Saturday 20 July 2012
QAMISHLI, Syrian Kurdistan,— Democratic Union Party (PYD) warned about any Turkey or the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan- al-Muslimin) Party rebels’ intervention in Kurdish cities in Syrian Kurdistan region (western Kurdistan) and said it would confront any possible intervening actions.
“Syria Free Army and Muslim Brotherhood rebels attempted to infiltrate into the Kurdish city of Kobanê but our forces stopped them from entering the city,” Chatir Press website quoted PYD representative Hussein Kocher as Saying.
He further said the party’s forces have being rehearsing in the last year to protect the Kurdish cities.
He further warned about any military intention in the Kurdish cites and said such moves will be forcefully responded.
PYD and civil communities along with a few Kurdish parties are controlling some Syrian Kurdish cities to ban on any possible violence spillover.
The Kurds free Kobanê city and seized all government institutions, in West Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) in northern Syria on July 19 as clashes between Assad’s regime and Western-supported armed groups are reported to be intensifying.
The Kurdish flag is raised at the top of governmental buildings.
On the second day, Saturday, of events in Syrian Kurdistan, several more cities have fallen into the hands of Kurdish groups. Fawzi Shangal,www.ekurd.net the leader of the Kurdish Accord Party in Syria told Rudaw that the Kurdish city of Amude and Efrin fell on Friday and they expect Derek city liberated within hours.
Ali Shamdin, an official from the Kurdish Progress Party in Syria said “The Syrian regime has lost control of some areas of Kurdistan and its authority is weakening,” . “If the situation continues this way, all Kurdish areas will be liberated from the Assad regime.”
Qamishli, the largest Kurdish city in Syria is still under control of Syrian forces,www.ekurd.net but Kurdish leaders expect the army to pull out of the area, as fierce battles between rebel fighters and the Assad regime have been raging in the capital Damascus since Tuesday.
Independent Kurdish newspaper Hawlati said that since early Friday evening war has broken out in the mainly Kurdish city of Qami?lo. Syrian government forces launched an attack against a group of patrolling People’s Defense Unions (YPG) members in Qami?lo, ANF news agency reported.
Sources: kurdpress.com | rudaw.net | firatnews.com | ekurd.net | Agencies
One day after freeing the Kurdish city of Kobanê form the Baath regime agents and Syrian army, Kurds also took control over the government institutions in Afrin and Amuda cities as well as Cidêris district on Friday.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s independent Kurdish newspaper Hawlati said that since early Friday evening war has broken out in the mainly Kurdish city of Qami?lo.
Ismael Hama, Qami?lo–based chief of Kurdish National Council of Syria (KNCS) told Hawlati newspaper that Amuda has been completely freed and probably in a near future Qamislo will also be freed.
Kurdish People’s Defense Unions (YPG) said that the Kurdish citizens and the YPG units assaulted the government agencies in Afrin and Cidêris of Aleppo province and controlled them.
The locations were freed without any confrontations, according to Hawlati.
The freed zones are now run by a joint committee of the KNCS and Western Kurdistan’s People’s Assembly which recently signed a unifying deal in Erbil.
Meanwhile the group of People’s Defense Unions (YPG) members attacked by Assad’s security forces in Syrian Kurdistan.
Syrian government forces launched an attack against a group of patrolling People’s Defense Unions (YPG) members in Qami?lo,www.ekurd.netthe biggest city in West Kurdistan, ANF news agency reported.
One YPG member was reported wounded in the attack on Friday night.
The attack by state forces came after the Kurdish people liberate all government institutions in the Kurdish city of Kobane in West Kurdistan on 19 July and took the city of Afrin and the district of Cidêris on the 20th.
Committees for civil defense which announced on Thursday that they hold themselves responsible for ensuring security in Kurdish regions have declared their organization as “People’s Defense Unions (YPG)” on Friday.
Copyright ©, respective author or news agency, aknews.com | firatnews.com
QAMISHLI, Syrian Kurdistan,— A member of the Syrian Kurdish National Council announced that the council and western people council will form a committee on Sunday to run the Kurdish Region in Syria (Western Kurdistan).
Member of the political bureau of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party PYD Mahmoud Mohammed said the Syrian Kurdish National Council and the western people committee will discuss the management of the Kurdish Region in the country for a post-liberation Syria.
The two parties will discuss ways to administrate the region together, said the source.
The politburo member of the Kurdish Leftist Party of Syria Shalal gado said: “Inside this committee, we create subcommittees to administrate all aspects such as security, military, health and so on.”
Gado added: “So far no problem occurred in the Kurdish librated areas.”
Copyright ©, respective author or news agency, aknews.com
QAMISHLI, Syrian Kurdistan,— On the second day of events in Syrian Kurdistan, several more cities have fallen into the hands of Kurdish groups.
Fawzi Shangal, the leader of the Kurdish Accord Party in Syria told Rudaw that the city of Amude and Efrin fell on Friday and they expect Derek city liberated within hours.
Shangal maintained that the Kurdish cities fell without any major clashes. The forces of the Assad regime withdrew from the area, he said.
“According to the Erbil agreement [signed between Syrian Kurdish political factions] On June 11, the Kurdish National Council and the Council of Western Kurdistan have formed a joint leadership to run those cities,” he said.
Members of the Democratic Union Party [PYD] raised the Kurdish flag alongside the official flag of the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK] on all government buildings in the newly liberated cities on Friday.
Kobane, in the province of Halab [Aleppo], was the first Kurdish city near the Turkish border to be liberated yesterday.
On Thursday PYD stopped soldiers of the Free Syrian Army [FSA] from entering Kobane as the news of the liberation reached other parts of the country.
“The Kurdish forces rejected a request by the FSA and told them that they [Kurds] can control their own areas,” Hussein Kochar, a PYD official told Rudaw.
Kurdish leaders are preparing for the full liberation of Syrian Kurdistan and the responsibility of restoring peace and order in those cities.
Ismail Hama, the current head of the Kurdish National Council said achieving an agreement between the different factions wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.
“Things are changing in Syria and those changes affect us all,” he said. “We have to be united and it was those developments in Syria that made us put our differences aside and form this council.”
The Kurdish groups agreed last month to form three committees for foreign relations, peace and order and supervision of public services.
Meanwhile, Hama supported PYD’s policy of preventing the Free Syrian Army from reaching Kurdish areas.
“PYD’s stance against the FSA is rigid,” he said. “There are different parties behind the FSA, among them Turkey, Saudi Arabic and Jordan. Kurds are against those forces from coming to Kurdistan and we support PYD in that regard and believe a special Kurdish force has to be created.”
Mustafa Juma, the head of the Kurdistan Freedom Party [Azadi] said Kurdish groups faced many challenges to reach the agreement they signed in Erbil; therefore all sides have to respect and implement its articles.
“Kurds in western Kurdistan were very worried recently because despite our past sufferings, Kurdish groups were close to a civil war,” he said. “But that agreement makes everyone happy.”
The PKK-affiliated PYD is the dominant force in Syrian Kurdistan and their members run checkpoints on major roads and entrances to Kurdish cities.
But Nuri Brimo, spokesperson for the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria said on Thursday, to run the Kurdish areas all groups have to work together.
“PKK alone cannot run western Kurdistan,” he said. “There is no other way but unity and only that way can we achieve our goals.”
Qamishli, the largest Kurdish city in Syria is still under control of Syrian forces,www.ekurd.net but Kurdish leaders expect the army to pull out of the area, as fierce battles between rebel fighters and the Assad regime have been raging in the capital Damascus since Tuesday.
Copyright ©, respective author or news agency, rudaw.net
A statement by the Union of Kurdish Coordination Committees (UKCC) on Friday called on all members of the Syrian army to withdraw from the Kurdish areas or face consequences.
“After liberating a part of our Kurdish region, we are warning all the pro-Assad forces in the Kurdish areas to either defect from this regime and withdraw peacefully, or they will be forced to leave against their will,” the statement read.
The UKCC statement also called on the Kurdish people to preserve all the government institutions and secure them from any damage, “because these are the property of the people, and all the neighbourhoods should be regularly protected by the Kurdish Popular Protection Units.”
Sherzad Yezidi, representative of the People’s Council of West Kurdistan in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, told Asharq Alawsat that liberating these Kurdish areas could be considered the first step of implementing the agreement signed last month between the Kurdish National Council [KNC] and the Democratic Union Party [PYD].
“All the Kurds are waiting for the liberation of Qamishli city, since it is the largest Kurdish city in Syria and it is considered as the political and administrative capital of the Kurdish region in the Syria,www.ekurd.net only then we will be able to breathe freedom in Syria’s Kurdistan,” Yezidi said.
As the Syrian regime started to lose control on many towns and neighbourhoods across the country, a number of Kurdish areas live in a state of partial liberty.
The Kurdish town of Kobane, northeast of Aleppo, was declared free of Syrian security forces on Wednesday, and the residents raised the Kurdish flag on different government buildings.
The Liberation of Kobane was declared by the joint forces of the Popular Protection Units – founded recently by the KNC and the PYD. Leaders of both groups said they would be responsible for maintaining order and protecting the lives of residents in Kurdish neighbourhoods.
Fawzi Shangal, the leader of the Kurdish Accord Party in Syria told Rudaw that the city of Amude and Efrin fell on Friday and they expect more areas to be liberated within hours.
Shangal said that the Kurdish cities fell without any major clashes. The forces of the Assad regime withdrew from the area, he said.
Hussein Kocher, representative of the PYD in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, told Asharq Alawsat newspaper on Friday that the liberation of Kobane was achieved when members of the security forces surrendered to Kurdish forces.
“As our joint Kurdish forces surrounded the governmental and security buildings, security forces had to choose either confrontation or surrender. They preferred to avoid any confrontations with our Kurdish forces, and they left the town,” Kocher said. “We are glad that the process of liberating Kobane is achieved peacefully without any bloodshed, and that is exactly what we were insisting since the beginning of the revolution–to avoid any clashes with the forces of the regime in the Kurdish region.”
Meanwhile, Kurdish activists reported on Friday that Qamishli—the largest Kurdish city in Syria—began to seize parts of the city from the Syrian government forces and raise the Kurdish flag.
By Adib Abdulmajid
Approximately 140 Syrian casualties on Saturday so far today (Saturday 21/7/2012). 77 Unarmed rebels:
-In Homs, 27 natives were killed, of which 3 were prisoners killed in the local prison of Homs due to riots. 20 were also killed, of which 2 women and 5 children, due to the bombardment of al-Rastan and the villages near it.
In Damascus, 14 were killed, of which 1 was a victim of a snipershot after midnight on Friday in Barzeh, 1 was killed due to a sniper shot today morning in Mezzeh , 1 was killed also due to a sniper shot in al-Tadamon, 4 were killed in Kafarsouseh due to sniper shots from regime forces, 2 civilians were killed in Midan neighbourhood in the area of al-Ka’a, they were found dead inside their house. 2 civilians killed due to a rocket strike in al-Qaboon, and a man accompanied with his wife and child were shot at by unknown armed forces in the area of Bab Touma.
In Reef Damascus, 4 civilians natives were killed, of which a woman was killed due to the storming of the village of Shab’a by regime forces today morning. 1 was killed under torture in the village of Misraba. 2 were killed in the areas of Madaya and al-Zabadani respectively that is witnessing clashes between the regime forces and rebel forces.
In Idlib, 14 civilians were killed, of which 12 were killed in the village of al-Mastooma that bears gun shots and violent bombardment from regime forces, 1 civilian victim and a Russian woman were killed due to injuries sustained by the bombardment of the village of Sarakeb yesterday.
In Dara’a, 6 were killed, of which 1 was killed in the village of Tafss due to a bomb blast, 1 found dead in the village of Inkhil after he was detained 3 days ago by regime forces, 1 killed due to the bombardment of the village of al-Msefra in the countryside, and 3 killed in the street of Dera’a al-Balad 2 of which by sniper shots.
In Deir el-Zor, 3 killed, of which 1 was killed due to a sniper shot in the city, 1 woman killed by regime gun shots in the village of al-Mayadin in the country side, and a college student killed under torture in a security base in the city of Aleppo.
In Hama, 4 civilians were killed, of which one killed in al-Frayeh street in the city which is under bombardment and gun shots from regime forces, 2 natives killed due to the storming of al-Alelat street, and a native killed by a sniper shot in the street of ’15 Azar’ in the city.
In Aleppo, 2 killed, of which 1 killed due to suffering of an injury sustained yesterday in the Salahedine neighbourhood, from clashes between rebel fighters and regime forces. A young man killed by from a checkpoint called al-Bareed in Sayf el-Dawle neighbourhood.
In al-Hasaka, a young man was killed due to an injury sustained at noon today in the village of Derek.
The names of 5 rebel victims killed by a summary execution yesterday were certified in al-Qaboon in Damascus.
14 Rebel fighters:
Aleppo prov: 1 rebel killed in clashes in Tariq el-Bab street. 5 rebel fighters were killed when a artillery shell hit them in the
town of Andan, Reef Aleppo.
Deir Izzor prov: 1 rebel fighter fell due to an injury sustained in previous clashes with regime forces and another fighter killed during clashes inside the city.
Dera’a province: 3 rebel fighters were victims of clashes with regime forces in the villages of Ma’raba and al-Ne’eme
Idlib prov: 1 rebel was killed due to clashes with the regime forces near the village of Ma’aret al-Na’man.
Damascus: 2 rebel fighters who fell as a result of clashes with regime forces.
Homs prov: 6 rebels killed. 2 rebel fighters were killed during clashes with the regime forces in the district of Jobar. 4 rebel fighters were killed in clashes with the regime forces in the country side of the city of al-Qseir.
Two defecteded soldiers were killed in clashes in the countryside of Idlib and in Homs. A defected lieutenant was killed in clashes in Reef Damascus in addition to a detached soldier killed in Damascus.
No less than 43 soldiers of the regime forces were killed due to an attack on buses carrying them on the highway between Damascus and Aleppo near the city of al-Nabk and due to clashes in all of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Idlib, Reef Damascus, and Dara’a.
[local time] 22:18 Syrian rebels took control of the village of Rowayhina located near the Golan Heights, Al-Arabiya television reported.
22:08 Syrian forces shelled Edleb’s Maarat an-Naaman, killing and wounding people, Al-Arabiya television quoted activists as saying.
22:03 Syrian forces shelled Moadamiya near Damascus, Al-Arabiya television quoted the Local Coordination Committees as saying.
20:20 The director of the intelligence forces in Aleppo, Brigadier General Mohammad Mofleh, defected on Saturday and fled to Turkey, Al-Jazeera television reported.
19:37 Dozens of Turkish truck drivers on Saturday accused rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army of having burned and looted their lorries as they stormed a border post in Syria.
19:00 Syrian troops and tanks were surrounding a prison in central Syria and firing on it on Saturday after prisoners mutinied, an activist told AFP.
18:47 Rebels took control of Al-Yaarabiya border crossing, located near Iraq’s Mosul, Al-Arabiya television reported.
18:40 Syrian rebels seized a second of the three main border crossings between Iraq and Syria, after keeping control of another despite heavy shelling by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, Iraqi officials told AFP.
18:13 “Independent groups” ransacked and burned 30 Turkish trucks at a border post in Syria, the governor of the neighboring Turkish province told reporters after a security meeting Saturday.
17:42 Syria needs a transitional government soon which would represent the diversity of its society, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement issued Saturday.
17:10 Al-Jazeera television broadcast live footage of the Aleppo town Aazaz after it fell under the control of rebels.
17:05 Saturday’s death toll in Syria has risen 96 people, most of them killed in Damascus and Aleppo, Al-Jazeera television reported.
16:50 Syrian forces killed one and wounded other people in the Homs Central Prison, Al-Jazeera television reported.
16:40 At least 20 people were killed across Syria on Saturday, as the clock started ticking on a 30-day deadline for violence to abate sufficiently for a troubled UN observer mission to remain in place.
16:34 The rebel Free Syrian Army tried on Saturday to overrun the Naseeb border with Jordan but were repulsed by Syrian government troops, a Jordanian security official told AFP.
15:52 Syrian rebels controlled on Saturday one of the three main border crossings between Iraq and Syria despite shelling from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, Iraqi officials told AFP.
15:50 Clashes broke out between Syrian regime forces and rebels in the Aleppo neighborhood of Al-Sakhour, Al-Arabiya television quoted the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution as saying
15:29 Around 1000 Syrian refugees left Turkey back to Syria due to the “worsening situation” of the refugee camps there, Al-Jazeera television reported.
15:24 The Free Syrian Army is attempting to take control of the Naseeb border crossing located between Daraa and Jordan, Al-Jazeera television reported.
15:11 UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Saturday that Syrian authorities have “manifestly failed” to protect civilians and called on the international community to act to stop the violence.
15:07 Syria’s rebels said they took control of the town Al-Malkiya in Hasaka, Al-Arabiya television reported.
15:03 Saturday’s death toll in Syria has risen to 73 people, Al-Jazeera television quoted the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying.
14:08 The Syrian army is shelling the Damascus town of Baraza, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
12:38 The Syrian army and rebels are fighting to take control of the Nasib border crossing with Jordan, al-Arabiya television quoted activists as saying.
12:33 Syrian security forces killed 43 people on Saturday, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
11:34 Unprecedented clashes between troops and rebels raged into a second day in Syria’s second city of Aleppo on Saturday, forcing residents to flee some neighborhoods, activists said.
9:29 Shells coming from Syria hit Lebanon’s Akkar towns of Al-Bikat, An-Noura, Al-Jadeed reported on Saturday.
9:20 If Damascus was lost, experts believe there are plans for Assad to seek refuge among his minority Alawite ethnic group in the northeastern mountains of the country.
9:06 After the Russian and Chinese veto of a UN resolution on Syria, America must use back channels to bolster its support for rebel forces as US military involvement is not an option, analysts said.
8:40 Up to 30,000 Syrians have fled across the border into Lebanon in recent days according to UNHCR, leaving behind some of the worst violence in the 16-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
8:14 Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called on the United Nations on Friday to intervene to provide safe passage for Iraqis escaping escalating violence in Syria and return to their home country.
8:10 Syrian government troops were on Friday heavily shelling Abu Kamal, a town along the Iraq-Syria border that rebel forces took control of a day earlier, rebels and medics told AFP.
8:03 Three more Syrian generals have crossed into Turkey, bringing to 24 the number of generals who have fled the unrest in Syria, a Foreign Ministry diplomat told AFP Friday.
8:00 The new head of the opposition Syrian National Council on Friday sought to reassure the country’s minorities on the consequences of a possible fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime, saying their rights would be protected.
There have been heavy clashes between security forces and rebels in Syria’s second city of Aleppo, activists say.
The fighting was centred on the Salah al-Din district, but had also spread to Sakhur and Haydariya, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Aleppo has so far been spared the daily bloodshed seen in other cities since the uprising began in March 2011.
The violence came a day after the UN Security Council voted to extend the UN observer mission for a “final” 30 days.
A resolution stated that after that period the monitors would leave if they were unable to carry out their job of verifying the peace plan brokered by the UN and Arab League’s special envoy, Kofi Annan.
Their mandate may be renewed if the use of heavy weapons ends.
The observers’ work has been mostly suspended since June because of the escalating violence, which reportedly left more than 300 people dead on Thursday and another 200 on Friday.
On Saturday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the Security Council to forge a united way forward and exercise its collective responsibility.
Mr Ban also said he would send his Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, to Syria and had asked his top military adviser to take charge of the observer mission.
‘Exodus’Activists said the clashes in Aleppo between troops and members of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) began in Salah al-Din on Friday morning. By Friday afternoon, they had spread into Sakhur and Haydariya.
Aleppo-based activist Mohammed Saeed said the fighting continued throughout the night until Saturday morning, most of it in Salah al-Din.
“Last night was very bad,” he told the Associated Press. “There were huge explosions and the gunfire didn’t stop for several hours.”
“The uprising has finally reached Aleppo,” he added.
Mr Saeed said dozens of FSA fighters had entered from the countryside. Aleppo is not far from Turkey, where the FSA commanders are based.
The Local Co-ordination Committees, an activist network, said there had been an “exodus” of Salah al-Din residents “because of fear of a regime bombardment and offensive”.
The BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut says fighting in Aleppo is ominous for President Bashar al-Assad’s government, since the city has so far stayed out of the uprising.So too had the capital, Damascus, but those days are now over, our correspondent adds.
Government forces hit back hard on Friday, using all their firepower to retake the southern district of Midan, causing massive damage. Sporadic gunfire and explosions were heard by residents of the city throughout the night.
The governor of Damascus has said all resistance will be cleared up within five days, but not far south of Midan, at Yarmouk, video published online by activists appeared to show the local police station overrun by rebels.
On the other side of the city, in the northern suburb of al-Tal, another video purportedly showed the head of the local Political Security Directorate (PSD) branch and all his staff surrendering to FSA fighters.
There was also a violent and prolonged battle in the rebel-held town of Talbasiya, north of the city of Homs in central Syria. Activists said government forces tried to storm the town then bombarded it heavily.
Syrian troops and armored vehicles pushed into a rebel-held district of Aleppo on Saturday and struck back in Damascus against fighters emboldened by a bomb attack against President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle.
Opposition activists in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city and a northern commercial hub, said hundreds of families were fleeing residential areas after the military swept into the Saladin district, which had been in rebel hands for two days.
Fighting was also reported in the densely-populated, poor neighborhood of al-Sakhour.
“The sound of bombardment has been non-stop since last night. For the first time we feel Aleppo has turned into a battle zone,” a housewife, who declined to be named, said by phone from the city.
The Syrian army’s push in Aleppo occurred after rebels assassinated four of his top security officials this week and mounted a six-day attack in the capital that they dubbed “Damascus Volcano”.
Rebels also captured three border crossings with Iraq and Turkey, and on Saturday an Iraqi security source said gunmen appeared to be taking over a fourth at Yarubiyah in Syria’s Kurdish northeast.
Assad, battling a 16-month uprising against his family’s four decades of autocratic rule, has not spoken in public since the assassinations, and failed to attend funeral ceremonies for his brother-in-law and two other slain officials on Friday.
A bloody crackdown on what began as a peaceful revolt has increasingly become an armed conflict between an establishment dominated by Assad’s Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, and rebels drawn largely from the Sunni majority.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was sending his peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous and top military adviser Gen. Babacar Gaye to Syria to assess the situation.
In Damascus, Assad’s forces hit back overnight. Using helicopters and tanks, they aimed rockets, machineguns and mortars at pockets of lightly armed rebels moving about on foot and attacking security installations and roadblocks.
Residents said the city was quiet on Saturday morning but that heavy mortar shelling in the northeastern neighborhood of Barzeh resumed at around 2.30 p.m. (1130 GMT). Explosions could also be heard near the southern district of Tadamon.
Most shops were closed and there was only light traffic – although more than in the past few days. Some police checkpoints, abandoned earlier in the week, were manned again.
Most petrol stations were closed, having run out of fuel, and the few that were open had huge lines of cars waiting to fill up. Residents also reported long queues at bakeries and said vegetable prices had doubled.
“EVERYONE IS DEPRESSED”
“I feel depressed and lonely because I have to stay indoors as there is nothing good outside. Everyone else is depressed as well,” said a woman in her 50s in west Damascus who supports Assad’s opponents. She declined to be identified.
An opposition activist said he had sneaked back into the Midan district, which Assad’s forces seized back from rebel control on Friday, only to find his house looted.
“The doors were broken and I walked into several houses which were in the same condition,” said Fadi al-Wahed. “Safes were broken into, drawers broken and furniture and television screens missing. Three army trucks were parked under the ring road flyover with loot.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group which monitors the violence in the country, said 240 people were killed across Syria on Friday, including 43 troops.
The Observatory’s combined death toll over the past 48 hours stood at 550, making it the bloodiest two days of the 16-month-old uprising against Assad.
On the Iraqi-Syrian border, a security source and a separate witness said they saw gunmen in a civilian car enter the Yarubiya crossing point on the Syrian side of the frontier.
“When we contacted the Syrians there, they told us the Syrian security elements are gradually withdrawing from the place,” said the security source, who works for the Iraqi customs department.
It was not immediately possible to verify the reports on the border post, but Syrian opposition activists said several towns in Syria’s Kurdish northeast had passed – without a fight – into local hands in recent days as central authority eroded.
A Turkish regional governor said on Saturday Syrian rebels and “independent groups” linked to smuggling were still holding the Bab al-Hawa commercial crossing point.
Mehmet Celalettin Lekesiz said nine Turkish trucks on the Syrian side had been set on fire by the Syrian groups, contradicting statements by the rebels that they were torched by the Syrian army because of Turkey’s support for the rebels.
The surge in violence has trapped millions of Syrians, turned sections of Damascus into ghost areas, and sent tens of thousands of refugees fleeing to neighboring Lebanon.
The U.N. Security Council has approved a 30-day extension for a ceasefire observer mission, but Ban has recommended changing its focus to pursuing prospects for a political solution – effectively accepting there was no truce to monitor.
Diplomats said only half of the 300 unarmed observers would be needed for Ban’s suggested plan, and several monitors were seen departing from Damascus on Saturday.
Speaking two days after Russia and China vetoed a resolution to impose further sanctions on Assad’s government, Ban called on the Security Council to “redouble efforts to forge a united way forward and exercise its collective responsibility”.
“The Syrian government has manifestly failed to protect civilians and the international community has collective responsibility to live up to the U.N. Charter and act on its principles,” he said.
Regional and Western powers have voiced concern the conflict might become a full-blown sectarian war that could spill across borders. But Assad’s opponents remain outgunned and divided.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, speaking after contacts with the head of the Arab League and Qatar’s prime minister, said all three agreed that it was time for Syria’s fractured opposition to prepare to take charge of the country.
“We would like to see the rapid formation of a provisional government representing the diversity of Syrian society,” said Fabius. Syria’s main political opposition group, the Syrian National Council, operating in exile, has so far failed to unite Assad’s disparate foes on a united political platform.
On the military front, a senior Syrian defector said Assad could now rely only on an inner core of loyal army regiments, adding “the collapse of the regime is accelerating like a snowball”.
General Mustafa Sheikh said Assad’s forces were transporting chemical arms across Syria for possible use against the rebels.
“The regime has started moving its chemical stockpile and redistributing it to prepare for its use,” said Sheikh, citing rebel intelligence obtained in recent days.
The White House said on Saturday it was concerned about what might happen to chemical weapons in Syria but believed Damascus’s stockpile “remains under government control”.
(Additional reporting by Igor Ilic in Brijuni, Croatia; Suleiman al-Khalidi in Hacipasa, Turkey; Leigh Thomas in Paris; Jamal al-Badrani in Mosul, Ira; and Jonathan Burch in Cilvegozu, Turkey; Editing by Ralph Gowling)
The United Nations’ secretary-general slammed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime Saturday, saying the government “has manifestly failed to protect civilians” and the fighting “is destroying the country.”
“The situation in Syria is rapidly deteriorating,” Ban Ki-moon said during a visit to Croatia. “As fighting intensifies across the country, including in the capital, the suffering gets worse. I am deeply distressed by the rising death toll, and the growing number of people who have been forced to flee their homes within the country and across the borders.”
Battles are raging in Damascus and a range of hotspots across the nation, and unrest is flaring in the Kurdish region. A fierce crackdown launched by the Syrian government against protesters starting in March 2011 has morphed into a nationwide uprising against the regime.
The government resolved to take on its foes after a bombing Wednesday killed four members of al-Assad’s inner circle and government. The dead included al-Assad’s brother-in-law, his defense minister, a security adviser, and the head of the national security bureau.
Damascus is now largely isolated by checkpoints and tanks, witnesses said Saturday. But tanks, artillery and mortars pummeled the neighborhood of Barzeh. Opposition groups said medicine is running out and residents are appealing for help.
“When I went outside to get some food and medicine I noticed that the streets are almost empty,” an activist named Lena said from the Mazzeh neighborhood on the west side of the city. “Only those who have an urgent need to be outside like me were walking on the street. … No one can really go in or out of the city without passing a checkpoint.”
At least 13 of 70 people killed across the country Saturday were from Damascus and the Damascus suburbs, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said. Other deaths occurred in the provinces of Idlib, Homs, Daraa, Deir Ezzor, and Aleppo.
After largely sitting on the sidelines of the Syrian revolution, political groups from Syria’s Kurdish minority in the northeastern region appear to have moved decisively to claim control of several Kurdish-populated towns.
The Kurdish Coordination Committee, an opposition group, said the towns of Amouda and Qobani are under the control of a group called the Free Kurdish Army. Opposition groups told Syrian officials and security forces to withdraw from the town.
The towns are near the Turkish border. The Free Kurdish Army, formed from the political Democratic Union Party, has historic links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
The PKK, regarded as a terrorist organization by Turkey and the United States, has been fighting the Turkish government for Kurdish autonomy. There was no immediate comment from Turkey about the development. Turkey has been critical of the al-Assad regime and is hosting Syrian opposition groups and sheltering thousands of Syrian refugees.
Rebels are working to wrest control of Qamishli, the largest of the Kurdish cities, from the government. Clashes between Free Syrian Army rebels and regime forces were taking place near the city’s Central Prison, the LCC said.
The Kurdish Coordination Committee reported fighting between Kurdish rebels and security forces in Malikiye, located east of Qamishli across from the Turkish border city of Cizre.
CNN cannot independently confirm reports of violence because the government restricts access by foreign journalists.
Rebel fighters seeking control of the country’s northern and eastern borders reported success on the border with Iraq. A senior Iraqi army official in Anbar province said eight crossing points are in rebel hands. The official did not want to be named because he is not authorized to talk to the media.
Iraqi security forces have increased their military and security presence at the border in Anbar, the official said.
Late Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki urged Iraqis in Syria to return home.
“Given the difficult security conditions experienced by our brothers and our sons in Syria, we call on them — men, women and children — to return to their country. … And we tell them to please come back home, the place of your safety and honor. We will forgive all those who … do not have blood on their hands so everyone can live in peace and security,” he said in a statement.
Travelers along the Syrian-Turkish border told CNN they saw rebels controlling border points.
Military defections have plagued the Syrian regime. An official from the Turkish Foreign Ministry confirmed to CNN that two brigadier generals from Syria arrived in Turkey Friday night and one arrived the night before. He said about two dozen Syrian generals have fled to Turkey.
The United Nations estimates more than 10,000 people have been killed since the crisis began more than 16 months ago. But Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the office of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said the United Nations hasn’t been giving out overall death toll numbers since December “because it became impossible to verify the numbers in any meaningful way.”
Opposition groups tracking deaths have issued higher tolls. The LCC, for example, estimates that more than 16,000 have died.
Diplomats have yet to come up with a plan to stop what is now being called a civil war. The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution renewing its Syrian observer mission for 30 days Friday. Diplomats said that if the violence engulfing Syria doesn’t recede enough for the observers to do their work, the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria, known as UNSMIS, will be withdrawn.
The mission’s job is to monitor U.N. and Arab League joint special envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan that never got off the ground. It recently suspended its regular patrols because of the escalating violence.
Lt. Gen. Babacar Gaye, U.N. military adviser for peacekeeping operations, has taken over temporary command of the supervision mission. Gaye, from Senegal, replaces Maj. Gen. Robert Mood of Norway, whose tour of duty ended Friday, the mission’s website said.
Ban said Saturday that he is sending Herve Ladsous, the U.N. under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, “to assess the situation” and Gaye to lead the supervision mission “in this critical phase.”
“The extension of UNSMIS mandate for only 30 days is a strong signal that the onus is — above all — on the parties, and with the Syrian government in the first place, who must stop the killing and the use of heavy weapons against population centers. All armed operations must end,” Ban said.
“This is their basic responsibility. A meaningful and inclusive political process cannot take root as long as violence, fear and intimidation continue to rage across the country.
Ban said he is working closely with Annan.
“We continue to push for a peaceful solution,” he said. “The situation is fluid and unpredictable, but the path to peace is clear. There must be an end to killing and human rights violations, and a rapid move towards a peaceful, Syrian-led political transition and political dialogue. Urgent and visible steps towards a credible transition would constitute an alternative to the violence.”
CNN’s Ivan Watson, Yesim Comert, Amir Ahmed, Saad Abedine, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.
Bashar al-Assad is finished – that is a given. But 40 years under a corrupt regime that ruled by fear has left a dangerous vacuum
The balance of power in Syria was changed forever on Wednesday. Inside a nondescript three-storey building in the heart of a secure zone in Damascus, three security chiefs were dead and a fourth mortally wounded as the Middle East’s most ruthless regime was rocked to its core.
The rebel force filming nearby had just detonated a bomb inside the inner sanctum, something that was never supposed to happen in a state rooted in four decades of totalitarian rule and anchored in fear.
Panic was clear in the voices of the emergency responders, whose radio calls were intercepted by the watching rebels. Their frantic alarm, claim the rebels, showed a dimension to revolutionary Syria that did not exist even hours earlier and had never been a trait during the dynastic rule of the Assads.
Even during four embattled days before the bombing, the regime had maintained the appearance of control as a large rebel force advanced on the capital from three directions – the first time such an assault had been launched in 17 months of violence. There is no calm anywhere any more.
Now, with Syria’s rigid order ever more vulnerable and its neighbours increasingly alarmed, planning for life after the regime is well under way. That Bashar al-Assad is finished is now a given; far less certain is what will be left of Syria in his wake.
The key ingredient in the regime’s longevity – fear – is no longer the glue that will hold it together. As loyalist troops battled rebel forces in Damascus this weekend in an attempt to seize control of ground they had lost in the capital, more senior generals than ever had announced they had switched sides. Defections, or desertions of more junior officers and the rank and file, are widely reported across the country.
There is now a real sense among diplomats in Beirut and the exiled Free Syrian Army leadership in Turkey that a catalyst has been reached, perhaps well before anyone was ready for it.
“In many ways, they got to this point before they or anyone else has prepared for the next phase,” said a western official in Beirut. “There are no credible systems in place among the Syrian National Council, or anyone in the opposition groupings, which could act as a buffer to chaos.”
Wissam Tarif, a senior official from the global campaigning organisation, Avaaz, said an urgent appeal to Syrians living in exile was needed to help prevent a highly dangerous power vacuum that will likely follow the crumbling of regime authority.
“It will require highly skilled people with advanced material skills to prevent sectarian war,” he said. “There is a huge task in trying to get people home. We haven’t heard of any initiative or planning. There is a transition plan, but no planning for who is going to fund the transition period.”
Forty years of police state has crippled any meaningful development of a civil society in Syria. The key institutions of state remain interwoven into the Baath party, which has acted as the eyes and ears of the regime, and the pillars of justice, such as the rule of law and court system, are far from independent.
When the corroded institutions of state fall along with the regime, there will be next to no checks and balances. The looting and bedlam that followed the fall of Baghdad is very likely to be repeated in Damascus, unless order can somehow be quickly secured.
Earlier in the uprising, the Syrian National Council was groomed by the west, the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia as an alternative administration that could offer a more pluralistic, representative rule and convince the country’s citizens that it was ready to take power.
But relations between all potential patrons and the SNC have cooled considerably since the start of the year, with many now doubting that their leaders can assemble a credible body. The Syrian people whom they were supposed to represent are just as underwhelmed.
“They fight more than they work,” one US official told the Guardian. “And they don’t deliver.” And, according to members and western observers alike, some senior leaders who have received money sent to fund the administration have not passed it on.
“I was at a meeting in Cairo in May,” said Thaer Abboud, a member of the Alawite community who has worked against the Assad regime, at times with the SNC. “It was an important gathering in the Semiramis hotel and Robert Ford [US ambassador to Syria and now a key member of the National Security Council's Syria strategy group] was there. One delegate, a well-known SNC member, started accusing the Americans of not helping them, not doing this or that.
“Ford replied that he was the one a very large amount of money had been sent to, and where had it gone? He sat down and didn’t say a word and was chased out of the room by the other people there. It was shameful.
“One thing that we have in common, all of us, is lack of trust. The SNC should be the most credible body to negotiate in the name of people. But it is not able.”
As the SNC bickers and falters, Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, long a pariah body under Assad and his father Hafez, has been quietly building support. It claims to have the ear of no more than 25% of the population, after a year of low-key work, primarily through its three seats on the SNC’s executive committee.
The group’s slow-burn style is replicating the work of its counterpart in Egypt, which won democratic parliamentary and presidential elections held this year after the 2011 fall of the veteran dictator, Hosni Mubarak.
A prominent role in Syria for the conservative Islamic group, with links to the Sunni Arab powerhouses, is one possible outcome in the wake of the regime. “We are ready for the post-Assad era, we have plans for the economy, the courts, politics,” the Brotherhood’s spokesman, Muheim al-Droubi, told the wire service Agence France-Presse. However, he added: “My opinion is that in free elections the Muslim Brothers wouldn’t have more than 25% of the votes.”
In Syria, the Brotherhood has unfinished business with the Assads, dating back to a massacre in 1982 launched by Hafez al-Assad, which killed an estimated 20,000 people in Hama. The killings of large numbers of Sunni Muslims during this uprising, ordered by an officer class dominated by the Alawite sect, has only added to a foreboding spectre of revenge that is looming ever large as order continues to decay.
“There won’t be a Tahrir Square moment in Syria,” said Tarif. “Revenge is a problem. How do you manage that? You need those officers who have defected to come back and take charge. They will have to at a certain point make concessions to prevent a total collapse; a country with no leadership, fighting among groups and sects.”
A long-mooted contingency plan for the regime has been to retreat to the Alawite mountains in northern Syria and carve out a homeland from there through to the heartland of the sect in the coastal cities of Latakia and nearby Tartus. Many among the mysterious, heterodox sect with loose links to Shia Islam are believed to see the violence in Syria as an existential threat, which will escalate if the regime falls. Other Alawites say they resent that their sect has been hijacked by the regime and used to solidify its rule. “We can’t be separated from them as a people,” said one Alawite man in Antakya. “The trust is so broken down that we will be tarnished by the regime no matter where we stand.”
A potential balkanisation of Syria, which would possibly be linked to outright sectarian war, would be deeply alarming for the region. The sectarian tinderbox that is Lebanon, 21 years after its own sectarian civil war ended, could easily be reignited. Iraq, slowly recovering from a more recent civil war of its own, is by no means stable, or immune.
Turkey, which does not want to let Syria’s woes give the region’s Kurds araison d’être to press their claims for statehood, would clearly feel threatened if the nation states carved out of the Arabian deserts in the wake of the Ottoman empire suddenly came tumbling down.
Shashank Joshi, research fellow from the Royal United Services Institute, said: “We should also not exclude the possibility of prolonged resistance from rump security forces, including the concentration of regime security forces within Damascus or in ‘Alawite’ areas in the Levantine highlands.
“It would likely result in a longer-term defeat for loyalist forces. An Alawite mini-state would be outgunned, isolated, and opposed by Turkey, but such a defeat could only come about after a deeply divisive and casualty-intensive process entailing the temporary balkanisation of Syrian territory.
“If state authority were not established within a reasonable period after collapse, the longer-term prospects for a democratic, stable Syria would shrink even further, because local militias would gain in strength, helped along by foreign powers eager to cultivate clients – a process familiar to us from Lebanon’s civil war. What is clear is that the past few weeks’ series of defections, assassinations, and the loosening grip of Damascus all indicate an ever-narrowing base of support, and a high probability of sudden and unpredictable collapse.”
A veteran Beirut-based diplomat agreed: “The Alawite issue in the transition needs to be addressed in a very clear way. There has been nothing done by anyone, ourselves included, to give them the comfort they need. The Christians as well, for that matter.”
One way to avoid the abyss is the anointing of a hardman to take over. Defected general Manaf Tlass, a former friend of the Assad family, is a potential candidate. The lessons of Iraq dictate that former regime figures cannot afford to be sidelined when a new state is built. Tlass has yet to reveal his hand, but he – and others like him, who waited many months before defecting – are increasingly being treated with suspicion.
“These people should be engaged and integrated,” said Tarif. “There are other officers like him who must play a role. Order is preferable to chaos.”
Martin Chulov in Beirut