Thursday 18 April 2013

Reuters: Syrian Kurds fear increasing attacks from Assad forces

Bombings of Kurdish areas in Syria suggest that Syrian Kurds, long detached from the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, are increasingly being targeted by his forces after they struck deals with rebels fighting to topple him, a Kurdish leader said.

Saleh Muslim, head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), said a recent wave of Syrian army attacks may have been prompted by non-aggression pacts reached between Kurds and some moderate factions in the rebel forces.

Another possible reason, he told Reuters in an interview, was that Assad feared Turkey – which has harboured Syrian rebels and called on him to quit – could also aid Syrian Kurds after entering peace talks with its own restive Kurdish minority.

“Maybe the (Syrian) government was bothered about these agreements. We also had such agreements with some small groups in Aleppo, and so because of that they bombed our areas,” Muslim told Reuters in an interview in Berlin.

“Maybe will think we are getting some help from Turkey, but this is not true.”

Eleven civilians were killed when a Syrian warplane bombed a Kurdish village in the oil-producing province of Hasaka in north-eastern Syria on Sunday, Kurdish activists said. It was the biggest loss of Kurdish life from government attacks since the start of the two-year-old uprising against Assad.

A Kurdish district of the northern city of Aleppo, Sheikh Maqsoud, has also been battered by air strikes that have killed 47 civilians over the last 15 days, Muslim said.

“From the beginning we decided not to be a part of this blind fighting going ahead between Damascus and others … Our policy has been self defence, the right to protect ourselves, protect our Kurdish areas.”


Mistrust between Syria’s Sunni Muslim Arab majority and its Kurds, who comprise an estimated 9-10 percent of the population and are also largely Sunni, deepened as the Sunni-led uprising gathered steam. In the process, Kurds asserted control in parts of the northeast where their community predominates.

Arab figures in the opposition are suspicious that the Kurds may set up an autonomous province spanning those areas.

For their part, Syrian Kurdish politicians accuse the Arab anti-Assad opposition of ignoring Kurdish rights and seeking to dominate the oil-producing northeast, which accounts for a large proportion of Syria’s crude production.

“The Kurdish provinces are rich provinces; everyone is trying to get these areas under their control. Maybe not just Assad’s forces, maybe also others in future,” Muslim said.

In February a ceasefire was signed between Syrian rebels and a Kurdish militia, the Popular Protection Units (YPG), who had been clashing for months in a town near the Turkish border.

Muslim said YPG forces were training in the Kurdish-controlled areas of Derik, Kobani and Afrin. They had more than 10,000 fighters, he said, and could call on most of the Kurdish population for support. Kurds had started fighting back against government forces after being attacked, he added.

Asked if the Kurds could yet join forces with the Sunni Arab-led Free Syrian Army, Muslim said this could happen only if the FSA committed to a democratic, secular Syria. But, he said, the FSA includes radical Islamic Salafists and jihadists and only a fraction of it is native Syrian.

Syria’s conflict started with mainly peaceful demonstrations but descended into a civil war in which the United Nations says at least 70,000 people have been killed. Islamist militants have emerged as the most potent of the anti-Assad insurgents.

Asked about PYD aims, Muslim said Syrian Kurds hoped to achieve democratic self determination. “It is not like classical autonomy, we don’t want to draw any borders, also because we have half a million Kurds living in (the capital) Damascus.”

An end to the violence could be achieved with a political resolution, he said, but he feared the Arab League had chosen the route of prolonged armed conflict in Syria.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Syrian Observatory for Human RightsPreliminary death toll for Thursday 18/04/2013. More than 90 Syrians were killed, so far, today: The dead include: 30 civilians, 31 rebel fighters, at least 24 regular soldiers, 4 unidentified rebel fighters and 2 defected soldiers.

– In Reef Dimashq 7 civilians and 11 rebel fighters were killed. 6 civilians, including a child, were killed by bombardment on the towns and cities of al-M’adamiya, Douma, and al-A’bada. A man from the Zakiya town was killed under unknown circumstances. A rebel fighter from the Harasta city was killed by bombardment on the Joub neighbourhood of Damascus city. 10 rebel fighters were killed by clashes and bombardment on the towns and cities of Daraya, A’dra, al-A’teiba and al-M’adamiya.- In Aleppo 7 civilians and 6 rebel fighters were killed. A child was killed by arbitrary gunshots in the Masaken Hanano neighbourhood of Aleppo city. A man was killed by bombardment on the al-Salhin neighbourhood of the city. A man was killed by bombardment on the al-Buhouth al-A’lmiya area. 3 civilians, including 2 children, were killed by mortar and aerial bombardment on the Tiara village and A’ndan town of Reef Aleppo. A child was killed by rocket bombardment on the A’zaz town yesterday night. A rebel fighter was killed by clashes with regular forces in the al-Dweiraniya village of Reef Aleppo. 2 rebel fighters were killed by clashes with regular forces in the perimeter of the al-Nirab and Mangh military airports. A rebel fighter from the al-Abizmo town was killed by clashes with regular forces in the perimeter of the 17 division in Reef al-Raqqa. A rebel fighter was killed by clashes in Aleppo city. A rebel fighter from the Tal Rafe’ town was killed by clashes in Reef Aleppo.

– In Homs 5 civilians and 8 rebel fighters were killed. 3 civilians were killed by bombardment on the Talbisa town of Reef Homs. A man from Baba A’mru neighbourhood was tortured to death after 2 weeks of regime detainment, based on activists from the area. A man from the Deir B’alba neighbourhood of Homs city was tortured to death after 1 year of regime detainment. 8 rebel fighters were killed by clashes with regular forces in the perimeter of a military checkpoint in the al-Qreitin town and several areas of Reef al-Qseir.

– In Deir Izzor 4 civilians and 2 rebel fighters were killed. 4 civilians, including 2 women, were killed by bombardment on the Hatla and al-Bouleil towns of Reef Deir Izzor. A jihadist prince from al-Nusra front in Deir Izzor and a rebel fighter were killed by clashes with regular forces in the neighbourhoods of al-A’mal and al-Jbeila of Deir Izzor city.

– In Dera’a 4 rebel fighters were killed. 1 died of wounds received earlier by clashes with regular forces near the Busr al-Harir town. 3 were killed by clashes near the al-Katiba and Kherbet Ghazala town of Reef Dera’a.

– In al-Raqqa 5 civilians were killed by bombardment on the al-Tabaqa city of Reef al-Raqqa.

– In Hama a man was shot by regular forces in the Abi Fida’ suburb of Hama city, based on activists.

– In Idlib a child was killed by bombardment on the Deir Sharqi village of Reef Idlib.


– Reports of several civilians killed when regular forces stormed the Jdaidet A’rtouz town of Reef Dimashq.


– 2 defected soldiers, including a defected lieutenant, were killed by clashes with regular forces in Reef Homs and Damascus.

– At least 4 unidentified rebel fighters were killed by clashes with regular forces in several provinces.


– At least 24 regular soldiers were killed by clashes and attacks on machineries in several provinces: 8 Damascus and Reef Dimashq, 6 Homs, 5 Aleppo, 1 Deir Izzor, 2 Idlib, and 2 in Dera’a.

Bruce Kent of CND:

Guardian: Syrians can be reconciled – through negotiation, not violence

Regional interventions have failed, and the opposition SNC is in turmoil. But the solution still lies in a political settlement

The situation in Syria is the gravest it has been since peaceful protests began in March 2011. Civil resistance has been reduced to relief operations and humanitarian assistance, and the efforts of Syria’s democratic forces are now scattered and fragmented. Foreign support for the Syrian National Coalition and superimpose it as the legitimate representative of the people has weakened democratic civilian organisations’ relationships with a number of western countries. Meanwhile, the military capacity of jihadi groups has increased.

The SNC is fragile, and more likely to implode than become institutionalised. This is highlighted by three issues: the political initiative of its then president, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, in proposing talks with the regime; the decision in Istanbul to form a Syrian government in exile; and the fact that Syria’s seat in the Arab League was handed over to the SNC at the recent meeting in Doha.

These three events revealed an alliance between hardline Islamists and Qatar, and demonstrated that the SNC has no ideology, no common vision and no real independence. However, the governments who make up the Friends of Syria are now trying to reform the SNC by giving seats to sectarian groups (Christian, Alawite, and so on) and some secular democratic groups, in order to reduce the Islamists’ influence.

In this critical situation, it is clear the dictatorship is not serious in calling for a negotiated political solution. Bashar al-Assad is confident that the opposition’s political forces no longer represent real power, neither in the arena of military confrontation nor in the eyes of most Syrians. All regional and international attempts to unify the military factions have failed to create a command with a defined political programme. Qatari and Turkish actions – in forming an interim government and giving Syria’s Arab League seat to the SNC – have produced a major rift between the Saudi and Qatari positions, and this is reflected in the military field. The Saudis, ironically, support the more secular forces, while the Qataris support the Islamists.

Al-Qaida has not missed the opportunity to declare its relationship with the Jabhat al-Nusra rebel group and its affiliates. Britain and France can no longer put their heads in the sand. On the ground the Syrian regime is adopting the same tactic used by the Algerians in the 90s: dealing with Islamist groups by creating paramilitary units. This will prolong the conflict by allowing the regime to denigrate the armed opposition and present itself as the protector of security and Syria’s territorial integrity. Not counting remote areas which are being disputed between Jabhat al-Nusra and other fighting groups, Syrian citizens increasingly associate the rise in displacement, murder and destruction with the presence of the armed opposition.

Three questions arise: will Jabhat al-Nusra succeed in preventing any unity emerging between the opposition fighters? Will supporters of the military security solution inside the regime have a monopoly on key decisions in Damascus? And can the democratic civilian opposition continue to act as the prime defenders of a political solution based on last year’s Geneva declaration?

It is tragic that the Friends of Syria is still trying to restructure the SNC when that tactic has evidently failed. It is unlikely that any group in the Free Syrian Army could confront hardline Islamist armed groups unless the opposition were backed by democratic political parties. Foreign involvement will be an obstacle to progress unless there is a broad front that can give the mission of the UN peace envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, practical meaning and produce a reconciliation between the two strongest powers, Russia and the US.

Will the regional contradictions that we are witnessing today strengthen this option or will they cause increased violence and destruction? We must adhere to a negotiated political solution in this difficult phase so as to give every Syrian a chance to see the end of destruction.

Reuters: United Nations says Syria conflict a humanitarian catastrophe

UNITED NATIONS – Syrian families have been burned in their homes, people bombed waiting for bread, children tortured, raped and murdered and cities reduced to rubble in Syria’s two-year-old war that has sparked a humanitarian catastrophe, the United Nations said on Thursday.

A quarter of Syria’s 22 million people are displaced within the country and 1.3 million have fled to other states in the Middle East and North Africa, U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told the U.N. Security Council.

It was a rare public briefing of the Security Council on the conflict in Syria, which was called for by Australia, and Amos pleaded for the 15 council members to “take the action necessary to end this brutal conflict.”

“The situation in Syria is a humanitarian catastrophe with ordinary people paying the price for the failure to end the conflict,” Amos said. “I do not have an answer for those Syrians I have spoken to who asked me why the world has abandoned them.”

The Security Council has been deadlocked on how to end the conflict. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s close ally Russia, with the aid ofChina, has used its veto power to block any condemnations or attempts to sanction Assad’s government.

The United Nations says the war in Syria, which began as peaceful protests that turned violent when Assad tried to crush the revolt, has claimed more than 70,000 lives.

“Children are among the ones who suffer most,” Amos said. “Children have been murdered, tortured and subjected to sexual violence. Many do not have enough food to eat. Millions have been traumatized by the horrors … This brutal conflict is not only shattering Syria’s present, it is destroying its future.”

U.N. envoy on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, and U.N. envoy on children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, also briefed the council on the Syrian conflict.

Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari blamed terrorism and sanctions imposed by the European Union, the United States and others for the plight of its people and accused neighboring countries of preventing refugees from returning to Syria.

“Syrian people will not forgive facilitating the movement of thousands of European and Western terrorists and jihadists, sponsored by well-known intelligence agencies … to the Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian borders with Syria,” he said.

“They are accommodated in training camps to then enter my country and spread destruction and sabotage, and shed innocent blood,” Ja’afari told the Security Council in comments that echoed what Assad said in a television interview on Wednesday.


Guterres said that since February, there have been 8,000 Syrians a day fleeing across the country’s borders and at that rate the number of refugees was forecast to more than double by the end of the year to 3.5 million.

“This is not just frightening, it risks becoming simply unsustainable. There is no way to adequately respond to the enormous humanitarian needs these figures represent,” he told the Security Council. “And it is difficult to imagine how a nation can endure so much suffering.”

He warned of the conflict spilling over into Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq – Syria’s neighbors bearing the refugee burden. He said that taking into account only registered refugees, Lebanon’s population had grown by 10 percent.

“But taking into account refugees who are not seeking registration, and Syrian migrant workers, some even estimate that up to a quarter of the population of Lebanon may now be Syrian,” Guterres said.

Amos said there were 6.8 million people inside Syria in need of aid.

She said that of the $1.5 billion pledged by international donors to cover Syria’s humanitarian needs until June, only about half had been paid. She also painted a dire picture of international efforts to deliver aid within Syria.

Bureaucratic obstacles make it almost impossible for aid to be distributed and the Syrian government has reduced the number of aid groups approved to work in the country to 29 from 110, Amos said, adding that aid convoys were also regularly attacked or shot at and staff intimidated or kidnapped.

“People in opposition-held areas are in the most urgent need,” she said. “I was horrified to hear accounts during my recent visit to Turkey of children dying from hunger in these areas. We need to get aid into these hard-to-reach areas.”

Amos warned that the limitations on the ground have left the United Nations “precariously close to suspending some critical humanitarian operations.”

“Members of the international community, particularly members of this council, must urgently come together in support of the Syrian people,” she said.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

Number of Syrians trying to reach EU jumped in 2012

Almost 8,000 Syrians without papers, and some with false passports, attempted to cross the Greek and Bulgarian borders to reach wealthy nations such as Germany and Sweden, said the EU’s Frontex agency, which oversees the bloc’s border controls.

That compared to 1,600 people in 2011, Frontex said.

A two-year old uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has forced 1.3 million people to seek refuge abroad. The violence has destroyed homes and shattered historic cities, as well as killing more than 80,000 people.

Along with Afghans, undocumented Syrians are the most numerous nationality at the Greek border with Turkey, Frontex said.

Most flee Syria by bus and car through Turkey and enter through Greeceby land or sea as well as across Turkey’s land border with Bulgaria.

Greece has long been the main gateway into the EU for migrants from the Middle East, but tougher Greek border controls brought on by the country’s economic crisis mean more Syrians are trying to go through Bulgaria.

Once they reach the European Union, most Syrians apply for asylum in Sweden or Germany which give Syrians automatic refugee status or protection upon arrival.

(Reporting by Teddy Nykiel; Editing by Jon Hemming)

BRUSSELS – The number of Syrians trying to enter the European Union illegally increased five-fold last year, an EU agency said on Thursday, as refugees fled their war-ravaged country.

Benjamin Hiller: CNN: The video from Nils Metzger – he was with me for four weeks in Syria and we now published a video for CNN – though the talking is done by CNN itself: