Friday 6 September 2013

2013 Sept 6Syrian Observatory for Human Rights:Aleppo province: Clashes broke out between the Jabhat al-Akrad brigade and the YPG from one side and rebel fighters from the other in the al-Sheikh Maqsoud, Achrafiya, al-Sakan al-Shababi and al-Shaqif neighbourhoods, after rebel fighters attacked the checkpoints of the opposing side. Reports that an unidentified civilian was shot by sniper at the Karaj al-Hajz crossing in the Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood. A shell fell on a building in which regular forces are centralized. 1 from the A’ndan city was killed when regular forces targeted the car transporting him at the Babis area with reports of several injuries. The airforce opened fire with heavy machine guns at midnight on the neighbourhoods of Bustan al-Basha and Masaken Hanano. Rebel fighters blew up a troop carrier vehicle near the Nubbul town with land mines, reports of casualties and injuries from regular forces. Fighters from the Shari’a council stormed the headquarters of an armed group who kidnap civilians from the Karaj al-Hajz crossing in Bustan al-Qasr and brought them forth for trial.

Reef Dimashq: Violent clashes broke out between rebel and regular forces at the al-Mafraq checkpoint, the air intelligence branch and in the Hosh Blas are near the al-Sbeina town. Regular forces detained several civilians from the Jdaidet A’rtouz town on the al-A’mmal checkpoint and took them to one of the buildings in the area. Regular forces bombarded the M’adamiyat al-Sham city, al-Thiyabiya, A’in Tarma, Beit Sahem, Rankous city and its fields, the southern and western parts of Dariya, al-Blaliya, the perimeter of Deir Salman and the al-Nashabiya, 2 rockets fell on M’adamiyat al-Sham. Several houses in Harasta caught fire by regime bombardment on the city.

The Ma’loula city is calm today, sounds of gunshots are heard from the nearby hills and areas, some of which are under rebel control and are attacking regime strongholds. Regular forces reinforced the checkpoint that was attacked by a Jordanian suicide bomber from the al-Nusra front wednesday morning, at least 8 regular soldiers at the checkpoint were killed by the explosion and the clashes that followed it. Rebel fighters and al-Nusra front later stormed the city’s square and took hold of the checkpoint, they clashed for hours with the city’s popular defence committees and then retreated to the outskirts of the city on wednesday night and centralized in the perimeter of the Safir Ma’loula hotel. The SOHR has not received any information on the burning of churches nor on al-Nusra demanding the city’s residents to become Muslims.

Footage of clashes in central Ma’loula:

UN: ‘We are working extremely hard’ for political solution to Syria crisis – UN-Arab League envoy

 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) with Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi at breakfast in St. Petersburg, Russian Federation. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

6 September 2013 – The Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States today stressed that he and other senior diplomats were working “extremely hard” bring Syrian an other concerned parties together for a conference to find a political path out of the crisis in the country.

Following a meeting initiated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Lakhdar Brahimi said the UN has been working hard to prepare for the so-called Geneva II meeting, which would include representatives of Syrian parties as well as senior United States, Russian and UN officials.

The goal of the conference would to be to achieve a political solution to the conflict in Syria through a comprehensive agreement between the Government and the opposition for the full implementation of the Geneva communiqué of 30 June 2012.

Yet, he said, the fate of the conference was “in danger” because of the alleged use of chemical weapons on the outskirts of Damascus, the Syrian capital, on 21 August, “and what may follow as a consequence of that.”

“I have drawn attention to the participants of this meeting today to the possible consequences…I think the United Nations [has no] alternative but too continue to pay close attention to the situation in Syria,” Mr. Brahimi said.

The biomedical and environmental samples taken by the UN chemical weapons inspection team from the alleged 21 August attack in the Ghouta area outside Damascus are currently being analyzed in four European laboratories. Scientists are working “around the clock” to ensure a rapid result but one that also respects the highest professional standards and without compromising its integrity.

Results of the analyses will be shared with Mr. Ban, who will then share them with the 15-member Security Council and all 193 Member States.

Mr. Brahimi warned that no country is allowed to take the law into its own hands and urged that any action on Syria be taken to the Security Council. “International law says that no country is allowed to take the law into their hands; they have to go through the Security Council,” Mr. Brahimi stressed.

Mr. Ban had asked Mr. Brahimi to join him in Russia to push for a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

Addressing world leaders at a working dinner last night, Mr. Ban urged the leaders of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States – as well as from some of the Council’s non-permanent members to “discharge their responsibility fully and for the sake of the people of Syria.”

UN: Urging political solution on Syria crisis, Ban warns of ‘tragic consequences’ of military action

6 September 2013 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged leaders at the Group of 20 (G20) summit in St. Petersburg to explore ways to avoid further militarization of the conflict in Syria and to revitalize the search for a political settlement, warning that “tragic consequences” could follow military action.

Mr. Ban, who has been pushing for a political solution during the summit, said the international community must renew efforts to convene the Geneva conference, which would bring all parties to the negotiating table. He added that a viable political outcome would see the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué.

Issued after a meeting of the Action Group for Syria in June 2012, the document lays out key steps in a process to end the violence. Among others, it calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body, with full executive powers and made up by members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups, as part of agreed principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition.

“I must warn that ill-considered military action could cause serious and tragic consequences, and with an increased threat of further sectarian violence,” Mr. Ban said in his remarks at the Humanitarian Initiative on Syria, held on the margins of the G20 summit.

“We should explore ways to avoid further militarization of the conflict and revitalize the search for a political settlement instead.”

The Secretary-General also appealed to world leaders to increase support for humanitarian operations in Syria and in its neighbouring countries, which are hosting more than 2 million refugees. He noted that relief operations inside the country are only 44 per cent funded, while the refugee appeal is funded at only 40 per cent.

“No one could have imagined two years ago that Syria would end up in this unending misery. UN staff on the ground report palpable fear as the population fears imminent acceleration and deepening of the conflict,” Mr. Ban said.

“This is a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions in recent history. The world must do everything within its powers to stop the suffering of the Syrian people.”

Despite the difficult conditions on the ground and the limitations to reach all the population in need, UN agencies will remain inside the country to deliver assistance, Mr. Ban said. “Millions are being assisted on a monthly basis and the UN is working hard to ensure equitable distribution on the basis of need, irrespective of whether it is Government or opposition controlled territories.”

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos was in Syria yesterday looking at ways of strengthening the Organization’s humanitarian efforts and to support its staff. Mr. Ban said she has had positive meeting with Syrian authorities and humanitarian partners that would hopefully simplify procedures such as obtaining visas for humanitarian workers.

“Relief agencies must be able to reach people in need, wherever they are. We must do more to impress upon all parties their international humanitarian law obligations to protect civilians,” Mr. Ban said.

On the margins the G20, Mr. Ban met with French President Francois Hollande. They were accompanied by the Joint Special Representative of the UN-Arab League for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, and the Foreign Minister of France, Laurent Fabius. They discussed the situation in Syria, including the UN chemical weapons investigation. Mr. Brahimi also briefed on efforts to convene the Geneva conference.

Mr. Ban also met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoganand Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Foreign Secretary meets President of the Syrian National Coalition Ahmad Al-Jarba and reiterates UK support.

The Foreign Secretary William Hague today underlined UK support for the Syrian Opposition and UK commitment to a political solution to end the bloodshed in Syria, in a meeting with the President of the Syrian National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, Ahmad Al-Jarba.

Speaking after the meeting, the Foreign Secretary said:

President Al-Jarba and the people of Syria should be in no doubt that the UK stands fully behind the Syrian National opposition – the sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. They are the best possible hope for a political solution to the crisis and for a future Syria which is stable and democratic.

The UK will continue to lead international efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the now two million refugees who have fled Syria and the four million who have been forced from their homes. We are working closely with the moderate opposition to alleviate this appalling suffering and to provide practical and political support.

During our meeting today, I condemned the abhorrent attack on 21 August and reiterated the UK’s absolute opposition to any use of chemical weapons. I confirmed the UK’s package of chemical weapons protective equipment, which includes 5000 escape hoods, had been delivered to the Syrian opposition. We also discussed ways the UK could provide further non-lethal support to the opposition to help save lives and alleviate humanitarian suffering. The UK will continue to support the Assistance Coordination Unit to deliver help to Syrians suffering in dire need.

The UK’s priority remains a political solution to the crisis in Syria. Achieving lasting peace in Syria will require a government that represents the needs and concerns of all the Syrian people. The UK is working closely with international partners and the National Coalition to help make this a reality.

Reuters: U.S. resolution on Syria strike passes first hurdle in Senate

WASHINGTON/AMMAN – U.S. President Barack Obama’s effort to win legislative backing for military strikes against Syria passed its first hurdle on Wednesday when a Senate committee voted in favour, but the narrow margin of victory showed the depth of U.S. caution

In a possible sign of internal unrest in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ruling Alawite sect in the shadow of a likely U.S. intervention, Syrian opposition figures said General Ali Habib, a former defence minister, had defected. Syria denied the report.

Washington and Syria’s main backer, Russia, remained publicly at odds as Obama tried to build his case for military action over chemical weapons before flying to Russia for a G20 summit hosted by President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

Putin said U.S. congressional approval without a U.N. Security Council resolution would be an act of aggression, and accused U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry of lying by playing down the role of the militant group al Qaeda with rebel forces.

With Obama focused on building international support, administration officials kept up their campaign of persuasion in Congress, where deep U.S. scepticism about going to war was reflected in a House of Representatives hearing.

Still, after much jockeying over the exact wording, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria in a vote that avoided party lines, with Democrats and Republicans on both sides. The action cleared the way for a vote in the full Senate, likely next week.

The committee voted 10-7 in favour of a compromise resolution that sets a 60-day limit on any engagement in Syria, with a possible 30-day extension, and bars the use of U.S. troops on the ground for combat operations.

The administration is trying to balance the views of many in Congress who want a narrowly defined resolution against hawks such as Senator John McCain, who has pushed for a broader resolution that would allow direct U.S. support for rebels.

The Senate committee adopted amendments proposed by McCain with policy goals of degrading Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons, increasing support for rebel forces and reversing battlefield momentum to create conditions for Assad’s removal.

The authorization still faces significant resistance in Congress, where many lawmakers fear it could lead to a prolonged U.S. military involvement in Syria’s civil war and spark an escalation of regional violence.

The full Senate is expected to vote on the resolution next week. The House of Representatives also must approve the measure.


Obama said he would continue to try to persuade Putin of the need for punitive strikes on Assad for using chemical weapons when the two meet in St. Petersburg.

In Stockholm en route to Russia, Obama said the credibility of America and of the world was at stake. He appeared to take umbrage at a reporter’s question about the “red line” he set for Assad at an August 2012 White House news conference.

“I did not set a red line. The world set a red line,” Obama said, referring to bans on chemical weapons use.

Putin again questioned Western evidence. He accused Kerry outright of lying when, in urging Congress to approve strikes on Syria, Kerry played down the role of al Qaeda in the rebel forces. “Al Qaeda units are the main military echelon, and they know this,” Putin said.

“He is lying and knows he is lying. It’s sad.”

Earlier, Putin had said in a pre-summit interview with the Associated Press that he could not absolutely “rule out” Russia supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution to punish Assad – if it could be proved he had used poison gas.

Briefing members of Congress in Washington, Kerry said those comments were “hopeful” and “there may be a road forward where Russia would consider not blocking action.”

Kerry played down concerns that any U.S. military strike over chemical weapons might provoke a clash with Russia.

“Foreign Minister (Sergei) Lavrov has made it clear … Russia does not intend to fight a war over Syria,” Kerry told a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

A senior Western official said that while Moscow was unlikely to say so in public, there were signs Russian officials believe Assad was responsible for the deaths on August 21 and that it had strained Russian support for him – providing an opening for a new, concerted drive to end the conflict.

However, Putin’s characteristically blunt tone towards the U.S. position appeared to limit prospects for a breakthrough in a stalemate that has prevented international action to rein in a conflict that has killed more than 100,000 Syrians and left millions homeless but which neither side has been able to win.


Numerous defections over the past two years by senior commanders, either to the rebel Free Syrian Army or into exile abroad, have not led to a collapse of Assad’s defences.

Habib, the former defence minister, had been under house arrest since he resigned in protest at Assad’s crackdown on demonstrators in 2011. He managed to reach the Turkish border late on Tuesday with Western help, Kamal al-Labwani of the Syrian National Coalition told Reuters.

Other sources also said Habib had fled but Syrian state television denied he had left his home.Turkey‘s foreign minister said he could not confirm the general had defected.

The flight of Habib, if confirmed, would lend credibility to suggestions that parts of the Alawite community may be turning against Assad. Previous high-level defections have generally involved Sunni officers.

“Ali Habib has managed to escape from the grip of the regime and he is now in Turkey, but this does not mean that he has joined the opposition. I was told this by a Western diplomatic official,” Labwani said from Paris.

A Gulf source told Reuters that Habib had crossed the Turkish frontier late on Tuesday with two or three other people. He was taken across the border in a convoy of vehicles.

Kerry said he did not know if the report of Habib’s defection was correct but “there are currently defections taking place. I think there are something like 60 to 100 in the last day or so, officers and enlisted personnel.”

In an interview on Britain’s Sky News, Bouthaina Shaaban, a senior adviser to Assad, made no mention of the defection. She said the world should wait for the outcome of a United Nationsinvestigation into the use of chemical weapons and blamed groups linked to al Qaeda for the alleged gas attack last month.


Following the failure of British Prime Minister David Cameron to win parliamentary backing for air strikes last week, Washington has been struggling to build an international coalition for action in the absence of a U.N. resolution.

Kerry told lawmakers that at least 10 countries had pledged to participate in a U.S. military intervention in Syria, but he did not identify them nor say what roles they might play.

France and Turkey are the most significant military powers lining up behind Obama. The French parliament debated Syria on Wednesday, though President Francois Hollande does not need approval for action.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told parliament that failure to strike Assad would send a message to the likes of Iran and North Korea that they could defy Western powers with impunity, notably over concerns about their nuclear programs.

Obama has won the backing of key figures in the U.S. Congress, including among his Republican opponents.

But in a sign of the tough road still ahead, Democrats and Republicans took both sides in the Senate committee vote. Two Democrats, Tom Udall and Chris Murphy, joined Republicans Marco Rubio, John Barrasso, James Risch, Ron Johnson and Rand Paul in voting no.

In the Senate, Democratic leader Harry Reid is guardedly confident that a majority of the 100 members will vote yes, but is still unsure if he can get the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican procedural roadblocks, aides said.

In the 435-member House, a senior Republican aide predicted that most of the 50 or so Republicans backed by the anti-big government Tea Party movement will vote no. A number of Democratic liberals are also expected to vote against a resolution, placing the final outcome in doubt.

(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam, Yara Bayoumy and Erika Solomon in Beirut, Paul Taylor and John Irish in Paris, Alexandra Hudson in Berlin, Thomas Grove and Darya Korsunskaya in Moscow and David Alexander, John Whitesides and Susan Cornwell in Washington, Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick in Stockholm, Michael Holden in London; Writing by Alastair Macdonald and Claudia Parsons; Editing by Giles Elgood and Jim Loney)

France seeks EU backing for Syria stance but meets scepticism

VILNIUS – France, which backs military action to punish Syria for a deadly chemical weapons attack, tried to rally support from its European Union partners on Friday but met scepticism from governments wary of turning their backs on the United Nations.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius sought agreement from EU counterparts meeting in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius that President Bashar al-Assad’s government was responsible for an August 21 gas attack that the United States says killed more than 1,400 people, a source close to Fabius said.

But he was rebuffed by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and other ministers who said countries contemplating military action must await the findings of U.N. chemical weapons inspectors, which could take weeks.

After British Prime Minister David Cameron failed to win parliamentary backing for military strikes,France is the only major military power lining up behind U.S. President Barack Obama, who is seeking a go-ahead from Congress.

Some EU nations oppose a military strike, making it hard for the 28-nation bloc to forge a common position.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to join the EU ministers in Vilnius on Saturday to discussSyria and the Middle East peace process.

“We believe that it is necessary to wait for the report of the U.N. chemical weapons experts before taking any further decisions, also on possible measures of a military nature. That’s our appeal to those who talk and think about military measures,” Westerwelle told reporters in Vilnius.

Germany had urged U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to speed up publication of the report, Westerwelle said.

He also said Germany was in “extraordinarily close talks with the Russians” to try to make progress on the diplomatic track. Divisions between Western powers and Russia and China have blocked effective action in the U.N. Security Council to resolve the 2-1/2-year-old Syrian conflict.


On arrival in Vilnius, Fabius played down the U.N. inspectors’ report, saying it was likely to disappoint, because the inspectors had only been asked to look into whether it was a chemical attack, not who was responsible for it.

But French President Francois Hollande said later in St. Petersburg, Russia, that France would await the conclusions of the inspectors before deciding on action.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said their findings would be very important for giving “international credibility for whatever happens”.

Several other ministers made clear they believed the United Nations should be in charge of efforts to find a solution to the crisis. The EU has been scarred by the experience of a decade ago when a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq without U.N. backing.

“As far as my government is concerned, the United Nations should be put in a position to draw conclusions on the basis of the reports given by the inspectors,” Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said.

Luxembourg Deputy Prime Minister Jean Asselborn said many EU countries faced a “practically impossible” choice between the position of the United States and France and the basic rules of the United Nations.

“We must not forget the political solution before attacking, because once you have struck, the political solution becomes enormously difficult,” he said. “Is it really in the interests of the Syrian people to want to punish Bashar al-Assad through military strikes? I think not.”

At a summit of the Group of 20 countries in St. Petersburg this week, the EU’s top officials stopped short of endorsing the U.S.-led push for a military strike on Syria and warned there could be no military solution to the conflict.

(Additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels; editing by Andrew Roche)

Russian lawmakers call off U.S. trip after Congress snub

WASHINGTON – Russian lawmakers have cancelled plans to travel to the United States to discuss the crisis in Syria with their U.S. counterparts after congressional leaders refused to see them, the Russian ambassador to Washington said on Friday.

The Obama administration has been intensely lobbying Congress to authorize a U.S. military strike against Syria in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syria’s government in that country’s civil war.

Presumably the Russian lawmakers would have taken the opposite view and lobbied their U.S. counterparts against supporting U.S. military action in Syria, which Moscow opposes.

But the Russians, who first proposed the trip to Washington a few days ago, decided against it after the leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate declined to get involved, Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak said.

“We’re disappointed. The delegation isn’t coming. I think American legislators lost an opportunity to learn at least some alternative views,” Kislyak said at the Center for the National Interest think tank in Washington.

“They wanted to be heard and they wanted to hear,” he said of the Russian lawmakers. “They thought it was an important issue,” and wanted to discuss it “irrespective of the very low level of contacts between the legislatures,” Kislyak said.

Guardian: Obama assembles fragile alliance blaming Assad for chemical attack

11 G20 countries sign statement calling for ‘strong response’ to chemical weapons, but Putin says most oppose military

Obama’s push for military action in Syria has drawn a mixed response in Congress, with scores of lawmakers still undecided about authorizing military force.

Aides to House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, confirmed they had declined invitations to meet Russian lawmakers about Syria, but did not elaborate.

The aborted meeting of lawmakers comes at a low point in U.S.-Russian relations, with the two sides bitterly divided by the crisis in Syria as well as by Russia’s decision last month to grant asylum to former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed details of U.S. surveillance programs.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that he and U.S. President Barack Obama were still at odds over Syria, but listened to each other during a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of a G20 summit in St. Petersburg. Putin blamed the chemical attack on opponents of the Syrian government.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Vicki Allen)