IDLIB: Photo shows a dead Syrian soldier loyal to Syrian president Bashar Assad, on the ground next to a destroyed helicopter at Taftanaz air base, that was captured by the rebels, in Idlib province, northern Syria. —AP
BEIRUT: Syria’s civil war is unleashing a “staggering humanitarian crisis” on the Middle East as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee violence including gang rape, an international aid agency said yesterday. Opposition activists said an air strike on rebel-held territory southwest of Damascus killed 20 people, including women and children, adding to the more than 60,000 people estimated to have been killed in the 21-month-old conflict. Over 600,000 Syrians have fled abroad – many to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan – as violence has spread and international efforts to find a political solution have sagged. Refugees interviewed by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) cited sexual violence as a major reason they fled the country, the New York-based organization said in a 23-page report on the crisis published yesterday. Gang rapes often happened in front of family members and women had been kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed, it said. “After decades of working in war and disaster zones, the IRC knows that women and girls suffer physical and sexual violence in every conflict. Syria is no exception,” the group added. Rebels and government forces have both been accused of human rights abuses during the conflict, which began with peaceful protests against President Bashar Al-Assad in March 2011. The unrest turned violent after government forces fired on demonstrators and has since become a full-scale civil war. Fierce winter weather has worsened the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees. The IRC urged donors to step up planning and funding in the expectation that more Syrians will flee. “Nearly two years into Syria’s civil war, the region faces a staggering humanitarian disaster,” the IRC report said.
AIR POWER Despite advancing in Syria’s north and east and winning support from regional powers like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the Syrian rebels have been unable to break a military stalemate with government forces elsewhere. They have struggled to counter government air power in particular, making it hard for them to take and hold territory crucial to Assad’s grip on power, including major cities. An activist in Moadamiyeh, a rebel-held town southwest of Damascus, said an air strike there killed 20 people yesterday. Activist video footage showed images of the limp body of a boy being pulled out from broken concrete, his back covered in dust and his front in blood. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said at least 13 people had died in the air raid but the toll was likely to rise. Syrian state television said “terrorists” – its word for rebels – had fired a mortar from the Damascus suburb of Daraya on a civilian building in Moadamiyeh, killing women and children. The reports could not be independently verified because of government restrictions on independent media in Syria. Syrian warplanes also bombarded the strategic Taftanaz air base that rebels seized last week the Observatory said. In another sign of escalating bloodshed, Human Rights Watch said it had evidence that government forces had used multi-barrel rocket launchers to deliver Egyptian-made cluster munitions in recent attacks. “Syria is escalating and expanding its use of cluster munitions, despite international condemnation of its embrace of this banned weapon,” it said.
DEADLOCK Syria’s rising death toll has brought international intervention no closer. The United States and Russia have been deadlocked over how to resolve the crisis. Moscow – which has continued to back its long-standing ally and arms client Assad – urged the opposition on Sunday to make its own proposals in response to a speech by Assad a week ago. The speech, which offered no concessions, was criticized by the United Nations and United States. Syrian rebels described it as a renewed declaration of war. Talks between Russia and the United States in Geneva on Friday failed to produce a breakthrough. As diplomatic efforts have stalled, the conflict has continued to draw in Syria’s neighbors. A mortar round apparently fired from Syria crashed in a field in Turkey overnight close to a refugee camp housing thousands of Syrians along the border, Turkish state media said. NATO troops have begun deploying Patriot defense missiles in Turkey against a potential attack from its southern neighbor. The missiles are expected to be operational by the end of the month. Turkey is a strong supporter of the Syrian rebels. NATO said Syrian government forces had launched a shortrange, Scud-style ballistic missile on Sunday, bringing to more than 20 the number launched in the past month. The missiles, apparently fired against opposition targets, landed in Syrian territory, mostly in northern Syria, a NATO spokeswoman said in Brussels, but some of the missiles landed “quite close” to the Turkish frontier. —Reuters
Source: Kuwait Times
BERLIN (AP) — More than 50 countries have backed a call for the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, a move that would open the way for war crimes prosecutions.
A draft of the letter obtained Friday by The Associated Press says the situation in Syria should be referred to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal "without exceptions and irrespective of the alleged perpetrators."
"At the very least, the council should send out an unequivocal message (...) announcing that it intends to refer the situation to the ICC unless a credible, fair and independent accountability process is being established in a timely manner" by Syria, it continues.
The letter cites the findings of a U.N. expert panel documenting summary executions, torture and sexual violence that has occurred since the start of the uprising in March 2011. It also notes repeated appeals by the U.N.'s top human rights official and resolutions by the global body's Human Rights Council calling for ICC referral.
The draft letter was signed by Switzerland's ambassador to the United Nations in New York on behalf of dozens of countries including Britain and France, two of the Security Council's five permanent members. The other three permanent members — the United States, China and Russia — had not signed the draft.
A spokesman for Switzerland's U.N. mission in New York said the letter would be submitted to the Security Council on Monday.
Adrian Sollberger said Switzerland first proposed such a move in June 2012, and that it now had the backing of more than 50 countries from all regions of the world, giving the call sufficient political weight.
"The manifold allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria must be investigated and those responsible among all the parties of the conflict must be brought before a court," he said.
The Security Council is the only body that can refer Syria to the ICC because the country itself hasn't ratified the international convention that established the tribunal.
The U.N.'s human rights office issued a report last week estimating that at least 60,000 people have died in Syria since the start of the conflict.
Source: NWA Online
Palestinians who fled violence in the refugees camp of Yarmuk are seen at the Masnaa Lebanese border crossing with Syria as people stamp their documents before entering Lebanon on December 19, 2012. (AFP PHOTO /JOSEPH EID)
BEIRUT: Just over 20,000 Palestinians remain in Lebanon
after fleeing violence in Syria, according to the Palestinian Hamas
A total of 885 Palestinians have been killed in Syria
since the uprising began nearly two years ago, a Hamas spokesman told The Daily Star
According to a report released by Hamas, some 20,500 Palestinians remain in Lebanon after fleeing the violence in Syria, including at least 3,500 who left following the latest outbreak of fighting in the Yarmouk refugee camp outside Damascus
The official noted that the number was approximate and took into account Palestinians living in Syria who have Jordanian, Egyptian or other travel documents.
“Many are staying with relatives but we have also opened some schools in Ain al-Hilweh
and one in the Jalil camp in the Bekaa
due to the [recent] rain and snow,” the official said.
The country was battered by a severe winter storm this week that raised concerns for the welfare of struggling refugees from Syria, many of whom live in unfinished houses or informal camps.
The report says that 480 families have sought refuge in the Ain al-Hilweh camp in south Lebanon, but many more are living in crowded, unsanitary conditions.
Source: The Daily Star
January 11, 2013
International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and senior U.S. and Russian diplomats have called for a quick political solution to end the civil war in Syria, but reached no breakthrough.
"We are all very, very deeply aware of the immense suffering of the Syrian people, which has gone on for far too long," Brahimi told reporters after his talks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in Geneva on January 11. "And we all stressed the need for a speedy end to the bloodshed, to the destruction, and all forms of violence in Syria."
Brahimi added that the parties reiterated that “there was no military solution” to the Syrian conflict but expressed doubt that a resolution to the situation was in sight.
"If you are asking me whether the solution is around the corner, I'm not sure that is the case," he said.
The United Nations estimates more than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria since protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime began in March 2011.
Moscow and Washington remain deeply split over the Syrian crisis.
Washington backs the opposition and has demanded that President Bashar al-Assad leave power, while Russia supports Assad.
On January 10, Damascus denounced Brahimi as "flagrantly biased," after he rejected any role for Assad in a postwar transitional government.
Meanwhile, rebels are reported to have taken control of a strategic northwestern air base after days of fierce fighting with government forces.
Hundreds of fighters, led by Islamic militants, have besieged the air base since November.
Reports say helicopters based in the facility have been used to attack rebel-held areas in the north and deliver supplies to government forces.
Source: Radio Free Europe
Fri, 11 Jan 2013 10:52 GMT
Source: Reuters // Reuters
BEIRUT, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Rebels seized a strategic air base in northern Syria on Friday after months of fighting, activists and insurgents said, further weakening President Bashar al-Assad's grip on the region.
The Syrian military struck back hours after fighters captured the base, launching air strikes on the area, the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"Taftanaz base is being bombarded by Syrian war planes, which are trying to destroy the airport after it was seized by fighters," it said. These came from several Islamist battalions strong in northern Syria such as Ahrar al-Sham, the Islamic Vanguard and al-Nusra Front, which has links to al Qaeda.
For months, rebels had fought for the base used by military helicopters in Idlib province. But it only fell after Islamist units reinforced them earlier in January.
The United States has branded Nusra a terrorist organisation although it enjoys wide support in Syria for its combat skills.
Rebels from the Islamic Front, an alliance of several Islamist units, said Taftanaz is the largest helicopter base in northern Syria and the second largest in the country.
They posted an online video showing armed men in camouflage jackets tearing down posters of Assad and shouting "Allahu akbar (God is Greatest)" at what they said was the Taftanaz base.
The videos could not be verified independently. The government has imposed strict curbs on foreign media access.
Another video showed men picking through crates of ammunition said to be stored in the air base's armoury.
The United Nations says at least 60,000 people have been killed in Syria since peaceful protests began in March, 2011 and then developed into an armed revolt after a security crackdown.
Source: Alert Net
Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, November 28, 2011 (photo credit: AP)
Hashemite kingdom, which holds general elections in two weeks, has closed its borders to ‘brethren’ fleeing Assad, fearing major influx
Jordan will not allow Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria to enter the kingdom, for fear that doing so would encourage Israel to deport Palestinians to Jordan, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said on Thursday.
“There are those who want to absolve Israel once again of its responsibility for banishing Palestinians from their homes,” Ensour said in an extensive interview with the London-based Arab daily al-Hayat. “Jordan is not the place to solve Israel’s problems. Jordan has taken a sovereign and explicit decision not to allow Palestinians carrying Syrian [travel] documents to enter Jordan.”
In recent weeks, Jordan has begun turning away Palestinian refugees,Qatari news channel al-Jazeera reported
earlier this week. Jordan will hold general elections on January 23, and fears of a Palestinian demographic domination — once hushed — are now being expressed in Jordan more openly.
“Receiving these brethren is a red line for us, because it will be a prelude for another wave of deportation, which is what the Israeli government wants,” Ensour added. “Our Palestinian brothers in Syria have rights in their country of origin, and they should remain there until the crisis is over.”
When asked about the possibility of a federation or confederation with the Palestinian state
, the Jordanian prime minister was unequivocal.
“This is the best opportunity to declare publicly on behalf of the Jordanian government that there can be no talk of a federation or a confederation before Israel withdraws from all occupied land, including East Jerusalem… We must not absolve Israel of its responsibility for the Palestinian issue, and carry it on our shoulders alone.”
Knesset members on Israel’s right have rejected the idea of a Palestinian state, and have called for the application of Israeli law in the West Bank. Moshe Feiglin, ranked No. 22 on the Likud-Beytenu Knesset list, suggested – in a political conference January 1 — encouraging Palestinian emigration to the West Bank by giving every Palestinian family in the West Bank half a million dollars.
In the interview, Ensour also blasted his country’s Muslim Brotherhood for boycotting the upcoming elections and attempting to legally diminish the king’s authorities. He said that transferring authorities from the king to an elected parliament will not solve the crisis, since the Muslim Brotherhood mistrusts the parliament as well.
Ensour admitted that, in the past, Jordan’s intelligence agency tampered with election results at the behest of the Hashemite regime. He added, however, that ahead of this year’s vote, the king has ordered the country’s security not to intervene in the electoral process in any way.
“There will be no place for the mistakes committed in previous elections,” he said.
Source: The Time Of Isreal
This amateur video shows smoke rising from behind helicopters at Taftanaz air base (AP/Shaam News Network)
Thursday January 10 2013
Hundreds of Islamic militants fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad have seized parts of a strategic north-western air base after weeks of battling government troops for control of the sprawling facility.
At stake is the biggest field for helicopters used to bomb rebel-held areas in the north and deliver supplies for regime forces.
Opposition fighters and activists said rebels broke into the Taftanaz air base in the northern Idlib province and had seized control of more than half of it. Intense battles were still raging. One activist said rebels had suffered losses.
An activist near Taftanaz said the government bombed the air base from warplanes in a desperate attempt to push back rebels who seized several helicopters. The account could not immediately be confirmed.
An amateur video posted by activists online showed smoke rising from behind helicopters parked on the Taftanaz tarmac, and a narrator said it was the result of an air strike.
The rebel attack on the Taftanaz base is part of a wider attempt to chip away at the Syrian regime's air supremacy, which poses the biggest obstacle to the opposition fighters' advances.
The rebels have been besieging Taftanaz for months and launched an offensive to take the base in early November. Its fall would be an embarrassing blow to the regime but not fully stop air strikes by government jets, many of which come from bases farther south.
"If the fighters seize full control of Taftanaz air base and manage to keep it, it would be the first major military airport to fall into rebel hands," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, Iran's official Irna news agency said 48 former captives held for more than five months returned to Tehran on Thursday after being freed by Syrian rebels in the first major prisoner swap of the civil war.
Rebels claimed the captives were linked to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, but Tehran has denied that, saying the men were pilgrims visiting Shiite religious sites in Syria.
Source: The Guardian
Syria: Another Missile Fired, Says Nato
A short-range ballistic missile has been fired again inside Syria, following similar launches last week, a Nato official has said.
"We detected the launch of an unguided, short-range ballistic missile inside Syria yesterday (Wednesday). This follows similar launches on January 2 and 3," the official said, adding: "All missiles were fired from inside Syria and they landed in northern Syria. None hit Turkish territory."
While Nato said it could not provide further details on the type of missiles, it condemned the firing of them.
"The use of such indiscriminate weapons shows utter disregard for the lives of the Syrian people. It is reckless and we condemn it," the official said.
Fighting is still reported to be continuing, despite increasingly bad weather.
There has been four days of continuous rain, wind, hail and snowfall that weather officials in neighbouring Lebanon and Israel have called the worst winter storm for 20 years.
The terrible conditions have brought further misery to the 600,000 refugees already suffering by having to flee their country because of the war.
Tens of thousands of the refugees living in the Zaatari refugee camp are without shelter after storms destroyed their temporary shelters and turned much of the camp into a muddy swamp.
Camps in Turkey have been hit by a heavy snowfall.
And, in rebel-held areas of Syria, fuel and food are growing scarce, according to reports.
Residents in mainly rebel-held Aleppo are burning furniture and doors to stay warm, said Michal Przedalicki, an aid worker from the Czech charity People in Need working in northern Syria.
"Unfortunately, I think it is quite likely that people will die from the severe weather conditions. Already people have not been eating enough for several months, and that exposes their bodies to more disease and infection."
Source: Yahoo News
Second visit to Cairo in four months
Salehi holds talks on Syrian crisis with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo, one day after he met briefly with peace envoy Brahimi.
CAIRO - Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi held talks on the Syrian crisis with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo Thursday, officials said, a day after he met briefly with peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
Egypt's foreign ministry said that Salehi and Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr "exchanged views on the Syrian crisis and means of finding a solution" to the conflict which the UN says has killed more than 60,000 people.
Salehi, whose country is a key ally of the Syrian regime, is also due to hold talks while he is in Cairo with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who has urged President Bashar al-Assad to step down and backed calls that he be tried for war crimes.
An Iranian diplomat said that Salehi met Brahimi late Wednesday on his arrival in Cairo for the two-day visit.
No details were given on that meeting, which came just before Brahimi, the UN-Arab League special envoy for Syria, left Cairo for Geneva to discuss Syria's 21-month conflict with Russian and US officials.
Iran is the only country to have come out in support of a three-step plan to end Syria's civil war outlined Sunday by Assad in a rare speech in Damascus.
"Assad's plan includes solutions which reject violence and terrorism and any foreign interference in the country, and outlines a comprehensive political process" Salehi said in a statement on Monday.
Source: Middle East Online
Notice how Syria’s civil war casualty figures shot up by 15,000 overnight last week? The world’s press had happily settled into the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” statistic of 45,000 dead in almost three years.
But then at New Year’s the UN’s Human Rights Commission tells the world that the real figure is close to 60,000. Come again? Did 15,000 Syrians climb into a mass grave on 1 January, 2013?
First, however, a health warning. No-one disputes the carnage in Syria. But figuring out just how many souls die in a civil war – and whose “side” they were on when they expired – is a mighty dangerous game.
News desks beware, for history suggests that the “bad guy” must always be held responsible for the greatest number of deaths – at least in the Middle East – and that civilians who become “fighters” end up in civilian death lists, while men and women killed by the “good guys” don’t get on lists at all. It’s not just a question of lies, damned lies and statistics; in a war, each side produces its own rules for the dead. And none of them tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Government deadFor example, how many Syrian soldiers, pro-government militiamen, pro-government supporters and civilian sympathisers are counted among the statistics. SANA, the Syrian government news agency, once spoke of 2,000 dead among Assad’s military. Assad’s own officers suggested to me in Damascus last year that this figure had reached at least 6,000. I suspect it may be nearer to 10,000 pro-Assad soldiers who have now been killed. So does this mean that at least one sixth of the UN figures actually comprise the army which is accused by the West of committing atrocities? And if this is true, how many more “pro-Assad” civilians should be added to the list; hundreds of recent victims of the Syrian war have been Christians – who could scarcely rank among the insurgents. Does this account for one figure, which puts pro-government dead as more than 13,000?
One reason, of course, why the pro-opposition “Syrian Observatory” suspects the UN figure is inflated, is that the ladies and gentlemen of the Human Rights Commission want to heap more coals of derision upon the slumbering – and certainly impotent – UN Security Council. The UN, after all, is not a committee of wise men, but a monumental political beast, not unlike a giant donkey. Give it the carrot of a bigger mass grave and it might plod a little faster.
So how many rebels have been killed in Syria? We are told that almost 5,500 military defectors are among the dead. So are 372 Palestinians, killed in inter-Palestinian fighting around the largest refugee camp in Damascus.
Who to count?It’s sobering to remember how we have wrestled with the same kind of statistics in the past. In “our” Iraq war from 2003-2009 – note how we assume the conflict ended when “we” abandoned the country, although another 4,500 Iraqis were killed in 2012 alone – every blue-eyed Western casualty was meticulously listed. But the Western occupation authorities went along with General Tommy Franks’ obscene invention about the Iraqi dead, that “we don’t do body counts”. The Pentagon was later revealed to have kept a list of civilian dead up to 2005 – the total was 25,902 – but these figures were slyly contrived. They listed only civilians killed by insurgents: unarmed Iraqis killed by Western military forces found no place in the Pentagon’s figures.
But you can go further back. Armenians claim – with good reason – that a million and a half of their people were victims of the 1915 Turkish genocide. But the Turks still peddle the myth that these figures were falsified, and that Armenians died in the “chaos” of internal conflict during the First World War.
And what about the Second World War? Did 40 million die, as we used to believe, or was it 70 million (more likely if you include the Sino-Japanese war)? Against this hecatomb, a 15,000 discrepancy in the killing fields of Syria is hardly surprising.
Source: The Independent