intelligence on the Assad regime’s assets.
 
"Shouldn't we do something to prevent this massive slaughter that's going on?" said Senator John McCain during a heated exchange that ended with him walking out of the hearing, as Elizabeth Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, was replying to one of his questions.
 
The administration is discussing different ways to step up support for rebels who are demanding more U.S. involvement in the two-year conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people.
 
The UK and France are pushing to lift a European Union arms embargo on Syria and already supply rebels with military-style equipment such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.
 
Syrian opposition leaders renewed their appeals for arms at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday, but the White House has been reluctant to do more because weapons could end up in the hands of Islamic terrorists.
 
A statement on Wednesday by the head of Syria's jihadist Al-Nusra Front pledging allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri will only increase Western doubts about arming the rebels.
 
The statement came several days after leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist group, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urged rebels to fight to establish an Islamic state in Syria.
 
Islamist rebel groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, which has links to Al-Qaeda, have eschewed the main opposition National Coalition.
 
Al-Nusra is one of 13 factions in the radical Islamist rebel council that announced its secession from the main opposition force and declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo.

Al-Qaeda Chief Wants Islamic State in Syria

Category: News
Created on Monday, 08 April 2013 09:13
Ayman al-Zawahiri - terrorist leaderThe leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist group, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has urged rebels to fight to establish an Islamic state in Syria, AFP reported.
 
The message came in an online audio message Sunday, in which the Al-Qaeda chief also warned France against its military intervention in Mali.
 
"Let your fight be in the name of Allah and with the aim of establishing Allah's sharia (law) as the ruling system," he said, in his first message posted on the Internet since last November.
 
"Do all that you can so that your holy war yields a jihadist Islamic state," said Zawahiri, adding that such a state would help to re-establish the Islamic "caliphate" system of rule.
 
"The enemy has begun to reel and collapse," he said, referring to forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
Islamist rebel groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, which has links to Al-Qaeda, have eschewed the main opposition National Coalition.
 
Al-Nusra is one of 13 factions in the radical Islamist rebel council that announced its secession from the main opposition force and declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo.
 
Zawahiri's message will not sit easily with Western powers, who have expressed fears of extremist Islamism playing a growing role in the Syrian conflict and are reluctant to arm the rebels on the ground.
 
Assad's regime has long dismissed the rebels as "terror" groups backed by Western powers and driven by Al-Qaeda-style ideologies.
 
The United Nations says more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's two-year conflict, which broke out after the army unleashed a brutal crackdown against dissent, turning the uprising into a bloody insurgency.
 
Zawahiri in his message also warned France over its military involvement against Islamists in Mali, AFP reported, saying it will be defeated in the same way, according to him, the Americans were defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
"I call upon our Muslim nation in Mali to hold and be patient, and hopefully, effect a new defeat to the global crusade," said Zawahiri.

‘Iran's Plan B is Alawite State If Syria’s Assad Falls’

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 02 April 2013 07:46
Assad Nasrallah AhmadiA Syrian expert on Middle Eastern affairs believes Iran is angling to fragment Syria and create an Alawite state in order to maintain its power in the region, Today’s Zayman reports.
 
Professor Murhaf Jouejati opposes the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A member of the faculty at the National Defense University in Washington D.C., he spoke with the newspaper Monday in an exclusive interview about savage civil war wracking his homeland.
 
The downfall of the Assad regime would strike a lethal blow to the Syria-Iran-Hizbullah axis, Jouejati contended.
 
“Syria is a major stake for Iran. Syria is Iran’s door to Mediterranean and Arab politics. The fall of the regime would be a tremendous loss for Tehran,” he told the newspaper.
 
In order to prevent that loss, Iran is likely to attempt to divide Syria and create an Alawite state – one comprised of Muslims who support Assad.  
 
Alawite Islam, a branch of Shi’ite Islam, is practiced by those in power in Tehran and by the Lebanon-based Hizbullah terrorists that have been fighting alongside Syrian government troops.
 
Iran would thus promote its policies in Syria using Hizbullah as its proxy in an Alawite state, Jouejati said. Both Iran and Hizbullah have long been strong supporters of the Assad regime.
 
“We were not talking about the fragmentation of the country before,” Jouejati said. “However, the debate on the fragmentation of Syria is more serious than ever because the crisis in the country has become more sectarianized.
 
“We, Syrians, are against the division of the country which could lead to the establishment of an Alawite state.”
                            
About 15 percent of Syrians are Alawites, as is Assad. Last week a group of Alawites met in Cairo and called for the overthrow of the regime, Jouejati said, publicly distancing their community from the Assad family.   

North Africa Al-Qaeda Branch Launches Twitter Account

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 31 March 2013 20:05
Twitter icon - AFPIraqi Influx Doubles Syrian Al Qaeda-Linked Rebel Faction
 
Syria’s Al Nusra Front, allied with Al Qaeda, has more than doubled and is continuing to grow with the influx of jihadists from abroad.
 
Chana Ya'ar
 
Syria’s Al Nusra Front rebel faction, allied with Al Qaeda, has more than doubled and is continuing to grow with the influx of Syrian jihadists returning from abroad.
 
The group was the lead faction among those who recently invaded the buffer zone along the Syrian-Jordanian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights.
 
Listed in the United States as an officially banned terrorist organization, Al Nusra Front has become increasingly attractive to individual jihadists and small radical Islamist groups.
 
The most recent recruits flowing in are Sunni Muslims previously sent to Iraq to advance the interests of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a report published Thursday in the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News.
 
According to the report, jihadists have been flowing into Syria in “small numbers and isolated groups,” and thus their movements have remained largely under the radar of the international community until late last year.
 
Prior to its decision to list Al Nusra as a foreign terrorist organization, Turkey reportedly warned the U.S. government that doing so would increase the group’s “popularity” and raise its attraction for Al Qaeda-linked jihadists in the region.
 
Al Nusra does not cooperate with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), which fights on behalf of the more “moderate” Syrian National Coalition (SNC).
 
But there have been several occasions upon which the FSA has collaborated with Al Nusra, specifically in the conquest of Raqa, and in attacks on Aleppo. Most recently, the jihadists have had open access to the no-man’s-land buffer zone between Syria and Israel – an area that until recently was considered off limits to anyone but the United Nations peacekeepers’ force.
 
SNC coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib has urged the U.S. to reconsider its blacklisting of Al Nusra, and issued a statement in December 2012 warning his Western backers: “We can have ideological and political differences with certain parties, but the revolutionaries all share the same goal: to overthrow the criminal regime (of President Bashar al-Assad).”

Iraqi Influx Doubles Syrian Al Qaeda-Linked Rebel Faction

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 30 March 2013 16:23
Al Nusra terrorist in Raqa - ReutersSyria’s Al Nusra Front rebel faction, allied with Al Qaeda, has more than doubled and is continuing to grow with the influx of Syrian jihadists returning from abroad.
 
The group was the lead faction among those who recently invaded the buffer zone along the Syrian-Jordanian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights.
 
Listed in the United States as an officially banned terrorist organization, Al Nusra Front has become increasingly attractive to individual jihadists and small radical Islamist groups.
 
The most recent recruits flowing in are Sunni Muslims previously sent to Iraq to advance the interests of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a report published Thursday in the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News.
 
According to the report, jihadists have been flowing into Syria in “small numbers and isolated groups,” and thus their movements have remained largely under the radar of the international community until late last year.
 
Prior to its decision to list Al Nusra as a foreign terrorist organization, Turkey reportedly warned the U.S. government that doing so would increase the group’s “popularity” and raise its attraction for Al Qaeda-linked jihadists in the region.
 
Al Nusra does not cooperate with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), which fights on behalf of the more “moderate” Syrian National Coalition (SNC).
 
But there have been several occasions upon which the FSA has collaborated with Al Nusra, specifically in the conquest of Raqa, and in attacks on Aleppo. Most recently, the jihadists have had open access to the no-man’s-land buffer zone between Syria and Israel – an area that until recently was considered off limits to anyone but the United Nations peacekeepers’ force.
 
SNC coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib has urged the U.S. to reconsider its blacklisting of Al Nusra, and issued a statement in December 2012 warning his Western backers: “We can have ideological and political differences with certain parties, but the revolutionaries all share the same goal: to overthrow the criminal regime (of President Bashar al-Assad).”

MI: Assad Will Use WMDs While Hizbullah, Iran Plan New Army

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 14 March 2013 10:45
Maj.-Gen. KochaviIDF Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi had sobering news for policy makers at the Herzliya Conference, predicting chemical warfare and a post-Assad Iranian-Hizbullah military force.
 
Kochavi told the audience at Thursday’s annual convention the Lebanon-based terrorist organization has teamed up with Iran to form a full-scale army, knowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s days in office are numbered.
 
Hizbullah, which like Iran is comprised by Shi’ite Muslims, has long been generously funded, equipped and trained by the Islamic Republic, as has Assad, who has been protected by the terrorist forces and the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards to this point.
 
The two have so far created a militia of 50,000 fighters to support the regime, he said.
 
“Hizbullah and Iran know Assad is finished, and are establishing an army in preparation for the post-Assad era,” warned Kochavi in his address to policy makers. 
 
Hizbullah now has more than 60,000 rockets and missiles at its disposal, according to outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who said in his final testimony to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, “The Middle East today is far less stable becaue the forces leading much of it are Islamist. In the short to long-term, we can redefine the Arab Spring as an ‘Islamic Winter,’ as we see radicals leading it to social and national extremes.”
 
In his assessment Thursday, Kochavi commented that Assad himself “plans to escalate preparations to use chemical weapons but has yet to give the orders to deploy them.”
 
There are at least five known separate sites in the country where chemical weapons arsenals are stored, each containing lethal agents that have long been maintained under strictly controlled conditions.
 
Israel has been monitoring the situation for signs that the chemical agents might be moved due to concerns that Assad was losing control over the sites.
 
The international community, as well as Israel, has expressed fears the chemical weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda, which is known to be operating in the country.
 
If Syria’s chemical weapons fall into such hands, the world may begin to experience terrorist attacks using such agents, researcher Yiftah Shapir of the Institute for National Security Studies warned in an interview with Arutz Sheva earlier this month. 
 
Shapir said Hizbullah probably already possesses most of the chemical weapons and other unconventional means of attack that it could have acquired from Syria, since the two are allies in the axis with Iran, but is unlikely to use them.

Syria Ready to Fight Rebels 'For Years'

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 10:36
Damascus Carnage May10 2012Syria warned Tuesday that it is ready to fight "for years" against rebels, as world powers worked on a new initiative to find regime officials suitable for peace talks with the opposition, AFP reports.
 
The pro-government newspaper Al-Watan said the army was "in perfect condition" and that it "has at its disposal enough men and weapons to fight for years to defend Syria."
 
Syria "is in a state of war" and "facing a real invasion," the paper said, stressing citizens could also join in the battle.
 
President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, which has consistently blamed foreign powers for the violence, also sent letters to the UN urging "pressure on certain Arab and Western countries that supply aid to terrorism," reported AFP.
 
Meanwhile in Geneva, said the report, UNESCO sent out an SOS that a whole generation of Syrian children could disappear.
 
The UN children's agency UNICEF said an entire generation risked being lost in the spiralling conflict between Assad's forces and insurgents.
 
"As the crisis in Syria enters its third, tragic year without any end in sight, the risk of a lost generation grows every hour, every day and every month," UNICEF spokesman Patrick McCormick said.
 
"We cannot afford to lose any more time. We certainly cannot afford to lose another year. We risk creating a generation of children who have seen, or know, only fighting, and may well end up perpetuating that cycle of violence," he added, according to AFP.
 
UNICEF pointed out that nearly half of the four million in dire need of aid inside Syria are under the age of 18, and 536,000 of them are children under five.
 
As the bloodletting approached a third year without a solution in sight, France said it was working with Russia and the United States to draw up a list of regime officials with whom the opposition can negotiate.
 
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said "we worked together on an idea... of a list of Syrian officials who would be acceptable to Syria's opposition National Coalition."
 
Opposition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib has offered to talk to regime representatives without "blood on their hands."
 
Britain said it would consider ignoring a European Union arms ban and could supply weapons to rebels if it would help topple Assad.
 
Prime Minister David Cameron said he hoped London could persuade its EU partners "if and when it becomes necessary (to provide weapons) they'll agree with us."
 
Meanwhile in Homs, fighting focused on Khaldiyeh, with regime forces backed by tanks pounding the northern district, reported AFP.
 
"Troops launched rockets from the Baath University into parts of Baba Amr," said the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.
 
Battles also raged on the road linking Damascus to the airport, said the watchdog. Rebels have been trying to seize control of the road for months.
 
Fighting returned this week to the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, which has been dubbed 'capital of the revolution'.
 
Regime troops seized Baba Amr from rebels just over a year ago after a bloody month-long siege that left the district in ruins and claimed hundreds of lives, including those of two foreign journalists.

Syrian Rebels Vow to Conquer Golan, Refugees Refuse Israeli Aid

Category: News
Created on Monday, 11 March 2013 18:20
Golan HeightsSyrian refugees might be desperate, injured and even starving – but they won’t accept Israeli aid, as rebels vow to reconquer the Golan Heights.
 
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor says Israel has offered to send humanitarian aid into Syria via the International Committee of the Red Cross, as the desperation of civilians fleeing the violence grows. Nevertheless, Palmor told the Turkish Hurriyet daily newspaper, the refugees are still unwilling to accept assistance from Israel, which had coordinated with the Red Cross to send humanitarian aid into the country.
 
But at the private level, aid organizations are coordinating between Israel and Jordan to provide assistance to the refugees who have crossed the border into the Hashemite Kingdom, Palmor noted. “This shows that the Israeli public wants to help Syrians no matter what politics dictates,” he pointed out. Jordan cannot possibly provide on its own all the assistance the refugees need, its own officials have repeatedly pointed out.
 
But while Israelis are trying to help those who have been mistreated the most by the Syrian government, and hurt the worst by the savage civil war raging across the border, Syrian rebel fighters are vowing to wage war against Israel once their battle against President Bashar al-Assad is over.
 
In a video posted on the Internet a couple of weeks ago, a small group of jihadist rebel fighters was filmed against the backdrop of the demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights – the buffer zone that for some 40 years has served to keep the border quiet between Syria and Israel.
 
“We are in the occupied Golan Heights, which the traitor [former President] Hafez Assad (the present president’s father) sold to Israel 40 years ago,” a rebel spokesman tells the viewer, waving around his assault weapon. These lands are blessed and the despicable Assad family promised to liberate them, but for 40 years the Syrian army did not fire a single bullet.
 
“We will open a military campaign against Israel,” the bearded rebel spokesman vows, as his fellow fighters fire their weapons, some of them yelling “Allahu Akbar!” (Allah is Great).  We will fire the bullets that Assad did not, and we will liberate the Golan.”
 
On Monday, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz warned that terrorist groups fighting Assad's regime alongside other rebels are "becoming stronger" and voiced concern they could turn on Israel in the future.    "The situation in Syria has become exceptionally dangerous. The terrorist organizations are becoming stronger on the ground," he told AFP. "Now they are fighting against Assad but in the future they could turn against us." 
 
Israel’s military establishment has been preparing for some time for the day that Bashar al-Assad may fall, with IDF units carrying out military exercises throughout the country.
 
In the northern Negev, the sounds of artillery fire could be heard echoing through the hills of the wadis in the early hours of the morning on Monday, as troops prepared for the possibility of battle in the Golan Heights.
 
As early as July 2012, IDF military intelligence director Maj.-Gen. Avi Kochavi warned that Al Qaeda operatives had moved into the buffer zone and was transforming it into a staging area for future attacks on Israel. Kochavi likened the situation to that taking place in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, noting that just as the Cairo government was finding it difficult to extend its authority to the lawless Sinai, so too Damascus seems no longer able to control rebel forces in the demilitarized zone of the Golan Heights.
 
Another sign of the chaos is last week's kidnapping of 21 United Nations peacekeepers, held by rebels for three days in southern Syria. The Filipino peacekeepers - part of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) that has been monitoring the ceasefire line between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights since 1974 - were seized by the Martyrs of Yarmouk rebel brigade on Wednesday. They crossed into Jordan on Saturday, having been freed after extensive negotiations. 
 
A flood of foreign jihadists – most linked to Al Qaeda -- has flowed into Syria to join the rebels in the battle against Assad loyalists, just as Iranian-backed Lebanese Hizbullah terrorist guerrilla fighters and elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards have joined forces with the Syrian Army soldiers.
 
Kochavi has estimated that should Assad fall, both local and foreign rebels would aim straight at Israel with the huge caches of ordnance that have been stockpiled along the border.
 
Meanwhile, the United States, Britain and France have begun training and equipping Syrian rebel fighters in Jordan at special military camps, albeit opposition fighters affiliated with “moderate, mainstream” groups and not those linked to the radical Islamist camps. At least 200 members of the Free Syrian Army have already received training so far, with plans for a total of 1,200 FSA members to be trained by the project’s end. 

NYT: US to Train and Equip Syria's Rebel Forces

Category: News
Created on Friday, 01 March 2013 10:47
Syrian rebels of shoulder-launched missile systems including the U.S.-made Stingers. AFPThe United States is training and equipping Syrian opposition forces in their war to oust President Bashar al-Assad, according to a report published by The New York Times.
 
Obama administration officials were quoted by the newspaper on Wednesday as saying the U.S. intends to offer the armed rebels non-lethal assistance and equipment for the first time.
 
It is not known, however, in which country the activity is taking place.
 
U.S. aid to the rebel groups is allegedly expected to include military vehicles, communications equipment and night vision gear, according to the report.
 
Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Wednesday at a joint news conference with French counterpart Laurent Fabius that Syria’s opposition needs “more help” in its struggle against loyalist forces.
 
Speaking to reporters in Paris ahead of a meeting with the Friends of Syria group in Rome, Kerry added the U.S. wanted to speed up a political transition in the country, the AFP news agency reported.
 
The Syrian National Coalition (SNC), one of two main opposition forces in the country, is slated to meet for talks Thursday with a group of foreign leaders. 
 
It is not clear whether the second rebel group, the 13-member Islamic Front for the Liberation of Syria, will attend the meeting.  In the past, the group -- which includes the Al-Nusra Front terrorist organization and a number of other groups linked to Al Qaeda -- has publicly rejected any cooperation with the Western-backed SNC . 

Al Qaeda Grows as Assad Forces Shell Civilians Across Syria

Category: News
Created on Friday, 21 December 2012 07:27
As the Assad regime becomes increasingly desperate, its forces are starting to shell civilians in every major city across the country.
 
Troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are attacking civilians and rebel forces alike around Hama, Homs and Aleppo, according to a report issued Wednesday by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Nearly 50,000 people have died since the savage civil war began in March 2011, with a simple scrawled grafitti message of protest by a teen on a wall in Dera'a. 
 
Large-scale electricity and water shortages have been reported across Syria, an increasing concern as the frigid winter sets in. In Aleppo, the country's northern commercial hub, power has been unavailable for the past week, and there have been reports of no running water for the past five days, UNRWA said. Every major artery to the city has been cut off in clashes between government and rebel forces with the exception of the Damascus-Aleppo highway.
 
Meanwhile, the international Al Qaeda terrorist organization is taking advantage of the chaos in the country to stage a comeback there, much as it did in Libya during the revolution that deposed dictator Muammar Qaddafi last year.
 
Syria's Al-Nusra Front terror organization is an affiliate of Al Qaeda, believing in the hope of reviving the Islamic Caliphate that will build a Muslim Empire to eventually rule the world. It is one of 13 factions in the radical Islamist rebel council that announced its secession from the main opposition force several weeks ago.
 
The United States added the Al-Nusra Front to the official list of terror organizations last week.
 
The greater danger lies in its ability to draw others to its ranks: The group is gaining popularity as Assad's Alawite faction, an offshoot of the Iranian affiliated Shi'ite Islam, falls out of favor. Al-Nusra is beginning to recruit from the ranks of Sunni Muslims, who until now have remained moderate and loyal to the mainstream rebels. Al-Nusra Front was responsible for the deadly suicide and car bombings recently in Damascus, Dera'a, Homs and Hama, according to the SITE Intelligence group. Dozens were killed in these attacks; in one suicide bombing, 60 alone were murdered.
 
Air strikes, clashes and shelling also continued for a sixth day inside Yarmouk, a suburb of Damascus that began as a refugee camp for Arabs who had fled Israel in times of war, and their descendants. Originally home to more than 150,000 residents, Yarmouk has become a ghost town over the past week, with some 90 percent of its people having fled the violence.Free Syrian Army fighters pose with their weapons

Assad Regime Says Rebels Control Chemical Factory

Category: News
Created on Monday, 10 December 2012 08:35
Rebels Control Chemical FactoryThe regime of President Bashar al-Assad says Syrian rebels have gained control of a toxic chlorine factory east of Aleppo.
 
The statement, quoted Sunday by Radio Free Europe's Radio Liberty, came less than a week after the Syrian foreign ministry claimed that Assad's troops would never use chemical weapons against his own people.
 
However, the spokesman who issued the statement was sacked within hours for making statements that “did not reflect government policy,” according to Beirut-based Al-Manar TV, linked to Iran-backed Hizbullah terrorists.
 
The statement may indeed have been inaccurate: a report just a few days later, backed up gruesome video documentation, told a different tale. The video, released by rebel forces, showed victims of chemical warfare.  (Ed. Note: Video is graphic and not intended for children or those who are sensitive to trauma.)
 
Assad's claim the rebels are preparing to use chemicals in their war against his government is a sign that his own forces may have already unleashed the weapons.
 
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there was evidence that the Assad government could actually employ chemical weapons stocks in the 21-month-old civil war, but did not elaborate.
 
Israel's government and military personnel are monitoring the northern border and the entire situation within Syria very closely to determine what effect, if any, the conflict may have on its own citizens. The IDF stands prepared to act as necessary to defend its citizens, a spokesman said.

Syria Warns PA Arabs Against Participating in Uprising

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 08 November 2012 21:38
Syrian rebels of shoulder-launched missile systems including the U.S.-made Stingers. AFPSyria’s foreign ministry warned Palestinian Authority Arabs residing in the country against becoming embroiled in the country’s uprising on Wednesday, AFP reported.
 
“Syria will strongly oppose any attempt to bring the Palestinians into what is happening in Syria,” a ministry source said, according to a report on Syria TV.
 
“All Palestinian factions must keep away from every effort of armed terrorist gangs,” the source added, accusing the rebels of supporting Israel.
 
The statements came amid clashes in the Yarmouk camp in southern Damascus, which have been ongoing for several days. Yarmouk serves as an unofficial camp for roughly 150,000 people registered as Palestinian refugees.
 
Members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), led by Damascus ally Ahmad Jibril, fought alongside regime troops while Hamas fighters joined in on the rebel side, Syrian activists said.
 
Damascus has long supported Hamas, offering it safe haven and facilities, but opposition activists told AFP some Hamas fighters have recently joined forces with rebels fighting President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
 
Syrian members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, from which Hamas sprung, were among the first to participate when protests erupted against Assad’s rule in March last year.
 
In the first months of the uprising, Hamas’ leaders expressed support in principle for the struggle of the Syrian people while also highlighting the importance of the movement’s historical relationship with the Syrian regime.
 
However, as the rift with Assad deepened, reports surfaced last year that Hamas is moving its headquarters from Damascus to Egypt and the terror group is strengthening itself in the Sinai.
 
On Monday, Syrian security forces shut down all the offices belonging to Hamas in the country.
 
Last week, two Hamas leaders were killed by the Syrian army in another camp for people registered as Palestinian refugees, located near Deraa.

UN Condemns Spillover from Syria into Golan Heights

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 07 November 2012 07:24
Tanks at Golan hightsThe United Nations on Tuesday condemned fighting by Syrian forces close to a Golan Heights ceasefire line with Israel as a new threat to stability in the region, AFP reported.
 
UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky was quoted as having said a mortar shell and a tank round fired from the Syrian side of a ceasefire line created in the Golan Heights in 1974 had landed on Israel's side.
 
"The presence of military personnel and the military operations in the area of separation are grave violations of the 1974 agreement" setting up the demilitarized zone, Nesirky said, according to AFP.
 
"It has the potential to escalate tensions between Israel and Syria and jeopardizes the ceasefire between the two countries and the stability of the region," he added, highlighting the "serious safety and security risks" to the UN unarmed force in the Golan.
 
On Monday, an Israeli military jeep was hit by Syrian gunfire on the Golan Heights. 
 
IDF soldiers were patrolling near the northern border when they came under gunfire from the Syrian side of the border. There were no casualties.
 
Last Saturday three Syrian tanks entered the demilitarized zone between Syrian and Israeli territory on the Golan Heights.
 
The tanks, which belong to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, entered the village of Bir Ajam, a short distance away from an IDF position while allegedly maneuvering as part of the fighting between Assad and rebel forces. 
 
Meanwhile, the UN's top political official Jeffrey Feltman said the fighting in Golan and increased tensions in Lebanon and Turkey showed that the "risk is growing that this crisis could explode outward into an already volatile region."
 
Since a 1974 agreement between the two countries, a 1,200-strong unarmed UN force, UNDOF, has patrolled the Golan buffer zone.
 
Nesirky said UNDOF had seen Syrian forces "conducting operations with at least four main battle tanks and mortar fire inside the area of separation."
 
He said the Golan was "relatively quiet" on Tuesday but the UNDOF commander was trying "to prevent an escalation of tension" between Syria and Israel.
 
Earlier on Tuesday, Israel filed a formal complaint with the UN about the military spillover over the northern border from Syria's civil war.
 
Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor wrote a scathing letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, deeply critical of both the incident involving the three tanks as well as the gunfire that struck the military jeep.
 
Prosor said that while Israel continues to act with restraint, such activities could cause instability in the region.

Syria Shuts Down Hamas Offices

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 06 November 2012 08:59
Islamic JihadSyrian security forces on Monday shut down all the offices belonging to Hamas in the country, Al-Jazeera reported.
 
Despite previously being close allies, there has been a rift between Hamas and the Syrian regime ever since the uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad began. In the first months of the uprising, Hamas’ leaders expressed support in principle for the struggle of the Syrian people while also highlighting the importance of the movement’s historical relationship with the Syrian regime.
 
However, as the rift deepened, reports surfaced last year that Hamas is moving its headquarters from Damascus to Egypt and the terror group is strengthening itself in the Sinai.
 
Some reports claimed that the Damascus-based Hamas leadership left Syria after the Syrian government asked the Hamas leaders to leave.
 
Subsequently it was reported that dozens of Hamas members have quietly returned to Gaza from Damascus. Later reports said that Hamas leaders attached to the organization's long-standing Damascus bureau are fleeing Syria with their families as Assad's regime grows increasingly unstable.
 
The areas in Syria which serve as camps for people registered as Palestinian refugees have openly sided with the rebels, and Syrian troops have attacked several such camps. Just last week, two Hamas leaders were killed by the Syrian army in a Deraa refugee camp.
 
Last month, Assad's forces bombed the Deraa camp, killing at least 20 people and injuring dozens more. Sources in the Deraa camp told Ma’an that artillery shells and mortars targeted several streets near the area's mosque.
 
In August, the fighting between Assad’s forces and rebels hit Al-Yarmouk, a Damascus neighborhood that serves as an unofficial camp for roughly 150,000 people registered as Palestinian refugees.
 
Hamas issued a statement condemning the Syrian regime's attack on the camps, said that more than 320 registered Palestinian refugees have been killed since the beginning of the uprising in Syria.
 
Most people in Syria who are considered Palestinian refugees are Syrian-born, but are not considered Syrian, and do not have political rights. Their situation is better than that of refugees in neighboring countries such as Lebanon, where refugees have limited work options and are refused citizenship.

Bomb Blast at Hotel Hosting UN Observers

Category: News
Created on Monday, 05 November 2012 07:54
State media picture of aftermath of explosion last week in Damascus - AFPA huge bomb exploded Sunday morning at a Damascus hotel often used by United Nations observers, state media reported.
 
Several people were wounded in the explosions at the Dama Rose hotel, and it is not known the extent of their injuries or if there were deaths. No one has taken responsibility for the bombing, which could have been carried out by opposition forces but also could have been ordered by the Assad regime, with the intent to blame rebels.
 
Syrian President Bashar Assad continues to wage war against civilians and opposition fighters in what has evolved into a humanitarian disaster that the international community so far is watching from a distance. China and Russia have blocked United Nations Security Council initiatives by the United States to slap tighter sanctions on the government, and the Obama administration is taking a “hands off” position with only two days remaining before the presidential elections.
 
Syrian warplanes attacked opposition forces in Damascus in pre-dawn attacks Sunday near a security building.
 
Saturday’s death toll across the country was staggering, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which estimates that at least 36,000 people have died in the 19-month-old uprising against Assad.
 
On Saturday, rebels launched an offensive on a strategic air base in northern Syria, but state media said the army repulsed the attack. The official ban on foreign media continues to cloud accuracy of claims on both sides.
 
Meanwhile, hundreds of opposition leaders are meeting this week in an effort to create a united front for the first time.

IDF Chief Warns Syrian War Could Become 'An Israeli Matter'

Category: News
Created on Monday, 05 November 2012 05:24
Benny Gantz Briefs CommandersIDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz warned Sunday that Syria's civil war might soon become "an Israeli matter” if military spillover continues.
 
Three Syrian tanks entered the demilitarized zone (DMZ) at the village of Beit Ajam, a few kilometers near an IDF position between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights on Saturday.
 
The move sent Israeli forces in the area on to high alert, and IDF soldiers were instructed by Gantz to prevent any further spillover into Israel's territory.
 
A complaint has been submitted to the United Nations over the violation, although the IDF said it believes the move was connected to the civil war in progress, and was not connected to any specific aggression against Israel.
 
Still, the Syrian tanks have not left the DMZ, increasing concerns that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might use the conflict as an excuse to push his agenda of attempting to retake territory in the Golan Heights.
 
IDF Division 36 soldiers who are stationed on the Golan Heights reported to Gantz about the shouts and gunfire they can hear across the border.
 
"The division is ready for any moment in which those shots might change direction and be turned on us,” IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, escorting Gantz, told reporters.

2 Hamas Leaders Killed in Syrian 'Palestinian' Camp

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 28 October 2012 07:32
Buildings damaged after shelling near Deraa - ReutersTwo Hamas leaders were killed by the Syrian army on Saturday, Palestinian Authority sources told Bethlehem-based Ma’an news agency.
 
The two, Ahmad Khalil Khalil and Ahmad al-Kharoubi, were shot by Syrian soldiers in an area in Deraa which serves as a camp for people registered as Palestinian refugees.
 
The bodies lay in the street for several hours before ambulances were able to reach the area, Ma’an reported.
 
Earlier this month, Assad's forces bombed the Deraa camp, killing at least 20 people and injuring dozens more. Sources in the Deraa camp told Ma’an that artillery shells and mortars targeted several streets near the area's mosque.
 
In August, the fighting between Assad’s forces and rebels hit Al-Yarmouk, a Damascus neighborhood that serves as an unofficial camp for roughly 150,000 people registered as Palestinian refugees.
 
At least 21 people were killed in the camp as Syrian troops used heavy fire to beat back rebels.
 
The number of registered Palestinian refugees who were killed in the internal conflict in Syria was estimated at around 400 in August. Ma’an noted that this figure is estimated to have significantly increased in recent months.
 
Most people in Syria who are considered Palestinian refugees are Syrian-born, but are not considered Syrian, and do not have political rights. Their situation is better than that of refugees in neighboring countries such as Lebanon, where refugees have limited work options and are refused citizenship.
 
Meanwhile, fighting raged across Syria on Saturday, after a ceasefire declared for the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday collapsed. At least 221 people have been killed since the ceasefire was due to take effect on Friday.

Shoe, Gun Drawn in Jordanian TV Debate

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 08 July 2012 16:33
Brawl on Jordanian TVA Jordanian Member of Parliament hurled his shoe at a former MP and then drew his handgun, in the course of a televised debate between the two.
 
The altercation took place when MP Mohammed al-Shawabka faced off against former MP Mansour Sayf al-Din Murad, who identifies openly with Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. Murad is the only Jordanian politician who has met Assad after the rebellion against his regime began last year, and he continues to head delegations that visit Damascus.
 
In the televised segment, Shawabka called Murad "a Syrian agent," accused him of spreading rumors against Jordan and said he was "despicable."
 
Murad retorted by saying Shawabka is "an agent of the Mossad," accusing him of "buying people with money" and added "may your father be cursed" for good measure.
{youtube}agSEM48hd2U{/youtube}
 
This was too much for Shawabka, who threw a shoe at Murad and then pulled out his handgun and began advancing toward Murad. The anchor managed to keep the two from hurting each other, but Murad filed a police complaint against Shawabka for attempted murder.

Related Articles

Visit us on:

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Search