Archive for January 5th, 2014

Turkey mobilizes its aid organizations for Syria and Gaza

Friday, 13 December 2013

The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD) has said that it will organize the delivery of aid to Syria and Gaza with the aim of helping Syrians and Palestinians face the cruel winter conditions.

AFAD announced on its website that it plans to hold meetings for humanitarian aid agencies in Turkey in the next few days so as to organize the delivery of aid to Syrians, including Syrian refugees in Turkey, and Palestinians in Gaza, given that the Mediterranean area has been hit by a snowstorm.

A deep low-pressure system has formed over the region in the past two days, heightening the suffering of Syrian refugees in the region and Palestinians in Gaza, the latter who are enduring the harsh weather while under a strict seize imposed by Israel.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Saudi to give Lebanon $3B to strengthen army

December 29, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Saudi Arabia has pledged $3 billion to Lebanon to help strengthen the country’s armed forces and purchase weapons from France, Lebanon’s president said Sunday, calling it the biggest grant ever for the nation’s military.

Michel Sleiman, who made the surprise announcement in a televised national address, did not provide any further details. The Lebanese army has struggled to contain a rising tide of violence linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria, a conflict that has inflamed sectarian tensions in Lebanon and threatened the country’s stability.

“The Saudi king decided to give a generous, well-appreciated grant to Lebanon amounting to $3 billion for the Lebanese army, which will allow it to buy new and modern weapons,” Sleiman said. “The king pointed out that the weapons will be bought from France quickly, considering the historical relations that tie it to Lebanon and the military cooperation between the two countries.”

Sleiman said he hoped Paris would quickly meet the initiative, and help the Lebanese army with arms, training and maintenance. French President Francois Hollande, who was in Riyadh Sunday for talks with Saudi King Abdullah, said that France would help if requested to do so.

“If there are demands that are addressed to us, we will satisfy them,” Hollande told reporters. Fragile in the best of times, Lebanon is struggling to cope with the fallout from Syria’s civil war. That conflict has deeply divided Lebanon along confessional lines, and paralyzed the country’s ramshackle political system to the point that it has been stuck with a weak and ineffectual caretaker government since April.

It has also seen a wave of deadly bombings and shootings that have fueled fears that Lebanon, which suffered a brutal 15-year civil war of its own that only ended in 1990, could be slowly slipping back toward full-blown sectarian conflict.

In a nod to those concerns, Sleiman said in his address that “Lebanon is threatened by sectarian conflict and extremism,” and said that strengthening the army is a popular demand. The Lebanese army is generally seen as a unifying force in the country, and draws its ranks from all of Lebanon’s sects. But it has struggled to contain the escalating violence in the country since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict. It is also widely considered much weaker than the Shiite Hezbollah militant group, which is armed and funded by regional Shiite-power and Saudi-rival Iran.

The Saudi pledge appeared aimed, at least in part, at boosting the military in relation to Hezbollah. Historically, the Lebanese army has been equipped by the United States and France. Washington has provided hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid in recent years to Lebanon that has included armored vehicles, weapons and training for the Lebanese army. The U.S. says the program aims to strengthen Lebanese government institutions.

Lebanon’s tenuous grip on stability was made clear Friday, when a car bomb killed senior Sunni politician Mohammed Chatah, who had been critical of Syria and Hezbollah. On Sunday, hundreds of mourners packed into a landmark mosque in downtown Beirut to bid farewell to Chatah, a former finance minister and top aide to ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Chatah, a Sunni, was affiliated with Hariri’s Western-backed coalition, which has been locked in a bitter feud with a rival camp led by Hezbollah. Hariri, whose own father was killed by a massive car bomb in 2005, has indirectly blamed Hezbollah for Chatah’s assassination.

After a somber funeral service inside Beirut’s blue-domed Mohammed al-Amin Mosque, pallbearers carried Chatah’s casket to the adjacent funeral tent where he was buried next to Hariri’s father, Rafik. At several points during the ceremony, some in the crowd broke into chants of “a terrorist, a terrorist, Hezbollah is a terrorist!”

Speaking later, Fouad Siniora, an ally of Chatah, praised his late colleague as a voice of moderation, and promised those in the crowd that such political killings will not knock the Lebanese off their course.

“We will not surrender. We will not back down. We are not afraid of terrorists and murderers. It is they who should be afraid. They kill to govern. While we reiterate our commitment to Lebanon of coexistence and civil peace,” he said.

Siniora, who is a former prime minister, also took a swipe at Hezbollah, saying “we have decided to liberate Lebanon from the occupation of illegitimate weapons.” Hezbollah’s critics accuse the group of being a veritable state-within-a-state because it has maintained its own militia.

The car bombing that killed Chatah was reminiscent of a string of assassinations of around a dozen members of the anti-Syrian Hariri camp between 2004 and 2008, the biggest of which was the powerful blast that killed Hariri’s father, Rafik, who also was a former prime minister.

Associated Press writers Sarah Di Lorenzo in Paris and Yasmine Saker contributed to this report.

SYRIA. Has American bet on Islamic Front failed?

26 December 2013

The Americans tried to bet on the Islamic Front (IF) in Syria, but failed. Interest in this movement has recently begun to arouse in America, when it became clear that the IF move away the Free Syrian Army (FSA), associated with the pro-western “national coalition”.

On November 20, 7 large groups of Mujahideen announced the creation of a coalition – the Islamic Front – which included about 45,000 fighters.

They stated that the Islamic Front was an independent political, military and social entity, whose main objective was to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad and establish an Islamic order in the country, writes UmmaNews.

According to reports, the movement includes Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Haqq, Sukur al-Sham, The Army of Islam, Ansar al-Sham and The Kurdish Front.

The Islamic Front withdrew from the Supreme Military Council of the FSA which acted in coordination with the pro-western puppet National Coalition. A few days later, the Mujahideen took over the bases and warehouses of the FSA in the province of Idlib, where weapons and military equipment, delivered to Syria from Turkey, had been stored.

Mujahideen took over the headquarters of the Supreme Military Council of the FSA in the town of Atma. Its head – brigadier general Salim Idris – left Syria

Media started writing about the Islamic Front and leaked information that “the IF leaders oppose groups associated with Al-Qaeda”.

Following this, American foreign minister Kerry said Washington was ready to bet on the Islamic Front as “its player” and to start negotiations:

“The United States has not yet met representatives of the Islamic Front. There has been no discussion. It’s possible that it could take place”, said Kerry.

But very soon, a senior US diplomat admitted that “Islamist rebels” rejected talks with America.

“The Islamic Front has refused to sit down with us without giving any reason”, said the American emissary to Syria Robert Ford.

Pro-Assad media condemned Washington attempts to talk with Mujahideen and stated that the Islamic Front “in its principles, strategies and objectives is the same as Jabhat al-Nusrah”.

The Islamic Front includes one of the largest Syria’s movements, Ahrar al-Sham, which has close relations with Jabhat al-Nusrah. These days, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Front seized together a large Alawite base in Aleppo.

Moreover, as reported, Mujahideen brigades, included in the Islamic Front, not only cooperate with Jabhat al-Nusrah (Al-Qaeda in Syria), but also fight under its leadership.

For example, in the area of Qalamoun, an operational headquarters has been established under the leadership of Jabhat. It includes Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Haqq, which are members of the Islamic Front, and Ahrar al-Sham – a core group of the IF.

It is obvious that in Syria, the west is trying to repeat the scenario of Mali. It is to be recalled that in 2012, vast areas of northern Mali (Azawad) were under the control of Islamic movements, where Mujahideen established the rule of Sharia. In Azawad, there were three major groups: Ansar al-Din, The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The West flatly refused to talk to AQIM and MOJWA but was ready to negotiate with the Ansar al-Din. In exchange, infidels demanded to cut ties with al-Qaeda and abandon “terrorism”.

After a meeting between the representatives of Ansar al-Din with emissaries of regional movements, western media wrote that the movement “renounced all forms of terrorism and extremism” and almost agreed to democracy.

But it was all lies.

In his interview with Sahara Media, Emir of Ansar al-Din, Iyad Ag Ghaly, emphasized that it would be mandatory in Mali to set the rule of Sharia, and as for the Al-Qaeda, there were no plans to break ties with it. In an interview to Al Jazeera, the spokesman of the movement, Sanda Ould Bouamama, also stressed that the relations between Ansar al-Din and Al Qaeda had been based on Muslim brotherhood:

“Everyone knows that we are a local independent Islamic group. Our relations with al Qaeda and other groups are the same as our relations with any other Muslims. We share the same faith – that is all. Nothing more, and nothing less”, said the representative of Ansar al-Din.

The same policy of disinformation was tried half a year ago, when the Mujahideen of the IEA opened a political office in Qatar for possible talks with US.

In the press, there were the same information leaks about a supposedly moderate wing of the IEA, which, they said, was almost ready to give up “terrorism” and agree to democracy.

Department of Monitoring
Kavkaz Center

Source: Kavkaz Center.

Syrian rebels seize strategic hospital in Aleppo

December 21, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels seized control a strategic hospital near Aleppo, giving a boost to beleaguered anti-government forces in the northern city after days of relentless airstrikes on opposition-held neighborhoods there, activists said Saturday.

The rebels’ capture of Kindi hospital does not drastically alter the broader battle for Aleppo, which has been divided for more than a year between opposition and government forces. But it does provide a lift to a rebel movement that has been dogged in recent months by infighting that allowed President Bashar Assad’s forces to chip away at rebel-held territory on several fronts.

For months, rebels had been trying to capture Kindi hospital, which is close to the besieged central prison on the edge of town and where the government is believed to be holding thousands of detainees.

The hospital finally fell to the rebels on Friday, according to two activist groups — the Aleppo Media Center and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Aleppo-based activist Abu al-Hassan Marea said the rebels who overran the hospital included both conservative Muslim groups and al-Qaida-linked factions.

Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman said at least 42 government troops were killed in Friday’s fighting, and at least 19 Syrian rebels and an unknown number of foreign fighters. A Syrian freelance photographer who worked for foreign news outlets, including Reuters, also was killed in the fighting, activists said. The photographer, Molhem Barakat, was with his brother, a rebel fighter, inside a carpet factory near the hospital when they were both killed, said Hassoun Abu Faisal of the Aleppo Media Center. Activists also circulated a photograph of Barakat’s corpse, which matched other images of him.

Abu Faisal said Barakat, who activists said was 18 years old, began working as a photographer about five months ago, was considered talented and quickly sold photographs to foreign media. Reuters said Saturday that Barakat had taken pictures for the news agency on a freelance basis.

Media watchdog groups have ranked Syria the world’s most dangerous country for reporters. The Committee to Project Journalists says 22 journalists have been killed in Syria this year, not counting Barakat. More than 30 journalists are believed to be currently held by the Syrian government or rebel forces.

Meanwhile, Syrian government forces continued dumping so-called barrel bombs — containers containing hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of explosives and fuel — over opposition-held parts of Aleppo. The British-based Observatory said at least six people were killed in Saturday’s air raids, but other groups gave higher death tolls.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders has said that over four days this week government airstrikes killed at least 189 people and wounded 879 more. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, said in a statement Saturday that the airstrikes in Aleppo were indiscriminate and unlawful.

“Government forces have really been wreaking disaster on Aleppo in the last month, killing men, women, and children alike,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at the New York-based group. “The Syrian Air Force is either criminally incompetent, doesn’t care whether it kills scores of civilians — or deliberately targets civilian areas.”

Syria’s civil war, now into its third year, has killed more than 120,000 people, according to activists, while millions have been forced from their homes by the fighting. Syrian officials have not commented on the air raids in Aleppo, the country’s largest city and former commercial hub. Aleppo has been a major front in the civil war since the rebels launched an offensive there in mid-2012. The city has been carved into opposition- and government-held areas.

The escalation comes ahead of peace talks scheduled to begin on Jan. 22 in Switzerland. The timing has sparked speculation that Assad may be trying to strengthen his position on the ground and expose opposition weaknesses before sitting down at the negotiating table.

“I think it will have the reverse effect,” Aleppo-based activist Abu Raed said via Skype. “The helicopters come. We stop and look. We keep looking until the barrel drops. We shout out God’s name. The civil defense comes to dig out people. The media activists go film.”

Both Marea and Raed asked that they be identified only by their nicknames, fearing for their own security. In Damascus, the state news agency said the capital and much of southern Syrian plunged into darkness after a rebel attack struck a gas pipeline that supplies a power plant. Blackouts hit Damascus and other government controlled areas on a regular basis.

Associated Press writers Ryan Lucas in Beirut and Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this report.

Syrian air raids exact high toll on Aleppo

December 18, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — In a withering four-day air assault, the Syrian government pummeled opposition-held neighborhoods in the northern city of Aleppo, leveling apartment buildings, flooding hospitals with casualties and killing nearly 200 people.

Rebels say the unusually intense airstrikes have prompted civilians to flee to the countryside and could portend a government ground offensive against the opposition-held half of the city, which has been divided for a year and half by grueling fighting.

The air campaign’s timing — five weeks ahead of an international peace conference — also suggests that Syrian President Bashar Assad could be trying to strengthen his position on the ground while exposing the opposition’s weaknesses before sitting down at the negotiating table.

The stakes are high in the battle for Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a former commercial and industrial hub. For the government, wresting back control of the entire city would deal a devastating blow to the rebels’ morale and throw doubt on the opposition’s long-term hold on the vast territory in northern Syria that it has captured over the past two years.

Since it began on Sunday, the government air assault has hammered more than a dozen neighborhoods in the rebel-held areas of Aleppo. The campaign has killed at least 189 people and wounded 879, the aid organization Doctors Without Borders said in a statement Wednesday.

Many of the air raids have targeted neighborhoods that have seen infighting between moderate rebel factions and extremist al-Qaida-linked opposition groups, said the commander of the moderate Aleppo Swords brigade, who goes by the nom de guerre, Abu Thabet. He declined to give his full name for security reasons.

The airstrikes have overwhelmed Aleppo’s already strapped medical facilities, which are struggling to cope with the influx of casualties and are running out of drugs and medical supplies, Doctors Without Borders said.

The impact has been so devastating, in part, because of the government’s choice of weapon: helicopters that drop so-called barrel bombs containing hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of explosives and fuel, causing massive damage. Activists have dubbed the bombs “barrels of blood” because of their deadly effect.

“Civilians have been leaving the neighborhoods being hit and taking refuge either in villages or traveling to Turkey,” Abu Thabet said. Other residents, however, have quickly adjusted. On Tuesday, just 100 yards from a bombing site, “people were buying and selling like nothing had happened,” said an Aleppo-based activist, Abu al-Hassan Marea.

In the past, the government has heavily bombarded civilian areas before launching a ground offensive, said Abu Thabet, adding that the current campaign may signal a major operation is imminent. “I think the regime is planning for a new offensive. They want to advance on several fronts,” he said by telephone from Aleppo.

But Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general who closely follows the Syrian conflict, doubted that a ground offensive was looming. He noted that Assad’s forces are already waging two large-scale operations, one around Damascus and the other in the rugged Qalamoun region north of the capital, and are unlikely to open a third now.

“I don’t think that we will see, at least in the near future, a very large offensive in Aleppo,” said Jaber, who also heads the Beirut-based Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research. “The priority for the regime is the capital first, Damascus and around it, and now Qalamoun because it controls the Damascus-Homs highway.”

He said the government was merely exploiting its superior fire power in Aleppo. “It’s better to use the air force than to carry out a ground attack, it’s less costly,” he said. Wednesday’s air raids hit at least four neighborhoods, said Marea, speaking to the Associated Press via Skype. One exploded near the Ahmad al-Qassar school, while another landed by a student dormitory, he said.

At least two people were killed, Marea and the Observatory said. Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, accused the international community of “failing to take any serious position that would guarantee a stop to the bloodbath.”

The country’s conflict, now in its third year, appears to have escalated in recent weeks as both sides maneuver ahead of next month’s planned peace talks and ignore calls for a cease-fire. The U.S. and Russian-brokered peace conference is scheduled to begin in January in the Swiss city of Montreux.

The conflict has exacted a staggering price on Syria and the region. More than 120,000 people have been killed, and nearly 9 million Syrians have been uprooted from their homes — some 40 percent of the country’s prewar population of 23 million. They include some 2.3 million who have fled to neighboring countries, sparking a region-wide refugee crisis.

Late Wednesday, the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television network aired an interview purportedly with the reclusive leader of the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra group, Abu Mohammad al-Golani. Al-Golani, who has pledged allegiance to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri, said Jabhat al-Nusra will not attempt to lead Syria after Assad falls, but will work with other groups, as well as Islamic scholars and intellectuals, to administer the country according to Islamic law.

Al-Jazeera did not say when or where the interview, in which al-Golani’s face was not shown, took place, although the Nusra leader appeared to be sitting in a studio.

Associated Press writers Diaa Hadid, Zeina Karam and Yasmine Saker in Beirut contributed to this report.

Kerry heads to Jordan and Saudi Arabia

January 05, 2014

JERUSALEM (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Jordan and Saudi Arabia to discuss his effort to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, yet his conversations with the U.S. allies will undoubtedly turn to other Mideast trouble spots.

Kerry leaves Jerusalem after three days of lengthy meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (mahk-MOOD’ ah-BAHS’) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (neh-ten-YAH’-hoo). America’s top diplomat is trying to nudge the two closer to signing an accord, setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Kerry said Saturday that progress is being made, yet key hurdles are yet to be overcome.

Kerry’s talks on Sunday with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah are likely to touch on the war in Syria, rising violence in Iraq, and Iran’s nuclear program.