Friday 20 July 2012
Kurds seize power in Kobane in Syrian Kurdistan: Kurds free first Kurdish city in Syrian Kurdistan from Assad regime. KOBANE, Syrian Kurdistan:
The Kurdish people seized all government institutions in the Kurdish city of Kobane in West Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) aka northern Syria on Thursday as clashes between Assad’s regime and Western-supported armed groups are reported to be intensifying, ANF news agency reported.
Kobanê city also known as (“Ayn al-‘Arab” in Arabic) is a Kurdish Syrian city administratively belonging to Aleppo Governorate.
Kurdish authorities in the region stated that this measure has been taken to prevent the war in Syria from reaching the region of Kurdistan.
Government institutions have reportedly been seized by committees for civil defense which were created by the people with their own means. Kurdish flags have been planted in many of the seized offices in the city where people are said to be celebrating the seizure.
Speaking to ANF about the most recent developments in the city, Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) co-chair Saleh Muslim Mohammed confirmed the news and remarked that the committees for civil defense never resorted to the use of force during the act of seizure. Mohammed pointed out that the same act has been carried out in some regions of Afrin as well. People are going for self-governance,www.ekurd.net noted PYD co-chair and added that the acts of seizure have been carried out to not to allow clashes in the country to proceed to the Kurdish region.
The committees for civil defense have been formed recently by Syrian Kurds with an aim to advance control in the regions they reside in. Members of committees say that they are responsible for ensuring security of life and property of the Kurdish people in Syria.
Aleppo province: Kurdish revolutionaries took over the city of Ifrin and the towns of Jendrees, Sheerawa, Shran, Balbala, Raju, Shyiah, Ma’batli and all the villages that are part of them. They took control of all governorate buildings, banks, hospitals and union buildings, as well as some police stations.
Hasakeh province: Kurdish revolutionaries took over several government and security buildings in the city of Amouda, they raised the Kurdish flag over the old military intelligence building in the city.
More than 130 Syrians have been killed so far today (Friday 20/7/2012)
88 unarmed civilians:
-In Reef Dimashq 25 killed. 4 by the bombardment on Irbeen. 2 in Sayyeda Zeinab by the bombardment. A child died of wounds from the helicopter attack on the village of Kafreen. 3, including a woman, killed by the helicopter bombardment on Yalda. 3 killed in al-Thiyabiya. 1 killed by the bombardment on al-Sabeena. 2 civilians, including a child, killed by regime fire in Dareyya. 9 civilians killed by regime bombardment on the town of Haran al-Awameed. A child killed when regime forces fired at a protest in Ma’adamiyat al-Sham.
-In Damascus 11 killed. 1 by regime fire at dawn in the Jobar neighbourhood. 1 by the Daf al-Shawk military checkpoint in al-Midan. A civilian was killed by rockets launched into the al-Yarmouk camp. 5 civilians, including a child, were killed by gunfire in the Khalid ibn al-Walid street by the police HQ. 1 civilian killed by regime fire on a protest in the Salhiyya neighbourhood.
-In Dera’a 12. A woman and 4 children were killed by the bombardment on the towns of Ibti’ and Kharbat Ghazaleh. A child from wounds by the bombardment of al-Kark al-Sharqi. 6 civilians, including 3 children, were killed by rockets falling on Tafs.
-In Homs 16 killed. 12 people, 1 unidentified, were killed by the bombardment on the city of al-Rastan. 1 civilian killed by torture after he was detained earlier in Talbiseh. 1 by the regime bombardment on al-Qusayr. 1 by the bombardment on al-Khaldiya neighbourhood, Homs. A child was killed by soldier fire in the al-Khudur neighbourhood.
-In Aleppo province 110 killed. 3 by regime fire in the Hanano and al-Sukkari, 4 killed by regime fire targeting protests in the Tariq al-Bab, al-Sha’ar and Qadi Askar. 3 women were killed by the bombardment on Anjara and Andan, Reef Aleppo.
-In Idlib province 13 killed. 1 by sniper in Kafarnabal. 2 civilians, including a child, by the bombardment on al-Maghara. 5 civilians, including 2 women, were killed in the al-Mastooma area, which is witnessing intense clashes and bombardment. A child was killed in Bebeila, by gunfire and bombardment on the area. 3 civilians from Salqin were killed, one was found dead after being detained by regime forces. A civilian from tje town of Saraqib was killed by earlier words.
-In Latakia province 3 civilians were killed. 1 when a rocket fell on the Aleppo-Latakia road, near the village of al-Ghneimiya. 2 by the bombardment on the village of al-Maroniyat and al-Kuroom in Reef Latakia.
13 Rebel fighters:
Idlib prov: A rebel fighter was killed during clashes in the town of al-Qusayr.
Aleppo prov: 6 rebel fighters were killed by clashes in the city of Aleppo.
Homs prov: 2 rebels killed. 1 rebel fighter killed during clashes with regime forces in Baba Amr, Homs. 1 during clashes in the town of Talbiseh.
Dera’a prov: 2 rebel fighters were killed by a regime ambush in the town of Um Walad.
Damascus: 2 rebel fighters killed. 1 killed by clashes in al-Midan. 1 in clashes in the Yarmouk camp.
5 unidentified bodies, in military clothes, were found in the al-Qadam neighbourhood of Damascus
5 defected soldiers were killed in Syria today, 3 of them officers. A defected lieutenant and a defected soldier were killed by the bombardment on Reef Idlib. Another defected lieutenant was killed by wounds by clashes in Reef Idlib. A defected first sergeant was killed by regime fire in Damascus. A defected sergeant was killed by the bombardment in Reef Dimashq.
No less than 26 members of the Syrian armed forces were killed during the clashes in Idlib, Homs, Damascus, Reef Dimashq and Dera’a.
[local time]21:46 Several Latin American nations and Belgium prepared Friday to evacuate their citizens from strife-torn Syria amid an uptick in fighting between the army and anti-government rebels.
21:18 Another Syrian general has crossed into Turkey, bringing to 22 the number of generals who have fled the unrest in Syria, a foreign ministry diplomat told AFP Friday.
21:14 Rebels and army forces clashed in Palestine refugee camp in Damascus, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
21:00 Iraq’s government said on Friday it was unable to provide help for Syrian refugees looking to escape their country’s ongoing strife because of the poor security situation within Iraq.
20:41 At least 106 people were killed across Syria on Friday, as fighting raged in parts of Damascus and troops fired on protests in the country’s second city of Aleppo, a Britain-based watchdog said.
20:02 Syrian army forces clashed with members of the Free Syrian Army in Damascus’ neighborhood of Baraza on Friday, Al-Arabiya quoted activist as saying.
19:57 A YouTube video purportedly filmed on Friday shows people protesting against the regime in the area of Sahnaya in Damascus.
19:30 Al-Arabiya broadcasts live footage of Syrian army’s shelling of Harasta near Damascus.
19:10 Russia’s President Vladimir Putin warned against action on Syria outside the UN, AFP reported.
18:41 Brazil said Friday it ordered its diplomats to leave Damascus for Beirut due to the deteriorating security situation in strife-torn Syria.
18:05 The UN Security Council voted unanimously to give a “final” extension to the observer mission in Syria, AFP reported.
17:50 Friday’s death toll rose to 145, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
17:52 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed on Friday “deep disappointment” over the Security Council’s failure to agree on a resolution on Syria, Slovenian media reported as he visited the country.
17:33 Russia on Friday threatened to veto an extension of the UN’s observer mission in Syria, AFP reported.
16:25 An anti-regime protest in support of the Free Syrian Army kicked off in the town of Oum Batina in Al-Qunaytra. (S.N.N)
16:50 Troops fired on protesters in Syria’s second city of Aleppo on Friday and small demonstrations were also staged in Damascus as regime forces launched an offensive to retake rebel-held districts there, a watchdog said.
16:35 Friday’s death toll rose to 99 people, Al-Arabiya quoted the activists as saying.
16:25 An anti-regime protest in support of the Free Syrian Army kicked off in the town of Oum Batina in Al-Qunaytra. (S.N.N)
16:12 The European Union will slap new sanctions against Syria next week, including a tighter arms embargo, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Friday, confirming earlier reports.
15:58 Al-Arabiya is broadcasting live images showing Free Syrian Army troops in control of the neighborhood of Rokeneddine in Damascus.
15:55 Shelling kills ten people and injures others in the town of Tafass in Daraa. (S.N.N)
15:43 An anti-regime protest in support of Damascus and “besieged cities” took place in the town of Aaqerba in Daraa. (S.N.N)
15:50 The UN refugee agency UNHRC said Friday there was a steady flow of Syrians entering Jordan to flee violence back home, adding it had registered 35,000 of them so far who have come to the kingdom.
15:46 More than five people were killed in the shelling of the town of Tafass in Daraa by Syrian regime forces, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
15:39 Rebels burned down barracks used by regime forces in Al-Akhlass in Damascus, Al-Arabiya reported on Friday.
15:36 South Africa is not opposed to sanctions on the Syrian regime but also wants to see measures to prod the rebels into complying with a proposed peace plan, the deputy foreign minister said Friday.
15:36 An anti-regime protest took place in the town of Al-Aashara in Deir az-Zour calling for arming the Free Syrian Army. (S.N.N)
15:32 Friday’s death toll rose to 82 people, Al-Arabiya quoted a rights group as saying.
15:29 Syrian government troops and rebels are locked in fierce fighting across several districts of the country’s second city Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday.
15:24 An anti-regime protest kicked off in Qodsiyya in the Damascus district. (S.N.N)
15:20 Several protesters were killed by Sryian security forces in Khaled Ben al-Walid . (S.N.N)
15:14 An anti-regime protest kicked off in the area of Al-Barameka in Damascus in support of the Free Syrian Army. (S.N.N)
15:10 Syrian forces shelled the villages of Al-Qaasatel in the Latakia district. (S.N.N)
15:21 Casualties reported in the shelling of Al-Damir in the Damascus district, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
14:55 Syrian security forces raided the town of Jbab in Daraa. (S.N.N)
15:00 An anti-regime protest took place in the Aabassiyin Square in Damascus. (S.N.N)
14:59 An anti-regime protest kicked off in the Deir az-Zour neighborhood of Al-Jubayla. (S.N.N)
14:53 One Syrian army general and 21 officers defected and fled to Turkey in the last 24 hours, Al-Arabiya quoted Turkish sources as saying on Friday.
14:43 Several loud explosions were heard in the town of Nawa in Daraa, followed by tank incursions by regime forces. (S.N.N)
14:43 A YouTube video purportedly filmed on Friday shows a protest in the town of Binnish.
14:41 Syrian regime forces killed several protesters and injured others in Khaled Ben al-Walid Street in Damascus. (S.N.N)
14:39 Syrian security forces opened fire in the Daraa town of Tafas, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
14:32 Syrian security forces opened fire on demonstrators near the Othman Mosque in the Al-Khodr neighborhood of Homs, killing one child and injuring others. (S.N.N)
14:32 Syrian forces shelled the neighborhood of the Sayyida Zeinab in the Damascus district, amid reports of casualties. (S.N.N)
14:31 An anti-regime protest took place after Friday prayers in the town of Taseel in Daraa. (S.N.N)
14:31 An anti-regime protest kicked off in the Kfar Soussa neighborhood of Damascus near the Council of Ministers building. (S.N.N)
14:29 The sounds of jets purportdly shelling the town of Talbisa can be heard on a video posted on YouTube Friday.
14:29 An anti-regime protest took place after Friday prayers in Al-Hamidiya neighborhood of Hama in support of the Free Syrian Army. (S.N.N)
14:27 Syrian regime warplanes and tanks shelled the village of Al-Thiyabiya in the Damascus district. (S.N.N.)
14:27 Anti-regime protesters chanted anti-regime slogans inside Al-Akram Mosque in the Mezze neighborhood of Damascus. (S.N.N)
14:26 Syrian regime forces shelled the village of Al-Mastouma in Edleb. (S.N.N)
14:25 Heavy gunfire was heard in Qabr Aateka in central Damascus. (S.N.N)
14:25 A YouTube video purportedly filmed on Friday shows a massive anti-regime protest in the Hama town of Treimsseh.
14:24 A massive protest kicked off in the Damascus street of Al-Malek Faisal. (S.N.N)
14:23 An anti-regime protest kicked off after Friday prayers in Ramel al-Janoubi in Latakia calling for the fall of the regime. (S.N.N.)
14:23 An anti-regime protest kicked off after Friday prayers in the town of Eastern Kark in Daraa. (S.N.N.)
14:23 A huge explosion hit the town of Nawa in the Daraa district. (S.N.N)
14:20 Snipers deployed on rooftops in the town of Banyas in Tartous. (S.N.N.)
14:20 A protest began in the town of Al-Reqqa at the Osman Bin Affan Mosque. (S.N.N)
14:02 Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, a key opponent of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, announced plans Friday to launch an Islamist political party, saying it was ready for the post-Assad era.
14:00 Russia will delay its controversial shipment of three attack helicopters and an air defense system to Syria until security is restored in the country, the Interfax news agency reported on Friday.
13:59 Several anti-regime protests took place after Friday prayers in the village of Al-Safira in Aleppo. (S.N.N)
13:58 An anti-regime protest took place after Friday prayers in the town of the Fortress of Al-Madiq in the Hama district in support of Damascus. (S.N.N)
13:58 Syrian forces shelled the town of Daraya in the Damascus district. (S.N.N)
13:58 An anti-regime protest started in the town of Kfar Zita outside Hama calling for the fall of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. (S.N.N)
13:58 An anti-regime protest kicked off after Friday prayers in the Dummar neighborhood of Damascus and security forces opened fire on protesters. (S.N.N)
13:57 Two anti-regime protests kicked off in the town of Al-Mayadin in Deir az-Zour. (S.N.N)
13:56 Several explosions were heard in the town of Harasta outside Damascus. (S.N.N)
13:55 Anti-regime protests kicked off after Friday prayers in the Bustan al-Qasr, Al-Furqan neighborhoods of Aleppo and the town of Darat Aaza. (S.N.N)
13:54 An anti-regime protest kicked off after Friday prayers in Artouz in the Damascus district. (S.N.N)
13:54 Syrian forces shelled Al-Harak, a town near Daraa. (S.N.N)
13:54 An anti-regime protest kicked off after Friday prayers in the town of Al-Kharita in Deir az-Zour. (S.N.N)
13:53 An anti-regime protest kicked off after Friday prayers in the Kazo neighborhood of Hama in support of the Free Syrian Army. (S.N.N)
13:51 An anti-regime protest kicked off in the Latakia town of Jableh and in the neighborhood of Al-Azza. (S.N.N)
13:48 European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Friday she regretted the defeat of yet another UN resolution to sanction Syria amid escalating violence in the country.
13:48 Syrian forces shelled the mosques in Al-Rastan in Homs. (S.N.N)
13:48 An anti-regime protest started after Friday prayers in Kfar Batna outside Damascus. (S.N.N)
13:47 An anti-regime protest kicked off after Friday prayers in the Salaheddine neighborhood of Aleppo, as well as in the New Aleppo area. (S.N.N)
13:47 An anti-regime protest kicked off after Friday prayers in the Sheikh al-Maskin town of Daraa. (S.N.N)
13:44 An anti-regime protest kicked off after Friday prayers near Al-Mablat in Edleb. (S.N.N)
13:41 An anti-regime protest started after Friday prayers in the Al-Maghayer and Masaken Hananu neighborhoods of Aleppo. (S.N.N)
13:34 Syrian army forces have launched a general offensive to retake all Damascus neighborhoods under the control of rebel forces, a source in the Syrian security services told AFP on Friday.
13:34 Syrian security forces killed 20 people on Friday, Al-Jazeera reported.
13:28 Al-Arabiya is broadcasting live images of an anti-regime protest in Al-Sukkari neighborhood of Aleppo.
13:28 Iraqis stepping off buses returning from Syria, having fled there to seek refuge from bloodshed in their homeland, told of being forced to leave because of escalating unrest and threats.
13:23 Switzerland on Friday lifted an arms embargo against the United Arab Emirates after the two sides agreed to investigate how Swiss hand grenades sold to the UAE wound up in Syria, the government said.
13:22 Al-Arabiya is broadcasting live footage showing an anti-regime protest in the Al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo.
13:22 Casualties reported in the shelling of Zamalka and Hujaira outside Damascus, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
13:19 Syrian authorities have announced that Ramadan begins on Saturday but rebel forces battling the regime said they would start the Muslim fasting month a day earlier, on Friday.
13:16 Even as conflict rages across much of Syria, the residents of this rebel-held village in Jabal al-Zawiyah were preparing for a post-Bashar al-Assad future by holding their first free local elections.
13:04 Free Syrian Army rebels clashed with regime troops in Kfar Soussa and Mezze in Damascus, Al-Jazeera reported on Friday.
12:39 Up to 30,000 Syrians have fled into Lebanon over the past 48 hours, the UN refugee agency said on Friday.
12:37 A YouTube video purportedly filmed on Friday shows an anti-regime protest in the town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish. Protesters are calling for the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
12:33 A protest kicked off in the Aleppo town of Menbej and protesters are chanting for the Free Syrian Army. (S.N.N)
12:30 The Syrian army is shelling the Damascus neighborhood of Al-Jawbar, the Daraa town of Al-Kark al-Sharqi and the town of Zamalka near Damascus. (S.N.N)
12:29 Iraq sent troop reinforcements to its border with Syria, Al-Arabiya reported on Friday.
12:08 Comments by Russia’s envoy to Paris that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was ready to give up power in a “civilized manner” are “totally baseless,” Syrian state television said on Friday.
12:03 General Hisham Ikhtiyar, the head of Syrian national security wounded in a Damascus bomb blast that killed three senior officials, died of his wounds on Friday, state television announced.
12:03 Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is ready to give up power but only in a “civilized manner,” Russia’s envoy to Paris Alexander Orlov told Radio France International in an interview Friday.
11:52 Britain will step up its support for Syria’s rebels after Russia and China blocked a UN Security Council resolution against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Friday.
11:50 Syrian regime forces launched an assault on the eastern Damascus neighborhood of Jobar on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
11:42 Russia’s envoy to France on Friday said the President Bashar al-Assad was ready to leave power “in a civilized manner,” AFP reported.
10:53 More than 300 people were killed in violence across Syria on Thursday, making it the deadliest day of a 16-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, a monitoring group said.
10:03 Syrian rebels seized control of the Bab al-Hawa border post with Turkey on Friday after a fierce battle with Syrian troops, an AFP photographer at the scene reported.
9:55 Syrian military forces have routed rebel fighters from the Midan district of Damascus, state television said Friday, but a monitoring group said fighting was still ongoing.
9:34 A top Chinese newspaper on Friday accused the West of seeking a green light for military intervention in Syria, after Beijing and Moscow blocked a UN resolution threatening sanctions against Damascus.
8:30 A YouTube video purportedly filmed on Thursday shows rebels taking over a military checkpoint in Saraqeb and shelling a tank.
8:05 Syrian army aircrafts are shelling the southern neighborhoods of Damascus, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
8:02 The Free Syrian Army completely “cleansed” the Damascus neighborhood of Roken Eddine from regime forces, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
8:00 The Free Syrian Army took over the Air Force Security building in the town of Harasta near Damascus, Al-Arabiya reported.
7:50 Canada issued a scathing retort on Thursday after Russia and China vetoed another UN resolution to pressure the Syrian regime to rein in its crackdown on a 16-month-old rebellion.
7:47 Russia’s veto of a UN Security Council resolution to sanction Syria has exposed President Barack Obama’s “lack of leadership” on the issue, White House hopeful Mitt Romney said Thursday.
7:44 The United Nations on Thursday sent its top military official to Syria to take charge of the observer mission as the UN Security Council wrangled over the future of the operation.
7:40 One more Syrian general crossed into Turkey Thursday, bringing to 21 the number of generals who have fled the unrest in neighboring Syria, a Turkish Foreign Ministry diplomat told AFP.
7:33 Hundreds of emails purportedly written by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad show he sent several sexist or irreverent messages in the months before the ongoing Syrian uprising began.
7:30 MORNING LEADER: Rebels seized control of Syria’s border crossings with Iraq on the bloodiest day of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, as China and Russia dismayed the West by blocking UN action against his regime. Meanwhile, the focused its resources on Damascus, resorting to tank fire in the capital for the first time in its efforts to root out rebel fighters.
The UN Security Council has unanimously voted to keep its observer mission in Syria for a “final” 30 days.
However, members agreed the mission could be extended further if the use of heavy weapons ends and fighting eases.
The observers – sent to oversee a ceasefire that never took hold – have suspended their work in the face of escalating violence.
With fighting now engulfing areas of Damascus, thousands of Syrians are fleeing into neighbouring countries.
Government forces in the capital are reported to have launched all-out attacks on rebel strongholds.
They have retaken the Midan district and are believed to have launched an assault on the eastern Jubar area.
As President Bashar al-Assad redeploys troops to quell a growing uprising in the capital, rebels have struck at other targets around the country.
On Thursday rebel fighters took control of crossings on Syria’s Iraq and Turkey borders.
And on Friday, fierce fighting broke out in Syria’s second city of Aleppo, activists said.
The latest violence comes after an attack on Wednesday that killed four senior members of the regime, including national security chief Hisham Ikhtiar, who died from his injuries on Friday.
The UN vote came after hours of intense negotiations among security council members.
Russia had threatened to veto the UK-drafted resolution, but Moscow’s ambassador Vitaly Churkin finally backed a revised text.
The resolution will end the observer mission in 30 days. The mandate could then be renewed, but only if Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council are able to confirm that both sides are abiding by the terms of the UN-backed ceasefire plan.
Britain’s UN ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, said after the vote: “We have said clearly that it is a final extension unless there is a change in the dynamic on the ground, and in particular that there should be a cessation of use of heavy weapons and that there should be a sufficient reduction in the violence to enable UNSMIS [the observer mission] to carry out its mandate.”
US ambassador Susan Rice said it was “unlikely” that the violence in Syria would ease enough to allow a continued UN presence.
She said that Washington’s “strong preference” would be for a resolution involving sanctions.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Western powers on Friday not to take action against Syria outside of the Security Council.
His spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying: “In the opinion of the Russian president, any attempts to act outside the UN Security Council will be ineffective and only undermine the authority of this international organisation.”
On Thursday, Russia – an ally of Damascus – and China had vetoed a resolution on Syria for the third time in nine months.
Syrians have been crossing into Lebanon at the border crossing point in Masnaa
Under that Western-backed motion, Syria would have been threatened with non-military sanctions – under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter – if it failed to move troops and heavy weapons from populated areas.
As the situation on the ground in Syria worsened, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that thousands of people were crossing the border into Lebanon.
“The refugee situation has become much more dramatic with the spreading of the violence into Damascus,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
“We have figures that there could be anywhere from 9,000 to 30,000 that have fled across the border into Lebanon just in the last 48 hours.
“There may be up to a million Syrians displaced within the country and inside Damascus we’re seeing people shifting from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, sleeping in parks, in schools.”
The UNHCR says there are already 26,900 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, although activists say the real figure is much higher.
A UNHCR spokesman told AFP news agency that about 2,500 people had arrived in Jordan over the past four days, adding to the 35,000 registered Syrian refugees already there.
A spokesman described it as “a steady flow”.
About 140,000 Syrians are believed to have fled to Jordan since the uprising against President Assad began in March last year. The Jordanian government is building several refugee camps for them.
Reports also suggested that more than 3,000 Syrians had crossed into Iraq in the past 24 hours.
Some Iraqis, who were returning from Syria, have told the BBC they had been forced to flee their homes near Damascus because of sectarian violence and intimidation. They said they had been targeted by the rebel Free Syrian Army.
Lyse Doucet, BBC News, Masnaa border crossing, Lebanon
In the middle of the day, in the scorching heat of a Lebanese summer, a flood of Syrians has slowed to a trickle crossing the border.
Lebanese border guards said 18,000 crossed in the past 48 hours.
Yesterday, as fighting escalated in Damascus, the queue of vehicles waiting to enter stretched into the distance. Today the traffic is still a mix of expensive limousines and large, poorer, families on foot, dragging suitcases.
In an extended family of seven adults and five children, an anxious mother spoke of their fear.
“The children were very scared of loud explosions and shooting. We were prisoners in our home. We didn’t know who to trust – the Free Syrian Army or the government,” she said.
And then the family cheered at the sight of a pickup arriving to take them to the house of a grandfather in Lebanon.
Syrian army helicopters pounded Damascus with rockets and heavy machine guns overnight, and tanks bombarded the capital from the ring road, to try to reverse relentless gains by rebels since much of President Bashar al-Assad’s entourage was assassinated.
The unprecedented rebel momentum of the past few days has fighters boasting that Assad’s grip is being pried from the country his family has ruled since his father seized power in a coup 42 years ago. But he remains a fearsome foe.
“The regime has been rudderless for last three days. But the aerial and ground bombardment on Damascus and its suburbs shows that it has not lost the striking force and that it is re-grouping,” opposition activist Moaz al-Jahhar said by telephone from Damascus.
The 16-month conflict has been transformed since Wednesday, when a bomb killed four members of the president’s narrow circle of kin and lieutenants, including his powerful brother-in-law, defense minister and intelligence chief.
In the days since, rebels have pushed deep into the heart of the capital and seized control of other towns. On Thursday, they captured three border crossings with Iraq and Turkey, the first time they have held sway over Syria’s frontiers.
At Bab al-Hawa, a busy border post with Turkey seized by advancing fighters, rebels watched on with approval while jubilant villagers looted a duty free shop, part of the vast business empire of one of Assad’s cousins.
“This is the people’s money; they are taking it back,” said rebel fighter Ismail. “Whoever wants to should take it.”
Assad has failed to speak in public since Wednesday’s blast, adding to the sense that one of the most strategically important countries in the Middle East is being torn from his grasp. A funeral was held on Friday for officials slain in the attack, but Assad did not attend and was nowhere to be seen.
The next few days will determine whether Assad’s government can recover from the bombing, which wiped out much of his command structure in a single blow and destroyed his clan’s decades-old aura of merciless invulnerability.
Rebels poured into the capital Damascus at the start of the week and have since been battling government forces in what the fighters call operation “Damascus Volcano”.
Lightly-armed rebels have been moving on foot inside residential neighborhoods and attacking security installations and roadblocks dotted across the capital.
Wajeeh, a private employee who did not want to give his last name, said he saw three tanks on the southern ring road that deployed late on Friday evening and were firing at the Kfar Souseh and Mezze districts in west Damascus.
“The road was cut off and troops were firing mortar rounds from next to the tanks,” he said.
A resident of Mezzeh, a middle class district of high rise towers, villas and cactus fields, said army helicopters were striking the neighborhood with heavy machineguns and rebels were firing back “uselessly” from automatic rifles.
Another resident in Barzeh, a lower middle class neighborhood in the northeast, said a barrage of mortar rounds began hitting the district before midnight and he counted six rounds hitting residential buildings.
He said snipers stationed in Ush al-Wawrar, an enclave in hills overlooking Barzeh populated mainly by members of Assad’s Alawite minority sect, had killed a woman earlier in the day and there were sporadic exchanged of fire between the two districts.
An activist in Saida Zeinab, a poor neighbourhood in the southeast of Damascus housing thousands of Sunni Muslim refugees from other parts of Syria, said it was being shelled with artillery following a helicopter rocket attack. Explosions were also heard from the suburbs of Harasta, Irbeen, Daraiya and Harran al-Awameed, where rebels fought troops on Friday.
Activists said at least 100 people were killed in Damascus on Friday. Accounts could not be verified. The Syrian government restricts access by international journalists.
Regional and world powers are now bracing for the last phase of the conflict, hoping to wrench Assad out of power without unleashing a sectarian war that could spill across borders in one of the most volatile parts of the world.
Israel said it would consider military action if needed to ensure Syrian missiles or chemical weapons do not reach Assad’s allies in Lebanon, the Shi’ite Islamist movement Hezbollah.
“I have instructed the military to increase its intelligence preparations and prepare what is needed so that … (if necessary) … we will be able to consider carrying out an operation,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.
Diplomacy has failed to keep pace with events. A day after Moscow and Beijing vetoed a U.N. resolution that would have allowed sanctions, the Security Council approved a 30-day extension of a small, unarmed observer mission, the only outside military presence on the ground.
In at least one apparent success for Assad’s forces, state TV said on Friday troops had cleared the central Damascus district of Midan of “mercenaries and terrorists”. It showed dead men in t-shirts, some covered in blood, others burned.
Opposition activists and rebel sources confirmed on Friday that they had withdrawn from that district after coming under heavy bombardment, but said they were advancing elsewhere.
“It is a tactical withdrawal. We are still in Damascus,” Abu Omar, a rebel commander, said by telephone.
Assad’s forces shelled the Abu Kamal crossing with Iraq on the Euphrates River highway, one of the most important trade routes in the Middle East, seized by rebels on Thursday.
A Reuters photographer at the scene said Iraqi forces had sealed off their side of the checkpoint with concrete walls. Late on Friday explosions and gunfire could be heard from the Syrian side, which had been burned and looted.
The surge in violence has trapped millions of Syrians, turned sections of the capital into ghost towns, and sent tens of thousands of refugees fleeing to neighboring Lebanon.
“The regime is going through its last days,” Abdelbasset Seida, the leader of the main Syrian opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council, said in Rome, predicting a dramatic escalation in violence.
(Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes, Samia Nakhoul and Dominic Evans in Beirut, and Saad Shalash near Qaim, Iraq; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Myra MacDonald)
Tens of thousands flee Syria as fighting surges 12:25pm EDT
The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Friday to briefly extend a monitoring mission in Syria for 30 days, keeping alive a key part of international envoy Kofi Annan’s faltering plan to end the 16-month conflict that has killed thousands of people.
Despite deep divisions over how to deal with the crisis in Syria, the Security Council backed Annan’s peace plan and agreed in April to deploy 300 unarmed observers for an initial 90 days to help implement his six-point strategy to end the fighting.
But the 15-member council has been paralyzed when it comes to taking stronger action – including threatening sanctions – against Damascus. Russia and China have blocked three Western-backed attempts to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and end the conflict that began as peaceful pro-democracy protests.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said on Friday the council has hit a “substantive dead end” on Syria and that Washington was looking outside the world body for ways to tackle the crisis. She described Friday’s resolution to extend the U.N. Syria mission, known as UNSMIS, as simply an exit plan.
With little progress made in the five months since Annan was appointed by the United Nations and the African Union to try to end the Syria crisis, the former U.N. secretary-general had asked the Security Council last week to back up his plan with “clear consequences” for non-compliance by both sides.
He voiced his disappointment with Security Council on Thursday, saying it had failed to take “strong and concerted action” on Syria after Russia and China vetoed a resolution that threatened Damascus with sanctions. A spokesman for Annan declined to comment on the mission’s extension on Friday.
Russia and China support each other on the Security Council to protect their respective allies from interference. Russia is an ally and major arms supplier to Syria, which is also home to Moscow’s only naval base outside the former Soviet Union.
“We hope that the double veto yesterday will not put the Annan plan in peril,” Germany’s U.N. ambassador, Peter Wittig, said after Friday’s vote. “It is still the basis for all our efforts to find a diplomatic, political solution to the crisis.”
“With the extension, the mission has another chance – maybe the last chance – to monitor the Annan plan, despite grave risks on the ground,” he said.
CAVEATS ON FURTHER RENEWAL
Annan’s plan calls for an end to violence, a Syrian-led political process, access for aid, the release of arbitrarily detained people, freedom of movement for journalists and the freedom to protest peacefully. The U.N. monitoring mission is crucial to helping implement the plan.
Friday’s resolution says the council would consider a further extension to the mission after 30 days only if the United Nations “confirms the cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a reduction in the level of violence by all sides sufficient” to allow the U.N. mission in Syria to operate.
The mission’s 300 unarmed observers, whose role has been to monitor a failed April 12 ceasefire in Syria brokered by Annan, suspended their activity on June 16 because of increased risk from rising violence. There are also some 100 civilian staff working on a political solution and monitoring rights problems.
Major General Robert Mood, head of the U.N. monitoring mission, left Damascus on Thursday. The mission’s mandate had been due to expire at midnight EDT Friday (0400 GMT Saturday).
A Western diplomat said it is understood that Assad called Mood after a bomb attack in Damascus on Wednesday killed members of Assad’s inner circle. Assad told Mood that he would implement the Annan plan if Mood could get the rebels to stop their attacks. Annan and Mood were not available to comment.
Assad’s forces have killed more than 15,000 people since a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters began in March 2011, some Western leaders say. Damascus says rebels have killed several thousand of its security forces.
Syrian government forces fought to recapture border posts and parts of Damascus from rebels on Friday, seeking to take back the initiative following Wednesday’s bombing.
Russia and China agreed to the resolution to extend the U.N. mission on Friday after it was broadened at the last minute to require both government forces and rebel fighters to take steps to halt the violence.
“I’m pleased … its requirements are addressed to all sides in Syria,” Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters. He said the Western-backed resolution he vetoed on Thursday was “loaded with one-sided political requirements.”
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant described the new resolution as a last chance for the U.N. mission in Syria.
“If over the next 30 days there is a change in that dynamic and those conditions are met then of course the Security Council, on a recommendation by the secretary-general, will look again at the future of UNSMIS,” Lyall Grant told reporters.
“But if the situation does not change then obviously UNSMIS will be withdrawn after 30 days,” he said.
The United States has said it will turn to alternatives such as the “Friends of Syria” grouping of allied countries to find ways to pressure Assad after the Security Council’s failure to set consequences for Syria’s violations of Annan’s plan.
But with key allies such as Britain pushing for the brief extension of the U.N. Syria mission, the United States withheld its veto on Friday to avoid being seen as torpedoing one of the last diplomatic initiatives under way to address the crisis.
“We will continue our political support to the opposition, our non-lethal assistance to the opposition. We will strengthen and intensify our sanctions … We will increase the amount of humanitarian assistance we provide,” Rice told reporters.
China’s U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong said on Friday that Beijing believed it was important for Annan to continue his mediation efforts and that he was “very happy to see that the council has come back to the right track.”
“The future of Syria must be determined by the people in Syria and the Syrian issues must be resolved peacefully and through peaceful means, that’s why Kofi Annan’s mediation is very important and we should give him support,” Li said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recommended shifting the emphasis of the work of the UNSMIS from monitoring the nonexistent truce to pursuing a political solution. Diplomats said only half of the 300 unarmed observers would be needed for Ban’s suggested shift in focus. The rest would return to their home countries, but be ready to redeploy at short notice.
(Writing by Michelle Nichols and Andrew Quinn; editing by Jackie Frank and Mohammad Zargham)
Guardian: Syria crisis: UN mission given 30 day extension – Friday 20 July 2012
[…]The Cilegozu border has been closed for two weeks, while fighting has raged between rebels and Syrian army in Azzaz, according to Aksakal.
He said there were also many smaller border points into Kurdish areas that don’t tend to be used for international crossings. Most have been closed for months.
Jarablus, another border crossing towards the east, is under Kurdish control, he said. Last month the Syrian government withdrew about 95% of the Syrian soldiers stationed in Kurdish areas, Aksakal claimed.
But last week the Syrian army attacked Jarablus with helicopters. Eight rebels and two Syrian soldiers were bought to hospital in Turkey, Aksakal reports.
The Kurdish area is free of the Syria government, he claimed.
Within the last week up to 5,000 refugees have crossed the border. They included at least three generals and other officers. […]
20 Jul 2012: Follow how the day unfolded as UN monitors were given an extension and Assad regained some control lost since Wednesday’s assassinations
5.00pm: Here’s a summary of the latest developments relating to Syria:
• The UN security council has unanimously approved a 30-day extension to the monitoring mission in Syria (see 4.18pm).
• A triple funeral has taken place for Dawoud Rajha, Assef Shawkat and Hassan Turkmani – key figures in the regime who were assassinated on Wednesday. The government news agency’s report does not mention any members of the Assad family attending (see 4.10pm).
• State TV announced that a fourth senior official – Hisham Ikhtyar – has died as a result of Wednesday’s attack.
• President Assad’s forces have regained some control lost in the wake of Wednesday’s assassination attack. The Free Syrian Army said it had withdrawn from the Midan area of Damascus, which the government said it now control. Syrian troops have also retaken a border crossing to Turkey where rebels were filmed tearing down a placard of Assad on Thursday.
• Russia has again postponed its attempt to deliver controversial attack helicopters to Syria, allegedly on the grounds that the security situation there is now too dangerous.
• Thousands of Iraqis have been evacuated from Syria, and up to 30,000 cars from Syria have reportedly crossed into Lebanon during the last 48 hours.
• Syria has denied Russian suggestions that President Assad is ready to stand down. The information ministry said the claim was “completely devoid of truth”.