Sunday 22 July 2012
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – On Saturday the Kurdish city of Qamishli saw clashes between Assad’s security forces and the Kurdish Popular Protection Forces.
The Protection Forces is a conciliation of the Kurdish National Council [KNC] and the Democratic Union Party [PYD] created following an agreement signed between both groups in Erbil last month.
Sami Derwish, a Kurdish activist and protest coordinator in Qamishli, told Rudaw over the phone that clashes occurred in the city when security forces tried to disperse Kurdish protestors.
“Two members of the Kurdish Protection Forces were injured and taken to Ferman hospital,” Derwish said. “On the other side, one security member was injured, and his colleagues withdrew as the Kurdish forces attacked their cars with guns.”
The city still lives in a state of instability, Derwish said.
“Actually, we didn’t want such clashes to happen in Qamishli,” he said. “We hoped that we would be able to liberate Qamishli peacefully, like other liberated Kurdish areas. But when the fight is imposed on us, we will do everything to liberate our city from the forces of this tyrannical regime.”
As Kurds began seizing control of Kurdish cities on Wednesday following the withdrawal of the Syrian army from the area, they sent a message to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) saying that they are not welcome in the Kurdish—populated cities.
Derwish said that on Saturday members of the FSA were spotted in Qamishli, “but we have already clarified that we don’t need the FSA’s support at the moment because we want to liberate our areas on our own.”
This, said Derwish, is because Kurds want to avoid the consequences of FSA presence in the Kurdish region in future.
Since Wednesday, the cities of Kobane, Amude and Efrin have been liberated and they are under Kurdish control. But in Qamishli, the biggest Kurdish city, Syrian security forces seem to have dug in for a fight.
The Union of Kurdish Coordination Committees reported on Saturday that the Syrian regime had sent reinforcement from Hasake city to back up the security forces in Qamishli.
“Four fully armed pro-Assad security vehicles were seen entering Qamishli,” UKCC said.
UKCC also reported that clashes between Kurdish forces and Syrian forces are still taking place in different parts of the city.
“The Kurdish forces could liberate the entrance of Qamishli which connects the city to Amude,” maintained UKCC. “There is one martyr from our forces and two injuries reported.”
On the other hand, Kurdish fighters told Rudaw that Bashar Assad’s political and military units fully withdrew from other Kurdish towns a deadline given to them by the Kurdish forces.
Activists in the town of Dirbesiye told Rudaw that the Kurdish flag is now waving over all government institutions.
Meanwhile, in a battle for Derik city on Saturday, Bawer Derki, a young Kurdish activist, was killed as security forces opened fire into a crowd of protesters.
Sere Kaniye, a Kurdish town near Dirbesiye, was also reported free and all posters and signs of the Baath party and President Assad were brought down.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: More than 130 Syrians have been killed so far today (Sunday 22/7/2012)
77 unarmed civilians:
-In Homs province 9 civilians were killed . 1 by regime fire in the Khaldiya neighbourhood of Homs. 8 civilians were killed 3 among them are women due to the bombing that targeted the towns of Rastan, Talbisa, Quseir in Reef Homs.
-In Damascus Province 18 were killed. 12 by the government’s forces in the Basateen al-Mazzeh basateen area. 1 killed by regime forces in the Midan Neighborhood. 5 bodies were discovered in the Barzeh neighborhood after operations carried out by regime forces during sunday morning. according to local activists, 3 of them were killed by summary executions.
- In Reef Dimashq 16 killed, 4 killed, including a child and a woman by gun fire and bombardment on the town of al Hamma. 9 killed in the city of Dumeir: 6 bodies were found today, 3 were killed by regime fire. 1 killed in the town of Jabbata al Khashab, in the liberated part of Golan, by regime fire. 1 killed by wounds from the regime bombardment on the city of Dareyya. 1 killed by the bombardment of al-Zabadani in the morning.
-In Aleppo 11 killed. 3 by regime gunfire in the al-Sakhour, Salaheddine and Tariq Halab neighbourhoods. 2 bodies were found on the al-Hamadaniya highway. 1 civilian was killed from wounds received by regime fire on a morning protest in the Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood. A woman was killed from wounds received yesterday in the al-Haydariya neighbourhood. 4 civilians were killed by the bombardment on the towns of Deir Hafir and al-Kseibiyeh.
-In Idlib province 4 killed. A civilian was killed from wounds during the bombardment of Sarmin. A young man was killed in the town of Ariha by excessive torture while detained. A child was killed by regime fire in the town of Basamis. 1 civilian killed by regime forces in the city of Idlib.
-In Dera’a 9 people killed. 3 in the city of Dera’a: 1 by sniper fire, 1 when a bus was targeted in Dera’a al-Balad neighbourhood, 1 from earlier wounds by the bombardment on the Tariq al-Sad 4 days ago. A civilian was killed by excessive torture in the town of Inkhil. 1 civilian was killed by gunfire in the town of al-Sanamein. A civilian killed last night in the town of al-Sahwe was documented by the SOHR today. The body of a civilian from Nafi’a was found, he was killed by regime forces when he tried to cross to Jordan. 1 civilian was killed when regime forces stormed the town of Seida. 1 civilian was killed by the clashes and bombardment of Kherbet Ghazaleh.
-In Deir Izzor province 6 killed. 5 in the city of Deir Izzor: 2 by bombardment on the neighbourhoods of al-Hamidiyeh and al-Joura, 1 from wounds suffered by the bombardment on the Khasarat neighbourhood, 1 by sniper in the al-Huweika neighbourhood. 1 killed by the after midnight bombardment on the city of al-Boukamal.
-In Hama province 4 killed. 1 by security forces fire in the al-Hadir neighbourhood of Hama. 1 by regime fire in the town of al-Latamneh. 1 person was found killed after he was kidnapped by unknown gunmen. 1 civilian was killed when a rocket landed on a nightly protest in the town of al-Masiq, reef Hama.
19 Rebel fighters:
Deir Izzor prov: 2 rebel fighters killed by regime forces in the al-Kesra area of Deir Izzor.
Latakia prov: 1 rebel fighter killed during clashes with regime forces in the village of al-Rabi’a, Reef Latakia.
Dera’a prov: 4 rebel fighters killed. 1 rebel fighter killed by gunfire in the tow of Sanamein. 1 killed by regime fire in the town of Atman. 2 killed by the clashes and bombardment on Kherbet Ghazaleh.
Idlib prov: 6 rebels killed. 4 by the bombardment of the area they were in, in the town of Sarmin. 2 by gunfire during the storming of the town of Malas.
Aleppo prov: 4 rebel fighters were killed by clashes in the area surrounding A’zaz.
Damascus: 1 rebel fighter was killed in the al-Qadam neighbourhood.
Homs prov: 1 rebel fighter during clashes in Bab Siba’ in the city of Homs.
3 defected soldiers were killed by clashes in Aleppo, Reef Homs and Reef Dimashq.
No less than 34 members of the Syrian armed forces, including 2 officers, were killed by attacks on military vehicles and clashes in the provinces of Aleppo, Dera’a Idlib, Deir Izzor, Homs and Reef Dimashq.
Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre: SUMMARY (22/07/2012): 104 martyrs have fallen today most of them are in Damascus and Aleppo, where the regime has deployed tanks and helicopters against residential areas where the FSA has been operating. The bloody clashes and shelling in the political and economic capitals doesn’t mean the rest of Syria is any better. Those who check the daily map we produce know that the red placemark refers to martyrs falling or shelling. Sadly, day after day the maps are becoming more and more red. In particular, we fear a serious massacre in Rastan, Homs province. See the map for more info. Google map
[local time] 22:16 Syrian air raids targeted the neighborhood of Baraza in Damascus and Sahel al-Ghab in Hama, Al-Jazeera reported.
22:16 Casualties reported in the shelling of Al-Hama in Damascus by Syrian forces, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
20:44 About 1000 Algerian families settled in Syria have returned home as regime forces battle rebels across the country, the foreign ministry said on Sunday.
20:24 The death toll in Syria reached 76 people on Sunday, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
19:54 Syrian regime forces heavily shelled Al-Turkman, Rabiaa and Al-Shahroura in the Latakia district, Al-Arabiya quoted the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution as saying.
19:30 Syrian regime warplane shelled residential areas in Rastan, a town outside Homs, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying on Sunday.
19:27 The Syrian regime has been moving its chemical weapons around the country in a possible precursor for their use, a senior Syrian military defector told Reuters on Sunday.
19:20 The Israeli military on Sunday said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was still in Damascus despite the fighting that rocked the capital since last week, Reuters reported.
19:06 Israel will not tolerate the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday, as fears grew about the future of Syria’s suspected chemical arsenal.
19:01 Syrian authorities accused the West on Sunday of planning to “hijack” the country’s satellite television channels to broadcast misinformation about an alleged coup or defections.
18:26 The area of Al-Hama outside Damascus suffered heavy shelling by Syrian regime forces, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying on Sunday.
18:23 A video purportedly filmed Sunday in the Damascus neighborhood of Al-Midan shows smoke emerging from residential areas while intermittent gunfire could be heard in the background.
18:17 Jordan vowed to take ”all necessary measures” to secure its borders with Syria as fighting near the frontier sparked a new influx of thousands of refugees into the kingdom on Sunday.
18:16 The Syrian government’s top priority was “security” as a 16-month uprising intensified, Prime Minister Riad Hijab told parliament on Sunday.
17:11 Turkey sent batteries of ground-to-air missiles to the border with Syria on Sunday, media reports said, boosting its firepower as rebels in Syria seized several border posts.
17:08 Sunday’s death toll in Syria rose to 37 people, Al-Arabiya reported.
16:59 UNRWA on Sunday expressed concern over the fate of some half a million Palestinian refugees living in war-torn Syria, particularly those residing in the Yarmuk neighborhood of Damascus.
16:48 Syrian regime forces killed ten people in the Mazzeh neighborhood of Damascus, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying on Sunday.
16:38 Turkish police fired tear gas at stone-throwing Syrian refugees who were protesting Sunday at the lack of food and water at camps on the border with their conflict-ravaged homeland.
16:33 Syrian rebels were in control of three border posts along the frontier with Turkey on Sunday, a diplomat and reports said, as an amateur video showed armed men celebrating the takeover of one crossing.
16:26 The sounds of an intense clash can be heard in a video purportedly filmed Sunday in the Saif ad-Dawla neighborhood of Aleppo. Heavy gunfire and explosions can be heard in the background.
16:24 The rebel Free Syrian Army announced on Sunday the start of the battle to “liberate” the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial hub and a traditional regime bastion.
16:20 A video purportedly filmed Sunday in the town of Talbisa north of Homs shows an explosion resulting from what sounds like an aerial bombardment.
16:14 More than 2000 Syrians fled to Jordan early on Sunday from the bloodshed in their country, a prominent local charity said, expecting a large-scale influx.
16:10 The situation in Syria is “calm,” requiring no repatriation of Iranian citizens there, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Sunday, according to the official news agency IRNA.
15:40 Regime troops besieged the outskirts of the Damascus district of Mazzeh on Sunday, a monitoring group said.
15:14 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday received his newly appointed army chief-of-staff General Ali Ayyub, state television reported.
14:35 Syrian rebels’ seizure of crossings along the frontier with Iraq marks a blow to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but has also divided communities that have long straddled the border.
14:26 Syrian security forces killed 24 people on Sunday, Al-Jazeera quoted a rights group as saying.
13:24 Syrian forces shelled the Al-Salama crossing border with Turkey to regain control of it from the Free Syrian Army, Al-Jazeera reported.
13:13 Syrian forces shelled Daraa’s town of Al-Kark, killing some and injuring others, Al-Jazeera reported.
12:41 Syrian forces regained control of a border crossing along the northern frontier with Iraq on Sunday, the governor of the Iraqi province where the crossing is situated told AFP.
12:12 More than 19,000 people have been killed in violence in Syria since the outbreak of an anti-regime revolt last year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday.
12:11 Rebels said they took control of the Bab al-Salam border crossing along the Turkish border, Al-Arabiya reported.
11:54 A top US official said on Sunday that Washington has given $100 million in aid to Jordan to help host tens of thousands of Syrians who have fled the unrest back home and taken refuge in the kingdom.
11:35 Syrian forces shelled Damascus’ neighborhood of Rokeneddine and stormed the Baraza neighborhood, Al-Arabiya reported.
11:02 Syrian forces shelled three Damascus’ neighborhoods on Saturday as the Free Syrian Army withdrew from Mezzeh, Al-Jazeera reported.
10:50 Free Syrian Army members clashed with army forces near Aleppo’s intelligence headquarters, Al-Jazeera reported on Sunday.
10:29 One more Syrian general crossed into Turkey overnight, bringing to 25 the number of generals who have fled the unrest in Syria, a Foreign Ministry diplomat told AFP on Sunday.
10:11 Regime troops stormed the Barzeh district of Damascus, scene of heavy clashes in recent days, as fighting engulfed several neighborhoods of Syria’s second city Aleppo on Sunday, a watchdog said.
9:29 Syrian forces surrounded Damascus’ neighborhood of Baraza, Al-Arabiya reported, adding that there were “violent clashes” in the neighborhood.
7:54 Three vetoed Security Council resolutions have left the major powers ready to bury Kofi Annan’s peace plan and let the Syrian regime and opposition fight to the death, experts say.
7:54 Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia will immediately evacuate its nationals from strife-torn Syria and shut its mission there in response to the worsening security situation.
Fierce fighting is reported in Syria’s two biggest cities – Damascus and Aleppo – as government forces seek to regain control of rebel-held areas.
The army’s elite fourth division, backed by helicopters, has reportedly launched an assault on the capital’s north-eastern suburb of Barzeh.
Troops were also said to have deployed in the western suburb of Mezzeh.
Fighting also continued for a third day in Aleppo, where activists said a building had collapsed under tankfire.
The violence follows a week in which rebels made major advances, taking control of several parts of Damascus, seizing border crossings and claiming an attack that killed four top security officials, including the defence minister and President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law.
Meanwhile, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that at least 19,106 people had been killed since March 2011.
They included 13,296 civilians, including those who had taken up arms, as well as 4,861 security personnel and 949 army defectors, it said.
The UN said in May that at least 10,000 people had been killed, while in June the Syrian government reported that 6,947 Syrians had died, including at least 3,211 civilians and 2,566 security forces personnel.
The BBC’s Jim Muir in Damascus says government forces seem determined to drive the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) completely out of Damascus and are setting about it quite systematically.
Having regained one district close to the centre of the capital and another on its north-eastern edge, troops are now focusing on Mezzeh and Barzeh, our correspondent adds.
The attack on Barzeh by the army’s fourth division, which is commanded by the president’s brother Maher, had sent residents fleeing from the area, the Syrian Observatory reported.
Helicopter gunships were firing rockets and snipers were deployed on rooftops, the group’s director, Rami Abdul Rahman, told the AFP news agency.
State television later denied reports that helicopter gunships were being used in the assault. But pictures it broadcast of captured districts showed huge destruction, which activists say was cause by massive bombardments.
State TV also showed pictures of many bodies of what it called “terrorists” killed in the counter-attacks, as well as quantities of weapons and ammunition it said were seized.
Clearly, our correspondent says, in a straight fight, the lightly armed rebels are no match for the massive firepower and greater manpower of the state’s forces.
Reports from activists in Aleppo said there had been more clashes during the night and on Sunday morning between the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and security forces.
They said a building in the Seif al-Dawla district collapsed under tank fire.
Residents also told the Reuters news agency that rebels were fighting government forces near the headquarters of an intelligence agency in the city centre.
An Aleppo-based activist, Mohammed Saeed, said rebels were still in control of the central Salah al-Din district and nearby Sakhour.
“Aleppo is witnessing serious street battles,” he told the Associated Press.
Mr Saeed also said there had been clashes on the road leading to the city’s international airport, as rebels tried to prevent military reinforcements being flown in.
State TV played down the scale of the violence, saying troops were merely hunting down “terrorists”.
The commander of FSA forces in Aleppo province has vowed to “liberate” the whole city.
In a video posted online, Col Abdul Jabbar Mohammed Aqidi also called on government troops to defect to the opposition, and said the FSA would protect members of the president’s minority Alawite sect, saying: “Our war is not with you but with the Assad family.”
There were also reports of violence in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour on Sunday. Witnesses told Reuters that it was being attacked with artillery and rockets from helicopter gunships.
BBC sources in Syria also confirmed that rebels were now in control of the Bab al-Salam border crossing with Turkey. Turkey is not allowing non-Syrian nationals through so the border remains effectively closed.
President Assad was meanwhile shown on state TV receiving his new armed forces chief-of-staff, Gen Ali Abdullah Ayub, giving him his instructions, and wishing him success in his mission.
Syrian forces bombarded parts of Damascus with helicopter gunships on Sunday, witnesses said, driving rebels out of a northern district a week after opposition fighters launched a major assault on the capital.
Members of a Syrian army division under the command of President Bashar al-Assad’s brother summarily executed several young men, a witness and opposition activists said.
In a further escalation of a conflict that opponents of Assad have turned into all-out civil war, fighting raged around the intelligence headquarters in the biggest city Aleppo and in Deir al-Zor in the east.
Syrian forces regained control of one of two border crossings seized by rebels on the frontier with Iraq, Iraqi officials said, but rebels said they had captured a third border crossing with Turkey, Bab al-Salam north of Aleppo.
“Seizing the border crossings does not have strategic importance but it has a psychological impact because it demoralizes Assad’s force,” a senior Syrian army defector in Turkey, Staff Brigadier Faiz Amr, told Reuters by phone.
“It’s a show of progress for the revolutionaries, despite the superior firepower of Assad’s troops.”
The rebels said they lost 12 men and 40 were wounded during a 24-day siege they mounted to take the Bab al-Salam border post. The rebel commanding officer in the area, Abu Omar, said they took the crossing point on Sunday without a fight.
“There were two armored vehicles at the gate and they escaped. This is a safe zone for us and we don’t expect the army to come and attack,” said Omar. “Eighty percent of the area here is in rebel hands anyway,” he added.
The bombardments in Damascus and Deir al-Zor were some of the fiercest yet and showed Assad’s determination to avenge a bomb on Wednesday that killed four members of his high command.
It was the gravest blow in a 16-month-old uprising that has turned into an armed revolt against four decades of Assad rule.
Rebels were driven from Mezzeh, the diplomatic district of Damascus, residents and opposition activists said, and more than 1,000 government troops and allied militiamen poured into the area, backed by armored vehicles, tanks and bulldozers.
Three people were killed and 50 others, mostly civilians, were wounded in the early morning bombardment, said Thabet, a Mezzeh resident. “The district is besieged and the wounded are without medical care,” he said.
“I saw men stripped to their underwear. Three buses took detainees from al-Farouk, including women and whole families. Several houses have been set on fire.”
The neighborhood of Barzeh, one of three northern areas hit by helicopter fire, was overrun by troops from the Fourth Division, commanded by Assad’s younger brother, Maher al-Assad, 41, who is widely seen as the muscle maintaining the Assad family’s Alawite minority rule.
“At least 20 Fourth Division tanks and hundreds of its members entered Barzeh this afternoon,” opposition activist Abu Kais said by phone from the district.
“I saw troops go into the home of 26-year-old Issa al-Arab. They left him dead with two bullets in his head. Seventeen-year-old Issa Wahbeh was pulled from a shelter and beaten and killed. Four other males in their 20s were killed this way,”
His role has become more crucial since Assad’s defense and intelligence ministers, a top general and his powerful brother-in-law were killed by the bomb on Wednesday, part of a “Damascus volcano” by rebels seeking to turn the tables in a revolt inspired by Arab Spring uprisings inTunisia, Libya and Egypt.
Assad has not spoken in public since the bombing. Diplomats and opposition sources said government forces were focusing on strategic centers, with one Western diplomat comparing Assad to a doctor “abandoning the patient’s limbs to save the organs”.
Assad is still in Damascus and retains the loyalty of his armed forces, the Israeli military said, after questions had been raised about the Syrian leader’s whereabouts. Syrian state television quoted a media source denying that helicopters had fired on the capital. “The situation in Damascus is normal, but the security forces are pursuing the remnants of the terrorists in some streets,” it said.
Assad’s forces, who also pushed into a rebel-held district in the northerly commercial hub of Aleppo on Saturday, targeted pockets of lightly armed rebels, who moved about the streets on foot, attacking security installations and roadblocks.
Other opposition and rebel sources say the guerrilla fighters in the capital may lack the supply lines to remain there for long and may have to stage ‘tactical withdrawals’.
Residents said the shelling was so intense at dusk they could not discern the traditional cannon blast marking the end of the daily fast for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
On Sunday opposition activists reported fighting in Jdeidet Artouz, a suburb southwest of Damascus, 30 km (20 miles) from the occupied Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967. Tanks entered the suburb in the morning, they said.
Israel and Syria’s other neighbors are increasingly fearful the conflict could tear through an already unstable region.
The Iraqi army sent extra border guards and officers on Sunday to the Qaim-Albu Kamal border crossing with Syria captured by the rebels on Thursday. The border was sealed by the Iraqi army on Friday, fearing a spillover in violence and Iraq’s government has said it cannot help Syrians fleeing the violence.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 1,261 people had been killed across Syria since last Sunday when the fighting escalated in Damascus, including 299 of Assad’s forces, making it by far the bloodiest week in an uprising that has claimed the lives of 18,000 people
A total of 180 people, including 48 troops, died on Saturday alone, many them in Homs province, epicenter of the revolt.
Most shops in Damascus 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.
Many petrol stations were closed, having run out of fuel, and those that were open had huge lines of cars waiting to fill up. Residents reported long queues at bakeries.
FLIGHT FROM ALEPPO
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.
Opposition activists in Aleppo said hundreds of families were fleeing residential areas on Saturday 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.
“For the first time we feel Aleppo has turned into a battle zone,” a woman, who declined to be named, said by phone from the city.
On the Iraqi-Syrian border, Iraqi security and border officials said Syrian forces had reasserted control over the Yarubiya crossing point on the Syrian side of the frontier, briefly seized by rebels on Saturday.
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.
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.
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.
Israel said the “great threat” it faced from the Syrian conflict is that the Assad government may collapse and its stock of chemical weapons and missiles fall into the hands of the Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah.
“We certainly don’t want to be exposed to chemical weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah or some other terror groups. … It’s a great threat,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on the U.S. “Fox News Sunday” television program.
(Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut, Fadhil Al-Badran in Falluja, Iraq, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Hacipasa, Turkey, Igor Ilic in Brijuni, Croatia; Leigh Thomas in Paris, Jamal al-Badrani in Mosul, Iraq, Sylvia Westall in Baghdad and Jonathan Burch in Cilvegozu, Turkey; Writing byPhilippa Fletcher; Editing by Giles Elgood)
Syrian army overruns Damascus district: activists 3:06pm EDT
Eight injured in riots at Syrian refugee camp in Turkey 3:28pm EDTFleeing Syrian Kurds seek refuge with Iraqi brethren: CAMP DOMIZ, Iraq (Reuters) - Syrian troops usually came before dawn, rounding up young Kurdish men to … CAMP DOMIZ, Iraq
When they came, Syrian law student Ahmed slipped out, leaving his family and crossing the border in April into Iraqi Kurdistan to join thousands of Syrian Kurds now living among their Iraqi brethren in a refugee camp or homes of relatives.As Syria’s crisis escalates, Syria’s Kurdish provinces have been spared most of the violence. But increasingly, Syrian Kurds say they are fleeing to Iraqi Kurdistan to escape from growing economic hardship, kidnappings and instability.
More than 7,000 Syrians have crossed the border and found their way to Kurdistan, where local authorities and international agencies have set up a camp on a dusty plain. Diggers are already preparing land for more.
“Army convoys would come at around 4 am, asking for ID papers. When they surrounded my house I knew I couldn’t go back,” said Ahmed, who like many others at the camp asked that only his first name be used for fears of reprisals on family.
Some are soldiers escaping orders to fire on protesters or fellow Kurdish deserters, others are families who faced an increasing struggle to find gas and food, or students who wanted no part in fighting for President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria’s Kurds have long suffered discrimination under Assad and many see in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan a place where they can find work and easily settle with common roots and language as Syria falls apart.
While Syrian towns such as Homs face the brunt of Assad’s crackdown after more than 16 months of protests and fighting, activists from the Kurdish region say Syrian Kurds – a million out of Syria’s 21 million population – now cautiously see a chance to edge closer to rights similar to Kurdistan’s model.
Iraqi Kurdistan, autonomous since 1991, has its own provincial government and armed forces, though it still relies on the Baghdad central government for its budget.
Demands from Syria’s Kurdish region, which has faced repression of rights such as teaching in Kurdish, will be decisive for the Syrian National Council (SNC), the mainly Arab opposition to Assad, led since June by Abdelbasset Sida, a Kurd.
Numbers of Syrians fleeing into Iraq are still small compared with the refugees crossing into Turkeyand into Lebanon, where the United Nations said up to 30,000 refugees may have crossed the frontier in the past week.
At Camp Domiz, where rows of tents are divided between single males and families, newly arrived refugees talk of Assad’s departure, and offer a view of Syria splintering into separate regions as the violence there grows.
“I am sure Assad will leave now. In the past the military were strong, but there are too many defections now,” said Hamo, a Kurdish Syrian soldier who fled the army and into Kurdistan after 10 months in Homs.
For Iraq, Syria’s crisis is particularly sensitive. Baghdad’s Shi’ite-led government is close to Iran, Assad’s ally in the region, and has taken a more moderate position than Sunni Gulf states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
But Kurdish parties in Syria’s opposition to Assad have been supported by Iraq’s Kurdistan to encourage them to put aside differences and present a united front to fight for Kurdish rights.
Kurdish SNC members have had open disputes with others in the group over Kurdish rights – on July 4 a Kurdish group walked out of an opposition meeting in Cairo amid scuffles and fistfights – and whether a post-Assad Syria would be built around a federal structure similar to that in Iraq.
The role played by Syria’s Kurds in any post-Assad Syria will be important for neighbouring Turkey and Iran, where large Kurdish populations have long sought more independence.
For many Kurdish refugees that kinship drove them across Syria into Iraqi Kurdistan instead of seeking refugee in Lebanon or Turkey, where they believed they would face more restrictions.
Eight months fighting in the crackdown on protesters was enough for soldier Bilent to escape across Syria for Kurdistan. He said he paid a $200 bribe to an officer to get a leave of absence, visit his family and leave.
“There was a rule. When they gave orders if I didn’t follow and shoot, then they would shoot me,” he said sitting among 20 other Syrian army deserters near the camp. “I’ll be here until Assad leaves and then I’ll go back.”
For families at the camp, food shortages, dwindling supplies of gas for cooking and the threat of violence were enough to push them to abandon their homes and escape over Iraq’s border.
Many already see Iraq as their new home, seeking jobs in nearby towns, and fixing tents with air conditioners in preparation for the long wait.
“Even if Assad falls we won’t go back, there is no life left in Syria. It is better to stay here,” said Wansan, who paid smugglers to ferry her and her three children into Iraq to follow her husband three weeks ago.
At a half-built mosque near Camp Domiz, sentiment running through the settlement is clear. Pale blue graffiti across the mosque’s unfinished grey concrete walls reads: “Out with Bashar al-Assad.”
(Editing by Louise Ireland)
Fierce fighting continues in Syria’s two largest cities with the army bombarding parts of the capital with helicopter gunships
Syria was in the grip of bloody urban warfare on Sunday, with fierce fighting between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and government forces raging on the streets of Damascus and in the northern city of Aleppo.
Video footage showed the Syrian army bombarding several districts of the capital using helicopter gunships. Smoke could be seen pluming across the city.
Tanks and soldiers besieged the northern Barzeh district, previously a centre of rebel resistance, with the army carrying out what it called mopping-up operations in Marzeh, another opposition enclave. Many shops were shut. Only a few central areas were unaffected, with Damascus resembling a war zone.
There was also fighting in Aleppo, Syria’s historic biggest city. The FSA, which penetrated into Aleppo late last week, was battling Syrian troops equipped with gunships and tanks.
The rebels were in control of several areas of the city, with fighting around the intelligence headquarters. There were clashes in other parts of the country, too, including the eastern city of Deir al Zor on the Euphrates and in Homs.
Syria’s brutal 16-month conflict now appears to be moving from the countryside into the cities, with rebels increasingly adept at staging guerrilla-style attacks followed by tactical withdrawals. Activists on Sunday said the death toll had gone up sharply to more than 19,000. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said July was shaping up to be the deadliest month of the conflict so far, with 2,752 people killed in the first three weeks.
More than 30,000 Syrians have fled to neighbouring Lebanon, with others still seeking to escape. The Syrian government imaintained the situation inside the capital on Sunday was normal. It released photographs of President Bashar al-Assad meeting his new chief of staff, General Ali Abdullah Ayyoub. The photograph was impossible to authenticate, although the Israeli military said Assad and his family were still in Damascus. Soldiers were dealing with a few remaining “terrorists”, state television said.
The deteriorating situation led Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to warn that his country would “have to act” if the Syrian regime collapsed and there was a risk its chemical weapons and missiles could fall into the hands of militant groups.
In an interview on Fox News in the US, Netanyahu said Israel had not considered specifically trying to cross the border to seize the weapons but added: “There are other possibilities.”
He said preventing Syria’s weapons from falling into the wrong hands was key to Israeli security.
“Could you imagine Hezbollah, the people who are conducting with Iran all these terror attacks around the world – could you imagine them having chemical weapons? It would be like al-Qaida having chemical weapons,” he said. “It’s something that is not acceptable to us, not acceptable to the United States and to any peaceable country in the world.”"So I think that this is something we’ll have to act to stop if the need arises. And the need might arise if there’s a regime collapse, but not a regime change,” he said.
The battle for Damascus follows a devastating bomb attack last Wednesday at the national security headquarters which killed four members of the president’s top military and security command. The circumstances of the attack remain unclear.
On Sunday, rebels said they had captured a third border crossing with Turkey at Bab al-Salam, north of Aleppo, and close to the Turkish town of Antakya, already overflowing with Syrian refugees. “The Free Syrian Army has taken control of the Bab al-Salam crossing, but Assad’s forces are bombarding our positions from afar,” Ahmed Zaidan, spokesman for an opposition group called the Higher Council of the Revolution’s Leadership, told Reuters. Video showed triumphant rebels posing at the border with the pre-Ba’athist revolutionary flag. Iraqi officials said the Syrian army had used a helicopter gunship to recapture one of two remote border crossings with Iraq briefly seized by the opposition.Colonel Abdul-Jabbar Mohammed Aqidi, the commander of rebel forces in Aleppo province, said: “We gave the orders for the march into Aleppo with the aim of liberating it.” “We urge the residents of Aleppo to stay in their homes until the city is liberated,”He said in a video: “We urge the residents of Aleppo to stay in their homes until the city is liberated.” He added that rebels were fighting inside the city while others were moving in from the outskirts.
Aqidi called on government troops to defect and join the opposition, and claimed rebels would protect members of the minority Alawite sect, the offshoot of Shia Islam to which Assad belongs, saying: “Our war is not with you but with the Assad family.”
An Aleppo-based activist, Mohammed Saeed, told Reuters the fighting was concentrated in several neighbourhoods.
Saeed said rebels were in full control of the central Salaheddine district and the nearby Sakhour area. He added that thousands of residents had fled tense quarters of the city for safer neighbourhoods and the suburbs.
“Aleppo is witnessing serious street battles” and many shops are closed, Saeed said. He said there were fierce clashes on the road leading to the city’s international airport, as rebels tried to surround the airfield to prevent the regime from sending reinforcements.
Despite the regime’s unflagging efforts to present an image of calm in the capital, Malaysia’s government said it was shuttering its embassy in Damascus and evacuating more than 130 students and diplomats, while Italy ordered of its citizens to leave the country because of the “progressive deterioration” of the situation.