Saturday 12 May 2012

PLEASE SHARE THIS: Press release: Free Khulood Al-Israwi @ Government forces detained Khulood Al Israwi and several of her fellow activists when they were protesting outside the Damascus citadel today at 8 p.m. 12/5/2012. Khulood is a member of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria – NCB’s central committee.

Free Khulood and all those detained for voicing their conscience!
Freedom for all of those detained in the regime’s prisons!

Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre: Summary (12/05/2012): At least 12 martyrs have fallen today in Idlib, Hama, Damascus countryside and Homs. We have to mention the protest in Suwayda today which is like a slap to Assad and all the media outlets who are in love with talking about sectarianism when they should be focusing on the crimes of the regime which is encouraging it. We also want to send respect to Salamiyah, they have been protesting since the start but don’t get many mentions, perhaps because they also don’t fit the sectarian narrative. As the chant says: “Syrian people are 1.”  Google map

NOW! Lebanon

[local time]  15:20 Al-Nusra Front, an Islamist group unknown before the Syrian revolt, released a video on Saturday claiming responsibility for twin suicide bombings in Damascus that killed 55 people.
 14:38 Violence in Syria killed at least 10 civilians on Saturday, one of them a woman, a rights watchdog said, even as a UN mission charged with overseeing a battered truce neared half its planned strength.
 14:28 Syrian forces on Saturday entered Lebanon’s border village of Al-Qaa, Future News television station reported.
 14:06 Syria’s death toll rose to 12 people killed by security forces, Al-Jazeera reported.
 11:55 Two Turkish journalists who were detained for two months in Syria are on their way home following mediation by Iran, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced Saturday.
 10:40 Syrian security forces killed seven people on Saturday, activists told Al-Jazeera.

BBC: Islamists claim Damascus blasts

A video from a shadowy Islamist group, al-Nusra, says it carried out bomb attacks in the Syrian capital Damascus which killed 55 on Thursday.

A video posted online in the name of an Islamist group, al-Nusra Front, says it carried out two bomb attacks in the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday.

The attacks took place near a military intelligence building during the morning rush hour, killing 55 people.

Opposition activists have accused the regime of orchestrating the explosions.

The al-Nusra Front emerged in January and has said it was behind previous attacks, including one in March on a police HQ and airforce Intelligence.

The video says the bombings were in response to attacks on civilian areas by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

“We fulfilled our promise to respond with strikes and explosions,” a distorted voice says in the video, according to the Associated Press.

“We tell this regime: Stop your massacres against the Sunni people. If not, you will bear the sin of the Alawites,” the video continues, referring to the offshoot of Shia Islam to which Mr Assad and many of the ruling elite belong.

The video also warns Sunnis against “living near security buildings and dens of the regime or passing near them”.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says al-Nusra refers to its fighters as “mujahideen of Sham [Syria] in the arena of jihad” and there are suspicions it may have links to al-Qaeda.

The tactics used in the Damascus attacks are similar to attacks by al-Qaeda in Iraq in recent years, the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Istanbul reports.

And the fact that al-Nusra says it shares their goal of overthrowing President Assad may make some countries which support the opposition feel uneasy about the possibility of al-Qaeda infiltration, our correspondent adds.

Meanwhile, the funerals of some of those killed in Thursday’s blasts have been taking place in the city.

A government minister taking part described the bombings as a “terrorist escalation”.

Violence has been continuing across the country despite a ceasefire being monitored by a team of UN observers.

The UN estimates at least 9,000 people have died since pro-democracy protests began in March 2011.

Recent blasts in Damascus

  • 5 May: Two blasts cause damage, but no-one is hurt.
  • 27 April: An explosion in the centre of Damascus near a mosque kills at least 10 people and wounds 20 others.
  • 2 April: A bomb explodes near a police station and hotel in the central Marja district of Damascus, injuring at least four people.
  • 17 March: At least 27 people are killed and nearly 100 wounded in two explosions said to be targeting buildings housing the criminal police and aviation intelligence.


image of Jonathan HeadJonathan Head BBC News, Istanbul

The group’s statements echo those of jihadist groups, and the latest bomb attack was certainly similar to some in Iraq which have been blamed on al-Qaeda. But little else is known about al-Nusra. Who leads it, what its ideology is, and where it originated are just guesswork at the moment.

If this is the start of an al-Qaeda style bombing campaign in Syria, it will complicate an already intractable conflict. It would harden attitudes on both sides, and heighten sectarian suspicion.

Reuters: Clashes rage in Syria, opposition meets abroad

Rebels fought the army in northern Syriaon Saturday, activists said, and Syrian dissidents abroad gathered to try to unify and project themselves as a credible alternative to President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fighting in Idlib province, on Syria’s northern border with Turkey and a hotspot of the 14-month-old revolt against Assad’s rule.

“Violent clashes are raging between Syrian regime forces and armed military defectors … The sounds of strong explosions were heard followed by security forces using heavy and medium machinegun fire,” the British-based Observatory said.

Violence has rumbled on despite a ceasefire declared a month ago by international envoy Kofi Annan and the presence of a U.N. monitoring mission now with about 150 observers on the ground.

Opposition leaders abroad flew to Rome to try to strengthen their fractured Syrian National Council (SNC), which is seeking international help in the struggle against Assad.

Political jockeying within the SNC has prevented it from gaining full international endorsement. Executive members told Reuters they may choose a new president or restructure the council in a bid to garner broader support.

In Damascus, crowds gathered for prayers to commemorate 55 people killed in twin suicide bombings in the capital on Wednesday, the deadliest there since the uprising began.

The carnage in Syria, once confined to provincial cities and the countryside, has crept closer to central Damascus and the northern commercial hub of Aleppo, which had seen few challenges to Assad’s power until bomb explosions in recent weeks.

The latest Damascus attacks were claimed by the little known al-Nusra Front on Saturday in a YouTube video statement. But the video offered no decisive evidence to prove the group’s role. Al-Nusra did not show footage of the bombings or of the estimated one tonne of explosives used in each.

Assad’s government has pointed to the rising number of explosions in city centers as proof that it is facing foreign-backed militant groups and not a home-grown uprising.

“Western countries and the United States, which made alliances to wage wars using the pretext of fighting terrorism, are now making alliances with the terrorists which Syria has been facing,” Information Minister Adnan Hasan Mahmoud told reporters in Damascus on Saturday.

Local activists and the rebel Free Syrian Army, which has frequently attacked army convoys and military targets, deny they were behind the bombings. The opposition accuses the government of orchestrating the blasts to tarnish its foes’ reputation.

Syria’s uprising began as a peaceful protest movement but has become increasingly militarized as rebels began to fight back against a violent crackdown by Assad’s forces. More than 9,000 people have been killed by security forces, who the government says have lost 2,600 dead at rebel hands.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, about 900 people have been killed since the April 12 “ceasefire”.


Opposition activists reported shelling by security forces in Idlib and central Homs province, which have seen some of the fiercest fighting during of the anti-Assad uprising.

The Observatory said at least two Idlib residents were killed as security forces raided villages close to the clashes or fired mortar bombs from military checkpoints.

Elsewhere in Idlib, four soldiers were killed and least seven were wounded when rebels attacked a convoy of armored personnel carriers, the Observatory said.

A rebel speaking to Reuters on Skype said the FSA was not violating the ceasefire but responding to attack. U.N. monitors have said both sides are breaching the truce deal.

“We’re not just hearing the shelling, we can see the machinegun fire,” said the fighter, who said he was hiding out near the army assault in Idlib. “Two of our men are wounded.”

The Syrian state news agency SANA named 22 security force members it said had been buried on Saturday after being killed in various parts of Syria, including Idlib, Homs and Damascus.

“These martyrs sacrificed their blood and souls for the nation,” SANA said. “They refused to allow armed terrorists and those who support them to encroach and destroy Syria.”

(Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes in Rome; Editing by Alistair Lyon and Janet Lawrence)

  • Iran wins release of Turkish journalists in Syria
    12:14pm EDT
  • Militant group claims deadly Syrian blasts: video
    10:43am EDT
  • Fragmented Syrian opposition debates leadership
    10:43am EDT:The Syrian National Council (SNC), a fractious umbrella group opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, gathered on Saturday for three days of talks aimed at deciding on its own leadership and shoring up its credibility at home and abroad.Two SNC executive committee members, Samir Nashar and George Sabra, said the council was discussing whether to reelect Burhan Ghalioun, its president since it was set up in exile in August.

    The Paris-based academic has been criticized for being out of touch with the opposition inside Syria and for failing to unify the SNC, which has yet to win full international recognition as the Syrian people’s legitimate representative.

    “We are in heated discussions over the presidency … We are against an extension or a renewal of Burhan Ghalioun’s term,” said Nashar, a member of the Damascus Declaration, a faction within the SNC.

    “We are in favor of transition because it gives all the various Syrian political components a chance in the post,” Nashar told Reuters in Rome, where the SNC was meeting.

    Nashar, who left Syria after an initial arrest in Aleppo in 2006, said he favored Sabra to lead the SNC “for many reasons, mainly because he is an opposition member from inside Syria”.

    Interviewed separately, Sabra declined to say if he was a candidate, but advocated radical reforms for a group that has been prone to political wrangling and a lack of transparency.

    “We have to change the way decisions are made between people, between the establishments of the SNC, between the components of the SNC,” he said, without elaborating.

    Sabra spent years in prison under Assad’s rule and that of his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad before fleeing to France last year. He has acted as a spokesman for the SNC.

    “We need so many things to be changed,” he said. “We have a plan, we have a committee that did something good … but we have to reach the end of these (reforms).”

    Nashar is among those who argue that putting Sabra, a Christian, at the head of the SNC would help reassure Syrian minorities wary of the largely Sunni Muslim revolt that their rights would be respected if Assad, whose minority Alawite sect dominates power, is overthrown.

    Assad’s supporters say minorities would be at risk if the revolt succeeded. They denounce the Muslim Brotherhood, long repressed in Syria and now a driving force of the SNC.

    “The SNC wants to send a clear message to all components of the Syrian community, Alawite, Christians, Druze and all the minorities, that the SNC is not a council for Muslims only as the regime seeks to portray it,” said Nashar.

    The United Nations says Syrian state forces have killed more than 9,000 people during the 14-month-old revolt. Damascus says “armed terrorist groups” have killed 2,600 security personnel.

Syria says U.S. allied to “terrorists” in country

12:50pm EDT

Guardian: Islamist group al-Nusra Front claims responsibility for Damascus bombings

12 May 2012: Video posted online says twin car bombings that killed 55 people in Syrian capital were revenge for Assad regime’s aggression

An obscure Islamist group, the al-Nusra Front, has posted a video online claiming responsibility for two bomb attacks that killed 55 people in Syria‘s capital, Damascus, earlier this week.

The video, narrated by a man whose voice was disguised, showed no images of militants making or setting up the bomb and did not claim the attacks as suicide bombings.

Footage showing black smoke rising over Damascus from the day of the blast was shown at the end of the statement, labelled as coming from the ‘Camera of the Mujahideen [holy warriors]’.

The video emerged amid reports by activists of renewed fighting between rebels and the army in northern Syria on Saturday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fighting in Idlib province, on Syria’s northern border with Turkey – a hotspot of the 14-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

“Violent clashes are raging between Syrian regime forces and armed military defectors … The sounds of strong explosions were heard followed by security forces using heavy and medium machinegun fire,” the British-based Observatory said.

Activists and the rebel Free Syrian Army say they had nothing to do with the bombings in Damascus and that the blasts were orchestrated by state forces to hurt the opposition’s image.

The video said the blasts were in response to security force strikes on rebellious towns that have shared in the fight against Assad.

“Al-Nusra Front, God strengthen it, undertook a military operation in Damascus against the dens of the regime to target the Palestine and Dawriyat [security] branches. This is due to the regime’s continued strikes on residential neighbourhoods in the Damascus suburbs, Idlib, Hama, Deraa and other areas,” said a man’s voice on the video, reading from text shown on screen.

“We tell the regime: stop your massacres of Sunni people or you will bear the sins of the Alawites. What is coming will be more disastrous. We ask Sunnis to avoid any security force branches or other dens of the regime.”

Syria’s uprising against four decades of Assad family rule was fuelled by its Sunni Muslim majority, many of whom are resentful of a political and military elite dominated by Assad’s minority Alawite sect, which is an offshoot of ShiaIslam.

The turmoil in Syria has sparked sectarian tensions in parts of the country. The Syrian government points to the bombings as proof it is confronting foreign-backed militants, which it says have killed more than 2,600 security personnel.

The al-Nusra Front has previously claimed responsibility for other bombings in Damascus and Aleppo. Its latest video was not posted on commonly used Islamist sites, where most al-Qaida statements and the group’s previous announcements have appeared.