Tuesday 3 July 2012
In advance of the third meeting of the Friends of Syria in Paris on 6 July, Foreign Secretary William Hague will answer your questions about the UK’s policy towards Syria live via Twitter.
On 6 July many countries will meet in Paris for the third Friends of Syria meeting aimed at supporting Joint Envoy Kofi Annan’s efforts to try to end the violence and make progress on a political transition in Syria.
In advance of the meeting, the Foreign Secretary will answer your questions on the UK’s policy towards Syria via Twitter live on 5 July at 11.30 – 12.30BST. You can submit questions to the Foreign Secretary at this time using the hashtag #askFS.
The Foreign Secretary said:
“Nearly a hundred nations will come together in Paris this Friday at the meeting of the Friends of Syria. We will be focused on increasing the pressure on the regime to stop the killing, on ensuring that the Annan Plan for a political transition is implemented, and on alleviating the appalling humanitarian situation in Syria. These efforts are an absolutely top priority in British diplomacy.”
You will be able to watch the Q&A live here:http://ukinsyria.fco.gov.uk/en/news/?view=News&id=781672882
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: More than 80 Syrians killed on 3/7/2012
The final number of civilians killed in Syria today (Tuesday 3/7/2012) has risen to 59
52 Unarmed civilians:
-In Reef Dimashq 15 people were killed. A civilian was killed by wounds he received earlier in Deir al-Asafeer. 9 civilians were killed on the outskirts of the city of Douma, the bodies of 6 civilians were found, in the area, they were killed by the shelling; 1 civilian died from earlier wounds, 2 killed by sniper fire. 1 civilian was killed by random fire in Harasta. 3 civilians, including a child, were killed by gunfire and rockets fired on the town of Irbeen.
-In Homs 10 were killed. 2 were killed by the bombardment of the Khaldiya and Jourat al-Shayyah neighbourhoods of Homs. 1 civilian was killed in the Bayada neighbourhood of Homs. The body of a civilian was found in al-Qusayr. 1 civilian was killed by the helicopter bombardment on the village of al-Buweida al-Sharqiya, Reef Homs, while he was working his land. 3 other civilians were killed by the bombardment on the town of al-Qusayr. 2 civilians were killed by excessive torture, after being detained last night by a checkpoint in Rebla. 2 civilians were killed by the random bombardment on the towns of Talbisa and Tel Kalakh.
-In Dera’a province 10 civilians were killed. 6 were killed by the regime’s overnight bombardment on the town of al-Lijat, and its neighbouring area, the dead include a woman and 3 children. A civilian was killed in Um al-Mayathin. 1 civilian from earlier wounds from the bombardment of atman. 1 in the town if Ibti’. 1 civilian was killed by the random bombardment on Da’el.
-In Deir Izzor province 5 civilians were killed. 4 in the city of Deir Izzor: a teen, from the Qusoor neighbourhood, was killed by a regime sniper, the other was killed by a sniper near the Joura neighbourhood, by the post office building. 2 civilians, including a child were killed by regime fire in the al-Erfi neighbourhood. A woman was killed by the bombardment of the town of al-Mari’a, Reef Deir Izzor.
-In Aleppo province 5. A civilian was killed by gunfire on the west Andan road. a woman was killed by the helicopter fire on the city of A’zaz. A civilian was killed by artillery fire on Andan. A man was killed by a military checkpoint near Andan, when on his way home from work tonight. 1 civilian was shot by a checkpoint near the town of Deir Jamal.
-In Idlib province 2 civilians were killed. 1 in al-Rami, when regime forces stormed the town. 1 civilian was killed from wounds he suffered yesterday in Khan Sheikhoun, Reef Idlib.
-In Hama 3 civilians. 1 was killed by an ambush set up for him, be security forces, in the al-Mizrab neighbourhood of Hama. A civilian was killed by a military checkpoint near al-Buweida, Reef Hama. Another civilian was killed by an ambush set up for him, by security forces, in the town of Khattab
-In Latakia province 2 civilians were killed. A man was killed after midnight by an RPG rocket, in the town of Salma, Reef Latakia. The body of a civilian was found on a side road by his home in the town of al-Haffe, he disappeared weeks ago when Syrian forces stormed the town.
7 Armed rebels:
-Reef Dimashq: 2 rebels were killed during clashes on the outskirts of Douma.
-?Aleppo province: 1 rebel fighter, he died from wounds received during clashes last night in A’zaz.
-Homs province: 4 rebel fighters killed. 1 during clashes with regime forces in the area surrounding Baba Amr. 3 in the neighbourhood of Jourat al-Shayyah, which is witnessing clashes and bombardment.
At least 25 members of the Syrian armed forces were killed during clashes with armed rebels in Deir Izzor, Aleppo, Homs and Reef Dimashq.
[local time] 21:45 Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters in the Damascus neighborhood of Al-Midan, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying on Tuesday.
18:34 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead a US delegation to talks on the conflict in Syria being hosted by France this week, a US official confirmed Tuesday.
17:18 Italy on Tuesday dispatched a field hospital to Jordan to help treat tens of thousands of Syrians who have sought refuge in the kingdom, where officials say their numbers are swelling.
16:16 Hezbollah and Iran will fight alongside the Syrian regime if it is attacked by foreign forces, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command leader Ahmad Jibril said on Tuesday.
15:52 Russia will not attend a Friends of Syria meeting in Paris on Friday which seeks to co-ordinate Western and Arab efforts to stop the violence in the country, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
15:19 Syrian forces killed 41 people on Tuesday, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
15:16 Syrian forces “slaughtered” 13 people in Baba Amr in Homs, an activist told Al-Arabiya on Tuesday.
14:18 Syrian regime forces pounded several rebel-held districts in the central city of Homs on Tuesday, as the death toll mounted across the country, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
14:05 Russia on Tuesday accused the West of seeking to “distort” the agreement reached last weekend in Geneva on a plan for a political transition to end the escalating conflict in Syria.
13:52 The “shift” in the positions of Russia and China on Syria should not be underestimated, the spokesperson for peace envoy Kofi Annan said on Tuesday after international talks in Geneva.
13:05 Syrian forces on Tuesday killed 30 people, most of them in Daraa, Al-Jazeera television quoted the Syrian Network for Human Rights as saying.
12:30 The Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) have pulled out of an opposition conference in Cairo, citing political “disputes,” a statement said on Tuesday.
9:16 Activists and analysts accuse the Syrian regime of driving a sectarian agenda and depicting itself as the victim of an Islamist threat, in order to turn the rebellion into a war between communities.
9:00 MORNING LEADER : Exiled opposition groups tried to forge a common vision for a transition in Syria during a meeting on Monday in Cairo as the UN rights chief accused both the regime and opposition of “serious” violations. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also charged that weapons supplied to the government and opposition were escalating the conflict, warning that “further militarization” must be avoided.
8:30 Dozens of Syrian soldiers including top officers defected to neighboring Turkey on Monday, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regrets “100%” that a Turkish F-4 jet was shot down after entering Syrian airspace, he tells a Turkish newspaper.
In an interview with Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper, he argues that the plane was flying in an area previously used by Israel’s air force.
The plane went down in the Mediterranean last month and the two pilots have not been found.
The incident has heightened tensions between the two countries.
Last week, Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Syria’s action and described the neighbouring country as a “clear and present threat”.
Turkey’s border areas were reinforced with rocket-launchers and anti-aircraft guns on Friday.
It has also emerged that the Turkish air force scrambled fighter jets on Monday for the third day in a row after Syrian helicopters were said to have approached the border.
In his Turkish interview, Mr Assad appears to try to cool the dispute, saying Syria had not and would not bolster its military presence, regardless of the actions of Mr Erdogan’s government.
“We will not allow (the shooting down) to turn into open combat between the two countries,” President Assad is quoted as saying.
In other developments:
- Turkish media reported late on Monday that another 85 Syrian soldiers, including 14 senior officers, had defected across the Turkish border. It is one of the biggest groups of army defections since the March 2011 uprising in Syria began
- Syria is practising a widespread policy of state-sanctioned torture with an “archipelago of torture centres”, a Human Rights Watch report says
- UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has said that both Syrian government forces and the opposition have been involved in operations that harmed civilians
- At least 78 people were killed in violence throughout Syria on Monday, opposition activists reported
- Clashes were reported on Tuesday in suburbs of Damascus and government forces were operating in the cities of Deraa and Deir al-Zour, the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC) activist group said
- UN observers visited the Damascus suburb of Douma on Tuesday, which was recaptured days earlier by government forces. They turned back for security reasons. Although their mission in Syria is officially suspended, they carry out humanitarian visits to assess the effect of the crisis on civilians
- A picture released by activists purportedly showed the burial of more than a dozen people killed by Syrian forces in Douma
Cumhuriyet says that during its interview – carried out over two-and-a-half hours in Damascus on Sunday by Ankara bureau chief Utku Cakirozer – the Syrian leader was adamant that the plane’s identity had become clear only after it was brought down.
“We want to think of it as a pilot’s error and we would consider this an isolated incident,” he is reported as saying. “I say 100% ‘if only we had not shot it down’.”
The soldier who opened fire on the F-4 Phantom had no access to radar, he says, pointing out that the same route was used in the 2007 Israeli bombing of a site in north-eastern Syria.
The UN’s nuclear agency later said the site was very likely a nuclear reactor under construction.
Analysis: Jonathan Marcus BBC Defence and Diplomatic Correspondent
In saying that he “regrets the incident 100%”, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seeking to reduce tensions with Turkey and turn the page on an episode that risked bringing the two countries to the brink of war.
However, this falls well short of an apology. President Assad is still sticking to Syria’s story that the plane was engaged in Syrian airspace, something the Turks dispute.
Mr Assad sought to deflect criticism by saying that the plane was flying at low level “in an air corridor used three times in the past by the Israeli air force”. The soldier who shot it down, he said, had no radar and could not know to which country the plane belonged.
But did this really look like an Israeli attack? And surely somebody in Syria’s comprehensive air defence network was monitoring the plane on radar.
The Syrian army pressed its offensive against rebels, bombarding the city of Douma near Damascus, and Turkey said it had scrambled warplanes after Syrian helicopters flew near its border.
Turkey’s armed forces command said the fighters took off on Monday when Syrian transport helicopters were spotted flying near the frontier, without entering Turkish air space. It was the third day in a row that Turkey had scrambled its F-16s.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told a Turkish daily he wished his forces had not shot down a Turkish jet last month and that he would not allow tensions with Turkey to lead to war.
“We learned it belonged to Turkey after shooting it down. I say 100 percent ‘if only we had not shot it down’,” Turkey’s Cumhuriyet daily quoted Assad as saying.
A Syrian general and 84 soldiers were the latest to defect and flee to Turkey on Monday. But army and government defections have so far failed to shake Assad’s 12-year grip on power.
Assad told Cumhuriyet he was not bent on staying in office come what may but gave no hint he was ready to quit.
“If my staying or going saved my people and country, why would I hold on? I wouldn’t even stay one day,” he said.
“If the opposite is true, that is, if the people don’t want me, then there are in any case elections. If the people wanted, they would send me away,” Assad was quoted as saying.
The Syrian leader responded with force when peaceful protests erupted against him in March last year and has turned his troops and tanks on demonstrators and insurgents alike.
More violence erupted on Tuesday with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group which compiles reports from rebels, saying 56 people were killed across the country, including 34 civilians.
Opposition leaders say more than 15,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011.
Neither Assad nor his enemies have shown much interest in compromise as Syria slides deeper into a civil war, fuelling animosity between majority Sunni Muslims and the president’s minority Alawites who control the military and security forces.
“There was heavy shelling all morning,” said Abu Rami, an activist in Homs, a main target of an army onslaught on rebel strongholds. “We are living with little food and little water.”
The army on Tuesday shelled places near Douma to which the embattled city’s residents had fled at the weekend, Omar Hamzeh, another activist, said, adding that at least six people had been killed.
Refugee activists along the Turkish-Syrian border said two people had also been killed when the army carried out artillery raids on the town of Saqlin, around six km (3.7 miles) from Turkey.
A police officer who defected from the northern city of Aleppo and crossed into Turkey on Tuesday said the army had been firing artillery rounds from areas around the city to rebellious areas to the north and east.
“I left Aleppo and the sound of artillery fire was shaking the ground in Hamdaniya,” the officer said, referring to his eastern Aleppo suburb. He declined to be named.
Turkey’s southern Hatay province along the Syrian border has become a safe haven for rebel fighters and defectors from the Syrian army. There are also more than 35,000 Syrian refugees now taking shelter in camps in southern Turkey.
Diplomacy has so far failed to curb the bloodshed. World powers agreed at the weekend to support talks on a transitional government. But they failed to narrow differences between the West and Russia over Western demands that Assad must go.
Turkey, which has long demanded the Syrian leader’s removal, said Assad’s role was over, but advised the Syrian opposition to accept envoy Kofi Annan’s internationally endorsed proposal.
“Our task is not to pressure the opposition or to persuade them of something,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Sky News Arabia in Cairo, where opposition groups were meeting for a second day.
He said Annan’s mediation role meant the opposition would not have to negotiate with Assad under the transition plan.
“Thus I believe that accepting the Geneva statement would be a positive thing from the opposition,” he said.
His Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov said Syrian opposition leaders would hold talks in Moscow next week. But it was not clear if they would include any from the mainstream Syrian National Council (SNC), backed by the West and Turkey.
“We will use this coming meeting with yet another Syrian opposition group to continue work to end violence and start Syrian dialogue between the government and all groups of the Syrian opposition as soon as possible,” Lavrov said.
Russia says the Geneva agreement does not imply that Assad must be excluded from power. Western powers insist that it does.
Moscow is deeply suspicious of anti-Assad insurgents, echoing Damascus’s line that they are all Islamist militants.
Washington too, has reservations about the wisdom of backing an armed opposition it regards as ill-organized and disparate, with some connections to al Qaeda-linked militants.
The rebel Free Syrian Army, an umbrella group of armed factions, boycotted the SNC gathering in Cairo, where the Arab League was urging Islamist and secular groups to end their quarrels and form a credible alternative authority to Assad.
Some Syrian dissidents argue that armed Islamist militants are indeed likely to come to the fore if the outside world leaves the country to the mercy of Assad’s forces.
Iran, an ally of Assad, which, along with its regional rival Saudi Arabia, Assad’s adversary, was excluded from the Geneva conference, said Damascus wanted reform but not foreign interference or “terrorist activities”.
“Syria … has been the main axis of resistance (against Israel). Therefore it is natural that Western governments and the American government try to take their revenge,” said Saeed Jalili, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
Syria’s chief of staff, General Fahd Jassem al-Freij, said the nation was at war with conspirators seeking its destruction.
With diplomatic efforts failing to gain traction, the United States may come under pressure from Gulf Arab hawks, notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to do more to help the rebels when the “Friends of Syria” forum gathers in Paris on Friday.
Russia, which has criticized the “Friends” for favoring only one side in Syria’s conflict, has turned down an invitation to the meeting, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
Syrian opposition leaders reject Russia’s insistence on a dialogue with the government, saying Assad’s removal has to be the first step because of what he has inflicted on his people.
New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report on “an archipelago” of Syrian state torture centers, citing accounts of victims who said they were beaten, burned with acid, sexually assaulted or had their fingernails torn out.
In Cairo, some Syrian opposition activists described ruthless attacks by government forces on cities such as Homs.
“The city has been bombarded non-stop for months,” said Khaled Abul Salah, an activist from Homs. “Anyone wounded dies as there is no way they can leave town or go to hospital.”
(Additional reporting by Erika Solomon in Beirut, Sami Aboudi in Dubai, and Jonathon Burch and Jon Hemming in Ankara, Daren Butler in Istanbul,; Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow, John Irish in Paris and Yasmine Saleh in Cairo; Writing by Douglas Hamilton and Alistair Lyon; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
A meeting of Syria’s splintered opposition in Cairo on Tuesday descended into scuffles and fistfights that will dishearten Western leaders calling for unity against Bashar al-Assad.
A Syrian Kurdish group quit the meeting, sparking mayhem and cries of “scandal, scandal” from some delegates. Women wept as men traded blows, and staff of the hotel used for the meeting hurriedly removed tables and chairs as the scuffles spread.
“The Kurds withdrew because the conference rejected an item that says the Kurdish people must be recognized,” said Abdel Aziz Othman of the National Kurdish Council. “This is unfair and we will no longer accept to be marginalized.”
Sixteen months into an uprising against Assad, the failure to rally Syria’s disparate religious and ethnic groups behind a united leadership will make it more difficult to secure international recognition.
“This is so sad. It will have a bad implications for all parties. It will make the Syrian opposition look bad and demoralize the protesters on the ground,” said an opposition activist, 27-year-old Gawad al-Khatib.
Assad has clung on far longer than other Arab leaders who faced popular uprisings, in part due to his willingness to use overwhelming force but also because of divisions among his population, the opposition and the international community.
Russia, Syria’s longtime ally, opposes U.N. action proposed by Western powers. The United States and European powers have themselves shown no appetite for military intervention of the kind they used in Libya.
A diplomat from the meeting’s host, the Arab League, said the often “chaotic” opposition had made progress by agreeing on documents outlining principles to shape a new constitution and guide any transition. (Reporting by Yasmine Saleh; Writing by Edmund Blair and Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Andrew Roche)