Monday 13 August 2012
[local time] 22:25 Monday’s death toll in Syria increased to 100 people, Al-Arabiya quoted the Local Coordination Committees as saying.
20:56 The United States said Monday it has not ruled out any option to bring about the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, following renewed speculation about a possible no-fly zone.
20:51 Syrian security forces raided Al-Mazzeh neighborhood in Damascus and burned down a number of houses in the area, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
20:41 Opposition fighters appealed for the international community to come to their aid as Syrian troops advanced into a new rebel-held area of the country’s second city Aleppo on Monday.
19:28 Fifteen bodies were discovered under the rubble in Hamouriyyeh in the Damascus district following shelling by regime forces, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
19:08 Monday’s death toll in Syria rose to 73 people, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
18:28 A YouTube video purportedly filmed on Monday shows the captured pilot of the warplane that Free Syrian Army rebels claim to have shot down near Deir az-Zour.
18:19 Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday said his country opposed the expected suspension of Syria’s membership in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
18:18 Seventeen people were killed in the shelling of Al-Rastan and Talbiseh in Homs, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
18:15 Rebels belonging to the Free Syrian Army posted a video showing the captured pilot of the warplane downed earlier in the day, Al-Arabiya reported.
17:29 Jordanian anti-riot police were called in Monday to quell a protest by angry Syrians at a refugee camp after they clashed with guards when they tried to leave the facility, a security official said.
17:29 A group of Syrian rebels said they captured the pilot of a warplane that the Free Syrian Army claimed to have downed Monday in the eastern province of Deir az-Zour.
17:19 The Old City of Damascus, whose souks were once bustling with shoppers, was swarming with security forces Monday after the regime launched a massive sweep, barging into shops and rounding up residents.
16:49 The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has reached around 60,000 Monday after some 7,000 people fled across the border in a three-day mass exodus, according to official Turkish data.
16:26 Rebels took over a checkpoint in Daraa on Monday and killed sixty-nine regime troops and Shabiha members during the operation, Al-Arabiya quoted the rebel Free Syrian Army as saying.
16:19 A YouTube video purportedly filmed on Monday shows a Syrian regime warplane exploding after purportedly being struck by rebel fire near Deir az-Zour while shouts of “Allahu Akbar” could be heard in the background.
16:09 Syria’s army advanced on Monday into a new rebel-held area of the country’s second city Aleppo, days after it seized control of the neighboring district of Salaheddin, a watchdog said.
15:29 A Syrian warplane crashed in the east of the country on Monday after suffering technical problems, state media reported, after rebels claimed they had downed a fighter jet.
15:24 The rebel Free Syrian Army shot down a regime warplane, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
15:19 Syria’s top representative at the UN Human Rights Council said Monday he had defected because he no longer felt able in that position to do anything for the Syrian people.
15:15 The head of the United Nations observer mission in Syria on Monday condemned attacks on the media in the conflict-torn country, following the murder of a state journalist at the weekend.
15:16 Syrian regime forces killed 57 people on Monday, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
15:02 Bouthaina Shaaban, a “special adviser” to the Syrian president, will visit from Tuesday for talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and other officials.
14:16 Horrific videos purportedly showing Syrian rebels throwing the bodies of postal workers off a roof and a man’s throat being savagely cut have appeared online, raising fresh concerns about atrocities in the increasingly brutal conflict.
13:02 The Syrian army’s heavy shelling of the Homs town of Talbissa killed six people, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
11:52 UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos announced Monday that she is to visit Syria and Lebanon amid growing concern for the “deteriorating humanitarian situation” caused by the Syrian conflict.
10:46 The Syrian army on Monday sent shells slamming into rebel strongholds in Damascus province, where more than 45 people, including 36 civilians, have been killed in the past 48 hours, a watchdog said.
BBC: Syria rebels ‘shoot down plane’
Syrian rebels have produced footage of a man they claim is the captured pilot of a fighter jet that went down in the east of the country.
The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) say they shot a military aircraft down near the Iraqi border.
But state media say the plane crashed because of “technical problems” and a search is under way to find the pilot.
Syria is facing suspension from the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation because of its handling of the crisis.
On the eve of an emergency summit called by Saudi Arabia, foreign ministers meeting for preparatory talks in Jeddah backed a resolution despite objections from President Assad’s ally, Iran.
Confirmation of Syria’s suspension is expected later this week.
According to Syria’s state-run news agency Sana, the plane that went down had suffered a fault with its “control mechanisms” during a routine training mission, forcing the pilot to abandon the aircraft.The aircraft was shot down near the town of al-Muhassan, around 120km (75 miles) from the Iraqi border in Deir al-Zour province, the rebels say.
A group calling itself the “Revolutionary Youth of the Land of the Euphrates” uploaded a video to YouTube purporting to show the captured pilot surrounded by three armed rebels, saying that his mission was to “bomb the town of al-Muhassan”.
In the video, which cannot be independently verified, the seemingly middle-aged man identifies himself as a pilot, Col Fareer Mohammad Suleiman. He appears to have minor bruising to his face which he attributes to the plane crash.
In other footage provided by the rebels, what appears to be a Russian-built MiG-23 fighter jet is shown carrying two under-wing weapons pods thought to be loaded with air-to-ground missiles.
Anti-aircraft fire can be heard before the jet bursts into flames.
Rebel gunners are then heard on the footage celebrating.
The BBC’s Kevin Connolly, in neighbouring Lebanon, says that if the rebels have succeeded in downing a MiG-23, it would be a significant moment in the conflict.
Reports have emerged recently of anti-aircraft weapons reaching the rebels, and warplanes have been seen in recent weeks strafing and bombing targets in Aleppo.
Earlier this week, the rebels posted photos online showing them with a full surface-to-air missile system. This represents a potential threat to the regime’s air power, correspondents say.
Aleppo killingsRebel-held areas of Aleppo have come under further bombardment, activists say
In the purported pilot video, a rebel commander is heard saying that the captive will be treated according to the Geneva Convention for prisoners of war.
But further videos have appeared online that appear to show rebel killings in and around Syria’s second city, Aleppo.
Bodies are thrown from the roof of a post office and are then kicked by a crowd as they land on the ground. Another video shows a blindfolded man having his throat cut, although activists have denied rebel involvement.
According to activists, government forces have begun a new advance against rebels in Aleppo, which has seen fierce clashes between the two sides in recent weeks.
Troops entered the Saif al-Dawla neighbourhood in the west of the city with tanks and armoured vehicles, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The strategic south-western district of Salah al-Din had been coming under bombardment since the morning, the Observatory said.
State media also said Syrian armed forces in central Homs province had killed a large number of “mercenary terrorists”.
But the activist Local Co-ordination Committees said the heaviest loss of life was in the capital Damascus and its suburbs, where it reported 64 people killed.
Casualty numbers in Syria are almost impossible to verify because of the heavy restrictions placed on international journalists.
Analysis: Jonathan Marcus BBC Defence Correspondent
The aircraft shown in the video is a MiG-23 ground attack aircraft, a type first delivered to Syria by the Soviet Union in 1973. In the current fighting, the jets are reported to have been used in July in the bombing of targets in and around Aleppo. It is not clear from the video exactly what brought the aircraft down.
However, if it was lost due to hostile action, this would be a first, indicating that the rebels do have a basic anti-aircraft capability. The government’s air power has not been a decisive factor in this conflict so far. But the loss of the aircraft gives the rebels an important propaganda victory.
WASHINGTON – The Pentagon on Monday deplored what it saw as an increasing use of air power by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government against rebels, but stopped short of suggesting a move toward any additional steps like a no-fly zone.
In Syria’s Aleppo, hunger adds to suffering: ALEPPO, Syria – Syrians who have yet to flee the war in Aleppo are facing another problem that is growing more acute by the day: hunger.
For some Assad loyalists, a gory death at rebel hands: BEIRUT – Disturbing footage of Syrian rebels slitting the throat of a blindfolded young man and throwing bodies off a rooftop to a cheering crowd below have appeared on YouTube.
Syrian diplomat in Geneva defects: Swiss ministry: GENEVA – A junior Syrian diplomat to the United Nations in Geneva has defected, the Swiss foreign ministry said on Monday, the latest member of Syria’s establishment known to have turned against President Bashar al-Assad.
U.N. aid chief to visit Syria but options limited: GENEVA – United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos will go to Syria on Tuesday to discuss ways of increasing emergency aid to civilians, but fighting must ebb before there is any real hope of gaining access to hot spots, diplomats said on Monday.
China steps up diplomacy with Syria envoy visit: BEIJING – China said on Monday that it would host an envoy of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and consider another visit by members of the opposition, as Beijing steps up its diplomacy to help resolve the crisis gripping the country.
US, UK and France seek to build more direct links with disparate rebels amid fears that Islamists are getting Gulf donations
The US, Britain and France are scrambling to retain their influence with Syrian opposition groups amid fears that most support from the Gulf states has been diverted towards extremist Islamic groups.
Rising concern that an increasingly sectarian civil war could spread across the region, combined with reports of brutality by some opposition groups, and evidence that the best-organised and best-funded rebel groups are disproportionately Salafist (militant Sunni fundamentalists), has triggered an urgent policy change in western capitals.
Washington, London and Paris now agree that efforts to encourage a unified opposition around the exile-led Syrian National Council (SNC) have failed, and are now seeking to cultivate more direct links with internal Syrian groups.
Ausama Monajed, a British-based SNC member, conceded: “The SNC could have done a better job, a more effective job, in organising the forms on the ground, and now the key issue is to bring fighting groups together in some other framework. But that does not mean that the SNC will be sidelined altogether. It is still the biggest political grouping and has a political and diplomatic role to play.”
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, flew to Istanbul on Saturday to meet Syrian opposition activists and boost military and intelligence co-operation with the Turkish government to prevent the violence spreading across the border. Jon Wilks, Britain’s special envoy to the Syrian opposition, was also in Istanbul last week for a meeting with someone the Foreign Office described as “a senior political representative” of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), during which he stressed the importance of human rights and respect for minorities as a condition of future co-operation.
On Friday, the UK announced £5m in new non-military aid to Syrian opposition groups, pointedly insisting that all the recipients should be organisations inside Syria, therefore excluding the SNC. Clinton’s meetings in Istanbul were also intended to sidestep the exile group, on the grounds that it had little influence on events inside Syria.
“This was a conclusion the state department came to some time ago, and it is just now percolating through into policy,” said Joseph Holliday, an expert on the Syrian rebels at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
Both Wilks and the US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford – who was withdrawn from Damascus last October out of concern for his safety – took part in an unpublicised meeting in Cairo at the beginning of the month. The aim of the meeting, organised by the Doha centre of the Washington-based Brookings Institution thinktank, and attended by external and internal opposition groups including the FSA, was to set up a broad-based committee to hammer out a mutually agreed transition plan.
In France, the government of François Hollande is under intense pressure, particularly from former president Nicolas Sarkozy, to intervene directly on the side of the opposition.
Fabrice Balanche, a Syria expert at the University of Lyon, said the incoming foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, “realised that France had invested too much political capital in the SNC”. He said the new government had instead thrown its weight behind Manaf Tlass – a former Republican Guard general and member of Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle – who defected in July. France is hoping the FSA will coalesce around Tlass, providing some coherence to the disparate array of militias.
However, a Syrian financier linked to the opposition warned that the FSA would remain divided as long as it relied on multiple, uncoordinated sources of funding. “The local brigade commanders on the ground swear allegiance to whoever supports them and the expat community sending them money is completely divided,” the financier said. “These are [Syrian] expats in the States and the Gulf using their own trusted channels for getting money through, so the money is pouring in from many different pockets. The number of fighters each commander can summon wax and wane with his ability to arm and pay them and their families, so there is no particular leader with enough clout to bring the brigades together.”
The exceptions to this rule, he said, were Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but that money went disproportionately to Salafist and jihadist groups. “The most organised systems are run by extreme Islamist groups and they have the highest income. The more extreme brutality tends to come from that direction, but they have the most ammunition and guns, and they get their money from a unified source. All the other money comes from multiple sources and multiple channels. You can only unify these units with a unified source of money.”
Julien Barnes-Dacey, a Middle Eastern expert at the European Council for Foreign Relations, said that western states realised that “if they don’t get on board now, they will lose every opportunity of leverage. If the Saudis and Qataris run loose with the groups they are backing, there will be great chance of blowback.”
“Blowback” is a term widely used to describe the backing of jihadist rebels against the Soviet army in Afghanistan in the 1980s, which provided a recruiting ground for al-Qaida and global jihadism.
According to western diplomats, a Kuwaiti sheikh is also playing a key role in channelling money collected in the Gulf to militant groups judged to have sufficient Salafist credentials.
Western influence with the FSA is limited by a continued refusal to supply arms because of the uncertainty of where the weapons would end up. Barack Obama is reported to have issued a “presidential finding” (a secret executive order) earlier this year, stepping up CIA activity in and around Syria, but that too stopped short of arms supplies.
According to reports from Washington and the Turkish-Syrian border, the main US intelligence role as been to act with the Turks in stopping arms reaching groups they view as undesirable.
On her visit to Istanbul, Clinton did hint at more direct action in the future. She said the US and Turkey had agreed on “very intensive operational planning” by military and intelligence officials. “We have been closely co-ordinating over the course of this conflict, but now we need to get into the real details.”
Clinton did not exclude the possibility of setting up a no-fly zone, long advocated by Turkey but rejected up to now by Washington because it would require a large-scale military operation.
On Saturday she said the joint US-Turkish planning team would perform an “intense analysis” of all options as a possible precursor to more direct assistance.