Archive for the ‘ Red Lion Revolution ’ Category

Syrian opposition head visits rebel areas in north

March 03, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Following rebel gains, the leader of the Syrian opposition made his first visit Sunday to areas near the embattled northern city of Aleppo as fighters trying to oust President Bashar Assad captured a police academy and a border crossing along the frontier with Iraq.

Assad, meanwhile, lashed out at the West for helping his opponents in the civil war, delivering a blistering rebuke to Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that the U.S. will for the first time provide medical supplies and other non-lethal aid directly to the rebels in addition to $60 million in assistance to Syria’s political opposition.

Aleppo, the nation’s largest city, has been a major front in the nearly 2-year-old uprising. Government forces and rebels have been locked in a stalemate there since July. Mouaz al-Khatib met Sunday with Syrians in the two rebel-held Aleppo suburbs of Manbah and Jarablus, a statement said. The stated goal of his trip — his first since being named the leader of the Syrian National Coalition late last year — was to inspect living conditions.

But his foray to the edge of Aleppo also could be an attempt to boost his group’s standing among civilians and fighters on the ground, many of whom see the Western-backed political leadership in exile as irrelevant and out of touch.

The areas along Syria’s northern border with Turkey are largely ruled by rival brigades and fighter units that operate autonomously and have no links to the political opposition. Al-Khatib’s visit came as rebels captured a police academy west of Aleppo after an eight-day battle that killed more than 200 Syrian soldiers and rebels, activists said. Anti-Assad fighters also stormed a central prison in the northern city of Raqqa and captured the Rabiya border crossing in the east along the border with Iraq, activists said. Iraqi officials said the crossing in northern Ninevah province has been closed.

The territorial gains are a significant blow to Assad, although his forces have regained control of several villages and towns along a key highway near Aleppo International Airport — an achievement that could signal the start of a decisive battle for Syria’s commercial capital.

Also Sunday, the government troops launched an offensive in central Syria, sweeping through Latakia and Hama provinces, trying to dislodge rebels from towns and villages. The army also shelled opposition strongholds around Damascus, pounding areas such as Harasta, Daraya, Douma and Zbadani with artillery and airstrikes in what opposition groups said were the regime’s “desperate attempts” to reverse the rebel advances.

The rebels have trying to storm the capital for weeks, pushing ever closer to Assad’s seat of power. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition group, said the rebels seized the police academy in Khan al-Asal after entering the sprawling government complex with captured tanks.

At least 120 regime soldiers and 80 rebels were killed in the fighting, according to Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman. He said the rebels control all buildings inside the complex, which was abandoned by Assad’s forces early Sunday.

The Syrian conflict started in March 2011 as a popular uprising against Assad’s authoritarian rule, then turned into a full-blown civil war after the rebels took up arms to fight a government crackdown on dissent. The United Nations estimates that 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

Assad maintains his troops are fighting “terrorists” and Islamic extremists seeking to destroy Syria, and he accuses the West and its Gulf Arab allies of supporting them in achieving their goal. In an interview with the Sunday Times, Assad criticized the U.S. and Britain for sending financial and other non-lethal aid to the opposition. He set harsh terms for talking to his opponents, dialing back earlier hints of flexibility about talks.

He told the British newspaper that he is ready for dialogue with armed rebels and militants, but only if they surrender their weapons. Recently, the Syrian government offered to participate in talks, but didn’t address the question of laying down arms.

“We are ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants who surrender their arms. We are not going to deal with terrorists who are determined to carry weapons to terrorize people, to kill civilians, to attack public places or private enterprise and to destroy the country,” Assad said in the interview, conducted in Damascus. “We fight terrorism.”

The opposition, including fighters on the ground and the Syrian National Coalition umbrella group, has rejected talks with Damascus until Assad steps down, a demand he has repeatedly rejected. Kerry met Thursday with Syrian opposition leaders in Italy, where he said the U.S. will for the first time provide the non-lethal aid directly to the fighters in addition to $60 million in assistance to the political opposition.

Assad said the “intelligence, communication and financial assistance being provided is very lethal.” He bitterly criticized British Prime Minister David Cameron’s push for peace talks as “naive, confused, unrealistic” while London tries to end the European Union’s arms embargo so that the rebels can be supplied with weapons.

“We do not expect an arsonist to be a firefighter,” he said, dismissing any notion that Britain could help end the civil war. “How can we ask Britain to play a role while it is determined to militarize the problem?”

Britain’s aim to send aid to moderate opposition groups was misguided, Assad said, adding that such groups do not exist in Syria. Arming the rebels would have grave consequences, he warned. “We all know that we are now fighting al-Qaida, or Jabhat al-Nusra, an offshoot of al-Qaida, and other groups of people indoctrinated with extreme ideologies,” he told the newspaper.

Jabhat al-Nusra fighters have been the best organized and most effective force on the opposition side, leading successful rebel assaults on military installation around the country. Al-Nusra has also claimed responsibility for car bombs and suicide attacks on government institutions in Damascus. The U.S. has designated the group a terrorist organization, saying its fighters have ties with al-Qaida.

British Foreign Secretary Foreign Secretary William Hague said Assad’s comments were proof that the Syrian leader was out of touch with reality. “I think this will go down as one of the most delusional interviews that any national leader has given in modern times,” Hague said in an interview Sunday with the BBC.

Associated Press writers Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Activists: 10 bodies found on road near Damascus

March 01, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Activists say the bodies of 10 men, most of them shot in the head, have been found on a road outside of the Syrian capital.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the bodies were dumped on the road between the Damascus suburbs of Adra and Dumair. Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said on Friday that all of the bodies were of men who appeared to be between the ages of 30 and 45. He said one of the men had been decapitated.

The identities of the men were not immediately known.

U.N. resolution on Syria vetoed

Oct. 4, 2011

DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 4 (UPI) — Russia and China Tuesday vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Syria’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

The proposed resolution included a call for an immediate end to alleged human rights abuses by the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, the United Nations said in a release.

In Syria, activists said four people were killed Tuesday in clashes between government security forces and military defectors in Talbiseh, near Homs, Voice of America reported. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in London, said at least one those killed was a civilian.

The fighting Tuesday followed days of security operations in Rastan, during which activists say government forces arrested as many as 3,000 people to track down dissident soldiers.

It’s estimated 2,700 people have died in anti-government protests in Syria since mid-March.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, France, Gabon, Germany, Nigeria, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States voted in favor of the draft Security Council resolution. Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa abstained.

A veto by any one of the council’s five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — is enough to block any resolution.

The proposed wording condemned “the continued grave and systematic human rights violations and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities.” It called for all sides to reject violence and extremism and for the creation of “an inclusive Syrian-led political process conducted in an environment free from violence, fear, intimidation and extremism, and aimed at effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of Syria’s population.”

After the veto, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said his country does not support Assad’s regime but that the draft resolution was not the way to achieve a peaceful resolution of the crisis. He said most Syrians desire a gradual political change, not an abrupt overthrow of the current government, and the resolution failed to adequately factor in the impact of extremists organizations in the country.

Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong said his country was greatly concerned about the violence in Syria but the resolution would only complicate matters. He said the threat of sanctions would not resolve the conflict in Syria.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud said he was disappointed in the vote, which he said came after repeated attempts by the co-sponsors to work out acceptable wording.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the countries that did not back the resolution would have to answer to the Syrian people. She said it was a “ruse” to suggest passing the resolution would lead to military intervention in Syria.

Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari of Syria said the resolution revealed some Western countries’ desire to undermine his country’s authorities.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2011/10/04/UN-resolution-on-Syria-vetoed/UPI-40371317740266/.

Syrian forces escalate offensive in Homs

January 26, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s army unleashed a barrage of rocket and artillery fire on rebel-held areas in a central province Friday as part of a widening offensive against fighters seeking to oust President Bashar Assad. At least 140 people were killed in fighting nationwide, according to activist groups.

The United Nations said a record number of Syrians streamed into Jordan this month, doubling the population of the kingdom’s already-cramped refugee camp to 65,000. Over 30,000 people arrived in Zaatari in January — 6,000 in the past two days alone, the U.N. said.

The newcomers are mostly families, women, children and elderly who fled from southern Syria, said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She said the UNHCR was working with the Jordanian government to open a second major camp nearby by the end of this month.

Many of the new arrivals at Zaatari are from the southern town of Daraa, where the uprising against Assad first erupted nearly two years ago, the Britain-based Save the Children said Friday. Five buses, crammed with “frightened and exhausted people who fled with what little they could carry,” pull up every hour at the camp, said Saba al-Mobasat, an aid worker with Save the Children.

The exodus reflected the latest spike in violence in Syria’s civil war. The conflict began in March 2011 after a peaceful uprising against Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring wave of revolutions that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, turned violent.

Despite significant rebel advances on the battlefield, the opposition remains outgunned by government forces and has been unable to break a stalemate on the ground. In Lebanon, the leader of the Syria-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said Friday in a speech that those who dream about “dramatic changes” taking place in Syria should let go of their fantasies.

“Particularly those who were expecting the fall of Damascus,” he told supporters, adding that military, political and international developments point to the futility of such dreams. Activists said the army recently brought in military reinforcements to the central province of Homs and launched a renewed offensive aimed at retaking patches of territory that have been held by rebels for months.

An amateur video posted online by activists showed rockets slamming into buildings in the rebel-held town of Rastan, just north of the provincial capital, Homs. Heavy gunfire could be heard in the background.

Another video showed thick black and gray smoke rising from a building in the besieged city. “The city of Homs is burning … day and night, the shelling of Homs doesn’t stop,” the narrator is heard saying.

Troops also battled rebels around Damascus in an effort to dislodge opposition fighters who have set up enclaves in surrounding towns and villages. The troops fired artillery shells Friday at several districts, including Zabadani and Daraya, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, said regime warplanes carried out airstrikes on the suburb of Douma, the largest patch of rebel-held ground near Damascus. Other video showed devastation in the Damascus neighborhood of Arbeen, following what activists said were two airstrikes there. A bleeding, wounded man can be seen being helped out of the rubble of the destroyed building. The videos appeared consistent with Associated Press reporting on the fighting.

Last month, the UNHCR said it needed $1 billion to aid Syrians in the Mideast, and that half of that money was required to help refugees in Jordan. The agency says 597,240 refugees have registered or are awaiting registration with the UNHCR in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Some countries have higher estimates, noting many Syrians have found accommodations without registering, relying on their own resources and savings.

In Turkey, U.S. officials announced that the United States was providing an additional $10 million in assistance to help supply flour to bakeries in the Aleppo region. Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the aid would help provide daily bread for about 210,000 people for the next five months.

She said that with the new assistance, the United States was providing a total of $220 million to help Syrians. “Too many people — an unconscionable number of Syrians — are not able to get daily bread, in addition to other supplies,” Lindborg told journalists after a visit to a Syrian refugee camp near Turkey’s border with Syria.

In a rare gesture, Syria’s Interior Ministry called on those who fled the country during the civil war to return, including regime opponents. It said the government will help hundreds of thousands of citizens return whether they left “legally or illegally.”

Syrian opposition figures abroad who want to take part in reconciliation talks will also be allowed back, according to a ministry statement carried late Thursday by the state SANA news agency. If they “have the desire to participate in the national dialogue, they would be allowed to enter Syria,” it said.

The proposed talks are part of Assad’s initiative to end the conflict that started as peaceful protests in March 2011 but turned into a civil war. Tens of thousands of activists, their family members and opposition supporters remain jailed by the regime, according to international activist groups.

Opposition leaders repeatedly have rejected any talks that include Assad, insisting he must step down. The international community backs that demand, but Assad has clung to power, vowing to crush the armed opposition.

More than 60,000 people have been killed since the conflict began, according to the U.N. Activists also said two cars packed with explosives blew up near a military intelligence building in the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan Heights, killing eight. Most of the dead were members of the Syrian military, the Observatory said.

The Syrian government had no comment on the attacks, which occurred Thursday night in the town of Quneitra, and nobody claimed responsibility for them. Car bombs and suicide attacks targeting Syrian troops and government institutions have been the hallmark of Islamic militants fighting in Syria alongside rebels trying to topple Assad.

Quneitra is on the cease-fire line between Syria and Israel, which controls most of the Golan Heights after capturing the strategic territory from Syria in the 1967 war.

Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.