Saturday 23 June 2012
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: The number of civilian martyrs documented by the SOHR in Syria, so far, today (Saturday 23/6/2012), documentation includes name and reason of death, has risen to 100 (72 civilians).
-In Homs 9 were killed. 6 were killed by the gunfire and shelling in the city of Homs. 2 were martyred by the bombardment of Deir Ba’alba this morning. A rebel fighter was killed during clashes in the neighbourhood of Jourat al-Shayyah. 2 were killed by the bombardment on the edges of al-Qusayr.
-In Hama 3 civilians were martyred.1 has not yet been fully documented, he was killed by the clashes in the Masha’ al-Jouz area in the Tariq Halab neighbourhood of Hama. 2 citizens were killed at dawn by an ambush set up for them, by regime forces, in the Masha’ al-Arba’een neighbourhood of Hama.
-In Deir Izzor 10 civilians were killed. 6, including a child, were killed in the city of Deir Izzor; the child was killed by a sniper. 2 civilians were killed by heavy machineguns in the town of Thiban. A young man died of wounds he received in the town of al-Bu Omar, Reef Deir Izzor. Another child was killed in Reef Deir Izzor by the regime bombardment of al-Qouriya.
-In dera’a province, 1 civilian was killed by regime forces’ gunfire in the town of Sahm al-Golan.
-In Reef Dimashq 6 civilians were killed. All 6 were killed in Douma, 1 by a sniper, 4 by regime fire, the other was killed by wounds he received during the bombardment of Douma.
-In Aleppo province 5 were killed. 2 of them were rebel fighters, they were killed during clashes in the city of al-Bab, Reef aleppo. 1, from Masakin Hanano, was killed by excessive torture in a detention centre.
-In Idlib province 2 civilians. They were killed by the bombardment of several villages around Ma’arat al-Nu’man.
At least 10 soldiers were killed while trying to defect.
Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre: SUMMARY (23/06/2012): Today was another day of slaughter as at least 100 martyrs have fallen mainly in Deir Ezzor, Damascus Countryside, Homs, Aleppo and Daraa. The situation has been particularly bad in Deir Ezzor, where dozens of tanks and other reinforcements recently arrived and which has been under heavy shelling since yesterday. Nevertheless, the FSA is fighting back hard. Meanwhile the new government was announced with no change in the most important positions but with the token inclusion of some figures from the officially sanctioned “opposition”. See the map for more info.
[local time] 18:47 Activists said that Syrian security forces killed 75 people on Saturday, Al-Arabiya reported.
17:45 At least 30 civilians were killed by troops across Syria on Saturday, as the army cracked down on rebel strongholds, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
15:55 Syrian security forces killed more than 50 people on Saturday, Al-Jazeera quoted a rights group as saying.
15:26 The Syrian army shelling of Talmnas and Maarshamsha in Edleb killed two people and injured others, Al-Jazeera reported.
14:31 Syrian security forces shelled the town of Al-Bab in Aleppo, Al-Jazeera reported on Saturday.
14:23 Saudi Arabia was set to pay the salaries of the rebel Free Syrian Army to encourage mass defections from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported on Saturday.
14:09 Twenty unidentified bodies were discovered near the Edleb village of Mejdlaya, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying on Saturday.
13:39 President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree on Saturday forming a new government, state television said, less than two months after controversial parliamentary elections boycotted by the opposition.
13:08 Syrian security forces heavily shelled Hama’s Aleppo Road, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying on Saturday.
11:03 Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Saturday the jet fighter shot down by Syria might have violated Syrian airspace.
9:00 Turkey was considering its response Saturday after Syria confirmed it had shot down a Turkish fighter jet it said had entered its territory, and both countries searched for the two missing pilots.
Turkey’s President, Abdullah Gul, says the Turkish fighter jet shot down by Syria’s air defence forces on Friday may have violated Syrian airspace.
Mr Gul said it was routine for warplanes flying at high speed to cross borders for short distances.
Syria has said it engaged the aircraft in its airspace “according to the laws that govern such situations”, and that it crashed into the Mediterranean Sea.
The Turkish and Syrian navies are searching for the two crew members.
Relations between Nato-member Turkey and Syria, once close allies, have deteriorated sharply since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. More than 30,000 Syrian refugees have fled the violence across the border into Turkey.
After a cross-border shooting by Syrian security forces in April that left two refugees dead at a camp near the town of Kilis, Turkey said it would not tolerate any action that it deemed violating its security.‘Not ill-intentioned’
On Saturday, President Gul said the Turkish government could not ignore the fact that Syria had shot down a Turkish aircraft.
“It is not possible to cover over a thing like this, whatever is necessary will be done,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency, Anatolia.
“It is routine for jet fighters to sometimes fly in and out over [national] borders… when you consider their speed over the sea,” he added.
“These are not ill-intentioned things but happen beyond control due to the jets’ speed.”
Mr Gul said an investigation would look at whether the plane had been shot down in Turkish airspace, and also revealed that Ankara had been in contact with Damascus despite both countries declaring each other’s diplomats unwelcome earlier this year.
“We withdrew our envoy from Syria for security reasons. This does not mean that we have no contacts,” he explained.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc later said the jet had been on a reconnaissance mission, state television reported.
The BBC’s Jonathan Head in Istanbul reports that the Turkish government is treating the loss of the aircraft very seriously, but also with great caution.
Despite public anger over the suffering of civilians in Syria, Ankara has been very reluctant to consider military intervention, our correspondent says.
It will not rush into a military response to this incident either, he adds.
Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Syria have been downgraded to their lowest possible level without completely breaking them.
But the speed with which the coastguards of the two countries organized a joint search-and-rescue operation for the two missing crew members from the plane suggests there are still avenues of communication between their military forces, our correspondent adds.
The Turkish military said it lost radio contact with the F-4 Phantom at 11:58 (08:58 GMT) on Friday while it was flying over Hatay province, about 90 minutes after it took off from Erhac airbase in the province of Malatya, to the north-west.
Analysis: Jonathan Head BBC News, Istanbul
The Turkish response to the downing of one of its fighter jets by Syrian forces has been strikingly low-key. Official statements have been terse. Turkey is not challenging the official Syrian account of what happened, but nor is it yet accepting it.
The Syrian military said the F4 reconnaissance jet was shot down as it flew low and fast towards the city of Latakia, just 1km from the coast. Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul suggested that it was routine for fast-flying military jets to stray into other countries’ air space, but the Syrian account puts this aircraft deep inside its territory, raising big questions about what it was doing. Had it gone badly off course, or was it on some other mission? There are questions too about why Syria shot the aircraft down, rather than try to ascertain its purpose.
Two impressions are left by what we know so far from this incident. First, that Syria’s sophisticated, Russian-supplied air defence systems are effective, and Syria is willing to use them. Second, that Turkey is taking great care not to be drawn into a military confrontation with Syria.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu phoned world powers on Saturday to brief them about the downing of one of Ankara’s planes by Syriaas a joint search for the airmen, who were shot down over the Mediterranean, tried to locate them.
Signals from both sides suggested neither wanted a military confrontation over Friday’s incident as the search focused its efforts near a Turkish province that hosts thousands of rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
Given the hostility between the two former allies over Assad’s 16-month-old crackdown on his opponents, the joint operation was likely to sit uneasily with both countries.
Iraq, which borders both, said the incident marked a serious escalation of the Syrian conflict, demonstrating its potential to affect other countries in the region.
“No country is immune from this spillover because of the composition of the societies, the extensions, the connections, the sectarian, ethnic dimensions,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said in Baghdad. “This is not an excuse to do nothing about Syria, no. But there will be an impact.”
Turkey has declared it will respond decisively.
“It is not possible to cover over a thing like this. Whatever is necessary will no doubt be done,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul told reporters, adding that Ankara had been in telephone contact with the Syrian authorities.
Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, on Saturday evening phoned foreign ministers from the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and Iran as well as the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, a spokesman for the foreign ministry said. He had briefed them about Turkey’s evaluation of the incident, the spokesman added.
The plane’s downing showcased Syria’s Russian-supplied air defenses – one of the many reasons Western powers are loathe to intervene to halt bloodshed in the country.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Turkey and Syria to handle the matter with restraint, using diplomatic channels.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the downed jet was a reconnaissance aircraft. Turkish media had said it was an F-4 Phantom, a fighter also used for reconnaissance.
According to a Syrian military account, the Turkish plane was flying fast and low, just one kilometer off the Syrian coast when it was shot down. It had been tracked at first as an unidentified aircraft and its Turkish origin established later.
“The navies of the two countries have established contact. Syrian naval vessels are participating along with the Turkish side in the search operation for the missing pilots,” it said.
With the second biggest army in NATO, a force hardened by nearly 30 years of fighting Kurdish rebels, Turkey would be a formidable foe for a Syrian military already struggling to put down a popular uprising and an increasingly potent insurgency.
A civil war is already in full swing in Syria, where fighting or shelling engulfed parts of the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Deir al-Zor and Douma, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“PLAYING WITH FIRE”
Davutoglu met Turkey’s military commanders and intelligence chief to discuss the search for the pilots and Ankara’s next steps. [ID:nL5E8HN1D3] He was due to make a statement about the incident on state TV on Sunday morning.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan held two security meetings with senior officials, less than 24 hours after he convened a crisis session on Friday evening.
Separately, he called a meeting with the leaders of the country’s main opposition parties for Sunday.
“Turkey will present its final stance after the incident has been fully brought to light and decisively take the necessary steps,” Erdogan’s office said.
Turkish newspapers were less restrained.
“They (the Syrians) will pay the price,” said Vatan, while Hurriyet daily said: “He (Assad) is playing with fire.”
Turkish media at first reported Erdogan on Friday as saying Syria had apologized, but the prime minister later said he could not confirm receiving such an apology.
Neither side gave any details of the joint naval search or of any communication between the two sides.
The operation was not without its ironies. Less than 50 km (30 miles) away in Turkey’s southeastern Hatay province, authorities give refuge to Free Syrian Army rebels who cross daily to attack Syrian government forces. The territory also shelters over 30,000 refugees.
Turkey denies suggestions it is supplying weapons to rebels or that it is allowing third party weapons to travel across Turkish territory into rebel hands.
However, an Arab diplomat in Jeddah said on Saturday Saudi Arabia and Qatar were paying salaries to Syrian rebels, with Turkish involvement.
“The payment has been going on for months and the agreement was made on April 2 by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with logistical organization from Turkey where some Free Syrian Army factions are based,” he said, asking not to be named.
“The point of this is to encourage as many factions of the Syrian army to defect and to organize the FSA, control it and prevent any extremist organizations from joining it.”
A spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said he was not aware of reports that the kingdom was funding Syrian rebels.
The souring of Syrian-Turkish relations has provoked concern among Turks that Syria may revive its former support for Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) insurgents in southeastern Turkey in retaliation for Turkish backing of Syrian rebels.
“It’s possible the Turks were sending jets in the area in response to an apparent escalation of the PKK’s activities,” Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, told Reuters.
However, Khashan said he did not expect a harsh military reaction from Turkey. “It is under a tight leash by the United States. They don’t want to start a war tomorrow.”
Inside Syria, opposition activists reported heavy fighting in Deir Ezzor, an oil-producing region bordering Iraq.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent also said one of its volunteers had been killed in the region while on first aid duty on Friday. He had been shot in the head while wearing a uniform clearly marked with the organization’s emblem, it said.
Turkey fears the fighting, much of which pits majority Sunni dissidents and rebels against Assad’s Alawite-dominated security forces, could unleash a flood of refugees over its own border and ignite a regional sectarian conflict.
Ankara has previously floated the possibility of setting up a safe haven or humanitarian corridor inside Syria, which would entail military intervention, but has said it would undertake no such action without U.N. Security Council approval.
Turkey has said however that Assad must go.
It was unclear why the Syrians had shot down the aircraft, which, having left a base in Malatya, was flying close to a corridor linking Turkey with Turkish forces on Northern Cyprus.
“The Syrians are clearly quite nervous and are likely to interpret any action, however innocent, as hostile,” said Henri Barkey, an international relations professor at LeHigh University. “Second, reports of Turkish arms support for the insurgents also feeds the paranoia of the regime, understandably.”
It was also possible the air defenses could have mistaken the aircraft for a defecting pilot, following an incident earlier in the week when a Syrian aircraft landed in Jordan.
Russia and China, Assad’s strongest backers abroad, firmly oppose any outside interference in the Syrian crisis, including foreign arming or funding of insurgents, saying envoy Kofi Annan’s stalled peace plan is the only way forward.
Assad’s prime minister, appointed after a parliamentary election conducted last month despite the violence convulsing the country, named a new cabinet on Saturday, retaining the same interior, defense and foreign ministers.
(Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, Erika Solomon in Beirut, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Asma Alsharif in Jeddah, Anna Ringstrom in Baghdad and William Maclean in London; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Andrew Osborn)
A Red Crescent volunteer was shot dead on first aid duty in Syria, his organization said on Saturday, the fourth local aid worker to be killed as unrest grows increasingly bloody.
Bashar al-Youssef, 23, was shot in the head on Friday while wearing a uniform clearly marked with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent emblem, the SARC said in a statement.
“We are shocked by Bashar’s death, it is completely unacceptable,” said Abdul Rahman al-Attar, the president of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
Youssef had been working in Deir Ezzor, a flashpoint eastern province where civilians have been affected by heavy shelling and fierce fighting between security forces and rebels who have joined the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
The identity of Youssef’s killer was not clear.
Red Crescent workers have often been caught in the line of fire, and are sometimes viewed with distrust by both Assad loyalists and the opposition, who are suspicious of the group’s neutrality in a conflict increasingly described as civil war. SARC workers say they have been targeted by both sides.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stressed the importance that Syrian aid workers not be harmed in a joint statement with the SARC.
“This comes at a time when the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are virtually the only organizations able to work in areas affected by the violence in Syria,” said Alexandre Equey, the deputy head of the ICRC delegation in Syria.
Syrian Red Crescent workers mourning Youssef started a Facebook awareness campaign, using a picture of a smiling young man in his red aid uniform next to pictures of the three volunteers killed before him. A fifth picture of a uniformed worker was shown with a blank face and a question mark, labeled “the next martyr”.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree to form a new government on Saturday, shaking up many cabinet posts but keeping the heads of the interior, defense and foreign ministries, state television reported.
The reappointment of Defence Minister Daoud Rajha will quash widespread rumors, previously denied by the government, that he had been assassinated by rebels who are struggling to bring down President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
The 16-month uprising, which has faced a brutal government crackdown, is increasingly being termed a civil war by foreign observers. Assad argues he is pursuing reforms even as he fights a revolt he says is led by foreign-backed militants.
But critics say Assad’s appointment of Riyad Hijab as prime minister earlier in June was a sign the president was turning to hardline loyalists. Hijab formed the new government given Assad’s approval, Syria TV said on Saturday.
Hijab, a former agriculture minister, is a committed member of Assad’s Baath Party, which has ruled Syria for nearly four decades since his father Hafez al-Assad took power in 1970.
Most of the top government posts were given to Baathist loyalists. Critics consider the cabinet to be largely symbolic and say power in Syria remains in the hands of Assad and his close inner circle of family and security force elites.
The new cabinet follows a May 7 parliamentary election which Assad said was part of the path to reform but the opposition boycotted as a sham, insisting the president must step down.
Other than Rajha, the ministers to retain their post were Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.
Several new ministries were created in the new cabinet.
The moderate Qadri Jamil, a centrist who has said he is speaking both to the government and to rebels, was appointed minister of internal commerce and consumer protection. The post is newly formed and likely to be mostly ceremonial.