Saturday, February 24, 2018

War on Syria


Quick facts: What you need to know about the Syria crisis


The Age of Total War in Syria

One of the most distressing take-aways of the Syria War since 2011 is that the United Nations does not work and all the hopes of the framers of its charter in 1945 have been dashed. World War II was a total war that polished off some 64 million people (nearly the entire population of today’s Britain or France), displaced hundreds of millions, and doomed more millions to live under brutal military occupation. Although the Axis powers were the worst offenders in targeting civilian, noncombatant populations (as with buzz-bombing London) as a tool of war, the Allies were not innocent, as with the firebombing of Dresden and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

By Don Melvin, Michael Martinez and Zeynep Bilginsoy, CNN
Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT) November 24, 2015

Istanbul (CNN)One of the world's most volatile regions was roiled further Tuesday when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey said it hit the plane after it violated Turkey's airspace and ignored 10 warnings.

Beirut (AFP) - Russia said Thursday its warplanes had eased back on air strikes in Syria as regime forces press a widening ground offensive, while President Vladimir Putin criticised Washington for not cooperating over the conflict.

As Moscow and Washington neared agreement on measures to avoid confrontation over Syria, Russia announced that a hotline had been set up with Israel to ensure there would be no clashes between their air forces.

18 August 2014

There is evidence in the public domain that the US and Saudi Arabia are behind the ISIS. ISIS used to be called Al-Qaida but that is not convenient anymore, it seems because it is clearly high treason to cooperate with Al-Qaida, Even in the US Media these facts were acknowledge when Obama was pondering invading Syria.

Tell your congressman that you are concerned about allegations that the US and/or its allies trained Islamic extremist in Jordan to fight the Syrian government. Ask how a bunch of young tugs can operate sophisticated high tech us supplied equipment without training, maintenance, and spear parts. Ask how Israel, with her paranoid arrogance and the best army and intelligence service in the World, allowed a military presence of the size of the ISIS to surge in her backyard. Ask who supplies the ammunition and money.

There are reasons, I guess, for people in power to play chess with the World, but at the end of the line what we have is psychopathic behavior and Power for the sake of Power. What we can do first of all is being informed and tell others at church, school, friends what is going on and tell government officials that you are aware and against blood for oil.

Published on Nov 21, 2013

Inside Syria it's proving increasingly difficult to get anything like a clear picture of the state of the conflict, but the government appears to have the upper hand.

Published on Oct 22, 2013

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has come under attack, and rightfully so. He has gone from being a Vietnam Veteran hero to crossing the line, in my opinion and many others, of being a traitor to the Constitution and the United States. I ran across a video of a townhall meeting that apparently took place sometime in September, in which Marine Blaine Cooper called out John McCain on his treason for aiding and abetting the enemy of the United States.

ISTANBUL | Thu Oct 17, 2013 1:34am EDT

(Reuters) - The rise of al Qaeda in parts of Syria's north has left Turkey facing a new security threat on its already vulnerable border and raised questions about its wholesale support for rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey has long championed more robust backing for Syria's fractious armed opposition, arguing it would bring a quicker end to Assad's rule and give moderate forces the authority they needed to keep more radical Islamist elements in check.

But with Islamist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) taking territory in parts of the north near the border in recent weeks, it is a strategy that increasingly looks to have been a miscalculation.

Ankara has found itself facing accusations that indiscriminate support for the rebels has allowed weapons and foreign fighters to cross into northern Syria and facilitated the rise of radical groups.

"We are being accused of supporting al Qaeda," a source close to the Turkish government said, adding that U.S. officials had raised concerns on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York last month.

"They were politely but aggressively critical. The attention has focused away from Assad to al Qaeda," the source said, echoing frustration voiced by other officials in Ankara that this was playing into Assad's hands.

As if on cue, the Turkish army said on Wednesday it had fired on ISIL fighters over the border after a stray mortar shell hit Turkish soil. It has retaliated in the past in such cases but this appeared to be the first time its response had targeted al Qaeda-linked fighters.

Turkey has maintained an open-door policy throughout the two-and-a-half-year conflict, providing a lifeline to rebel-held areas by allowing humanitarian aid in, giving refugees a route out and letting the rebel Free Syrian Army organize on its soil.

It officially denies arming the rebels or facilitating the passage of foreign fighters who have swollen the ranks of al Qaeda-linked factions including ISIL and Nusra.

"Logistically nothing goes through the official borders in Turkey or any other country anyway," said Louay Meqdad, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army.

But the 900 km (560-mile) border is difficult to police and refugees, smugglers and rebel fighters have been able to cross undetected in remote areas, bypassing the main crossing points.

"Officially we didn't allow it. But it's a long border and some groups, we tried to accommodate them in the Syrian opposition, which we wanted to be as large as possible," said one Turkish official in the region, when asked whether foreign fighters had been able to cross.

Foreign mercenaries, mainly backed by Gulf states, were initially welcomed by Syria's rebel forces because they had greater battle experience and were more effective against pro-Assad militias, he said.

"This was a tactical mistake and now we see a totally different balance of power."


It is a contrast with Jordan, where authorities have kept a tight control over their border with Syria. Rebels in the southern Syrian province of Deraa, the cradle of the 2011 protests against Assad, have long complained that they have been starved of significant arms supplies as a result.

In a report documenting sectarian mass killings by Assad's foes, New York-based Human Rights Watch said last week Turkey needed to increase its border patrols and restrict the passage of fighters and arms to radical groups.

"Many foreign fighters operating in northern Syria gain access to Syria via Turkey, from which they also smuggle their weapons, obtain money and other supplies, and sometimes retreat to for medical treatment," the report said.

It cited a humanitarian worker in Turkey as saying some of the foreign fighters entering Syria's Latakia province, where it said 190 civilians were killed by rebels in an attack in August, had flown into Hatay airport in Turkey, from where they were picked up by other fighters and facilitators.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has repeatedly denied any support from Turkey for al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria and has described suggestions to the contrary as a bid to legitimize Assad's actions by portraying him as fighting terrorism.

"This is what Assad wants. He is trying to ... change the nature of the conflict, so that it is perceived not as a conflict between him and his own people, but as a fight against radical groups," a senior foreign ministry official said.

It was a message Assad tried to deliver directly to the Turkish people this month, when in an interview with Turkey's Halk TV he warned Turkey it would pay for harboring "terrorists" who, he said, would turn on their hosts.

It is not a risk Turkey can comfortably dismiss. Like Jordan, which fears Islamist fighters radicalized in Syria could return and strike targets inside the pro-Western kingdom, Turkey is not immune to the threat from al Qaeda.

Several websites carried reports of a threat to Turkey from jihadist groups in Syria after it temporarily shut part of the border last month when an al Qaeda-linked group stormed a nearby town, although it was not clear if the threat was genuine.

"We are not with al Nusra, and al Nusra is not happy about this. It is a nasty war. Nothing is black and white any more," the source close to the Turkish government said.


As the conflict drags on, there is growing evidence of Turkish nationals going to fight in Syria, some alongside jihadists, others joining Syrian Kurds in their scramble against rival rebel units, Assad's forces and Arab tribes.

Citing intelligence reports, Turkey's Taraf newspaper estimated last month that around 500 Turkish nationals were fighting among 1,200 different rebel groups in Syria, many of them in the name of "jihad", while others had signed up as mercenaries, earning $1,500 a month.

Others were members of the Kurdish PKK militant group who were going to fight alongside Syrian Kurds, it said.

"Our border is very fragile, it is not as strong as it was," the source close to the government said.

"No-one would go from an Anatolian town to fight for democracy in Syria. But jihadists would go to fight against the infidels. This is the danger for Turkey."

Officials in Ankara, from President Abdullah Gul down, see the failure of the international community to take decisive action in Syria as creating the conditions which have allowed radical groups to thrive.

After repeated calls for assertive intervention, they are frustrated that the finger is now being pointed at them.

"What I have said to all our allies and everyone I have met and spoken to since these events started is that if this process prolongs, the inevitable result will be a radicalization," Gul said in a speech in Istanbul this month.

Turkish officials argue that foreign fighters have also entered Syria from other neighboring countries, some with support from Gulf states including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and point out that the escape of hundreds of convicts from Iraq's Abu Ghraib jail in July swelled ISIL's ranks in Syria.

"We do our best through the different opposition forces to contain the threat of the jihadi opposition in Syria, but the support for these groups is so sizeable that Turkey cannot control this (alone)," the Turkish official in the region said.

(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans and Samia Nakhoul in Beirut, Dasha Afanasieva in Istanbul; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by giles Elgood)

Published on May 14, 2013

Robin Barnwell, who directed and produced 'A History of Syria with Dan Snow', explains the challenges of filiming amid the conflict, and describes the spirit of the Syrian people he met.

The Syrian Airlines jet performed an alarming dive on its nighttime approach into Damascus airport in an attempt to avoid any hostile fire. The exterior lights on the aircraft were switched off to make it less visible to any rebel fighters attempting to shoot the plane down. Syrian army artillery rounds were flying through the air, thudding into residential suburbs not far from the airport.

Once we'd landed, I saw little of the Syria I knew from my previous two visits. The airport that had been the gateway to the country for tourists was quiet. The road to the centre of Damascus was eerily empty. Our driver drove as fast as he could, speeding us past signs welcoming us to Syria on a road that regularly comes under attack or is caught in the crossfire in a conflict that has now cost more than 70,000 lives and displaced millions. How, I wondered, had Syria and its people, whom I had such warm memories of, reached such a state?

Like many people, I first travelled to Syria in 1995 to immerse myself in the country's extraordinary and varied history. Now I was in Damascus to direct and film a documentary that would explain how history had helped shape and influence the appalling civil war that is tearing Syria and its different communities apart. It was a strange relief to be in Damascus, as visas for journalists and filmmakers, issued by the Syrian government, are difficult to obtain.

The programme's Middle East producer had doggedly convinced a suspicious Syrian Ministry of Information that now was the right time to make a history of Syria after weeks of officials telling us to come back after the 'current, temporary problems' were over. We persisted in pushing for access because history can help explain the current violence in Syria; violence that has become increasingly incomprehensible for audiences of news programmes around the world.

I was surprised by my own ignorance about the subject. It was only after weeks of reading and meetings with experts before actually arriving in Syria did I map the historical connections, linking present day events with the past. How though, were we to go about making a documentary in a country consumed by civil war?

Permission to film almost anything and anyone was frustratingly difficult to obtain. The official from the Syrian Ministry of Information assigned to take us around kept apologizing for the numerous new restrictions that had been put in place. Getting access to the beautiful Old City of Damascus now involved negotiating a way through sandbagged checkpoints past soldiers who were suspicious of foreigners and visibly on edge.

Surreally, though, Syrians were rushing around going about their daily business, seemingly ignoring the near constant sound of gunfire and fighter jets which screeched overhead to bomb targets in the suburbs. An even stranger sense of normality prevailed in other locations we filmed, particularly in Syria's coastal city Lattakia, where no fighting was taking place. We mingled with couples watching the sunset over the Mediterranean and for a moment one was back in pre-conflict Syria. But the effects of war were never far away.

President Obama’s approach to Syria has came under criticism from his first two defense secretaries. At a public event in Dallas, Leon Panetta said Obama should have followed through on a threat of U.S. military attack, while Robert Gates called for increased military aid to Syrian rebels.

Leon Panetta: "My view would have been that once the president came to that conclusion, that he should have directed limited action going after Assad to make very clear to the world that when we draw a line and we give our word, dammit, we back it up."

Robert Gates: "My view is significantly increasing the amount of covert assistance to selected rebel groups, opposition groups. I would not provide them with surfaced air missiles, but I would give them heavier weapons and more of them."

This is true, but routine procedure in Washington, not the personal doing of Obama. For example,
The Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), or People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, is an Iranian dissident group that has been formally designated for the last 15 years by the US State Department as a "foreign terrorist organization". When the Bush administration sought to justify its attack on Iraq in 2003 by accusing Saddam Hussein of being a sponsor of "international terrorism", one of its prime examples was Iraq's "sheltering" of the MEK. Its inclusion on the terrorist list has meant that it is a felony to provide any "material support" to that group.
Nonetheless, a large group of prominent former US government officials from both political parties has spent the last several years receiving substantial sums of cash to give speeches to the MEK, and have then become vocal, relentless advocates for the group, specifically for removing them from the terrorist list. Last year, the Christian Science Monitor thoroughly described "these former high-ranking US officials - who represent the full political spectrum - [who] have been paid tens of thousands of dollars to speak in support of the MEK." They include Democrats Howard Dean, Ed Rendell, Wesley Clark, Bill Richardson, and Lee Hamilton, and Republicans Rudy Giuliani, Fran Townsend, Tom Ridge, Michael Mukasey, and Andrew Card. Other prominent voices outside government, such as Alan Dershowitz and Elie Wiesel, have been enlisted to the cause and are steadfast MEK advocates.
For obvious reason this cannot be done so openly for Al Qaeda. So technically the Obama administration is committing a felony and should be impeached. So why not the republicans latch on this clear cut well documented, even promoted offense?

The Wall Street Journal recently revealed new details about how Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud — Saudi’s former ambassador to the United States — is leading the effort to prop up the Syrian rebels. Intelligence agents from Saudi Arabia, the United States, Jordan and other allied states are working at a secret joint operations center in Jordan to train and arm hand-picked Syrian rebels. The Journal also reports Prince Bandar has been jetting from covert command centers near the Syrian front lines to the Élysée Palace in Paris and the Kremlin in Moscow, seeking to undermine the Assad regime. "Really what he’s doing is he’s reprising a role that he played in the 1980s when he worked with the Reagan administration to arrange money and arms for mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan and also worked with the CIA in Nicaragua to support the Contras," says Wall Street Journal reporter Adam Entous. "So in many ways this is a very familiar position for Prince Bandar, and it’s amazing to see the extent to which veterans of the CIA were excited to see him come back because, in the words of a diplomat who knows Bandar, he brings the Arabic term wasta, which means under-the-table clout. You know his checks are not going to bounce and that he’ll be able to deliver the money from the Saudis."
Watch Part Two of Interview, 'U.S.-Russian Tensions Heighten over Syria; Roots of Conflict Stem from NATO Bombing of Libya

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama told his war-weary country on Saturday that America needs to use limited military force in Syria to deter future chemical weapons attacks, but said he did not want to enter into another costly and protracted war.

"This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan," Obama said in his weekly radio and internet address, previewing arguments he will make in a nationally televised address on Tuesday.

"Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope - designed to deter the Syrian government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so," Obama said.

A week ago, Obama said he felt limited strikes in Syria were needed, but added he wanted to ask Congress to authorize the use of military force.

Trey Smith

After reading what President Obama said in Stockholm yesterday at a gathering of world leaders, I am guessing that Barack has never been on a debate team. In the course of a few minutes, he argued both sides of the same issue! At one moment, he said,

It is important for us to get out of the habit of just saying we'll let the president stretch the boundaries of his authority as far as he can and Congress will sit on the sidelines and snipe.

However, in the same set of remarks, he also said,

As commander-in-chief I always preserve the right and the responsibility to act on behalf of America's national security. I do not believe that I was required to take this to Congress but I did not take this to Congress just because it's an empty exercise. I think it is important to have Congress's support.

So, on the one hand, he agrees with his critics by saying that a president shouldn't be allowed to "stretch the boundaries of his authority." On the other hand, he submits that he has the [constitutional] right to stretch those boundaries as far as he sees fit!

Obviously, quote #1 was a throwaway position, a meager attempt to satisfy those who believe in constitutional safeguards. What he really believes is contained in quote #2. Phrased a different way, he is taking this matter -- attacking Syria -- before Congress to give them the opportunity to agree with him! If they don't, then he's going to do what he believes he is empowered to do anyway.

By Timothy Heritage

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama faced growing pressure from world leaders not to launch military strikes in Syria on Thursday at a summit on the global economy that was eclipsed by the conflict.

The Group of 20 (G20) developed and developing economies met in St. Petersburg to try forge a united front on economic growth, trade, banking transparency and fighting tax evasion.

But the club that accounts for two thirds of the world's population and 90 percent of its output is divided over issues ranging from the U.S. Federal Reserve's decision to end its program of stimulus for the economy to the civil war in Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to use the meeting in a seafront tsarist palace to talk Obama out of military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over a chemical weapons attack which Washington blames on government forces.

Obama wore a stiff smile as he approached Putin on arrival at the summit and grasped his hand. Putin also maintained a businesslike expression. It was only when they turned to pose for the cameras that Obama broke into a broader grin.

The first round at the summit went to Putin as China, the European Union and Pope Francis - in a letter for G20 leaders - aligned themselves more closely with him than with Obama over the possibility and legitimacy of armed intervention.

"Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price - it will cause a hike in the oil price," Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao told a briefing.

The Pope urged the leaders to "lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution". He has also invited the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and people of other faiths to join him in a day of prayer and fasting on Saturday to end the civil war.

European Union leaders, usually strong allies of the United States, described the August 21 attack near Damascus, which killed an estimated 1,400 people, as "abhorrent" but added: "There is no military solution to the Syrian conflict."

Putin, Assad's most important ally, was isolated on Syria at a Group of Eight meeting in June, the last big meeting of world powers. He could now turn the tables on Obama, who recently likened him to a "bored kid in the back of the classroom."

Only France, which is preparing to join U.S. military action, rallied behind Obama.

"We are convinced that if there is no punishment for Mr. Assad, there will be no negotiation," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said before leaving for St. Petersburg.

With backing by Beijing and Moscow unlikely at the U.N. Security Council, where both have veto powers, Obama is seeking the approval of the U.S. Congress.

Putin says rebel forces may have carried out the poison gas attack and that any military strike without Security Council approval would violate international law, a view which is now increasingly openly being supported by others.

He has no one-on-one talks scheduled with Obama but hopes to discuss Syria at a dinner with all the leaders. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi were also in St. Petersburg, hoping to secure agreement on holding an international peace conference on Syria.

Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, portrayed the "camp of supporters of a strike on Syria" as divided and said: "It is impossible to say that very many states support the idea of a military operation."

One national leader attending the summit said there appeared to be little chance of a rapprochement between Putin and Obama, whose relations have soured following Russia's offer of asylum to former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Foreign ministers from the key states in the G20 - which includes all five permanent U.N. Security Council members - will also discuss Syria on the sidelines of the meeting.

Any G20 decision on Syria would not be binding but Putin would like to see a consensus to avert military action in what would be a significant - but unlikely - personal triumph.


The G20 achieved unprecedented cooperation between developed and emerging nations to stave off economic collapse during the 2009 financial crisis, but the harmony has now gone.

There are likely to be some agreements - including on measures to fight tax evasion by multinational companies - at the summit in the spectacular, 18th-century Peterhof palace complex, built on the orders of Tsar Peter the Great.

An initiative will be presented to leaders on refining regulation of the $630-trillion global market for financial derivatives to prevent a possible markets blow-up.

Steps to give the so-called 'shadow banking' sector until 2015 to comply with new global rules will also be discussed.

But consensus is proving hard to achieve among developed economies as the United States takes aggressive action to spur demand and Europe moves more slowly to let go of austerity.

The emerging economies in the BRICS group - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - urged the G20 to boost global demand and ensure that any changes in monetary policy are well flagged to minimize any disruptive "spillovers" that may result.

The appeal reflected the concerns among developing nations over the prospect that the Fed will scale back its ultra-loose monetary policy, and a view that Europe is not doing enough to promote a demand-driven recovery.

The BRICS also agreed to contribute $100 billion to a joint currency reserve pool. China will commit $41 billion; Brazil, India and Russia $18 billion each; and South Africa $5 billion.

Russia and China also joined forces in warning about the potential impact of the Fed ending its bond-buying program to stimulate the economy.

(Reporting by Gernot Heller, Luke Baker, Tetsushi Kajimoto, Lidia Kelly, Katya Golubkova, Steve Holland, Douglas Busvine, Steve Gutterman, Alessandra Prentice and Denis Pinchuk; Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Anna Willard)

President Obama has sent a draft resolution authorizing the use of American military force in Syria to Congress. We need to speak out today and tell our senators and members of Congress to say no to military intervention by the U.S.
The brutal and bloody Syrian civil war has already left 100,000 people dead and created millions of refugees. And now chemical weapons have been used, killing hundreds of civilians.
The use of chemical weapons is morally reprehensible, and it should be punished. The International Criminal Court should immediately start war crime tribunals and proceedings against those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. And the U.S. can take evidence that Assad’s regime used chemical weapons to the UN Security Council and seek a resolution against Syria. Both acts would make it far more difficult for Russia to continue defending the regime and open the door for international action to broker a ceasefire -- the only way we will stop the massacre of civilians.
Pick up the phone today to tell Representative Bill Flores and Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz: Don't bomb Syria.
The justifiable outrage evoked by the use of chemical weapons does not make attacking Syria -- where parts of the rebel resistance are allied with Al Qaeda and the authoritarian response by President Assad is aided by Hezbollah -- either just or strategic.
As heart wrenching as the ongoing civil war has become, the United States should not start dropping bombs. A knee jerk, unilateral attack by the U.S. won’t help civilians -- it will make matters worse. At this point, there are no good options when it comes to military intervention by the United States, and it should be considered only as an effort of last resort, not a first response.
Pick up the phone today to tell Representative Bill Flores and Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz: Don't bomb Syria.
As humanitarians confronting the horror of the Syrian civil war, we must consider how we can best protect civilians, end the violence, and uphold the international prohibition on using chemical weapons. But we shouldn't make matters worse on the ground just to answer war crimes with a limited and largely symbolic show of force.
The draft resolution makes it clear that the kind of limited military strike promoted by Obama administration is highly unlikely to affect the ultimate outcome of this messy and brutal civil war.
And what's more, initiating "limited" hostilities with Syria could serve to pull us deeper into yet another war in the Middle East, with all the ramifications -- moral, humanitarian, economic and geopolitical -- that would entail.
Call Representative Bill Flores and Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and tell them: Don't bomb Syria.
There are times when military force is necessary and justifiable. But this isn't one of them.
The time is now to speak out.
Becky Bond, Political Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets

Congress is still in recess -- but it's been a busy week in Washington! Congress will return on Sept. 9th -- and on the top of their list will be whether to approve military action in Syria. POPVOX is also spotlighting labor and employment bills in honor of Labor Day. And get a legislative recap of Wednesday's 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

Authorizing Military Action in Syria 

President Obama said he is seeking Congressional approval for US military action in Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons. Yesterday, the President sent to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate a letter with draft legislation that would authorize use of the US military "in connection with the conflict in Syria." Weigh in.

President Obama specified that any military involvement would be of "limited duration and scope" and that "we would not put boots on the ground." (Read his remarks.) The Obama Administration released an unclassified summary of the attack in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21 killing at least 1,429 Syrians, including 426 children.

On Aug. 30, Secretary of State John Kerry said "President Obama has spent many days now consulting with Congress and talking with leaders around the world about the situation in Syria." (Read Kerry's remarks.) Kerry added that he believes, "as President Obama does, that it is also important to discuss this directly with the American people." 

Weigh in with your Members of Congress on authorizing military action in Syria:

Aid to Syria

Food, tents and other humanitarian aid, provided by the UN's refugee agency and the World Food Program -- and funded by the United States government -- arrived in Iraq to help refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict, according to the State Department. More than 47,000 refugees have crossed into Northern Iraq from Syria since August 15.

The US has provided over $1 billion in humanitarian aid since the Syrian crisis began, and is the single-largest contributor of humanitarian assistance for the people of Syria, according to the State Department. The aid has helped 3.5 million people in Syria, "through all possible channels" including the UN, international and non-governmental organizations, and local Syrian organizations. 

Earlier this year, Congress introduced several bills related to humanitarian aid. Here are a few:
  • FAULT Act (HR 1922): to limit assistance to Iran, North Korea, Syria, Egypt, and Pakistan.
  • Syria Stabilization Act (S 856): to foster stability in Syria.
  • Free Syria Act (HR 1327): to improve US humanitarian and other assistance to the Syrian people, facilitate the transition of Syria to a democratic government, provide for US support to the post-Assad government.
  • Syria Democratic Transition Act (S 617): to provide humanitarian assistance and support a democratic transition in Syria.
See more bills related to Syria in our Issue Spotlight:

Issue Spotlight: Labor Day 

This Labor Day 2013 marks the centennial of the US Department of Labor -- and a new Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Weigh in on bills related to the minimum wage, work and family policies and job training. -

The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

Fifty years ago today, more than 200,000 people came to the nation's capital for the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." However, the stated goals of the demonstration were much broader, including "a comprehensive civil rights bill" that would do away with segregated public accommodations; "protection of the right to vote"; mechanisms for seeking redress of violations of constitutional rights; "desegregation of all public schools in 1963"; a massive federal works program "to train and place unemployed workers"; and "a Federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination in all employment".

This week's commemorations also included a diverse call to action, from jobs and workers' rights to voting rights to "Stand Your Ground" laws.  Weigh in at

Thanks for using POPVOX! And if you're new, be sure to check out our user tutorial slideshow. Congress returns on Sept. 9 -- so stay tuned for new bills once they get back.


Rachna Choudhry

President Obama has sent a draft resolution authorizing the use of American military force in Syria to Congress. We need to speak out today and tell our senators and members of Congress to say no to military intervention by the U.S.
The brutal and bloody Syrian civil war has already left 100,000 people dead and created millions of refugees. And now there is now strong evidence that chemical weapons have been used, killing hundreds of civilians.
But as morally reprehensible as use of chemical weapons is, and as heart wrenching as the ongoing civil war has become, the United States should not start dropping bombs. Unfortunately, there are no good options.
And the justifiable outrage evoked by the use of chemical weapons does not make attacking Syria -- where parts of the rebel resistance are allied with Al Qaeda and the authoritarian response by President Assad is aided by Hezbollah -- either just or strategic.
Tell Representative Bill Flores and Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz: Don't bomb Syria.
As humanitarians confronting the horror of the Syrian civil war, we must consider how we can best protect civilians, end the violence, and uphold the international prohibition on using chemical weapons. But we shouldn't make matters worse on the ground just to answer war crimes with a limited and largely symbolic show of force.
The draft resolution makes it clear that the kind of limited military strike promoted by Obama administration is highly unlikely to affect the ultimate outcome of this messy and brutal civil war.
And what's more, initiating "limited" hostilities with Syria could serve to pull us deeper into yet another war in the Middle East, with all the ramifications -- moral, humanitarian, economic and geopolitical -- that would entail.
Tell Representative Bill Flores and Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz: Don't bomb Syria.
There are times when military force is necessary and justifiable. But this isn't one of them.
The time is now to speak out.
Becky Bond, Political Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets
Automatically add your name:
Sign the petition ►

According to multiple media reports, President Obama may be on the verge of deciding whether or not to bomb Syria. We need to speak out today and tell him to say no to military intervention by the U.S.
The brutal and bloody Syrian civil war has already left 100,000 people dead and created millions of refugees. And now there is now strong evidence that chemical weapons have been used, killing hundreds of civilians.
But as morally reprehensible as use of chemical weapons is, and as heart wrenching as the ongoing civil war has become, the United States should not start dropping bombs. Unfortunately, there are no good options.
And the justifiable outrage evoked by the use of chemical weapons does not make attacking Syria -- where parts of the rebel resistance are allied with Al Qaeda and the authoritarian response by President Assad is aided by Hezbollah -- either just or strategic.
Tell President Obama: Don’t bomb Syria. Click here to automatically sign the petition. 

As humanitarians confronting the horror of the Syrian civil war, we must consider how we can best protect civilians, end the violence, and uphold the international prohibition on using chemical weapons. But we shouldn’t make matters worse on the ground just to answer war crimes with a limited and largely symbolic show of force.
The kind of limited military strike reportedly under consideration by the Obama administration is very unlikely to affect the ultimate outcome of this messy and brutal civil war
And a more significant military intervention (either considered as an alternative to a limited strike, or as something we could be drawn into once we initiate “limited” hostilities with Syria) would only serve to pull us deeper into yet another war in the Middle East, with all the ramifications -- moral, humanitarian, economic and geopolitical -- that would entail.
Tell President Obama: Don’t bomb Syria. Click the link below to automatically sign the petition:
There are times when military force is necessary and justifiable. But this isn’t one of them.
Thank you for speaking out.
Matt Lockshin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets
Automatically add your name:
Sign the petition ►

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Matt Spetalnick

AMMAN/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and its allies geared up for a probable military strike against Syria that could come within days and would be the most aggressive action by Western powers in the Middle Eastern nation's two-and-a-half-year civil war.

Western envoys have told the Syrian opposition to expect a military response soon against President Bashar al-Assad's forces as punishment for a chemical weapons attack last week, according to sources who attended a meeting with the rebel Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul.

Amid a quickening drumbeat of preparations, Australia, a close U.S. ally and incoming chair of the United Nations Security Council, on Wednesday endorsed possible action against Syria even if the security council fails to agree.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Tuesday that American forces in the region were "ready to go" if President Barack Obama gave the order.

Obama - long reluctant to intervene in the Syrian conflict - worked to solidify allied support, including calling the leaders of Britain and Canada, while U.S. intelligence agencies assembled what they are sure to say is final confirmation of the Syrian government's culpability for Wednesday's poison gas attack near Damascus.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said it would "fanciful" to think that anyone other than Assad's forces was behind the large-scale chemical attack, which activists said killed hundreds of people as they slept.

"There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: the Syrian regime," Vice President Joe Biden said at a speech in Houston to the American Legion, a military veterans' group.

Top U.S. national security aides gathered to review the situation on Tuesday night in a meeting chaired by Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice, officials said.

Obama has yet to make a final decision on the U.S. response, Carney said, but left little doubt that it would involve military action. He insisted, however, that Washington was not intent on "regime change," signaling that any military strikes would be limited and not meant to topple Assad.

The British military was also drafting plans. Prime Minister David Cameron, anxious, like Obama, not to emulate entanglements in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that beset their predecessors, said any strikes would be "specific" so as not to drag the allies deeper into Syria's civil war.

Cameron, who spoke to Obama on Tuesday for the second time in four days, recalled parliament for a debate on Syria on Thursday.

U.N. chemical weapons investigators put off until Wednesday a second trip to the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus where the chemical attack took place.

While evidence of chemical warfare could bolster an argument for intervention at the United Nations in the face of likely Russian and Chinese opposition, Western leaders and the Arab League have already declared Assad guilty.

Ahmad Jarba, president of the Syrian National Coalition, met envoys from 11 countries at an Istanbul hotel, including the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford. The rebel leaders proposed targets for cruise missiles and bombing.

One participant said: "The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days."

Planning appears to focus on missile or air strikes. There is little public support in Western countries for troops to invade Syria.

The precise timing of possible military action remained unclear, but it is certain to wait for an official U.S. intelligence report expected to blame Assad's government for the chemical attack. The findings, considered merely a formality at this point, will be released this week, U.S. officials said.

Obama will go ahead with a speech on Wednesday at Washington's Lincoln Memorial to mark the 50th anniversary of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I have a dream' speech.

"The clock is ticking, and the administration is not going to want that to tick too long," said Adam Schiff, a Democrat on the House of Representatives intelligence committee, as White House aides broadened consultations on Capitol Hill.


Syria's government, backed by Iran, denies gassing its own people and has vowed to defend itself, but residents of Damascus are growing anxious.

"I've always been a supporter of foreign intervention, but now that it seems like a reality, I've been worrying that my family could be hurt or killed," said a woman named Zaina, who opposes Assad. "I'm afraid of a military strike now."

Russia, Assad's main arms supplier, opposes military action and has suggested that rebel forces may have released the poison gas.

China's state news agency recalled how flawed intelligence was used to justify the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, while the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, said the United States and its allies were seeking to use the issue to pursue regime change in Syria illegally.

Firm opposition from permanent members of the Security Council all but rules out a U.N. mandate of the kind that gave legal backing to NATO air strikes that helped Libyan rebels unseat Muammar Gaddafi two years ago.

"Our preference, everyone's preference, would be for action, a response, under United Nations auspices," Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr, whose country takes over the rotating chair of the Security Council on Sunday, told reporters.

"But if that's not possible, the sheer horror of a government using chemical weapons against its people, using chemical weapons in any circumstances, mandates a response."

Russia and China accuse Western powers of using human rights complaints, such as in Libya, to meddle in sovereign states' affairs.

Although Obama has long said Assad should step down, he is unwilling to commit to making that happen by force. White House spokesman Carney said it was "profoundly in the interests of the United States" to respond to the chemical weapons attack.

In Britain, Cameron told reporters: "This is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war or changing our stance in Syria or going further into that conflict. It's about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong and the world shouldn't stand idly by."

In France, which played a major role in Libya, President Francois Hollande said he was "ready to punish" Assad for using the chemical weapons, citing a 2005 U.N. provision for international action to protect civilians from their own governments.

Similar arguments were used by NATO to bomb Serbia, a Russian ally, in 1999 after the killing of civilians in Kosovo.

In an indication of support from Arab states that may help Western powers argue the case for an attack against likely U.N. vetoes from Moscow and Beijing, the Arab League issued a statement blaming Assad's government for the chemical attack.

Fears of another international conflict in the Middle East affected financial markets. Oil prices hit a six-month high and stocks fell around the world, notably in Turkey, as well as in emerging economies that would suffer from a chill in trade.


Obama, Cameron and Hollande face questions at home about how a military intervention would end and whether it risks bolstering Assad if he rides out the assault or empowering anti-Western Islamist rebels if the Syrian leader is overthrown.

Turmoil in Egypt, where the 2011 uprising inspired Syrians to rebel, has underlined the unpredictability of revolutions. The presence of Islamist militants, including allies of al Qaeda in the Syrian rebel ranks, has given Western leaders pause. They have held back so far from helping Assad's opponents to victory.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said U.S. strikes would help al Qaeda and called Western leaders "delusional" if they hoped to help the rebels reach a balance of power in Syria.

"We have means of defending ourselves, and we will surprise them with these if necessary," he said. "We will defend ourselves. We will not hesitate to use any means available."

Assad's forces made little or no response to three attacks by Israeli aircraft this year that Israeli officials said disrupted arms flowing from Iran to Lebanon's Hezbollah.

The presence of U.N. experts in Damascus may be a factor holding back international military action. The experts came under fire in government-held territory on Monday before reaching rebel lines.

Opposition activists have said at least 500 people, and possibly twice that many, were killed by rockets carrying the nerve gas sarin or something similar. If true, it would be the worst chemical weapons attack since Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Iraqi Kurds in 1988.

(Additional reporting by William Maclean and Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Phil Stewart in Bandar, Seri Begawan and Andrew Osborn in London, John Irish in Paris, Timothy Heritage in Moscow, Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Seda Sezer and Daren Butler in Istanbul, Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai, Roberta Rampton, Steve Holland, Jeff Mason, Tabassum Zakaria and Susan Cornwell in Washington; Writing by Matt Spetalnick and Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Paul Simao and Robert Birsel)

The number of child refugees fleeing Syria's violence has now topped the 1 million mark — and that number continues to grow each day.

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The ruling Baath regime in Syria, over the course of 2012, lost more and more territory to the revolutionaries. They lost control of the border crossings to Iraq and Turkey. They lost much of Aleppo, the country’s second city. Then in November and December, the revolutionaries began taking military bases in the north and looting them for medium weaponry. The regime still controls substantial territory, and some smaller cities, such as Homs. But its losses in 2012 have been highly significant, raising the question of how much longer the regime can survive. In the meantime, Syria refugees in Turkey, Syria and Lebanon mushroomed in number and they faced severe difficulties in their often unsanitary and inadequate tent cities. In Syria, as in Bahrain and Yemen, sectarian considerations began to enter into the movements against authoritarian governance. The Alawi Shiite minority dominates the Baath Party in Syria, and Sunni fundamentalists have targeted that group (and vice versa). The government is supported by Shiite Iran, the rebels by Wahhabi Qatar and Saudi Arabia. If the Damascus government falls, Iran will be weakened, as will its ally, Hizbullah of Lebanon.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm on Sunday at the worsening violence in Syria, including the reported mass killing of Alawites and alleged firing of long-range missiles on Syrian territory, Ban's spokesman said.

"The Secretary-General is alarmed by the continued dramatic escalation of violence in Syria over the past several days, and the grave danger facing civilians in areas under fire," Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said in a statement.
"There have been extremely worrisome reports earlier this week of a mass killing of civilians in the village of Aqrab near Hama, as well as alleged firing of long-range missiles in some areas of the country," he said.
In the Aqrab incident, up to 200 members of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority were injured or killed in an attack on their village in central Syria on Tuesday, opposition activists said. The death toll was still not known.
There have also been reports of the Syrian government using Scud missiles. NATO's U.S. commander said on Friday the alliance was deploying the Patriot anti-missile system along Syria's northern frontier because Assad's forces had fired Scud missiles that landed near Turkish territory.
Nesirky said that "continued bombing raids by fixed-wing military aircrafts and attack helicopters on populated areas have been amply documented."
"Today's reports of aerial bombing amid intense violence resulting in many casualties among the Palestinian refugee population in the Yarmouk camp in Damascus are a matter of grave concern," he said.
Activists said fighter jets had bombed the Yarmouk camp, killing at least 25 people sheltering in a mosque.
Nesirky said Ban "calls on all sides to cease all forms of violence. The Secretary-General reminds all parties in Syria that they must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians."
"Targeting civilians or carrying out military operations in populated areas, in an indiscriminate or disproportionate fashion that harms civilians is a war crime," he added.
Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa told a Lebanese newspaper that neither forces of President Bashar al-Assad nor rebels can win the war in Syria. That is a view a number of U.N. officials and diplomats have voiced privately to Reuters.
The U.N. Security Council has been incapable of taking any meaningful action in the conflict. Veto powers Russia and China refuse to condemn Assad or support sanctions. Assad's government accuses Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the United States and other Western governments of supporting and arming the rebels, an allegation the governments deny.
Meanwhile, U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has failed to bridge the gaps between the Russian and U.S. positions on Syria, which U.N. diplomats say is at the heart of the longstanding deadlock on the Security Council.
Nesirky said Ban "reiterates his call on the international community to make every effort to stop the tragic spiral of violence in Syria and urgently to promote an inclusive political process leading to a peaceful political transition."
(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Syria: The descent into Holy War

It is one of the most horrifying videos of the war in Syria. It shows two men being beheaded by Syrian rebels, one of them by a child. He hacks with a machete at the neck of a middle-aged man who has been forced to lie in the street with his head on a concrete block. At the end of the film, a soldier, apparently from the Free Syrian Army, holds up the severed heads by their hair in triumph.

The film is being widely watched on YouTube by Syrians, reinforcing their fears that Syria is imitating Iraq's descent into murderous warfare in the years after the US invasion in 2003. It fosters a belief among Syria's non-Sunni Muslim minorities, and Sunnis associated with the government as soldiers or civil servants, that there will be no safe future for them in Syria if the rebels win. In one version of the video, several of which are circulating, the men who are beheaded are identified as officers belonging to the 2.5 million-strong Alawite community. This is the Shia sect to which President Bashar al-Assad and core members of his regime belong. The beheadings, so proudly filmed by the perpetrators, may well convince them that they have no alternative but to fight to the end.

The video underlines a startling contradiction in the policy of the US and its allies. In the past week, 130 countries have recognised the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. But, at the same time, the US has denounced the al-Nusra Front, the most effective fighting force of the rebels, as being terrorists and an al-Qa'ida affiliate. Paradoxically, the US makes almost exactly same allegations of terrorism against al-Nusra as does the Syrian government. Even more bizarrely, though so many states now recognise the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, it is unclear if the rebels inside Syria do so. Angry crowds in rebel-held areas of northern Syria on Friday chanted "we are all al-Nusra" as they demonstrated against the US decision.

Videos posted on YouTube play such a central role in the propaganda war in Syria that questions always have to be asked about their authenticity and origin. In the case of the beheading video, the details look all too convincing. Nadim Houry, the deputy director for Human Rights Watch in the Middle East and North Africa, has watched the video many times to identify the circumstances, perpetrators and location where the killings took place. He has no doubts about its overall authenticity, but says that mention of one district suggests it might be in Deir el-Zhor (in eastern Syria). But people in the area immediately north of Homs are adamant the beheadings took place there. The victims have not been identified. The first time a version of the film was shown was on pro-government Sama TV on 26 November, but it has been widely viewed on YouTube in Syria only over the past week.

The film begins by showing two middle-aged men handcuffed together sitting on a settee in a house, surrounded by their captors who sometimes slap and beat them. They are taken outside into the street. A man in a black shirt is manhandled and kicked into lying down with his head on a concrete block. A boy, who looks to be about 11 or 12 years old, cuts at his neck with a machete, but does not quite sever it. Later a man finishes the job and cuts the head off. The second man in a blue shirt is also forced to lie with his head on a block and is beheaded. The heads are brandished in front of the camera and later laid on top of the bodies. The boy smiles as he poses with a rifle beside a headless corpse.

The execution video is very similar to those once made by al-Qa'ida in Iraq to demonstrate their mercilessness towards their enemies. This is scarcely surprising since many of the most experienced al-Nusra fighters boast that they have until recently been fighting the predominantly Shia government of Iraq as part of the local franchise of al-Qa'ida franchise. Their agenda is wholly sectarian, and they have shown greater enthusiasm for slaughtering Shias, often with bombs detonated in the middle of crowds in markets or outside mosques, than for fighting Americans.

The Syrian uprising, which began in March 2011, was not always so bloodthirsty or so dominated by the Sunnis who make up 70 per cent of the 23 million-strong Syrian population. At first, demonstrations were peaceful and the central demands of the protesters were for democratic rule and human rights as opposed to a violent, arbitrary and autocratic government. There are Syrians who claim that the people against the regime remains to this day the central feature of the uprising, but there is compelling evidence that the movement has slid towards sectarian Islamic fundamentalism intent on waging holy war.

The execution video is the most graphic illustration of deepening religious bigotry on the part of the rebels, but it is not the only one. Another recent video shows Free Syrian Army fighters burning and desecrating a Shia husseiniyah (a religious meeting house similar to a mosque) in Idlib in northern Syria. They chant prayers of victory as they set fire to the building, set fire to flags used in Shia religious processions and stamp on religious pictures. If the FSA were to repeat this assault on a revered Shia shrine such as the Sayyida Zeinab mosque in Damascus, to which Iranian and Iraqi pilgrims have flooded in the past and which is now almost encircled by rebels, then there could be an explosion of religious hatred and strife between Sunni and Shia across the Middle East. Iraqi observers warn that it was the destruction of the Shia shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, by an al-Qa'ida bomb in 2006 that detonated a sectarian war in which tens of thousands died.

The analogy with Iraq is troubling for the US and British governments. They and their allies are eager for Syria to avoid repeating the disastrous mistakes they made during the Iraqi occupation. Ideally, they would like to remove the regime, getting rid of Bashar al-Assad and the present leadership, but not dissolving the government machinery or introducing revolutionary change as they did in Baghdad by transferring power from the Sunnis to the Shia and the Kurds. This provoked a furious counter-reaction from Baathists and Sunnis who found themselves marginalised and economically impoverished.

Washington wants Assad out, but is having difficulty riding the Sunni revolutionary tiger. The Western powers have long hoped for a split in the Syrian elite, but so far there is little sign of this happening. "If you take defections as a measure of political cohesion, then there haven't been any serious ones," said a diplomat in Damascus.

Syria today resembles Iraq nine years ago in another disturbing respect. I have now been in Damascus for 10 days, and every day I am struck by the fact that the situation in areas of Syria I have visited is wholly different from the picture given to the world both by foreign leaders and by the foreign media. The last time I felt like this was in Baghdad in late 2003, when every Iraqi knew the US-led occupation was proving a disaster just as George W Bush, Tony Blair and much of the foreign media were painting a picture of progress towards stability and democracy under the wise tutelage of Washington and its carefully chosen Iraqi acolytes.

The picture of Syria most common believed abroad is of the rebels closing in on the capital as the Assad government faces defeat in weeks or, at most, a few months. The Secretary General of Nato, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said last week that the regime is "approaching collapse". The foreign media consensus is that the rebels are making sweeping gains on all fronts and the end may be nigh. But when one reaches Damascus, it is to discover that the best informed Syrians and foreign diplomats say, on the contrary, that the most recent rebel attacks in the capital had been thrown back by a government counteroffensive. They say that the rebel territorial advances, which fuelled speculation abroad that the Syrian government might implode, are partly explained by a new Syrian army strategy to pull back from indefensible outposts and bases and concentrate troops in cities and towns.

At times, Damascus resounds with the boom of artillery fire and the occasional car bomb, but it is not besieged. I drove 160 kilometres north to Homs, Syria's third largest city with a population of 2.3 million, without difficulty. Homs, once the heart of the uprising, is in the hands of the government, aside from the Old City, which is held by the FSA. Strongholds of the FSA in Damascus have been battered by shellfire and most of their inhabitants have fled to other parts of the capital. The director of the 1,000-bed Tishreen military hospital covering much of southern Syria told me that he received 15 to 20 soldiers wounded every day, of whom about 20 per cent died. This casualty rate indicates sniping, assassinations and small-scale ambushes, but not a fight to the finish.

This does not mean that the government is in a happy position. It has been unable to recapture southern Aleppo or the Old City in Homs. It does not have the troops to garrison permanently parts of Damascus it has retaken. Its overall diplomatic and military position is slowly eroding and the odds against it are lengthening, but it is a long way from total defeat, unless there is direct military intervention by foreign powers, as in Libya or Iraq, and this does not seem likely.

This misperception of the reality on the ground in Syria is fuelled in part by propaganda, but more especially by inaccurate and misleading reporting by the media where bias towards the rebels and against the government is unsurpassed since the height of the Cold War. Exaggerated notions are given of rebel strength and popularity. The Syrian government is partially responsible for this. By excluding all but a few foreign journalists, the regime has created a vacuum of information that is naturally filled by its enemies. In the event, a basically false and propagandistic account of events in Syria has been created by a foreign media credulous in using pro-opposition sources as if they were objective reporting.

The execution video is a case in point. I have not met a Syrian in Damascus who has not seen it. It is having great influence on how Syrians judge their future, but the mainstream media outside Syria has scarcely mentioned it. Some may be repulsed by its casual savagery, but more probably it is not shown because it contradicts so much of what foreign leaders and reporters claim is happening here.

President Obama announced on Tuesday that the US now formally recognizes the Syrian opposition as the legitimate government of Syria.

Posted on 12/12/2012 by Juan Cole

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Tuesday that there were no further indications of the Syrian regime priming itself to deploy chemical weapons. (My own suspicion is that Israeli intelligence planted that story in the first place, because it wants the US to militarily secure the chemical weapons lest they are transferred to Hizbullah. The Obama administration dealt with Netanyahu by saying deployment of chemical weapons would be a red line for the regime, and then declaring that the warning worked.)

Obama’s recognition comes as the momentum is turning slowly against the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his Baath Party. Alarabiya reports on how the Free Syria Army has reorganized itself, assigning each sector of the country to a rebel general.

The ability of the revolutionaries to disrupt the international airport in recent days is also a blow to the regime, which has had to divert Iranian arms flights to smaller military runways.

The revolutionaries claimed on Tuesday to have taken the last Baath military base in Aleppo and Idlib Province, denying the regime a site from which to subject them to artillery barrages. They also have captured anti-aircraft batteries from regime bases, reducing the danger to them of aerial bombardment.

— More than 100 countries on Wednesday recognized a new Syrian opposition coalition, opening the way for greater humanitarian assistance to the forces battling Bashar Assad and possibly even military aid, France's foreign minister said.

The formation of the Syrian National Coalition appears to be the step the international community has been waiting for to extend deeper assistance to the opposition, which had been criticized for not being sufficiently organized or representative.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called the "Friends of the Syrian People" conference meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, "extraordinary progress." He noted that the European Union is now renewing its weapons embargo on Syria every three months rather than annually to be more flexible as the situation on the ground changes.

Britain seeks to blunt an EU arms embargo against Damascus in order to supply Syria's opposition coalition with non-lethal equipment. Critics of the move, however, have expressed concern that the equipment could fall into other hands.

­The UK Foreign Office says Britain will seek an amendment to the embargo next week in a bid to support opponents Syrian President Bashar Assad.

EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the issue in Brussels on Monday. Last week. top EU diplomats agreed to decrease from one year to three months the renewal period for sanctions against Damascus. The moved was seen as a gesture of support for the Syrian rebels.

London said it seeks to ship non-lethal military gear and training to Syria to aid the rebel forces. Currently, body armor and night vision goggles fall under the arms embargo; the new amendment would permit the shipment of those and similar supplies.

(Reuters) - Rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared Damascus International Airport a battle zone on Friday, while Moscow and Washington both sounded downbeat about the prospects of a diplomatic push to end the conflict.

Fighting around the capital city has intensified over the past week, and Western officials have begun speaking about faster change on the ground in a 20-month-old conflict that has killed 40,000 people.

But Russia and the United States, the superpowers that have backed the opposing sides in the conflict, both played down the chance of a diplomatic breakthrough after talks aimed at resolving their differences.

"I don't think anyone believes that there was some great breakthrough," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

"No one should have any illusions about how hard this remains. But all of us, with any influence, need to be engaged with Brahimi for a concerted, sincere push."

Lavrov said the sides had agreed to send officials to another meeting with Brahimi, but also sounded a skeptical note.

"I would not make optimistic predictions ... It remains to be seen what will come out of this," he added, noting that Brahimi knows the chance of success is "far from 100 percent".

Rebels, meeting in Turkey in the presence of Western security officials, elected a 30-member unified military command, giving prominent posts to Islamists and excluding some senior officers who defected from Assad's army.

Washington and its NATO allies want to see Assad removed from power. Moscow has blocked action against him at the U.N. Security Council, and while outsiders repeatedly point to signs of Russia losing patience with him, its stance has not changed.

The past week has brought a war previously fought mainly in the provinces and other cities to the threshold of the capital.

Cutting access to the airport 20 km (12 miles) from the city center would be a symbolic blow. The rebels acknowledge the airport itself is still in army hands, but say they are blockading it from most sides.

"The rebel brigades who have been putting the airport under siege decided yesterday that the airport is a military zone," said Nabil al-Amir, a spokesman for the rebels' Damascus Military Council.

"Civilians who approach it now do so at their own risk," he said. Fighters had "waited two weeks for the airport to be emptied of most civilians and airlines" before declaring it a target, he added.

He did not say what they would do if aircraft tried to land. Foreign airlines have suspended all flights to Damascus since fighting has approached the airport in the past week, although some Syrian Air flights have used the airport in recent days.

Syria says the army is driving rebels back from positions in the suburbs and outskirts of Damascus where they have tried to concentrate their offensive. Accounts from rebels and the government are impossible to verify on the ground.


Although Western opponents of Assad believe events are tipping against him, they also acknowledge that the war is still far from over.

"It's very clear to me that the regime's forces are being ground down," U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, withdrawn last year, was quoted as saying by CNN. "That said, the regime's protection units continue to maintain some cohesion, and they still have some fight left in them, even though they are losing. I expect there will be substantial fighting in the days ahead."

Rami Abdelrahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has tracked the fighting since it began in March 2011, said: "I think it's unrealistic to expect that the battle is in its last stages right now."

The meeting of rebels in Antalya, Turkey, was aimed at forming a structure to run the conflict in conjunction with a new opposition National Coalition, which some European and Arab states have recognized as Syria's legitimate representatives.

One delegate at the meeting, who asked not to be identified, said two-thirds of the 30 members of the newly named command had ties with the Muslim Brotherhood or were its political allies.

"We are witnessing the result of the Qatari and Turkish creations," said the delegate, referring to leading anti-Assad countries that are seen as backing the Brotherhood.

Colonel Riad Asaad, founder of the Syrian Free Army rebel force, and General Hussein Haj Ali, the highest-ranking officer to defect from Assad's military, were among those excluded.

NATO decided this week to send U.S., German and Dutch batteries of air-defense missiles to the Turkish border, putting hundreds of American and European NATO troops close to the frontier with Syria for the first time in the crisis.

Russia's ambassador to NATO said the move risked dragging the alliance into the conflict.

"This is not a threat to us, but this is an indication that NATO is moving toward engagement, and that's it," Alexander Grushko said. "We see a threat of further involvement of NATO in the Syrian situation as a result of some provocation or some incidents on the border, if they take place.

The Dutch on Friday said they would send two Patriot batteries with up to 360 personnel. Germany approved its mission on Thursday.

The United States and its NATO allies have issued coordinated warnings in recent days to Assad not to use chemical weapons, prompting Syria to accuse Western countries of conjuring the threat to justify a military intervention.

Syria has not signed an international chemical weapons treaty banning poison gas, but has repeatedly said that it would never use such weapons on its own people.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: "We have no confirmed reports on this matter. However, if it is the case, then it will be an outrageous crime in the name of humanity."

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Belfast, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, Peter Apps in London, Steve Gutterman in Moscow and Adrian Croft in London; Writing by Douglas Hamilton and Peter Graff; Editing by Giles Elgood)

  • The CIA believes Syria has had a chemical weapons programme "for years and already has a stockpile of CW agents which can be delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets"
  • Syria is believed to possess mustard gas and sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent
  • The CIA also believes that Syria has attempted to develop more toxic and more persistent nerve agents, such as VX gas
  • A report citing Turkish, Arab and Western intelligence agencies put Syria's stockpile at approximately 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons, stored in 50 towns and cities
  • Syria has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) or ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC)

US President Barack Obama has warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad he will face "consequences" if he uses chemical weapons against his people.

"The world is watching. The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable," said Mr Obama.

A Syrian official has insisted it would "never, under any circumstances" use such weapons, "if such weapons exist".

Meanwhile, the United Nations says it is pulling "all non-essential international staff" out of Syria.

As many as 25 out of 100 international staff could leave this week, the UN news agency Irin reported, while all humanitarian missions outside Damascus will be halted for the time being.

'World is watching'

In a speech on nuclear non-proliferation at the National Defense University in Fort McNair, Mr Obama said: "We've worked to keep weapons from spreading, whether it was nuclear material in Libya or nor chemical weapons in Syria.

In response to the threats, the Syrian Foreign Ministry has issued a brief statement saying that Damascus will not use chemical weapons, “if they were available, under any circumstances against its people.” The ministry also stressed that Syria has stated repeatedly that it “will not use these types of weapons.”
In July, Syrian Foreign Ministry stated that “any chemical or bacterial weapon will never be used – and I repeat will never be used – during the crisis in Syria regardless of the developments.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi assured at the time that all of these types of weapons are in storage and under security and the direct supervision of the Syrian armed forces and "will never be used unless Syria is exposed to external aggression.”

­Anonymous reports of suspicious activity

Meanwhile, several senior US defense officials – all on condition of anonymity – claimed that Syria has begun mixing chemicals that can be used to make the deadly sarin gas.
“We've picked up several indications which lead us to believe that they're combining chemical precursors,” one unnamed US official told AFP, adding that the operation was apparently aimed at making sarin.

A report by Wired cites another unnamed US official “with knowledge of the situation,” who said that the sources in the Syrian military confirm that the preparations “have gotten to the point where they can load it up on a plane and drop it.”

The Associated Press earlier cited another official who said on condition of anonymity that US intelligence officials had detected activity around several known Syrian chemical weapons sites in recent days.
Concerns about the potential use of chemical weapons in Syria have arisen on the same day the UN announced it is sending all non-essential international staff out of Syria and halting aid missions outside Damascus.

­Pretext for intervention?

This is not the first time unusual movements of stockpiles have been detected in Syria. In September, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta noted that intelligence said the Syrian government had moved some of its chemical weapons. Panetta though added that this might have been done to safeguard the chemical stockpile against rebel forces.

But this time, some analysts believe, the revived concerns of chemical weapons use might be used as a pretext for a “humanitarian intervention” in Syria.
“This issue of the chemical weapons is useful to prepare the ground for a humanitarian type of intervention which may include some strikes eventually,” political analyst Paolo Raffone told RT. “But mostly I doubt strongly that Western countries would send soldiers on the ground in Syria.”
Government and business consultant Christoph Horstel believes that the main concern of the Syrian government right now is that the opposition fighters, whoever they are, do not lay their hands on the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile.
“What Syria is certainly doing is trying to make sure that no foreign agent, how well equipped ever, can get into the possession of these weapons,” Horstel told RT. “Of course, they are not planning to use them against foreign enemies in their territory. No way. All these things are inventions of foreign and Western propaganda.”
Russia is meanwhile concerned that the militarization of the Syrian conflict is in full swing as large supplies of weapons to the Syrian opposition continue despite an arms embargo against the war-torn country. These supplies include “rather dangerous” arms, such as Stinger missiles, and hamper all efforts which “should be aimed at conciliation, and work with all the opposition groups,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said in an interview with Itar-Tass.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that while Russia cannot give any guarantees on the Syrian leader’s intentions, it shares international concern over the humanitarian situation in Syria and the wider region. Putin also added that the possible placing of Patriot missiles along the Syrian border in Turkey will not in any way add to stability in the region.

All hell is breaking loose in Syria.

Revolutionaries have captured at least 7 bases from the Syrian army in just the past two weeks, and they have been mining their depots for arms. They have gotten hold of SA-7 shoulderheld missile launchers and deployed them against the Syrian air force. The regime seems to have lost control of most of the north of the country, and roads north have been cut. The revolutionaries are now attempting to take the Damascus airport, to prevent the regime from being resupplied by Russia and other allies. The fighting near the airport has caused most international passenger airlines to cease flying into it, though it is technically still open and the regime may still be able to use it for resupply. The regime, desperate to disrupt the revolutionaries’ command and control, pulled the plug on the internet and also turned off the telephone service. Muammar Qaddafi turned off the internet during the uprising in Libya, but it did not help him in the end. It is hard to see how this regime can survive, given the kinds of advances that the opposition has been making in recent weeks.

– The Washington Post reports: Some of the heaviest fighting since the Syrian uprising began last year forced the closure of Damascus’s international airport Thursday as communications throughout the country went dark after the government apparently shut down Internet access.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The 20-month conflict in Syria has reached "new and appalling heights of brutality and violence" as the government steps up its shelling and air strikes and rebels boost their attacks, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday.

Ban and international Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi addressed the 193-member U.N. General Assembly on the revolt against Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, which began as peaceful rallies calling for democracy but grew to an armed struggle after the military cracked down on protesters.

The fighting has killed about 40,000 people, making it the bloodiest of Arab uprisings that have ousted entrenched leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen since early last year.
"The government has intensified its campaigns to root out opposition strongholds and has increased shelling and air strikes," Ban said. "Opposition elements also have stepped up their attacks. I am horrified and saddened and condemn the seemingly daily massacres of civilians."
Syrian air force jets bombarded rebel targets on Friday close to the Damascus airport road and a regional airline said the violence had halted international flights. The Internet and most telephone lines also were down for a second day in the worst communications outage of the conflict.

Ban said with the onset of winter, up to 4 million people in Syria would be in need and that he expected to number of refugees - currently about 480,000 - to hit 700,000 by early next year. He appealed for more humanitarian aid and said he would soon visit refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey to assess the situation.

Brahimi said rebel forces had made gains on the ground in the past few weeks, but the government remained confident that it has the upper hand.


"The areas of territory that they (the rebels) control are expanding, and with strategic value in some cases," Brahimi said. "In Syria itself, there is no trust between the parties. They do not even define the problem in the same terms."
Brahimi told the General Assembly that Syria was in danger of becoming a failed state and stepped up his pressure on the Security Council, which is deadlocked over taking stronger action on Assad, to adopt a resolution backing his peace bid.

The United States and European council members blame Russia, a staunch ally and key arms supplier for Assad's government, and China for the council's inaction on the conflict. Moscow and Beijing have vetoed three resolutions condemning Assad and reject the idea of sanctions. Diplomats say nothing has changed.
"Any peace process must include ... a binding agreement on the cessation of all forms of violence," Brahimi said.
"For the fighting to stop, a strong, well planned observation system must be put in place," he said. "Such observation can best be organized through a large, robust peacekeeping force - and, naturally, that cannot be envisaged without a Security Council resolution."
If there were a more sustained ceasefire, the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations has told Brahimi it could put together a force of up to 3,000 monitors to keep fighters separated and maintain the truce, diplomats say.
"Difficult as it has been for the council to reach a consensus on an implementable roadmap for Syria, I nevertheless feel that it is here, and only here, that a credible, implementable process can be put together," Brahimi said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bill Trott)

TUNIS, Tunisia – The interim president of Libya, who came to power following a NATO-supported rebellion against former leader Moammar Gadhafi, said Thursday he opposed foreign intervention in Syria.

Speaking at press conference with his Tunisian counterpart, Mohammed al-Megarif said he also opposed arming the Syrian opposition which has been battling the regime of President Bashar Assad for the last year and a half, with thousands of lives lost.

The two leaders, both products of the wave of uprisings that swept the Middle East in 2011, did call for Assad to step down.

Like the conflict in Syria, the uprising that overthrew former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi turned into a civil war and the rebels only triumphed with the aid of a NATO campaign of airstrikes and the supply of sophisticated weapons.

Syria’s rebels have repeatedly called for greater material international support, but little has been forthcoming, in part because of international concerns over the lack of unity in the opposition.

Al-Megarif also said that he and Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki were withholding recognition of the new Syrian opposition coalition until they could evaluate how representative it was.

Al-Megarif’s visit to Tunisia comes with a $200 million offer of aid to the Tunisian economy to “support its development.”

The Tunisian economy, which relies heavily on tourism and exports to Europe, has been severely battered by the unrest that accompanied the overthrow of its long-ruling dictator in January 2011.

“It is the first financial interaction which will be followed by others as we solidify the excellent relations linking the two countries,” said Marzouki.

Source- AP via Montreal Gazette

The situation in Libya is worst now after Ousting Gaddafi; the destruction of Iran won't make the situation better for Iranians; the destruction of Syria is not making the situation better for Syrians.

As a person from countries with corrupt inefficient governments, I said that an attack from outside is never welcome, despite internal strife.

Hugh Schofield
BBC News, Paris

By becoming the first Western power to recognise the Syrian National Coalition, France is hoping to build on the success of Sunday's meeting in Doha and set a precedent that other nations may follow.

No-one has forgotten that it was France that set the pace when it came to recognising the Libyan opposition last year. That was under a different, arguably more gung-ho president - Nicolas Sarkozy - and the circumstances in Libya were very different. But France likes to feel it still has a special role to play in the Middle East, and this was a welcome opportunity for Francois Hollande to make a foreign policy mark.

The president's remarks on reconsidering arms deliveries need to be treated with caution. Nothing will happen quickly, not least because France is bound by an EU embargo on arms deliveries to all sides in the Syrian conflict.

Still the president did say that with the coalition now officially recognised, the question of arms could be re-opened - and that will be seized on by the opposition as an important advance.

The Arab League has hailed the formation of Syria's new rebel coalition, but stopped short of recognizing the group as the sole legitimate voice of the Syrian people. Leaders of Syria's exiled opposition, beset by mutual suspicion and infighting, formed the new bloc on Sunday and are now seeking full international backing.

Political analyst Lew Rockwell believes that by offering full support for the Syrian coalition, foreign nations may be hijacking the initiative.

I could hear the exchange of gunfire and the sounds of bombing nearby. After a particularly strong burst, I found myself trembling. Out of nowhere, a little boy named Mohamed came up and grabbed my hand with his two little hands. I’ll never forget what he told me. He said, “Don’t you worry, you will be ok. We hear this all the time and we are used to it. Take a deep breath and you will be ok.”

Mohamed is 7 years old. I don’t know what affected me more - his gesture of kindness or knowing that such a young, sweet boy was already accustomed to such terrible sounds of violence. 

The ongoing conflict in Syria has played out in the international media for months now. But the humanitarian needs in Syria and the surrounding countries hosting Syrian refugees have never been more urgent than they are at this moment. Find out how you can help. 

The World Food Programme has scaled up its operations to reach 1.5 million people in Syria with emergency food assistance. As thousands more Syrians pour into Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, many arrive exhausted and hungry after fleeing their homes with nothing. WFP is helping to feed these refugees through hot meals and food vouchers. 

During an emergency, every dollar counts. Your donation to provide food for Syrian families will come at a critical time. 

In some cases, we’re going to door-to-door delivering food to poor, displaced Syrians in order to avoid large gatherings of people in particularly tense areas. A few days ago, I joined some of my colleagues bringing rice, beans and oil to families in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs in western Syria. Two-thirds of the city has been devastated by conflict, and many streets are now deserted. 

WFP’s expertise is getting the right food to people who need it most, when they need it the most. Right now, families need our help to ensure they don’t have to worry about where they’ll find their next meal. Please make a donation today to provide food for more families in Syria. Every donation will immediately be directed to our emergency operation. 

As I write this, more than 20 of my WFP colleagues in Syria have lost their homes, yet they continue to carry out their life-saving work each day. Their dedication amazes me. Your donation will not only support Syrian families but also honor the courage of these colleagues. 

Thank you, 

Abeer Etefa
Senior Communications Officer, Middle East
World Food Programme

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military says it has fired into Syria for a second straight day in response to errant mortar fire that landed in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

There were no reports of injuries on either side of the frontier Monday. But a series of similar incidents in recent days has raised fears that Israel could be dragged into the fighting in its northern neighbor.
Israel does not believe the mortar fire has intentionally targeted Israeli targets.
Still, Israeli officials have warned that they will respond harshly if the attacks persist.

Israel responded for the first time on Sunday, firing an anti-tank missile as a "warning shot."

In an exclusive interview with RT, Syrian President Bashar Assad said that Syria is not going through a civil war, but rather a different kind of war -- terrorism through proxies.

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian army abandoned its last base near the northern town of Saraqeb after a fierce assault by rebels, further isolating the strategically important second city Aleppo from the capital.
But in a political setback to forces battling to topple President Bashar al-Assad, the United Nations said the rebels appeared to have committed a war crime after seizing the base.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday government troops had retreated from a post northwest of Saraqeb, leaving the town and surrounding areas "completely outside the control of regime forces".

It was not immediately possible to verify the reported army withdrawal. Authorities restrict journalists' access in Syria and state media made no reference to Saraqeb.

The pullout followed coordinated rebel attacks on Thursday against three military posts around Saraqeb, 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Aleppo, in which 28 soldiers were killed.

Several were shown in video footage being shot after they had surrendered.

"The allegations are that these were soldiers who were no longer combatants. And therefore, at this point it looks very likely that this is a war crime, another one," U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said in Geneva.

"Unfortunately this could be just the latest in a string of documented summary executions by opposition factions as well as by government forces and groups affiliated with them, such as the shabbiha (pro-government militia)," he said.

Video footage of the killings showed rebels berating the captured men, calling them "Assad's dogs", before firing round after round into their bodies as they lay on the ground.

Rights groups and the United Nations say rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have committed war crimes during the 19-month-old conflict. It began with protests against Assad and has spiraled into a civil war which has killed 32,000 people and threatens to drag in regional powers.

The mainly Sunni Muslim rebels are supported by Sunni states including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and neighboring Turkey. Shi'ite Iran remains the strongest regional supporter of Assad, who is from the Alawite faith which is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.


Saraqeb lies at the meeting point of Syria's main north-south highway, linking Aleppo with Damascus, and another road connecting Aleppo to the Mediterranean port of Latakia.

With areas of rural Aleppo and border crossings to Turkey already under rebel control, the loss of Saraqeb would leave Aleppo city further cut off from Assad's Damascus powerbase.

Any convoys using the highways from Damascus or the Mediterranean city of Latakia would be vulnerable to rebel attack. This would force the army to use smaller rural roads or send supplies on a dangerous route from Al-Raqqa in the east, according to the Observatory's director, Rami Abdelrahman.

In response to the rebels' territorial gains, Assad has stepped up air strikes against opposition strongholds, launching some of the heaviest raids so far against working class suburbs east of Damascus over the last week.

The bloodshed has continued unabated despite an attempted ceasefire, proposed by join U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to mark last month's Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

In the latest in a string of fruitless international initiatives, China called on Thursday for a phased, region-by-region ceasefire and the setting up of a transitional governing body - an idea which opposition leaders hope to flesh out at a meeting in Qatar next week.

Veteran opposition leader Riad Seif has proposed a structure bringing together the rebel Free Syrian Army, regional military councils and other rebel forces alongside local civilian bodies and prominent opposition figures.

His plan, called the Syrian National Initiative, calls for four bodies to be established: the Initiative Body, including political groups, local councils, national figures and rebel forces; a Supreme Military Council; a Judicial Committee and a transitional government made up of technocrats.

The initiative has the support of Washington. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Wednesday for an overhaul of the opposition, saying it was time to move beyond the troubled Syrian National Council.

The SNC has failed to win recognition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and Clinton said it was time to bring in "those on the front lines fighting and dying".

(Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Jon Boyle)

ALEPPO, Syria (Reuters) - The United States and Turkey indicated they were studying a range of possible measures over Syria, including a no-fly zone, as battles between rebels and President Bashar al-Assad's forces shook Aleppo and the heart of Damascus.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after meeting her Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul on Saturday that Washington and Ankara should develop detailed operational planning on ways to assist the rebels fighting to topple Assad.

"Our intelligence services, our military have very important responsibilities and roles to play so we are going to be setting up a working group to do exactly that," she said.

Asked about options such as imposing a no-fly zone over rebel-held territory, Clinton said these were possibilities she and Davutoglu had agreed "need greater in-depth analysis", while indicating that no decisions were necessarily imminent.

"It is one thing to talk about all kinds of potential actions, but you cannot make reasoned decisions without doing intense analysis and operational planning," she said.

Though any intervention appears to be a distant prospect, her remarks were nevertheless the closest Washington has come to suggesting direct military action in Syria.

No-fly zones imposed by NATO and Arab allies helped Libyan rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi last year. Until recently, the West had shunned the idea of repeating any Libya-style action.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are believed to be arming Syrian rebels, while the United States and Britain have pledged to step up non-lethal assistance to Assad's opponents.

Davutoglu said it was time outside powers took decisive steps to resolve the humanitarian crisis in cities such as Aleppo, where Assad's forces have fought rebels for three weeks.


In the latest battles, tanks and troops pummeled rebels near the shattered district of Salaheddine, a former opposition stronghold that commands the main southern approach to Aleppo.

Tank fire crashed into the adjacent Saif al-Dawla neighborhood as military jets circled over an abandoned police station held by rebels, firing missiles every few minutes.

Insurgents said they had been forced to retreat in the latest twist in relentless, see-saw battles for Salaheddine, part of a swathe of Aleppo seized by rebels last month.

Some rebels, outgunned and low on ammunition in Aleppo, have pleaded for outside military help, arguing that more weapons and a no-fly zone over areas they control near the Turkish border would give them a secure base against Assad's forces.

"The reason we retreated from Salaheddine this week is a lack of weapons," complained Abu Thadet, a rebel commander in Aleppo who said his fighters would regroup and fight back. "We can handle the bombing. It's the snipers that make it hard."

In Damascus, where Assad's forces have regained control of districts overrun by rebels last month, a resident reported an explosion near the Central Bank, followed by gunfire.

"The explosion was huge. There has been fighting for the past half-hour along Pakistan Street. I am very close. Can you hear that?" she told Reuters, a bang audible over the telephone.

Syrian state TV said authorities were hunting "terrorists" who had set off a bomb in Merjeh, an area near the central bank, and who were "shooting at random to spark panic among citizens".
At least 11 people were killed on Saturday when government forces mounted an armored attack to try to regain the area the Sunni Muslim north Damascus suburb of al-Tel, activists said.

"The army pushed tanks, armored personnel carriers and pick-up trucks equipped with heavy machine-guns toward Tel in the morning and fighting has been raging for the last 12 hours," said Alam, one of the opposition activists, who gave only his first name for fear of retribution.

"They did not manage to go in. The Free Syrian Army had booby trapped the entrances to Tel and four armor pieces have been destroyed," he added.


Despite their superior firepower, Assad's forces have been stretched by months of warfare against increasingly skilled and organized fighters who have taken them on in every city and in many parts of the countryside at one time or another.

Germany's spy chief said the Syrian army had been depleted by casualties, deserters and defectors.
"There are a lot of indications that the end game for the regime has begun," said Gerhard Schindler, head of the BND intelligence agency, in an interview with Die Welt newspaper.

"The regular army is being confronted by a variety of flexible fighters. The recipe of their success is their guerrilla tactics. They're breaking the army's back."

Syria's torment, however, is far from over and several signs point to how the conflict could spill over into its neighbors.

Jordanian and Syrian forces clashed along the border in the early hours of Saturday when refugees tried to cross to Jordan, a Syrian opposition activist who witnessed the fighting said.

Thousands of Syrians have fled into Jordan, but tensions heightened after Assad's newly installed prime minister, Riad Hijab, defected and escaped across the border this week.

Assad's main outside allies are Shi'ite Iran and Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah movement. His ruling system is dominated by members of his Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

His foes are mostly from Syria's Sunni majority, who are backed by Sunni-ruled states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, which are also regional rivals of Iran.

Arab foreign ministers will meet on Sunday in Jeddah to discuss the Syria crisis and who should replace Kofi Annan, the United Nations-Arab League envoy, a League official said.

(Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut, Andrew Quinn and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul, Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin, Louis Charbonneau in New York and Tamim Elyan in Cairo; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Jon Hemming)

UN envoy Kofi Annan says a national unity cabinet with government and opposition members could be the solution for the Syrian crisis. Moscow and other permanent members of the UN Security Council reportedly “signaled” their support of the idea.

That is according to diplomatic sources that spoke to Reuters on Wednesday on condition of anonymity. Annan's proposal for a political transition in Syria is one of the main topics that Russia and other key players in the Middle East will discuss at the Geneva meeting on Saturday.

Summarizing the proposal, diplomats explained the conflict could only end when all sides see a common way to a shared future. Annan stressed it was “vital that [any] settlement [be] irreversible, [with] clear transition steps in a fixed timeline.”

“These include establishing a transitional national unity government to create a neutral backdrop for transition,” the diplomat said. “It could comprise of present government members, opposition and others, but would need to exclude those whose continued participation or presence would jeopardize the transition's credibility, or harm prospects for reconciliation and stability.”

Although Annan's plan does not specify who exactly would be excluded from the prospective government, the diplomat added that this idea was clearly referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Reuters’ source also states that the Russians “signaled to Annan that they accept his transition plan,” while several Western diplomats confirmed these remarks. Moreover, all five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council have reportedly backed the proposal.

Kofi Annan has made the acceptance of his proposal a condition for organizing the Saturday meeting. The United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar will attend the conference.

Rebel gunmen stormed Syria's pro-government television station on Wednesday, killing at least seven employees just hours after President Bashar Assad declared that the country is at war.

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Gunmen stormed a pro-government Syrian TV channel headquarters on Wednesday, bombing buildings and shooting dead three employees, state media said, in one of the boldest attacks yet on a symbol of the authoritarian state.
More than 150 people were killed in fierce fighting across Syria on Wednesday, 86 of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Intensified fighting in the country have driven up the death toll averages to around 100 people per day in the past week.
President Bashar al-Assad declared late on Tuesday that his country was "at war". U.S. intelligence officials said the Syrian government was "holding fairly firm" and digging in for a long struggle against rebel forces who are getting stronger.
The dawn attack on Ikhbariya television's offices, 20 km (15 miles) south of the capital, as well as overnight fighting on the outskirts of Damascus showed the 16-month-old violence now rapidly encroaching on the city.
Ikhbariya resumed broadcasting shortly after the attack, which killed three journalists and four security guards, displaying bullet holes in its two-storey concrete building and pools of blood on the floor. One building was almost entirely destroyed.
"I heard a small explosion then a huge explosion and gunmen ran in. They ransacked the offices and entirely destroyed the newsroom," an employee who works at the offices in the town of Drousha told state media at the scene.
Syrian media are tightly regulated by the Ministry of Information. Although Ikhbariya is privately owned, opponents of Assad say it is a government mouthpiece.
After Tuesday's fighting unprecedented in its intensity around Damascus, violence appeared to ease off around the capital following the attack on the television complex. But rebel forces were clearly becoming stronger and more ambitious.
During the pro-democracy revolt against the Assad family's four-decade rule, Ikhbariya has been pushing to counter what it says is a campaign of misinformation by Western and Arab satellite channels on the uprising that began in March 2011.
"We live in a real state of war from all angles," Assad told a cabinet he appointed on Tuesday, in a speech broadcast on state television. "When we are in a war, all policies and all sides and all sectors need to be directed at winning this war."
The declaration marks a change of rhetoric from Assad, who had long dismissed the uprising against him as the work of scattered militants in "terrorist gangs" funded from abroad.
The rambling speech - Assad also commented on subjects as far afield as the benefits of renewable energy - left little room for compromise. He denounced the West, which "takes and never gives, and this has been proven at every stage".
International mediator Kofi Annan said he had convened a ministerial-level meeting on Syria in Geneva on Saturday with the aim of seeking an end to the violence and agreeing on principles for a "Syrian-led political transition".
In a statement, the joint United Nations-Arab League envoy said he had invited foreign ministers from the five major powers - Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States - as well as Turkey, the European Union, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar.
Despite the deterioration in Syria, so far there has been no sign of an appetite for full-scale Western intervention. However, last week's shooting down of a Turkish warplane by Syrian air defenses has focused attention on a volatile situation on Turkey's southeastern border with Syria.
"We will not refrain from teaching a lesson to anyone trying to test Turkey's greatness," Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, referring to the incident near the countries' maritime borders.
Turkey's land border territories, hosting over 33,000 refugees and units of the rebel Free Syria Army (FSA), are quickly becoming a potential flashpoint. Tuesday's comments by Erdogan may if anything have added further uncertainty to the situation there.
Erdogan said on Tuesday that Syrian military elements approaching the border and posing a threat would be deemed a military target. He made no public clarification of new terms of engagement issued to troops.
"With Tayyip Erdogan's announcement, and if Syria complies with it, Turkey will have by itself declared a de facto 'buffer zone'," Radikal newspaper columnist Cengiz Candar wrote.
"And if Bashar al-Assad doesn't comply with this? That is, if he continues to send soldiers right up to the border? Turkey runs the risk of a military operation against him."
Turkey has in the past spoken of possible establishment of a 'humanitarian corridor' on Syrian soil - a venture that would inevitably require armed protection. But it has always insisted such a measure, if required by a rising tide of refugees or by evidence of massacres, would need international endorsement
United Nations investigators said on Wednesday Syrian government forces had committed human rights violations, including executions, across the country "on an alarming scale" during military operations in the past three months.
The report by the U.N. Human Rights Council, issued in Geneva, also listed killings and kidnappings by armed opposition groups trying to topple President Assad.
"The situation on the ground is dangerously and quickly deteriorating," the report said.
Syria's ambassador dismissed the accusations and threatened to end cooperation with international agencies.
The United Nations accuses Syrian forces of killing more than 10,000 people during the conflict, which began with a popular uprising and has built up into an armed insurgency.
A White House spokesman said of the attack on the pro-government television station: "We condemn all acts of violence, including those targeting pro-regime elements."
The UK-based Observatory, which compiles reports from activists across the country, reported battles on Tuesday near the headquarters of the Republican Guard in Qudsiya, and in other Damascus suburbs of al-Hama and Mashrou' Dumar, just 9 km from the capital.
Activists said the clashes were the heaviest to hit areas on the outskirts of Damascus, once considered an impenetrable Assad stronghold. Fighting in the suburbs outside the capital were renewed again on Wednesday night, the Observatory said.
Despite some military defections, mainly from low to mid-level ranks, Assad's inner circle remains cohesive and the war is still likely to be a drawn-out struggle, senior U.S. intelligence officials said, in an assessment dimming any U.S. hopes that Assad will fall soon.
"Our overall assessment ... would be that we are still seeing the military regime forces fairly cohesive, they've learned some lessons over the last year and a half about how to deal with this kind of insurgency," an official said.
The insurgency is also getting stronger, he said.
"Both sides seem to be girding for a long struggle. Our sense is that the regime still believes it can ultimately prevail or at least appears determined to try to prevail and the opposition at the same time seems to be preparing for a long fight."
(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington; additional reporting by Jonathon Burch and Jon Hemming; editing by Ralph Boulton, Janet McBride and Michael Roddy)

Turkey's President, Abdullah Gul, has said the Turkish fighter jet shot down by Syria's air defence forces on Friday may have violated Syrian airspace.

Mr Gul said it was routine for warplanes flying at high speed to cross borders for short distances.

Syria has said it engaged the aircraft in its airspace "according to the laws that govern such situations", and that it crashed into the Mediterranean Sea.

The Turkish and Syrian navies are searching for the two crew members.

Relations between Nato-member Turkey and Syria, once close allies, have deteriorated sharply since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. More than 30,000 Syrian refugees have fled the violence across the border into Turkey.

After a cross-border shooting by Syrian security forces in April that left two refugees dead at a camp near the town of Kilis, Turkey said it would not tolerate any action that it deemed violating its security.

Members of the U.N. Security Council remain at an impasse over an international response to Syria’s turmoil. Kofi Annan has proposed establishing a new contact group involving the United States, Russia and Iran, but the United States has refused to accept Iran’s involvement. Russia and China continue to oppose proposals for sanctions against Syria and the U.S.-led calls for Assad to step down. At the United Nations, Russia envoy Vitaly Churkin said Council members have ignored the role of Syria’s armed rebels in the ongoing violence and called for Iran’s involvement in any future talks.

Vitaly Churkin: "The truth of the matter, as you know, is that armed opposition groups do not only — do not only fail to comply to the Kofi Annan plan, but they declare that it is their intention not to do so, which, to us, is a very dangerous development, a very counterproductive development. We hear complaints about Iran, so the way to deal with that is to involve Iran in discussions and make sure that their activities are in sync with the activities of the rest of us who want to have this matter finally settled peacefully."

Earlier in the day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov vowed to oppose any Security Council measure authorizing military intervention, saying: "There will not be a Security Council mandate for outside intervention, I guarantee you that."

The Turkish response to the downing of one of its fighter jets by Syrian forces has been strikingly low-key. Official statements have been terse. Turkey is not challenging the official Syrian account of what happened, but nor is it yet accepting it.

The Syrian military said the F4 reconnaissance jet was shot down as it flew low and fast towards the city of Latakia, just 1km from the coast. Turkey's President Abdullah Gul suggested that it was routine for fast-flying military jets to stray into other countries' air space, but the Syrian account puts this aircraft deep inside its territory, raising big questions about what it was doing. Had it gone badly off course, or was it on some other mission? There are questions too about why Syria shot the aircraft down, rather than try to ascertain its purpose.

Two impressions are left by what we know so far from this incident. First, that Syria's sophisticated, Russian-supplied air defence systems are effective, and Syria is willing to use them. Second, that Turkey is taking great care not to be drawn into a military confrontation with Syria.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. government website on Friday published what it said was photographic evidence of mass graves and attacks on civilian areas by Syrian government forces.

The website, operated by a bureau of the State Department, published a series of overhead photos, said to be taken earlier this week by commercial satellite, showing what it said were mass graves dug following a massacre near the town of Houla.

They also showed apparent artillery impact craters near civilian areas of a town called Atarib.

Included on the web page, which can be viewed at, are pictures which apparently show artillery deployed as of May 31 - Thursday - near three Syrian towns and attack helicopters allegedly deployed near the towns of Shayrat and Homs.

The pictures are credited to commercial satellite imagery companies.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari did not have an immediate reaction when reached by Reuters.

More than 100 men, women and children were massacred in Houla last week, most of them shot at point-blank range or slashed with knives.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said earlier this week that the people who died from artillery and tank fire were clearly victims of government shelling while the others were most likely killed by "shabbiha" militia loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Damascus has blamed the massacre on the opposition, which Assad has tried unsuccessfully for 14 months to crush, killing over 10,000 people in the process, according to the United Nations. Russia, which has used its veto powers to prevent the U.N. Security Council from sanctioning Syria, blames Islamist militants for the Houla massacre.

The State Department website highlights what it said are before and after satellite pictures showing mass graves near Houla.

A May 18 photo from Tall Daww, a village near Houla, shows what the government says is a square that appears to be a flat dirt clearing. Juxtaposed against this is what the U.S. government says is a May 28 photo of the same square with what appear to be rows of turned up earth, which is labeled as "probable newly-dug graves/trenches."

(Additional reporting by Lou Charbonneau at the United Nations; Editing by Warren Strobel and Lisa Shumaker)

By Ruth Sherlock, Beirut and Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent

7:42PM BST 31 May 2012

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, bluntly criticised Russia's continued backing for President Bashar al-Assad's regime yesterday. This support was illustrated last night by the disclosure that a Russian cargo ship carrying weapons had docked in Syria last Saturday, one day after the massacre in Houla which claimed at least 108 civilian lives.

Addressing students in Denmark, Mrs Clinton urged Russia to use its influence on Mr Assad to curb the fighting.

"The Syrians are not going to listen to us. They will listen - maybe - to the Russians, so we have to keep pushing them," she said.

Russian officials, added Mrs Clinton, "are telling me they don't want to see a civil war. I have been telling them their policy is going help to contribute to a civil war." Western governments believe that diplomatic cover afforded by the Kremlin has emboldened Mr Assad and encouraged him to resist pressure to negotiate a settlement of the conflict.

Earlier, Susan Rice, the American ambassador to the UN, said that Russia's veto-wielding membership of the Security Council would not necessarily prevent international action. If the violence worsened and the peace plan proposed by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, made no progress, some countries would consider whether to bypass Russian and Chinese opposition in the UN.

Paul Wood
BBC Middle East correspondent, just out of Syria

The ceasefire exists in name only. Most people within Syria don't think that the UN plan will work anyway. I think the threat to lift the ceasefire by the Free Syrian Army will just mean business as usual.

The Free Syrian Army, from what I could see, are under enormous pressure. They're having to sell their furniture to buy bullets. A few more serious weapons are trickling through: we believe some anti-tank weapons reached the main holdout, the town of Rastan.

But these people are barely surviivng, and although they are getting a trickle of defections I don't think they're in a position to really cause the government serious trouble.

What we may get is a sectarian civil war, of village against village, and that is what is threatened by the Friday deadline.

An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council called to discuss a massacre in Syria has heard that 116 people were killed and 300 injured in Houla.

Friday's killings in the town have sparked international outrage.

The UK wants Russia, Syria's only major foreign ally, to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to halt civilian deaths.

The Syrian government has denied any involvement in the Houla killings, blaming "terrorists".

The closed meeting was called after Russia rejected a joint UK-French statement condemning the killings, diplomats say.

Russia was said to first want a briefing from the head of the UN observer mission in Syria, Maj Gen Robert Mood.

He told the assembled diplomats via video link from Damascus that 116 people had been killed and 300 injured - up from a previous figure of 90 dead.

Opposition activists say the Syrian military bombarded Houla after demonstrations. They say that some of the victims were killed during the shelling, while others were shot dead at close range by the regime militia known as the "shabiha".

'Vile testament'

Russia's deputy ambassador to the United Nations told journalists that it was not clear who was responsible for the deaths.

"There are substantial grounds to believe that the majority of those who were killed were either slashed, cut by knives, or executed at point blank distance," he said.

Shashank Joshi Associate fellow, Royal United Services Institute

So far, there is no sign that Houla will be a game-changer. First, remember that this massacre will be interpreted differently around the world.

Many countries sympathise with the Assad's government narrative that the opposition are Arab-backed Sunni fundamentalists and terrorists.

Just as some critics argue that the massacres in Libya last year and Racak, Kosovo, in 1999 are exaggerated or fabricated, similar skepticism about Houla will persist, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence - and that will affect how the UN Security Council lines up on the issue.

Moreover, the growing role of al-Qaeda and affiliated jihadist groups in Syria has, in recent months, become a further deterrent to intervention.

American officials are terrified that support for the opposition may end up in the hands of the very same people that mounted attacks on Western forces in Iraq just a few years ago.

Above all, however, no-one wants to pick a fight with Russia.

Rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria will be paid salaries, the opposition Syrian National Council has announced.

Money will also be given to soldiers who defect from the government's army, the SNC added, after a "Friends of the Syrian people" summit in Turkey.

Conference delegates said wealthy Gulf Arab states would supply millions of dollars a month for the SNC fund.

The meeting recognised the SNC as the "legitimate representative" of Syrians.

Damascus dubbed the gathering of some 70 Western and Arab foreign ministers in Istanbul as the "enemies of Syria", and key players remained absent, including Russia, China and Iran.

At a news conference, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned Syria that Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan - which Damascus has agreed to in principle - was "not open-ended".

His comments were echoed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said there was "no more time for excuses and delays" by the Assad government. "This is a moment of truth," she said.

"The SNC will take charge of the payment of fixed salaries of all officers, soldiers, and others who are members of the Free Syrian Army," SNC President Burhan Ghalioun told the conference.

The BBC's Jonathan Head, in Istanbul, says the decision to pay rebel fighters is a significant step by the SNC in recognising the central role the armed insurgency is now playing in their campaign to oust President Assad.

An SNC leader told the BBC that she hoped more substantial funding would help bind the disparate units of the Free Syrian Army into a more coherent fighting force, and encourage other soldiers to defect from the government side.

Some countries at the conference - notably Saudi Arabia - have been openly calling for insurgents in Syria to be given weapons. But others - including the US and Turkey - oppose the move, fearing it could fuel an all-out civil war.

The decision to increase non-lethal aid to the rebels by paying salaries to the fighters is a compromise, our correspondent says.

Not all opposition groups will be happy at the summit's decision to channel the funds through the SNC - as well as recognising it as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, he adds.

There are many activists who believe the SNC's leadership has been too ineffective, and should be replaced, he points out.

The united front displayed by the gathering was undermined by the pointed absence of Russia and China, which have repeatedly balked at any international resolutions that would require President Assad to stand down.

Iraq attended, having earlier suggested it might not. However, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made it clear beforehand that he opposed arming the opposition and believed the Syrian government would survive.

The Syrian government says it is close to ending the uprising.

Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdissi told Syrian TV "the battle to topple the state is over".

Violence continued on Sunday, with more than 10 people reported killed, a day after more than 60 people died across the country.

In the latest violence, activists reported attacks by security forces in areas near the Iraqi border to the east, and the Jordanian frontier to the south.

The UN believes at least 9,000 people have died in the year-long revolt against Mr Assad's rule.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has warned that arming either side in Syria will lead to a "proxy war".

He was speaking at the opening of an Arab League summit - the first major international meeting to be hosted by Iraq since at least 1990.

A UN-Arab League plan for Syria would see a UN-monitored end to fighting, troops pulled out of opposition areas and access for humanitarian services.

Syria agreed to the initiative on Tuesday but violence has continued.

A number of explosions were heard in central Baghdad as the summit was starting.

Two of the blasts occurred near the Iranian embassy, eyewitnesses said. There are unconfirmed reports that an explosion near the city's secure Green Zone was an IED (improvised explosive device).

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