Friday 18 October 2013

2013 Oct 17

PYD InfoFighting continues across western Kurdistan (northern Syria) between the People’s Protection Units, YPG, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL. Today heavy clashes took place outside the city of Efrîn (Afrin), in the village Qestel Cindo, where 13 ISIL fighters were killed. At the same time the ISIL shelled villages around Girê Spî (Til Ebyed), using heavy artillery. Tension is still high in the area and clashes are expected to take place during the evening.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: Damascus: Violent clashes in the Qaboun neighbourhood, regime forces are bombarding parts of it, causing several injuries. Several mortar shells were launched into the Bab touma neighbourhood of Old Damascus, initial reports that 5 civilians were killed and several others injured.

Aleppo province: 12 Syrian civilians from a Kurdish background were killed by the regime bombardment on the town of Tel’eren, 11 others were injured. The dead include 6 children, a young girl and an 18 year old woman; 7 of the victimes were from the same family. This raises the number of people killed in the area in the past 24 hours to 21 casualties: 7 civilians, including 4 children, were earlier killed when their car was targeted near the town, activists accused regime forces of targeting the car with a heat seeking rocket. A man and a child killed on Thursday by regime bombardment on the town. It is worth noting that the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra have taken over the town after violent clashes against rebels from Liwa’ Jabhat al-Akrad in July this year.

Footage of a battalion from Ahrar al-Sham storming the Aleppo Central Prison:

12 dead in Syrian shelling on Kurdish town, monitor says

At least 12 people were killed on Friday in government shelling of a Syrian Kurdish town in the northern province of Aleppo, a monitoring group said.

“Twelve Kurdish citizens, including six children… were killed in government shelling of an area in the town of Tal-Aran,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, adding at least 11 other people were wounded.

The town is east of Aleppo city, and near the town of Sfeireh, which is largely controlled by jihadist fighters and has been a key target for the regime in recent weeks.

The Observatory said another nine people had been killed in shelling on Tal-Aran and the surrounding area on Thursday, including five children, bringing the toll in 24 hours to 21 people.

Tal-Aran is considered strategic because of its location on the main road between Aleppo city and Sfeireh, which is near a regime military site that is believed to hold some of Syria’s chemical arms.

In eastern Syria, meanwhile, rebels advanced in the city of Deir Ezzor after fierce clashes with regime troops overnight.

“Clashes took place overnight between rebels and regime forces in several neighborhoods in the city of Deir Ezzor,” said the Observatory.

The Britain-based group also reported regime air strikes and clashes in the city of Deir Ezzor, which lies in the eastern province of the same name, on Friday morning.

The strikes left people wounded and destroyed several houses.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers on the ground, said initial reports suggested rebels had taken an area near the Rashdiya district that had been under government control.

“Fighters from the Al-Nusra Front executed 10 soldiers from the regime forces after they captured them following clashes in Rashdiya,” it said.

On Thursday, state television said a senior military intelligence officer was killed in Deir Ezzor city.

“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.

The Observatory said he was killed by a sniper in clashes between jihadist opposition fighters and regime troops in Rashdiya.

Jamaa was a leading intelligence official in Syria and one of Damascus’s top security officers in Lebanon during Syria’s military deployment in the country between 1976 and 2005.

International meeting on Syria in London on Tuesday

Britain will host an international conference on the Syrian conflict next Tuesday to prepare the way for a planned peace meeting in Geneva, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Friday.

The conference in London will bring together representatives of the Syrian opposition and the foreign ministers of the so-called London 11, the core group of the Friends of Syria, including the United States, France and Saudi Arabia.

Hague said the nations would “discuss preparations for the Geneva Conference, support for the [opposition] Syrian National Coalition, and our efforts to achieve a political settlement to this tragic conflict”.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said this week it was “urgent” to set a date for the so-called Geneva 2 meeting, but that peace was impossible while President Bashar al-Assad remained in power.

Representatives of the leadership of the National Coalition will attend the London meeting.

The “London 11” consists of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Syria’s close ally Russia, which helped to avert US-led military action against the Assad regime by brokering a deal to dispose of its chemical weapons, is not attending the London talks.

UN envoy heads to Egypt to prepare Syria talks

The UN special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, will on Saturday visit Egypt as he kicks off a regional tour to prepare for peace talks on Syria dubbed Geneva 2, his spokesperson said.

Brahimi will meet Egypt’s foreign minister Nabil Fahmy as well as the Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi, spokesperson Khawla Mattar said in Geneva on Friday.

The rest of his schedule is uncertain due to various governments being on holiday because of the main Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, but Mattar said “the tour will cover several countries of the region”.

This will include visits to Damascus and Tehran.

The international community has for months been pushing Syria’s rebels and the regime to participate in talks on a negotiated solution to the conflict, which has killed an estimated 115,000 people since March 2011.

Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said proposed peace talks in Geneva could take place on November 23-24.

However Mattar said the date for the long awaited peace conference will be announced by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “in due time”.

She said the meeting was likely to place in the “second half of November”.

Prospects for the Geneva 2 conference remain unclear, with the Syrian opposition divided and due to vote next week on whether to take part.

REUTERS: Syrian opposition undecided on attending talks -group’s U.S. representative

WASHINGTON – The Syrian opposition coalition has not yet decided whether to attend a long-delayed international conference on ending Syria’s civil war, the coalition’s U.S. representative said on Friday.

Najib Ghadbian acknowledged that an important component of the coalition had decided against taking part, but said other members of the umbrella organization could still decide to go, assuming that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not there.

“We have not made a decision in the coalition about whether to go or not, but we agreed on certain determinants of what’s acceptable for us to go to Geneva, including our understanding that Assad is not part of that process,” Ghadbian said during an appearance at John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

George Sabra, the president of the Syrian National Council, the largest group in the Western-backed opposition coalition, was quoted recently by Agence France-Presse as saying the council would not attend the talks, saying he did not think they would offer anything to the Syrians.

But Ghadbian said the purpose of the conference was a transition to democracy in Syria, and many opposition members thought it could be an opportunity if framed in the right way.

“If the conditions that make it successful are there, we should go,” he said. “We want to end this conflict.”

Ghadbian said he was unaware that any date had been set for the conference. A senior Syrian official said on Thursday that the meeting was scheduled for November 23 and 24, but co-organizers Russia and the United States said no date had been set.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has suggested the conference be held in mid-November. He will attend a meeting of the “Friends of Syria” including Western and Gulf Arab states in London next week, where the peace talks will be discussed.

A recent deal for Syria to scrap its chemical weapons rekindled efforts to convene the conference, dubbed “Geneva 2,” which Russia and the United States have been trying to organize since May to end a war that has killed over 100,000 people.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Syrian refugees need safe harbor beyond region: UNHCR

GENEVA – The U.N. refugee agency on Friday appealed to European and other states to grant asylum to more Syrians as increasing numbers flee their country in perilous journeys across the Mediterranean.

Syria’s immediate neighbors, as well as Libya and Egypt, are struggling to cope with an average daily exodus of 4,000 Syrian refugees and need support in sharing the burden, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

“Growing numbers of Syrians are crossing the Mediterranean from Egypt to Italy, citing increasing anxiety over their security as well as incidents of physical assaults, verbal threats, detention and deportation,” UNHCR chief spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a news briefing in Geneva.

Since August alone, 6,233 Syrians and Palestinians who were refugees in Syria have arrived in Italy aboard 63 boats, she said. This was against 350 Syrians who came in all of 2012.

Up to 300 people are missing after a boat carrying as many as 500 Syrians and Palestinians from Syria sank off the coast of Malta on October 11 after departing from Libya, Fleming said.

Survivors reported their vessel had been fired on two hours after it left Libya’s shores. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan denied Libyan forces were involved but promised to investigate.

A boat of 112 passengers, including 40 Syrians, sank the same night off Egypt’s coast. The 100 survivors are detained in police stations in the Alexandria region, the UNHCR said.

“Given the ongoing and dramatic needs of Syrian refugees, which are likely to continue and grow in the immediate future, reinforcement of capacity to receive them in North African countries is increasingly urgent,” Fleming said. “These countries are experiencing their own internal issues.”

Egypt hosts up to 300,000 Syrians, according to government estimates, but there has been a backlash against them since Islamist President Mohamed Mursi was ousted in July.

Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq have taken in most of the nearly 2.2 million Syrian refugees who fled a civil war that has killed at least 100,000 people since March 2011.

The U.N. agency has proposed that Western countries admit up to 30,000 Syrian refugees on resettlement, humanitarian admission, or other admission programs by the end of 2014.

So far this year, 16 Western countries have pledged to resettle 10,240 Syrian refugees, including 500 announced by France this week, the UNHCR says. Germany accounts for 5,000.

“UNHCR is calling on countries that have the means to do so, in Europe or beyond, to offer solidarity through not only financing and other contributions, but through measures that would mean third-country resettlement and family reunifications,” Fleming said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Guardian: Syrian opposition under pressure to attend Geneva peace conference

17 Oct 2013: Divisions among opponents of Bashar al-Assad cast doubt over whether credible representatives will attend talks

Pressure is mounting on Syria‘s fractured opposition to attend a peace conference in Geneva next month despite only slim chances that it will succeed in finding an exit from the country’s bloody conflict.

Qadri Jamil, Syria’s deputy prime minister, said on Thursday that the event was scheduled for 23-24 November. Western diplomats confirmed that these dates were being used by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who will chair the conference. Lakhdar Brahimi, the Syria envoy for the UN, had previously said it was not certain that talks would take place by the current target date of mid-November.

But opposition divisions are now so deep as to cast serious doubts over whether any credible representatives will attend. The US, Britain, France and the Arab Gulf states are considering new aid and other incentives to ensure they do. The heart of the opposition’s dilemma at Geneva is the question of a transitional government and any role for Bashar al-Assad in it.

Diplomats say the format will be similar to the 1991 Madrid Arab-Israeli peace conference with a grand ceremonial launch to be followed by detailed talks. Critics predict that any such process will go nowhere slowly and eventually peter out.

The Syrian government has said it will attend without preconditions but there is confusion about its terms. Jamil last month denied a statement he had made in a Guardian interview that the government would offer a ceasefire. Assad refers to his readiness to hold talks but not with “terrorists” – the government’s blanket term for all opposition forces.

Efforts to convene the conference have intensified since last month’s US-Russian deal to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons capability – which removed the threat of punitive US-led air strikes and enhanced Assad’s bargaining position.

Jamil said the conference was needed because “everyone is at a dead end – a military and political dead end”. Geneva, he added, “is a way out for everyone: the Americans, Russia, the Syrian regime and the opposition. Whoever realises this first will benefit. Whoever does not realise it will find himself overboard, outside the political process.”

But the opposition is increasingly fractured. The main western-backed group, the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), has said it will attend if it is agreed by all parties that “the purpose of the conference will be the establishment of a transitional government with full executive powers” created on the basis of “mutual consent”, as stipulated at the first round of international talks on Syria in Geneva last year.

Assad, however, has given no indication that he is ready to step down before his presidential term ends in May 2014.

Last week the opposition split further when the Syrian National Congress said it would not go to Geneva. Even more damaging, 11 Islamist and Jihadi groups, including the main fighting formations on the ground in Syria, have refused to attend or recognise the authority of the SOC. Assad’s opponents see Geneva as a way for the president to press home his political and military advantages and defeat them. “Why should the opposition attend,” one anti-Assad activist said on Thursday. “Geneva II is just another sham giving Assad, Russia and Iran more time to crush the rebellion.”

In a new report on Syria’s opposition, the International Crisis Group (ICG) commented: “Its qualms regarding the Geneva II process notwithstanding, the coalition (SOC) should develop a realistic strategy towards what remains the best hope for ending the war. This should entail, for example, reaching internal consensus on workable negotiation parameters.”

Syrian sources believe some groups and individuals will agree to go to Geneva but trigger splits and re-positioning in the process. The Damascus-based National Co-ordination Bureau – seen as a “loyal opposition” – is one likely candidate, as are Kurdish groups. Mainstream opposition figures are alarmed at the growing success of the Syrian government’s argument that the country now faces a stark choice between Assad and al-Qaida.

William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, said after talks with the SOC president, Ahmed Jarba, at the UN last month: “There can be no peaceful and political settlement in Syria without the participation of the moderate opposition,” guaranteeing that participation will be the main focus of international diplomacy on Syria in the coming days and weeks.

Peter Harling of the ICG said: “Any viable resolution of the war requires a representative opposition. But to endlessly search for a more credible and coherent political opposition is to mistake cause and consequence: only a political process viewed as credible and coherent by the opposition’s base will produce viable representatives – not the other way around.”