Posts Tagged ‘ 2012 Protests in Syria ’

Jordan: Syrian fighter jet makes emergency landing

By BASSEM MROUE and JAMAL HALABY | Associated Press
(June 21st 2012 Thursday)

BEIRUT (AP) — A Syrian fighter jet made an emergency landing Thursday at a northern Jordanian airbase, a Jordanian government official said.

The official says the Russian-made MiG-21 landed at the King Hussein Air Base in Mafraq, a north Jordanian town near the Syrian border.

He declined to provide other details. Two other officials gave similar accounts.

All three spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

A spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, Ahmad Kassem, said the plane had defected to Jordan and that its pilot was seeking political asylum. He said the group had encouraged the pilot to defect.

Syria’s state-run TV reported earlier that authorities have lost contact with a MiG-21 that was on a training mission in the country. The report gave no further details.

Since an uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began in March last year, Syrian troops have refrained from using military warplanes against rebels.


Associated Press writer Jamal Halaby reported from Amman, Jordan

UK: ‘Arms’ ship for Syria heading back to Russia

June 20, 2012

LONDON (AP) — A Russian-operated ship said to be carrying military helicopters to Syria appears to have turned back after its British insurer removed coverage for the vessel, U.K. officials said Tuesday.

Britain’s Foreign Office said the ship, the MV Alaed, changed course in Europe after news reports emerged about its alleged contents. Earlier, the Foreign Office confirmed it was aware that a ship carrying a consignment of refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters was heading to Syria.

The ship has “turned back now apparently toward Russia,” Foreign Secretary William Hague told British lawmakers in Parliament. The vessel appeared to have been avoiding UK territorial waters and EU territorial waters, his ministry added.

“It is good news that the shipment of attack helicopters we’ve been tracking in the North Sea in recent days is heading away from Syria,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said during the G-20 summit in Mexico on Tuesday. “But we will continue to work to stem the flow of weapons.”

The news came after the U.K.-based insurer Standard Club said it removed insurance coverage for the ship owner when it became aware it was carrying munitions, a clear breach of its rules. The BBC reported Tuesday that the ship was about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the Outer Hebrides off the northwest coast of Scotland. The Foreign Office said it was heading toward the Netherlands when it changed course to avoid Dutch territorial waters and turned north.

Russian officials have not commented on the ship or its reported contents. The vessel’s Russian operator, Femco, refused to comment Tuesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the G-20 summit that only the Syrian people have the right to decide whether their president, Bashar Assad, steps down.

Putin said Tuesday that not all Syrians want a change in leadership and that all parties need to negotiate a solution to end the bloodshed. Britain has joined the United States and other countries in pressing Russia to halt arms shipments to Assad’s regime. Opposition groups say more than 14,000 people have been killed since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with mostly peaceful protests. A ferocious government crackdown, however, led many to take up arms and the conflict is now an armed insurgency.

Syria is Russia’s last remaining ally in the Middle East, and has been a major customer of Soviet and Russian weapons industries for the last four decades, acquiring billions of dollars’ worth of combat jets, helicopters, missiles, armored vehicles and other military gear. Russia has also shielded Assad’s regime from international sanctions over its violent crackdown.

The Foreign Office said Hague has told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that all defense shipments to Syria must stop. “We are working closely with international partners to ensure that we are doing all we can to stop the Syrian regime’s ability to slaughter civilians being reinforced through assistance from other countries,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.

President Barack Obama said at the G-20 that China and Russia were “not aligned” with the U.S. and other nations on Syria but said both countries’ leaders recognize the dangers of a civil war. Obama met with Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the economic summit. Syria was a top subject.

China and Russia have close ties to Syria and have vetoed two U.N. resolutions that mentioned the threat of sanctions against Assad’s regime. China and Russia, however, did support an observer mission in Syria and a plan by special envoy Kofi Annan to end the violence.

Obama said Russia and China believe “everyone would be better served” if Syria had a mechanism for ceasing the violence.” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a harsh reprimand to Russia last week, saying that Moscow “dramatically” escalated the crisis in Syria by sending attack helicopters there. The State Department acknowledged later the helicopters she accused Moscow of sending were actually refurbished ones already owned by the Assad regime, but Russia was clearly annoyed, and the spat further fueled tensions between the two countries over Syria.

It was not immediately clear whether the helicopters reported to be aboard the Alaed were the ones Clinton had been referring to. Separately on Tuesday, Syria’s government said it was ready to act on a U.N. call to evacuate civilians trapped in the rebellious central city of Homs for more than a week, but blamed rebels for obstructing efforts to get them out.

Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, chief of the U.N. observer mission in the country, has demanded that all warring parties in the conflict allow safe passage for women, children and sick people who need to leave the city and other combat zones.

Mood, speaking after briefing the U.N. Security Council during a closed meeting on the situation in Syria, said that questions about canceling the mission were premature and noted, “We are not going anywhere.”

Activists said shelling and clashes between rebel fighters and troops in Homs continued unabated Tuesday, underlining the difficulty in organizing any sort of evacuation. Fierce shelling was reported on the rebel-held districts of Khaldiyeh and Jouret el-Shayeh and nearby areas. Troops backed by helicopter gunships were also bombarding the town of Rastan, north of Homs, which is controlled by rebels.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reiterated an urgent appeal for world leaders to intervene to stop the shelling that has trapped more than 1,000 families and “the systematic killings that the Syrian people in Homs are being subjected to.”

A Syrian Foreign Ministry statement carried by state-run news agency SANA said the government has contacted the U.N. observer mission and local authorities in Homs to start efforts to bring out the trapped civilians.

“But the efforts of the U.N. monitors’ mission failed in achieving this goal because of the armed terrorist groups’ obstructions,” the statement said, claiming that armed groups were using civilians as “human shields.”

The Syrian government regularly refers to the rebels as terrorists.

Associated Press writers Meera Selva in London, Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

Syria rebels more organized as insurgency grows

By Serene Assir | AFP
(17th of June 2012, Sunday)

The rebel Free Syrian Army has grown from a rag-tag force into a popular guerrilla insurgency buoyed by civilian fighters who still lack weapons and structure to defeat the regime, experts and rebels say.

Over the past months more and more civilians have volunteered to take up arms alongside army deserters against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as deadly violence escalates across the country.

“The Syrian army has one million men in reserve, civilians with military training, and many of them are joining the revolt now,” said Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA).

According to the Dubai-based Kahwaji, the FSA has “thousands” of members across Syria and is growing in both capacity and coordination. “They have become more organized,” he told AFP.

The FSA announced in March the formation of a military council grouping rebel chiefs and chaired by Syria’s most senior army deserter, General Mustafa al-Sheikh.

While Turkey-based Colonel Riad al-Assaad, one of the first officers to defect, officially leads the FSA, in practice operations are planned and executed at a grassroots level, independently from any exiled leaders, Kahwaji said.

Over the past months more efforts has been made to shore up the rag-tag rebel army into a more cohesive force, activists say.

“Small groups of armed rebels with no communication with other units are being replaced by larger umbrella squadrons to better organize the insurgency,” said Damascus-based activist Ahmad al-Khatib.

Thus fighters from key rebel bastions have been grouped together under one commander each, added Khatib, who participates in efforts to unite the FSA and encourage defections.

“There is no unified leadership, but now units in different parts of Syria are communicating with each other,” he told AFP via Skype.

“The more coordinated the FSA, the more effective it becomes, and the better the support its fighters are given by civilian opponents to the regime.”

For Kahwaji the FSA is a “popular army, which enjoys the increasingly broad support of the Syrian population.”

But he admitted that the rebel fighters are ill-equipped with only medium and light weapons that are no match for the firepower, tanks and helicopters available to the Syrian army.

“The FSA fighters are not well armed, but the population feeds them and gives them cover,” he said. The rebels are “operating in a hospitable environment” unlike the regular army which is faced with “hostility.”

Support from the civilian population may help keep morale up for the rebels but they, too, recognize their shortcomings.

“Every day of resistance is a success, but Assad’s army remains superior,” said Nasser Nahhar, a rebel unit commander operating around the restive Baba Amr neighborhood of the flashpoint central city of Homs.

“The Syrian army has tanks and helicopters, whereas we have light weapons. If it weren’t for that, we would have won already,” he told AFP via Skype.

According to Nahhar, what begun as a peaceful uprising against a ruthless dictatorship turned into an armed struggle with “the majority of anti-regime fighters now being civilians.”

“We wanted to take down the regime peacefully, but it was impossible,” said the well-spoken civilian-turned-rebel commander in his late 20s. “The only way to defeat the regime now is militarily.”

As deadly violence escalates across Syria, the FSA has opted for new tactics drawing from a history of guerrilla warfare to make up for its equipment shortcomings.

“The FSA’s main goal right how is to try and harass the army to the point of fatigue,” said Elias Hanna, a Lebanese ex-military officer and professor of geopolitics at the American University of Beirut.

“The more we exhaust the regular troops, the more we weaken their morale and force defections,” he added.

But Hanna warned that the rebels “cannot go on like this much longer” and described them “an army on the run.”

“Without a clear regional decision to provide the FSA with the means it needs to continue fighting — such as safe routes and a base — the rebels cannot take fighting onto the next level,” Hanna said.

Energy-rich Arab nations like Qatar and Saudi Arabia have repeatedly called for arming the Syrian rebels but Western powers are still resisting any military intervention in the 16-month crisis.

And while the rebels initially hoped for a speedy intervention, Nahhar explained that the prime choice now is to rely on hit-and-run tactics. “We don’t need to win, we just need the army to lose,” he said.

Rebels battle in Assad stronghold of Damascus

June 09, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Bullets and shrapnel shells smashed into homes in the Syrian capital of Damascus overnight as troops battled rebels in the streets, a show of boldness for rebels taking their fight against President Bashar Assad to the center of his power.

For nearly 12 hours of fighting that lasted into the early hours Saturday, rebels armed mainly with assault rifles fought Syrian forces in the heaviest fighting in the Assad stronghold since the 15-month-old uprising began. U.N. observers said rebels fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the local power plant, damaging parts of it and reducing six buses to charred shells, according to video the observers took of the scene.

Syrian forces showed the regime’s willingness to unleash such firepower in the capital: At least three tank shells slammed into residential areas in the central Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun, an activist said. Intense exchanges of assault-rifle fire marked the clash, according to residents and amateur video posted online.

At least 52 civilians were killed around the country outside Damascus on Saturday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based activist group. Among them were 20, including nine women and children, who died in heavy, pre-dawn shelling in the southern city of Daraa, where the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. Six children were among 10 killed by a shell that exploded in a house they took cover in during fierce fighting in the coastal region of Latakia, the group said.

The group’s figures could not be independently confirmed. In a Daraa mosque, a father stood over his son killed in the shelling, swaddled in a blanket in a hooded sweater, amateur video showed. “I will become a suicide bomber!” the father shouted in grief.

Another video showed tens of thousands of Daraa residents burying their slain victims later Saturday — singing, dancing and parading the dead in coffins around a large square and giving the mass funeral the appearance of a mass wedding party.

The Damascus violence was a dramatic shift; the capital has been relatively quiet compared with other Syrian cities throughout the uprising. Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo, the country’s largest, are under the firm grip of security forces.

The rebels’ brazenness in the Damascus districts underscored deep-seated Sunni anger against the regime, with residents risking their safety — and potentially their lives — to shelter the fighters. Residents burned tires to block the advance of Syrian troops, sending plumes of smoke into the air, amateur video showed.

Urban Sunni Syrians had once mostly stayed at arms’ length from their mostly rural compatriots leading the uprising, fearing the instability that their leaderless, chaotic movement would bring. But it appears a series of massacres of mainly Sunni peasants over the past few weeks have tipped some of their urban brethren in favor of the uprising. One rebel supporter in Qaboun said the recent mass killings made people see rebel fighters more as protectors against Assad’s forces.

“The regime has forced the rebels into the city. When they commit attacks, or massacres, or arrests, they come in to defend residents,” he said. The most recent mass killing was on Wednesday in central Syria, where activists say up to 78 people were hacked, burned and stabbed in the farming village of Mazraat al-Qubair. The opposition and regime have traded blame over the slayings.

“The heart of this revolt is the poor, jobless youth in the countryside. But that is gathering strength in other places, in Aleppo, in Damascus and even the Kurdish regions,” said Syria expert Joshua Landis.

“The psychological state of the people, after watching these massacres, is so far advanced. People are ready to do whatever it takes. They are frightened; it could come next to them.” The fighting began in two neighborhoods, Qaboun and Barzeh, during the day Friday, when troops opened fire on anti-Assad opposition gatherings and rebels responded, witnesses said. Blasts shook the districts until about 1:30 a.m. on Saturday. In the fringe neighborhood of Kfar Souseh, fighting began after rebels attacked a Syrian forces checkpoint.

At least five people were killed in Qaboun, according to an activist video that showed the bodies. Also Saturday, troops shelled parts of the central city of Homs, one of the main battlegrounds of the uprising, and stormed into the city’s posh neighborhood of Ghouta, conducting raids.

The latest escalations are another blow to international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan, which aims to end the country’s bloodletting. Annan brokered a cease-fire that went into effect on April 12 but has since been violated nearly every day since.

Thousands have been killed since the crisis began in March last year. The U.N.’s latest estimate is 9,000 dead, but that is from April and it has been unable to update it. Syrian activists put the toll at more than 13,000.

Also Saturday, the foreign minister of Assad’s ally Russia said Moscow would continue to oppose the outside use of force, despite its growing concerns about the Syria conflict. Sergey Lavrov called for an international conference to galvanize commitment behind Annan’s plan.

Efforts by Western and Arab nations to help the opposition have been hampered by fragmentation amid the movement. The main opposition movement, the Syrian National Council, has been plagued by infighting.

The council was gathering Saturday in Turkey to elect a new leader nearly three weeks after its Paris-based president Burhan Ghalioun offered to step down over mounting criticism of his leadership. The vote had been expected late Saturday, but was postponed to Sunday with no immediate explanation.

The frontrunner to replace him was Abdulbaset Sieda, a member of Syria’s minority Kurd community, SNC spokeswoman Basma Kodmani told Associated Press Television. His elevation to the post could be part of an attempt to appeal to Syria’s significant Kurdish minority, which has largely stayed on the sidelines of the uprising. The community is deeply suspicious that Sunni Arabs who dominate the opposition will be no more likely to provide them greater rights than Assad’s regime has.

Also Saturday, U.N. observers in Syria to monitor the cease-fire issued the first independent video images from the scene of the reported massacre in Mazraat al-Qubair. The video, taken in the U.N. visit a day earlier, showed blood splashed on a wall pockmarked with bullet holes and soaking a nearby mattress. A shell punched through one wall of a house. Another home was burnt on the inside with dried blood was splashed on floors.

One man wearing a red-and-white checked scarf to cover his face, pointed at a 2008 calendar adorning a wall, bearing the photo of a lightly-bearded, handsome man. “This is the martyr,” the resident, sobbing. He sat on the floor, amid strewn colorful blankets, heaving with tears.

It was not immediately clear if he was a resident of the village or related to the man in the photograph. “They killed children,” said another unidentified resident. “My brother, his wife and their seven children, the oldest was in the sixth grade. They burnt down his house.”

Associated Press writer Selcan Hacaoglu contributed to this report from Ankara, Turkey.

Jordan Set to Open First Refugee Camp for Syrians

Written by Abdullah Omar
Thursday, February 16, 2012

[Amman] Jordan is putting the final touches on a refugee camp being set up near the border with Syria to house its share of the thousands of Syrians fleeing their homes out of fear of being caught up in the ongoing violence between President Bashar Al-Asad’s troops and opposition forces.

In the northern city of Sarhan, near Mafraq, a large plot of land has been paved; and wiring for electricity and piping for water installed in anticipation of arriving refugees.

The camp, under round-the-clock police guard, is the first in the kingdom and in the Arab region since the uprising against the Al-Asad regime began eleven months ago. Neighbors Iraq and Lebanon remain undecided over the developing situation in Syria and are so far refusing to establish refugee camps inside their borders.

But Jordan has already allowed thousands of refugees to enter and has provided them with needed care. Until now, the burden of supporting the unexpected guests from Syria has fallen on local communities in the border areas that have provided food, shelter and medical care to the refugees. Children of the Syrian refugees have even been allowed to attend public schools for free. The new camps, set up with support from UNHCR — the United Nations refugee agency — will lift the burden from the locals.

According to Ahmed Emian, secretary general of the Hashemite Charity Foundation, the camp will be open and ready to receive its residents shortly. “We have set up the camp in terms of paving the ground, putting electricity and providing it with sanitation and water,” he told The Media Line. “We will be opening the camp next week, or at latest by the end of the month,” he added.

For nearly eleven months into the anti-Asad uprising, and despite the rising number of Syrians seeking the safety of its borders, pro-Western Jordan resisted the temptation of setting up camps. Observers and western diplomats say Jordan, possibly the most experienced in the region in terms of hosting refugees, waited for a political decision from higher authorities and its allies before erecting tents on the borders.

At the start of the uprising last year, Jordan imposed a media blackout on the presence of refugees in order to avoid angering Syria and its strong neighbors. But now, a number of philanthropic groups have been given the nod to provide for the needs of refugees in certain areas, including the border, Amman and as far south as the city of Ma’an.

Estimates of the actual number of asylum seekers vary. The government says nearly 5000 have entered the kingdom since the uprising began in Syria in March 2011, while estimates offered by the philanthropic groups put the number of asylum seekers in the tens of thousands. Yet, the UN-agency UNHCR pegs the number of registered refugees at about 3,000 – less than the government estimate but twice the number it reported only one month ago, according to Jamal Arafat, chief representative of UNHCR in Amman.

He told The Media Line that no camps have been set up yet, suggesting that such a move is more of a political choice than a logistical one. “We are ready to open refugee camps, but we do not see any need for that yet,” he said.

Abu Ahmed is a Syrian activist fleeing from the city of Harak, a hotbed of anti-Asad protests in Deraa. He arrived in Mafraq three weeks ago after a long chase by Syrian security forces. Abu Ahmed currently lives in a mosque in Mafraq, awaiting accommodations for his family. “I fled without my family or anybody. I crossed illegally into Jordan and now I live in this mosque,” he told The Media line in a telephone interview. Abu Ahmed said many Syrians want to flee but they are unable to do so because of the heavy security procedures and fear of arrest on the borders. Jordan has not broken-off relations with Damascus and has said it will not ask the Syrian ambassador leave even though Syrian ambassadors posted in the oil rich Gulf States have been expelled.

Privately, officials say the kingdom will be hurt in case it severs diplomatic ties with its much larger neighbor, and prefers to keep diplomatic channels open. In the meantime, residents of Deraa warn that the Syrian army has intensified its patrols along the long border in order to prevent a mass influx of refugees and to stop activists wanted by the regime in Syria from fleeing to Jordan.

But arriving refugees escaping the continued shelling in areas in the Huran region say it will be extremely difficult for Al-Asad’s forces to stop local residents from leaving.

Source: The Media Line.

Protest fever reaches Damascus: Syrians call for ‘new phase’ in resistance


DAMASCUS – Embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces unleashed their heaviest pounding yet of the central protest city of Homs, monitors said, as thousands rallied for his ouster.

The protesters emerged from mosques after the main weekly Muslim prayers on Friday, including in Damascus, following a call by Internet-based activists for a rally for a “new phase of popular resistance.”

“Get out! Get out!” they chanted at gatherings across the unrest-swept country, according to YouTube videos.

“We want revenge against Bashar and Maher,” some shouted, in reference to the president’s brother, who heads the feared Fourth Armored Division.

Activists said the scattered protests were among the most widespread in Damascus of the 11-month uprising against the Assad regime inspired by the Arab “awakening”.

The protesters turned out after the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly backed an Arab League initiative calling on Assad to step aside, and ahead of a visit by a Chinese envoy pushing for peace.

Assad, in remarks to visiting Mauritanian Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf, said reforms have to be synchronized with a “return to peace”.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 26 people were killed on Friday, one of them at a demonstration that was fired upon in the capital.

At least 10,000 people demonstrated in the southern town of Dael, in Daraa province, where the protest movement was born in March 2011, said the Britain-based monitor.

In Homs, rockets crashed into strongholds of resistance at the rate of four a minute, according to an activist, who warned the city faces a humanitarian crisis.

Thirteen of the dead were in the Homs district of Baba Amr.

“It’s the most violent in 14 days. It’s unbelievable — extreme violence the like of which we have never seen before,” said Hadi Abdullah of the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution.

“There are thousands of people isolated in Homs … There are neighborhoods that we know nothing about. I myself do not know if my parents are okay,” he said by telephone.

A tank fired into a residential part of Homs, before bursts of machinegun fire clattered across the neighborhood, a YouTube video showed.

Swedish mobile live video streaming site Bambuser said Friday its services had been blocked in Syria shortly after a user had broadcast a bombing in Homs.

“Dictators don’t like Bambuser,” company chairman Hans Eriksson said, adding it appeared Assad’s regime saw the site as a “major threat.”

Human rights groups estimated the two-week assault on Homs has killed almost 400 people, and a medic reached on Skype said 1,800 have been wounded.

“There are injuries that cannot be treated because of a lack of medical equipment,” Dr Ali al-Hazzuri said.

The violence came as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed an “overwhelming international consensus” against Damascus after the UN General Assembly voted on Thursday to demand an immediate halt to the crackdown.

The strongly worded resolution, adopted by a 137-12 vote, calls on Damascus “to stop all violence or reprisals immediately, in accordance with the League of Arab States initiative.”

It was referring to a peace plan put forward by the pan-Arab bloc calling on Assad to hand power over to his deputy and for the formation of a unity government ahead of elections.

Russia, China and Iran opposed the non-binding resolution. The vote came just days after Beijing and Moscow vetoed a similar resolution at the UN Security Council.

The vote “demonstrated an overwhelming international consensus that the bloody assaults must end,” Clinton said at a press conference with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

“In the face of this global condemnation, the regime in Damascus, however, appears to be escalating its assaults on civilians, and those who are suffering cannot get access to the humanitarian assistance they need and deserve,” she said.

“So we will keep working to pressure and isolate the regime, to support the opposition and to provide relief to the people of Syria.”

France and Britain pledged to help the opposition in its struggle against Assad’s regime but said conditions were not right for a foreign intervention, as in Libya.

Meeting for a summit in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed support for a conference to form an international coalition in Tunis next week dubbed the Friends of Syria.

“We cannot accept that a dictator massacre his own people, but the revolution will not be brought from outside, it will rise from inside Syria, as it has done elsewhere,” Sarkozy told a joint news conference.

“What is happening in Syria is appalling, for the government to be butchering and murdering its own people,” Cameron said.

The two said France and Britain were working together to help the opposition, with Sarkozy urging anti-Assad forces to unite and be better organized.

Meanwhile EU foreign policy chief Ashton denounced the arrest of blogger Razan Ghazzawi, rights campaigner Mazen Darwish and several other Syrian activists, calling for their immediate release.

Source: Middle East Online.

Syrian forces fire on funeral, killing at least two people

Feb 18, 2012

Beirut – At least two people were killed when Syrian government forces fired on a crowd during a funeral procession in the capital Damascus on Saturday, opposition activists said.

‘The funeral was being held in the Mezzeh area (in Damascus) for three people who had been killed the day before in a crackdown on anti-regime protests,’ the Syrian activist Munzer Abdullah told dpa.

Source: Monsters and Critics.