Tuesday 19 June 2012
[local time] 21:13 An international media watchdog condemned on Tuesday the killing by Syrian government forces of citizen journalists Ahmad Hamada, 26, and Khaled al-Bakir, 30.
18:56 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “gravely concerned” about the rising death toll in Syria, a top official said Tuesday ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on the escalating conflict.
16:08 The Syrian forces’ shelling of the towns of Al-Neaimeh and Daraa al-Balad left several people dead and injured, Al-Jazeera TV quoted activists as saying.
15:32 Jordan has tightened border controls to prevent loyalists of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from infiltrating into the kingdom, an official of the opposition Syrian National Council said on Tuesday.
14:56 Syria on Tuesday accused gunmen of using Homs residents as “human shields” and of blocking government’s efforts to evacuate them from the besieged central city.
14:27 Syrian security forces launched air raids on the village of Maaraba in the Daraa district, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying on Tuesday.
12:27 The Free Syrian Army Tuesday called on their “Kurdish brothers” to join rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while promising an end to injustices against Kurds in a future democratic Syria.
13:23 Syrian troops pounded and raided several rebel bastions across the country and clashes erupted in Homs early on Tuesday, as 36 people were killed in violence nationwide, a watchdog said.
11:58 Syrian forces killed 16 people on Tuesday, most of them in Homs and Deir az-Zour, Al-Jazeera television quoted the Syrian Network for Human Rights as saying.
9:36 Syrian security forces shelled Duma near Damascus, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
8:19 A Russian ship allegedly carrying attack helicopters and missiles destined for Syria stopped off the Scottish coast after its British insurer withdrew cover for the vessel.
8:15 Growing doubts about the future of the UN observer mission in Syria will be raised at a UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday as President Bashar al-Assad steps up his brutal crackdown, envoys said.
A Russian cargo ship reported to be carrying arms to Syria is turning back, Britain’s top diplomat said Tuesday.
“I am pleased that the ship that was reported to be carrying arms to Syria has turned back apparently towards Russia,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons.
U.S. officials have said that the Russian operator Femco’s cargo ship, MV Alaed, was headed for Syria with attack helicopters and munitions for the al-Assad regime from the port of Kaliningrad. The vessel had been off the north coast of Scotland, according to ship tracking data.
Hague commented on a ship during questions about the fighting in Syria during a wide-ranging House of Commons question-and-answer session about foreign policy. He didn’t name the vessel.
He mentioned the status of the ship when asked whether “every peaceful diplomatic effort is being made to prevent the Syrian government from getting its hands on weapons that can be used against its own people.”
Hague also cited a European Union arms embargo on Syria.
“We discourage anyone else from supplying arms to Syria,” he said. “We have had discussions with Russia about that specifically.”
He answered a question about how to approach the issue of chemical weaponry in Syria. Hague said that such weapons are a concern and that he’s “confident that the international community” would pursue any action to deal with the issue, but he wouldn’t elaborate.
The Standard Club, a UK marine insurer, said it has stopped coverage for the Alaed. The withdrawal of coverage applies to the whole Femco fleet of eight vessels entered with the company, Standard Club officials said.
“We were made aware of the allegations that the Alaed was carrying munitions destined for Syria and have already informed the ship owner that their insurance cover ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage,” the company told CNN on Monday.
Femco declined to comment to CNN on Tuesday.
The Alaed was proceeding southwest at a speed of 12 knots and was some 40 miles off the Scottish port of Thurso at 9 a.m. ET Monday. The data showed that it left Kaliningrad 10 days ago with a final destination of Vladivostok on July 24.
On Friday, U.S. officials said they were tracking a Russian military cargo ship, the Nikolay Filchenov, also thought to be bound for Syria. U.S. intelligence believes the Russians are sending the ship to help fortify a Russian naval base in Syria as the situation in the country continues to spiral out of control, Pentagon officials told CNN on Friday.
RIA Novosti, Russia’s state-run news agency, denied the report Monday, citing a source in the Black Sea Fleet who said the Nikolay Filchenov remained docked at its base in Sevastopol.
Syria has been engulfed in widespread unrest for more than 15 months. Thousands have died after a crackdown by the government of President Bashar al-Assad on peaceful protesters stoked an anti-regime uprising.
Hague said that efforts to deal with the “dire” situation have been focused on a “peaceful political transition in Syria and to a cessation of violence.”
“At no stage have we been advocating a military intervention, but we do recognize the situation is so grave and deteriorating so quickly and such crimes are being committed, we cannot take any options off the table at the moment.”
The UK has made moves to stop a cargo vessel allegedly carrying refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters from completing its journey to Syria.
The MV Alaed had its insurance withdrawn by The Standard Club in London while it was about 50 miles (80.4km) off Scotland’s north coast.
Withdrawal of insurance had prevented the MV Alaed from sailing until its owner could secure new cover.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the ship was returning to Russia.
Mr Hague told the House of Commons: “We have in place a European Union arms embargo on Syria.
“We discourage anyone else from supplying arms to Syria.
“We’ve had discussions with Russia about that specifically and I’m pleased that the ship that was reported to be carrying arms to Syria has now turned back apparently towards Russia.”
It was thought that the vessel had stopped for a time off the Western Isles, before later passing Shetland as it headed for Russia.
The Russian embassy in London has not yet commented.
The UK and US have raised concerns with Russia about shipments of weapons to Syria, which is subject to a European Union arms embargo.
In a statement earlier, the FCO said: “We are aware of a ship carrying a consignment of refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters heading to Syria.
“The foreign secretary made clear to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov when they met on 14 June that all defence shipments to Syria must stop.
“We are working closely with international partners to ensure that we are doing all we can to stop the Syrian regime’s ability to slaughter civilians being reinforced through assistance from other countries.”
The Standard Club said it believed the MV Alaed had been off the coast of the Western Isles when insurance was withdrawn.
It said the cover was withdrawn because the owners of the ship had “broken internal rules” of the club – a mutual insurance association – and not on the instructions of the UK government.
The club said it had sought more information on the boat’s cargo.
In a statement, it said: “We were informed on Friday evening that the ship might be carrying weapons, in particular attack helicopters, missiles and non-specific munitions, and we are making inquiries to establish what their side of the story is.
“There are exclusion clauses in our cover and, for anyone involved in improper or unlawful trade, we can cancel cover.
“We are investigating whether or not to do so in this case.”
The Ministry of Defence said no UK military assets – neither ships or aircraft – had been shadowing the MV Alaed.
In December last year, Russian warships and support vessels believed to have been headed for Syria took shelter in Scotland’s Moray Firth during bad weather.
HMS York tracked aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, a destroyer, two frigates, an ocean-going tug and three oil tankers until the task group left and heading into the Atlantic.
Syrian forces bombarded the central city of Homs on Tuesday and clashed with rebel fighters shortly before the chief United Nations monitor was due to brief world powers on the escalating violence which forced him to suspend operations.
A resident in Homs said the sound of explosions could be heard across the city, and activists also reported shelling in the Damascus suburb of Douma and fighting between soldiers and rebels in northern Aleppo province near the border with Turkey.
The violence is the latest wave of relentless bloodshed which led United Nations observers – who were sent to Syria to monitor a ceasefire deal brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan – to halt operations on Saturday.
Norwegian peacekeeper General Robert Mood was due to brief the U.N. Security Council at 3:00 p.m. EDT on the renewed violence, which he has blamed on both President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebel fighters.
Alarmed but apparently impotent to resolve the crisis, the outside world is deeply divided in its response to an increasingly sectarian conflict which threatens to become a proxy war for regional powers.
Western nations and their Sunni Muslim allies in the Gulf and Turkey seek Assad’s overthrow but are wary of intervention, while Russia, China and Shi’ite Iran – Assad’s strategic ally – have protected Assad from a tough international response.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin sought on Monday to find common ground over Syria when they met at a G20 summit in Mexico, but they offered no new solutions and there was no sign they had bridged their differences over imposing tougher sanctions on Damascus.
Activists say at least 2,000 people have been killed in Syria since Annan’s April 12 ceasefire deal, intended to be the first stage in a political plan to resolve Syria’s 15-month-old crisis, was supposed to put an end to the killing.
“There are many buildings and houses completely destroyed (in Homs), and many injuries in the field hospitals which need surgery,” said one resident of Syria’s third biggest city, who gave his name as Nidal.
“There are many martyrs and no medicine.”
Mood said he was worried about civilians trapped in Homs after a week of trying and failing to get them out, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said around 1,000 families were stuck there under fire from the army.
Syria said on Tuesday it had tried to make arrangements through the U.N. monitors for evacuations from Homs and blamed rebel fighters for obstructing those efforts and accused them of using civilians as human shields.
But Nidal blamed security forces, who he said opened fire on a Red Crescent vehicle as it tried to ferry people out of the center of the city.
“Three days ago the regime suggested a ceasefire for two hours from 5 pm to 7 pm to move the residents from Old Homs and Jouret al-Shiyah districts,” he said.
But when Red Crescent vehicles started the evacuation, “regime forces shot at the Red Crescent cars”, forcing the aid organization to call off the operation. He said only Assad’s forces were operating in the area where the shots were fired.
Activists said violence flared across the country on Tuesday and state media said rebels blew up two oil pipelines.
SANA news agency said an “armed terrorist group” attacked a oil derivatives pipeline linking Homs and Damascus in the Sultaniya area of southern Homs, causing a fire and heavy smoke which residents said was visible from the center of the city.
A crude oil pipeline in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor was also blown up. SANA quoted an oil ministry source say pumping was expected to resume in the next few days, adding that the same pipeline had been targeted twice in the last two weeks.
On Monday, activists said at least 79 people were killed across Syria, including 51 civilians and rebel fighters and 28 members of the security forces.
The United Nations says Assad’s forces have killed more than 10,000 people in their crackdown on protests which erupted in March last year, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world, and slowly turned into an armed insurgency.
Authorities blame the violence on foreign-backed Islamists they say have killed more than 2,600 soldiers and police.
Russia supports Assad’s argument that foreign-backed terrorists are behind the unrest and has repeatedly urged Western and Arab countries, who mostly back the rebels, to rein in their support in order to stem the violence.
Western powers in turn have criticized Russia over its arms supplies to Assad. A cargo ship now moving off the north-west coast of Scotland is believed to be carrying Russian weaponry to Syria, according to an insurer which says it has withdrawn coverage for the vessel.
Britain said it was aware of a consignment of refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters heading for Syria, but did not say if it was referring to the same vessel.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)
Guardian: Russian arms shipment bound for Syria foiled by Britain’s insurers: Russian vessel carrying helicopters for Assad regime denied marine cover by UK underwriters
Russian vessel carrying helicopters for Assad regime denied marine cover by UK underwriters
In the 19th century Britain practised gunboat diplomacy to confound its enemies. Now the UK has struck at a 21st century scourge by using the weapon of insurance – denying cover to a Russian ship returning refurbished helicopters to Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
News of the tortuous journey of the MV Alaed emerged last week when Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, accused Moscow of supplying attack helicopters to Damascus on the basis of what diplomats described as an intelligence operation.
William Hague, the foreign secretary, confirmed on Tuesday that the ship, thought to have sailed from Kaliningrad, in the Baltic, had now turned back to Murmansk in northern Russia. It had been heading for the Straits of Dover.
Urgent consultations took place in Washington and London as the ship was tracked – by the UK National Maritime Agency – off the coasts of northern Scotland, Denmark and the Netherlands, changing course and speed to throw those watching it off the scent. It is understood to have at times been deliberately avoiding UK and EU territorial waters.
The EU imposed an arms embargo on Syria last year but that did not bind Russia, which has firmly resisted any UN sanctions against its close ally. But the British insurers Standard Club were told by the Foreign Office and Treasury that they could be in breach of the sanctions.
It is understood Standard Club has now cancelled its insurance cover for all the eight vessels it insured for the MV Alaed’s owners, a Russian company called Femco-Management Limited, after it was informed about the cargo.
The company believes the Alaed was 50 miles off northern Scotland when its insurance was cancelled, but has denied suggestions it acted under government pressure. “We were made aware of the allegations that the Alaed was carrying munitions destined for Syria, which would be a clear breach of our club rules,” a spokesman said. “We consequently informed the shipowner that their insurance cover ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage. The club has rules and those club rules, if they’ve done what they are alleged to have done, have been broken.”
For Hague, basking in unaccustomed praise for his “decisive action” in the Commons, this was the successful conclusion of a piece of unorthodox diplomacy – which subtly avoided the use of gunboats. He confirmed that he had personally complained to the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov about the shipment in meetings in Moscow on 28 May and in Kabul on 14 June.
British officials were aghast last week when Clinton first revealed news of the delivery and failed to mention that the three Mi-25 aircraft – known as “flying tanks”– were not new but had been refurbished and were being sent back to Syria, though they could still prove a deadly weapon in the country’s escalating violence, in which 15,000 people are now estimated to have died.
Hague admitted to MPs that the situation in Syria was “dire” in the face of the near collapse of the peace plan being promoted by Kofi Annan on behalf of the UN and the Arab League. But he added: “We stand ready to pursue robust action in the United Nations security council.”
It is understood that the regulation enforcing the EU arms embargo is being re-formulated to make clear that insuring cargoes of military materiel is illegal.”We are aware of a ship carrying a consignment of refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters heading to Syria,” an FCO spokesman said. “We are working closely with international partners to ensure that we are doing all we can to stop the Syrian regime’s ability to slaughter civilians being reinforced through assistance from other countries.”