Archive for October, 2013

Top Assad’s spy general neutralized by Mujahideen

17 October 2013

Mujahideen neutralized a top army gen. Jamaa Jamaa on Thursday while on dog’s duty in eastern Syria.

Major general Jamaa Jamaa was successfully eliminated while pursuing Mujahideen in Deir al-Zour.

Jamaa, who was the head of the enemy military intelligence directorate in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, was one of the most powerful Assad’s army thugs in the country.

Ayesha bint al-Sadiq Brigade said it was behind Jamaa’s targeted neutralization. Mujahideen in Dier al-Zour fired celebratory gunfire after hearing of Jamaa’s elimination.

In despair, the bloody Alawite regime intensified its shelling on the eastern province soon after announcing Jamaa’s neutralization.

The city of Deir el-Zour has witnessed clashes between courageous Mujahideen and cowardly Alawite troops for more than a year.

Source: Agencies

Kavkaz Center

Source: Kavkaz Center.

Link: http://kavkazcenter.com/eng/content/2013/10/17/18408.shtml.

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Blast in southern Syria kills 21, activists say

October 16, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — An explosion struck a vehicle packed with passengers traveling in southern Syria overnight, killing at least 21 people, including four children, activists said Wednesday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blast hit the vehicle around midnight as it was driving near Tel al-Juma in Daraa province. Six women were also among the dead, it added.

It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion, nor why a group of women and children were traveling in dangerous and disputed territory in the middle of the night. The Observatory said local activists accuse government troops, who are stationed at an army outpost in the area besieged by rebels, of planting explosives by the roadside.

Daraa was the birthplace of the Syrian uprising against President Bashar Assad in March 2011.

Group: Syrian regime shelling kills 11 in south

October 13, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Tank shells fired by Syrian government forces slammed into a building in a southern city, killing at least 11 people there, including women and children, activists said Sunday.

The attack was part of the latest push by President Bashar Assad’s troops to recapture land lost to rebels in the southern province and city of Daraa, the birthplace of Syria’s uprising. It was there in 2011 that several youths were arrested for scrawling graffiti calling for Assad’s downfall.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said at least four women and three children, including a baby, were among those killed in the attack late Saturday.

Syria’s official news agency said that rebels fired mortars toward a government building in Daraa, but offered no further details. Videos posted on social networking sites by opposition activists showed bodies of the victims on the floor of a darkened room.

“Oh God, what a disaster!” weeps an elderly woman in the video as a man holds the body of a dead baby, wrapped in a sheet. The bodies of a young girl with short curly hair and a boy lie nearby. The video was consistent with Associated Press reporting of the incident.

A pro-rebel activist in a nearby town, who identified himself as Abu Musab, said the civilians were killed in crossfire during a battle in the city center. The building they were in took a direct hit after Syrian forces fired tank shells toward rebels holed up near it, said Abu Musab, speaking to the AP on Skype. He declined to use his real name, citing concerns for his safety.

There have been frequent clashes in and around Daraa between Assad’s forces and the mostly Sunni rebels. On Wednesday, rebels overran a military post near the city. Late last month they also captured a nearby military base that previously served as the customs office on the outskirts of Daraa.

Syrian uprising started as mostly peaceful anti-Assad demonstrations in March 2011, inspired by the Arab Spring. After activists were violently targeted, it morphed into an armed uprising and civil war. The conflict has killed over 100,000 people, forced over 2 million to flee to neighboring countries, and displaced another 5 million within Syria.

Hezbollah, Iraqi militia capture Damascus suburb: opposition

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN | Wed Oct 9, 2013

(Reuters) – Iraqi and Lebanese Shi’ite militia backed by Syrian army firepower overran a southern suburb of Damascus on Wednesday, opposition activists said, in a blow to Sunni Muslim rebels trying to hold onto strategic outskirts of the capital.

At least 20 rebels were killed when Hezbollah guerrillas and Iraqi militiamen captured the town of Sheikh Omar under cover of Syrian army artillery and tank fire and aerial bombardment, the activists said, with tens of Shi’ite fighters killed or wounded.

Sheikh Omar sits between two highways leading south of Damascus that are crucial to supplying President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the provinces of Deraa and Sweida on the border with Jordan.

Syria’s 2-1/2 year war has killed more than 120,000 people and forced millions from their homes into sprawling refugee camps in neighboring countries.

It began with peaceful demonstrations against four decades of iron rule by the Assad family. With regional powers backing opposing sides in the conflict and Russia blocking Western efforts to force Assad aside, there is little sign of an end to the bloodshed.

Regional security officials say up to 60,000 fighters from Iraq, Iran and Yemen and Hezbollah are present in Syria supporting Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

The country has also seen the influx of 30,000 Sunni Muslim fighters to support the rebels, including foreign jihadists and Syrian expatriates.

Hezbollah has acknowledged fighting openly in support of Assad, its main patron together with Shi’ite Iran, but the group does not comment on the specifics of its operations in the country.

The deployment of the Iraqi and Lebanese militia has been vital in preventing all southern approaches to Damascus from falling into rebel hands, according to opposition sources and the regional security officials.

The foreign Shi’ite fighters together with soldiers and local paramilitaries loyal to Assad have been laying siege to rebel-held southern suburbs of the capital near the Shi’ite shrine of Saida Zainab for the past six months, residents say.

The siege has squeezed rebels in areas further to the center of the city and caused acute shortages of food and medicine that have hit the civilian population.

FLOOD OF WOUNDED

Wardan Abu Hassan, a doctor at a makeshift hospital in southern Damascus, said the facility and another nearby received 70 wounded people, both fighters and civilians, since 4.00 a.m.

The wounded came from Sheikh Omar and the nearby suburbs of al-Thiabiya and al-Boueida, where the rebels were trying to hold off the Shi’ite militia advance, he said.

“Most of the casualties are from air strikes, and fire from tanks and multiple rocket launchers,” the physician told Reuters.

An opposition group, the Damascus Revolution Leadership Council, said a baby girl died on Wednesday in the southern district of Hajar al-Asswad from malnutrition caused by the siege. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Rami al-Sayyed from the opposition Syrian Media Center mentoring group said rebel fighters were trying to hold off the Hezbollah and Iraqi fighters in al-Thiabiya and al-Boueida.

“It is tough because the regime is providing Hezbollah and the Iraqis with heavy artillery and rocket cover from high ground,” he said.

Sayyed said much of the fire was coming from the 56th army brigade in the hilly region of Sahya. That area was evacuated after the threat of U.S. strikes following a nerve gas attack in August on other rebellious Damascus suburbs that killed hundreds.

The area became operational again after the threat receded following a deal to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal, Sayyed said.

Buoyed by the receding prospect of U.S. intervention, Assad has been seeking to tighten his grip on the center of the country, the coast, areas along the country’s main north-south highway as well as the capital and its environs.

Large areas of southern Damascus, including the areas of Hajar al-Assad and the Yarmouk refugee camp, are inhabited by poor refugees from the Israeli occupied Golan Heights, who have been at the forefront of the revolt against Assad, as well as Palestinian refugees.

(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/09/us-syria-crisis-damascus-idUSBRE9980XW20131009.

As Syrian refugee influx swells, so does backlash

October 09, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Last year, as Syrian refugees were pouring in, signs started going up in Lebanese towns and villages imposing nighttime curfews and warning the newcomers to stay away. Some referred just to “foreign workers,” others directly cited “Syrians.”

The signs have since come down amid a campaign by human rights activists who rallied in Beirut this summer and hung a banner from a bridge in the capital saying: “Excuse us for the behavior of those who are racist among us.”

But with more than a million refugees in a country of just 4.5 million, the tensions linger. Lebanon is the biggest recipient of Syrians fleeing the 2 1/2 -year civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions. Syrians are accused of committing burglaries, of cutting into the job market, even of causing traffic jams.

Judi, a 22-year-old student, describes being ordered out of a taxi when the driver learned she is Syrian. Majid, who works at a parking lot, says he has taken to hiding his nationality. Abed, a Beirut concierge, returned to Syria to spend Ramadan with family and when he tried to come back, an immigration officer banned him from entering for one year. No explanation was given, Abed said, speaking to The Associated Press by phone from Syria.

All three asked that their surnames be withheld because their situation is sensitive. Underlying the tensions is a historically fraught relationship. For much of the past 30 years, Syria all but ruled Lebanon. It dictated policies on everything, from the appointment of senior civil servants to the naming of presidents and prime ministers. It stationed tens of thousands of troops in the country, ran humiliating roadblocks and was blamed for scores of bombings and assassinations.

All that ended in 2005 with a Syrian withdrawal under international pressure. But the Syrian regime still has powerful allies here, including the militant Hezbollah group and an array of smaller, armed groups.

Many Lebanese have opened their homes to them, but Lama Fakih of Human Rights Watch said Syrian refugees tell the organization that they feel insecurity and growing hostility. She said female refugees are vulnerable to exploitation by landlords and employers. “We find that there are instances where women are being sexually harassed, are being asked to make sexual favors and when they refuse and resist, are concerned about being retaliated against.”

Some politicians, including those from the nationalist Free Patriotic Movement led by Christian leader Michel Aoun, have called for closing the border to refugees. They say the influx could upset the country’s delicate sectarian balance. Most of the refugees are Sunni Muslim, while Lebanon has large Shiite and Christian populations.

“What is happening is organized crime carried out by Lebanese and foreign officials to change the country’s demography,” said Gibran Bassil, outgoing energy minister and senior member of the Free Patriotic Movement.

The hostility has affected Syrians who, like Abed the concierge, have been in Lebanon for years. Majid, who was working at the parking lot long before Syria’s crisis began, describes being cursed by a customer who caught his Syrian accent.

“I had expected him to give me a tip,” he said. Instead, “I was humiliated but did not dare to respond.”

Associated Press writer Yasmine Saker contributed to this report from Beirut.

Rebels attack army base in northern Syria

October 08, 2013

MAARET AL-NUMAN, Syria (AP) — Rebel fighters dressed in camouflage uniforms carefully loaded mortar rounds, then with a loud boom and a burst of smoke the shells zipped off in the direction of a nearby government army base.

“We are coming to get you, shabiha!” a man surrounded by rebel fighters shouted in an apparent reference to President Bashar Assad, using the term the opposition uses to refer to pro-government gunmen.

The shelling Tuesday, the latest salvo in an assault on the military facility, was part of a broader rebel effort to capture the remaining regime outposts in the largely opposition-held countryside of northern Syria.

Dramatic footage shot by The Associated Press showed a group of 45 young rebel fighters launching an attack on the military base, and others deploying improvised cannons and makeshift mortars. Some were also seen firing anti-aircraft weapons at attacking government helicopters.

The rebels captured the strategic city of Maaret al-Numan a year ago after systematically seizing the army’s outposts in the area, a major supply route linking the capital, Damascus, with the contested Idlib region and Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.

But despite repeated assaults on the nearby military installation of Hamidiyeh, in the Wadi Deif area east of the city, the rebel fighters have failed to break through the heavily fortified base. The latest operation began Monday, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said many Libyan fighters were battling on the rebel side. It said regime fighter jets twice hit opposition-held areas near the city Tuesday and the clashes caused casualties, though it gave no specifics.

At least 10 government soldiers and one rebel fighter were killed on Monday, it said. The fight for the base is part of the ongoing, broader struggle for control of northern Syria, where the opposition controls large swathes of territory captured from Assad’s troops.

Most of the northern countryside is in the hands of anti-Assad fighters, while the government is holding out in isolated military bases and inside major cities. During the latest rebel assault Tuesday, one young rebel could be heard shouting above the mortar fire: “We are ready to move on our military operation, in order to remove the enemy check points and the army presence in Wadi Deif.”

“God is great and he is the one who protects us.” Meanwhile, at The Hague, the chief of the global chemical weapons watchdog briefed member states on progress in the high-stakes mission to rid Syria of its poison gas stockpile.

Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, spoke to the group’s 41-nation Executive Council at the start of a four-day meeting as inspectors continued their mission.

Earlier Tuesday, teams of weapons inspectors were seen leaving their Damascus hotel in several U.N. vehicles. It was not clear where they were headed and what their task for the day was. On Sunday, Syrian personnel working under the supervision of the chemical weapons watchdog team began destroying the country’s chemical arsenal and equipment used to produce it.

The mission to scrap Syria’s chemical weapons program stems from a deadly Aug. 21 attack on opposition-held suburbs of Damascus in which the U.N. has determined the nerve agent sarin was used. Hundreds of people were killed, including many children. The U.S. and Western allies accuse the Syrian government of being responsible, while Damascus blames the rebels.

In neighboring Lebanon, meanwhile, the country’s main security service announced the capture of three Lebanese and Syrian militants it said were planning assassinations and bomb attacks in Lebanon. Lebanon was hit by several explosions over the past weeks that killed scores of people.

Syrian rebel groups battle each other in north

October 04, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Al-Qaida militants battled fighters linked to the Western-backed opposition along with Kurdish gunmen in Syrian towns along the Turkish border on Friday, in clashes that killed at least 19 people, activists said.

The violence is part of an outburst of infighting among the myriad rebel groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad for control over prized border areas. Islamic extremist fighters and more mainstream rebels are increasingly turning their guns on each other in what has effectively become a war within a war in northern and eastern Syria, leaving hundreds dead on both sides.

Turkey has been a staunch supporter of the rebels seeking to topple Assad, and has allowed the flow of weapons, men and supplies through border crossings into Syria. In an interview with Turkey’s private Halk TV, Assad said Turkey will pay a “high price” for allowing foreign fighters to enter Syria from its territory. “You cannot hide terrorists in your pocket. They are like a scorpion, which will eventually sting you,” Assad added.

The interview, broadcast late Thursday, was the latest given by the Syrian president to foreign media as part of a charm offensive in the wake of the Russian-brokered deal that averted the threat of a U.S. airstrike over an August chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people.

Assad said it was still too early to say whether he’ll run for re-election next year, but suggested he would refrain from seeking a third term — if he feels that is what most Syrians want him to do. He said “the picture will be clearer” in the next four to five months because Syria is going though “rapid” changes on the ground.

“If I have a feeling that the Syrian people want me to be president in the coming period, I will run for the post,” Assad said. “If the answer is no, I will not run and I don’t see a problem in that.”

Assad has been president since 2000. He took over after the death of his father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, who ruled for three decades. Syria’s opposition wants Assad to step down and hand over power to a transitional government until new elections are held.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department called it “really unfathomable” that Assad would even contemplate running again. “If he really were to follow the wishes of the Syrian people, he would go,” Marie Harf said.

“This is a process that will take time,” she added. “But I think the notion of a brutal dictator who’s killed so many of his own people claiming to have any opportunity to run for additional elected office is really actually quite offensive.”

The infighting between rebels and the increasingly domineering role played by foreign fighters in the civil war has played into the government’s line that it is fighting extremists, not a popular uprising.

Activists said heavy fighting continued Friday in the town of Azaz near the Turkish border between al-Qaida militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and fighters linked to the Western-backed Free Syrian Army group.

An activist affiliated with Syrian rebels, who identified himself as Abu Raed, said one fighter from the Northern Storm brigade involved in the fighting against ISIL was killed in Azaz. It was unclear what the overall death toll was.

He said the infighting was leaving Syrian rebels clashing on two fronts. “The best solution is a peaceful one. Otherwise we will have a river of blood, from all of us. It won’t end, and it won’t stop,” he said, speaking from near Azaz via Skype.

ISIL fighters also battled Kurdish forces around the town of Ras al-Ain in Syria’s Kurdish-dominated north, said a Kurdish activist, Bassam al-Ahmed, in the nearby town of Hassakeh. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 fighters from ISIL and the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra group and four Kurdish gunmen were killed.

In Damascus, a team of international weapons experts in Syria was out in the field on its fourth day of work in the country. Their mission — endorsed by a U.N. Security Council resolution last week — is to scrap Syria’s capacity to manufacture chemical weapons by Nov. 1 and to destroy Assad’s entire stockpile by mid-2014.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Friday that Syria had submitted information about its program. Without elaborating in the statement late Friday, the Hague-based organization said its executive council would address the issue on Tuesday.

Associated Press writer Diaa Hadid in Beirut contributed to this report.