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332 items tagged "Syria"

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ISIS Destroys Ancient Temple in Palmyra

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 25 August 2015 09:56
wilya-homs-scrn-grab-palmyra-shrines-blastIslamic State (ISIS) jihadists have destroyed a temple at Syria's ancient ruins of Palmyra, activists said Sunday, according to The Associated Press (AP).
 
The move realizes the worst fears archaeologists had for the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city, after the extremists seized it and beheaded a local scholar.
 
Palmyra, one of the Middle East's most spectacular archaeological sites and a UNESCO World Heritage site, sits near the modern Syrian city of the same name. Activists said ISIS used explosives to blow up the Baalshamin Temple on its grounds, the blast so powerful it also damaged some of the Roman columns around it.
 
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday night that the temple was blown up a month ago. Turkey-based activist Osama al-Khatib, who is originally from Palmyra, said the temple was blown up Sunday.
 
Both said the extremists used a large amount of explosives to destroy it, according to AP. They relied on information from those still in Palmyra and the discrepancy in their accounts could not be immediately reconciled, though such contradictory information is common in Syria's long civil war.
 
The fate of the nearby Temple of Bel, dedicated to the Semitic god Bel, was not immediately known. ISIS supporters on social media also did not immediately mention the temple's destruction, according to AP.
 
In June, Islamic State blew up two ancient shrines in Palmyra that were not part of its Roman-era structures but which they regarded as pagan and sacrilegious.
 
The group’s destruction of artifacts was condemned by the UN’s cultural body, UNESCO, which described it as an attempt to strip the people of their heritage in order "to enslave them".
 
The Sunni extremists, who have imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law across their self-declared "caliphate" in territory they control in Syria and Iraq, claim ancient relics promote idolatry and say they are destroying them as part of their purge of paganism.
 
However, they are also believed to sell off looted antiquities, bringing in significant sums of cash.
 
Al-Khatib said the Baalshamin Temple is about 500 meters (550 yards) from the Palmyra's famous amphitheatre where the group killed more than 20 Syrian soldiers after they captured the historic town in May.
 
In another atrocity in Palmyra, ISIS jihadists last week beheaded an antiquities scholar in the city and hung his body on a column in a main square.
 
The scholar, 82-year-old Khaled Asaad, had worked for over 50 years as head of antiquities in Palmyra.

Syrian Rebels Gain Ground Near Regime Heartland

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 04 August 2015 09:37
Syrian Rebels Gain GroundAl-Qaeda and other rebels led a major offensive Tuesday in northwest Syria, pushing back government troops in an area bordering President Bashar Al-Assad's coastal heartland, a monitoring group said, according to AFP.
 
Since Monday night, the Army of Conquest alliance has seized a number of positions from the Syrian army in Sahl al-Ghab, a large plain in Hama province bordering Latakia, bastion of the Assad clan.
 
In a video published by the alliance, which includes Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate Al-Nusra Front, a commander boasts of the "liberation" of several strategic hilltops, checkpoints, and a power plant.
 
The bearded military leader said "the army of Assad retreated to Alawite villages," referring to the sect to which Assad belongs.
 
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, the Army of Conquest's advance in Sahl al-Ghab, which also borders Idlib province, is highly significant.
 
"After this advance, there is nothing left for the regime in Idlib province -- which is almost completely held by rebels -- except the Abu Duhur airport and two Shiite villages, Fuaa and Kafraya," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
 
"And in Hama province, the positions taken by the rebels were the first line of defense for several towns held by the regime as well as Alawite villages," he added.
 
Abdel Rahman said the first village likely to be targeted by rebels would be Jureen, where the Syrian army operates a command base for its forces fighting in Sahl al-Ghab.
 
The Army of Conquest seized control of Idlib city, capital of the province by the same name, on March 28.
 
The rebel alliance has won a string of victories in Idlib, including the provincial capital, the key town of Jisr al-Shughur, and a massive military base.  
 
Syria's armed forces withdrew to reinforce their positions in Latakia in case of a rebel attack there.
 
More than 230,000 people have been killed since Syria's conflict began in March 2011, and millions have been forced to flee their homes.

ISIS Expelled From Syrian Provincial Capital

Category: News
Created on Monday, 03 August 2015 15:29
amartins-syria-raqqaSyrian troops and Kurdish fighters ousted the Islamic State (ISIS) group from Hasakeh Tuesday, more than a month after the jihadists launch an assault on the northeastern city, a monitoring group said. 
 
Government troops and Kurdish forces, who share control of the city, had been battling since June 25 to push ISIS forces out of the city, which is the capital of Hasakeh province.
 
ISIS "was expelled by the army from Zuhur, the last district in which it was present in Hasakeh, and its fighters have been pushed to the southern outskirts of the city," said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
At least 287 ISIS fighters, among them 26 minors, had been killed in the fight for Hasakeh, as well as strikes by the US-led coalition outside the city, he said.
 
Another 120 soldiers and pro-regime militiamen and several dozen Kurdish forces were also killed.
 
State news agency SANA said Syria's armed forces "dealt great blows to the Daesh (ISIS) terrorists...in Zuhur" Tuesday, but did not say the jihadists had been pushed out of the city.
 
"Army units advanced again into Zuhur, where they executed a special operation against the terrorist hotbeds," it reported.
 
ISIS has attacked Hasakeh city several times, but the latest assault was the most serious yet.
 
Its forces initially seized several districts in the southern part of the city, with Kurdish fighters and regime troops mobilizing against them.
 
The Observatory said ISIS had used at least 21 car bombs and several suicide bombers during the month-long campaign.

United States and Turkey to Create 'ISIS-Free Zone'

Category: News
Created on Monday, 03 August 2015 08:28
Erdogan - ObamaThe United States and Turkey have agreed to work together to drive Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists from northern Syria, senior American officials said Monday, according to the AFP news agency.
 
The announcement came as Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed to press ahead with parallel strikes against Kurdish militants.
 
The potentially game-changing accord with the U.S. was revealed as Turkey fuelled the growing anger of its Kurdish minority by shelling a Kurdish-held village in northern Syria while its warplanes continued to pound Kurdish targets in northern Iraq.
 
Referring to Islamic State by the acronym ISIL, a senior American official told AFP that Ankara and Washington aimed "to establish an ISIL-free zone and ensure greater security and stability along Turkey's border with Syria."
 
Details of the zone "remain to be worked out", the official, who asked not to be named, said during a visit by President Barack Obama to Ethiopia, while adding that "any joint military efforts will not include the imposition of a no-fly zone" -- a long standing Turkish demand.
 
It would however entail Turkey supporting the "partners on the ground" already fighting ISIS extremists.
 
But many question whether Turkey is more interested in limiting Kurdish capabilities in Syria and Iraq than tackling ISIS.
 
Davutoglu, meanwhile, said Turkey would press ahead with military operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) until the group disarmed.
 
"We will continue our fight until we obtain a certain result," he told ATV television, urging the Kurdish separatists, who have waged a decades-long insurgency in southeastern Turkey, to deliver on its 2013 promise to lay down arms.
 
State Department spokesman John Kirby reiterated that Turkey had a "right to defend itself" against the PKK, which the U.S. also labels a terrorist organization
 
At the same time, Kirby said the "fight against ISIL is not in cooperation with, coordination with or communication with the PKK. Our fight against ISIL is with 62 other nations in this coalition who are helping us go after these guys."
 
Turkey has called an extraordinary NATO meeting for Tuesday over its "anti-terror" offensive against the Kurdish rebels and ISIS.
 
French President Francois Hollande, in a telephone call Monday with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, "thanked his counterpart for the vigorous action against Daesh and for strengthening Turkey's engagement alongside the (anti-IS) coalition", his office said.
 
The French statement made no mention of the anti-Kurdish strikes, noted AFP.
 
The Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) -- which routed ISIS from the flashpoint Syrian town of Kobane early this year with the help of Western air strikes -- said Turkish tanks hit its positions and those of allied Arab rebels overnight in Zur Maghar village in Aleppo province, wounding four rebels and several villagers.
 
But Turkish officials denied the military was deliberately targeting Syrian Kurds and said it was responding to fire from the Syrian side of the border.
 
Davutoglu told a group of Turkish newspaper editors that Ankara's intervention in Iraq and Syria would "change the balance" in the region, but ruled out sending ground troops into Syria.
 
Turkey has given the United States the green light to use its Incirlik air base to attack ISIS after months of tough negotiations.
 
Davutoglu said Ankara's demands for a no-fly zone were addressed "to a certain extent", according to the Hurriyet daily.
 
"Air cover is important, the air protection for the Free Syrian Army and other moderate elements fighting Daesh," he said, according to AFP.
 
"If we will not send ground forces -- and that we will not do -- then certain elements that cooperate with us on the ground must be protected," Davutoglu added.

Kurds Cut Key ISIS Supply Route in Northern Syria

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 02 August 2015 09:36
Kurds Cut Key ISIS Supply RouteKurdish fighters seized a key town in northern Syria from ISIS on Monday, cutting a supply lifeline from the jihadists' de facto Syrian capital, a monitor said. 
 
"The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) took full control of Sarrin on Monday after three weeks of intense clashes," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
Sarrin lies along the M4 highway, which ISIS uses to transport fighters and supplies between Aleppo province and the group's de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa in the east, Abdel Rahman said.
 
The town's capture cuts off ISIS's main access route to parts of Aleppo province, where the jihadists are fighting both Kurdish forces and rebel groups.
 
"Sarrin was also used as a base for IS to attack the Kurds in Aleppo province, so those attacks will probably decrease as well," he told AFP using an alternative acronym for the so-called "Islamic State" group.  
 
Mustafa Ebdi, a Kurdish activist from the flashpoint town of Kobane some 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Sarrin, said the YPG were still combing through the town to clear it of potential ISIS suicide bombers.
 
YPG forces began their offensive on Sarrin on July 6 with air support from the US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
 
The capture of the town, which lies on the east bank of the Euphrates river, is the latest victory for Kurdish forces in Syria against ISIS.
 
They defeated IS forces in Kobane in January, expelling them with the help of coalition air strikes.
 
And on June 16, they pushed ISIS out of Tal Abyad, a town on the Syrian-Turkish border used by ISIS to bring in weapons and fighters to Raqqa.
 
The Syrian conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011, but has developed into a multi-front civil war involving Kurds and jihadists of both ISIS and Al Qaeda, as well as other rebels and regime loyalists.
 
Kurdish advances come on the same day as Kurdish fighters in Syria say their positions were bombarded by the Turkish army.
 
The Turkish military denied targeting Syrian Kurds after Kurdish forces and a monitoring group said tanks shelled Kurdish-held villages in northern Syria, a Turkish government official said on Monday.
 
"The ongoing military operation seeks to neutralise imminent threats to Turkey's national security and continues to target ISIS in Syria and the PKK in Iraq," the official told AFP, referring to the Islamic State and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is linked to the YPG and its political branch, the PYD.
 
He said the Syrian Kurdish "PYD, along with others, remains outside the scope of the current military effort."
 
In a statement, the YPG said Turkish tanks hit its positions and those of allied Arab rebels in the village of Zur Maghar in Aleppo province. 
 
The "heavy tank fire" wounded four members of the allied rebel force and several villagers, the YPG said.
 
It said there was a second, later round of shelling against Zur Maghar and another village in the same area.
 
The Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said: "We are investigating claims that the Turkish military engaged positions held by forces other than ISIS."
 
Turkey has launched a two-pronged "anti-terror" cross-border offensive against jihadists and the PKK militants after a wave of violence in the country, pounding their positions with air strikes and artillery. 
 
Early on Monday, Turkish police detained 15 people with suspected links to ISIS in the Hacibayram district of the capital Ankara, the state-run news Anatolia news agency reported.
 
Eleven of the 15 detainees were foreigners, Anatolia said, adding that the operation was backed by around 500 police officers who raided several addresses.
 
The Turkish official told AFP the operations against ISIS and PKK were continuing, adding that a total of 900 people had been detained so far with links to ISIS, PKK and other leftist organisations.
 
"We are fighting against all terrorist organisations," said the official.

Iranian Nuclear Deal to Strengthen Damascus?

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 01 August 2015 19:43
Iranian Nuclear DealAn international agreement on Iran's nuclear program will not alter Tehran's staunch support for the Syrian government and may even strengthen Damascus, Syria's foreign minister said Friday.
 
Speaking at a conference in Damascus on "confronting terrorism," Walid Muallem said those who hoped to persuade Iran to abandon Syria's government would be disappointed, according to AFP. 
 
"There is a lot of talk about the Iranian nuclear agreement and its impact on the Syrian crisis," he said.
 
"There are those, led by the United States, who think that this agreement will enable the West to influence Iran's positions on the Syrian crisis," Muallem added, dismissing that as "delusional."
 
"Iran's attitudes on the crisis in Syria have not changed," the minister said.
 
Tehran "provided all kinds of support to the Syrian people in their struggle against terrorism before the nuclear deal, and during it, and will
continue to do so after it."
 
In fact, he said, the agreement could end up strengthening Syria.
 
"Iran has entered the world stage through the widest doors, and the more powerful our ally is, the more powerful we are."
 
Syria's remarks surface just as US President Barack Obama admitted in a BBC interview on Friday that the deal gives billions of dollars to Iran's terror network. 
 
"Iran has shown itself to be willing, even in the midst of real hardship, to fund what they consider to be strategy priorities," he said, after denying that the money is actually the cause of regional terror. 
 
Rep. Adam Schiff (D - California) added Thursday that Iran is due to get some $56 billion from the deal, and that Iran will "absolutely" have more money to fund terrorism if the deal passes. 
 
"Iran has proven very cost-effective in terms of supporting Hezbollah," he said. "They have been able to stretch a few dollars a long way, they'll have a lot more dollars." 

ISIS Child Soldiers Carrying Out Suicide Attacks

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 28 July 2015 12:53
gaza-babyMore than 50 child soldiers recruited by the Islamic State (ISIS) group in Syria have been killed since the beginning of this year, a monitoring group reported, according to Al Jazeera.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday it had documented the deaths of 52 child soldiers, all under the age of 16, who had been part of the jihadist group’s "Cubs of the Caliphate" program.
 
ISIS provides intense military and religious training to these children throughout its areas of control in Syria. The group has published videos of boys - some appearing to be as young as eight years old - loading and firing guns and crawling through sandy brush as part of military training.
 
The footage also shows children gathered around a table studying religious texts.
 
As many as 31 “Cubs of the Caliphate” were killed in July alone, in explosions, clashes, and air strikes by Syria's regime and the international coalition, reported Al Jazeera.
 
The child soldiers are used to man checkpoints or gather intelligence from areas outside ISIS control, but the group has been increasingly using them to execute prisoners or conduct suicide attacks, the network added.
 
In one case, ISIS released a video of children beheading nine Shiite victims.
 
So far this year, ISIS has used eight children as suicide bombers, most recently in its fight against Kurdish militia in northeastern Syria, and has used as many as 19 children as suicide bombers, according to the Observatory.
 
"This shows that Daesh is exploiting the suffering of the Syrian people," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
 
The Observatory has received information on dozens more children killed, but that it could not confirm their deaths, the report said.

Syria Congratulates Iran on Nuclear Deal

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 26 July 2015 10:12
Syria Congratulates IranSyrian President Bashar al-Assad has congratulated Iran on the nuclear deal struck with the European Union (EU) and P5+1 powers Tuesday, Syrian state news agency SANA said Tuesday. 
 
In a message to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Assad congratulated Tehran on a deal he said would be a "major turning point in the history of Iran, the region and the world." 
 
Iran is the key backer and ally of Assad and has provided him with military support during his fight against rebels trying to topple his regime.
 
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad personally sanctioned the dispatch of officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria to fight alongside Assad’s troops. The Islamic Republic’s current President, Hassan Rouhani, has said Tehran will back Assad "until the end of the road."
 
Last week, Assad signed a law ratifying a $1 billion credit line from Iran to war-torn Syria. The money allegedly would be used for funding imports of goods and commodities and implementing project, state media said. 
 
Tehran's financial aid has been seen as pivotal to the Syrian government and the economy, which has shrunk by more than a half in the four years since the conflict erupted, researchers say.

3,000 Palestinians Killed in Syria, No ICC Investigation

Category: Reports
Created on Sunday, 19 July 2015 21:34
40 tons of explosives killed at least 30 Syrian troopsPalestinian Authority officials are quick to accuse Israel of deliberately “targeting innocent Arabs” when IDF soldiers fire at rock-throwers and others who engage in acts of terror against Israelis, but they have yet to comment on the nearly 3,000 Palestinians killed in Syria in recent years.
 
To be precise, at least 2,910 residents of Syria identifying as Palestinians have been killed since March 2011 through July 12, 2015 – the day a report on the matter was released by the “Action Committee for Palestinians in Syria” on the matter. Most of those deaths have been extremely violent, the report said – with hundreds killed each month in bombings, firefights, torture in prison, starvation, mass executions, and drownings as they try to escape to Europe.
 
The number - like other casualty figures from the Syrian civil war - only includes those Palestinians whose deaths have been definitively confirmed, and does not include those missing or otherwise unaccounted for - meaning the toll is likely higher still.
 
Information about the prison torture – in which, the report said, nearly 80 Palestinians have been killed – was smuggled out by a freed Syrian prisoner, who sneaked photos and videos of the torture out of prison. At least 46 Palestinians have been beheaded by ISIS, which took over a neighborhood of Allepo where many of them live.
 
The victims were killed not because of any actions violating Islam, the usual motivation for an ISIS beheading, but as a “message” to Hamas, expressing the group's disappointment that the Gaza terror group has not implemented Koranic (shari'a) law in Gaza. ISIS recently issued a video threat that it would invade Gaza and destroy Hamas for this failure.
 
The PA has never commented on these atrocities; the only statements it has made on Syria is to call for international negotiators to attempt to bring calm between the warring parties.
 
There has been no attempt to bring charges against the government of Syria, ISIS, or any of the Syrian rebel groups in the International Criminal Court, as the PA has been doing against Israel. Israeli officials said that it was "unlikely" that this will ever happen.

Syrian World Heritage Site Damaged in Blast

Category: Archeology and History
Created on Sunday, 19 July 2015 09:15
Syrian World Heritage Site Damaged in BlastA bomb explosion in a tunnel near Aleppo Citadel in Syria on Sunday damaged a wall of the fortress that is part of the UNESCO-listed Old City, state media and a monitor reported, according to AFP.
 
The blast partly destroyed the wall of the monumental 13th century citadel that overlooks the Old City, said the official SANA news agency and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
"A powerful explosion was heard after midnight Saturday. It was caused by the blowing up of a tunnel in the Old City near the Aleppo Citadel," the Observatory said.
 
"The blast caused the collapse of part of the wall of the citadel," said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
It was unclear who was behind the attack, he said, but it was immediately followed by clashes between rebels and government forces who are battling for control of the northern city.
 
SANA said "terrorists" blew up the tunnel, causing the damage to the historic citadel.
 
The Syrian government and its media describe as "terrorists" the various armed groups who have been battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad's regime since 2011.
 
Rebel fighters in Aleppo, Syria's second largest city and pre-war commercial hub, have often set off explosions in tunnels that they have dug under military targets before launching attacks on them.
 
The Aleppo Citadel, which contains the remains of mosques, a palace and bath buildings, is one of several sites in Syria on UNESCO's world heritage list.
 
One of the most famous is the ancient central city of Palmyra, which was seized by the jihadist Islamic State group from government forces on May 21.
 
Syria's ongoing civil war has caused the deaths of more than 230,000 people, turned more than four million Syrians into refugees, devastated the country's infrastructure and economy and inflicted damage in many heritage sites.

Nusra Front Suicide Bomber Kills 25 Soldiers in Aleppo

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 09 July 2015 21:45
syria aleppoA suicide bomber from the Al-Nusra Front terrorist group, Syria's Al-Qaeda offshoot, blew himself up in a Syrian army outpost in a contested neighborhood in the city of Aleppo on Monday night.
 
The bombing killed at least 25 soldiers and allied militia and injured scores, according to the Reuters news agency.
 
The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the violence across the country, said the explosion from the blast was heard across the city where several Islamist-led groups recently launched an offensive to control the remaining western parts of the city in government hands.
 
Rebel websites said there was heavy bombardment of rebel-held portions of Jamiyat al Zahra district, where rebels had gained ground and brought them closer to the heart of government controlled parts of the city, which was before the 2011 civil war the country's main industrial and commercial hub.
 
Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Observatory, was quoted by Reuters as having said that the Syrian army had responded with heavy firepower including aerial bombardment, in an attempt to stem the offensive.
 
The insurgents posted on social media images of fighters from the Al-Nusra Front heading towards the district, which the Syrian army has repeatedly said in recent days had not fallen into insurgent hands.
 
Al-Nusra Front has been an official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013, and dominates a swathe of northwest Syria despite months of international airstrikes.
 
As well as fighting President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, the group has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State (ISIS) group.
 
Al-Nusra Front recently reaffirmed its allegiance to Al-Qaeda and denied any plan to break away and become a more internationally acceptable rebel force, amid speculations on Internet social networks of a split between the jihadist allies.

Nusra Front Suicide Bomber Kills 25 Soldiers in Aleppo (2)

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 09 July 2015 21:45
syria aleppoA suicide bomber from the Al-Nusra Front terrorist group, Syria's Al-Qaeda offshoot, blew himself up in a Syrian army outpost in a contested neighborhood in the city of Aleppo on Monday night.
 
The bombing killed at least 25 soldiers and allied militia and injured scores, according to the Reuters news agency.
 
The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the violence across the country, said the explosion from the blast was heard across the city where several Islamist-led groups recently launched an offensive to control the remaining western parts of the city in government hands.
 
Rebel websites said there was heavy bombardment of rebel-held portions of Jamiyat al Zahra district, where rebels had gained ground and brought them closer to the heart of government controlled parts of the city, which was before the 2011 civil war the country's main industrial and commercial hub.
 
Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Observatory, was quoted by Reuters as having said that the Syrian army had responded with heavy firepower including aerial bombardment, in an attempt to stem the offensive.
 
The insurgents posted on social media images of fighters from the Al-Nusra Front heading towards the district, which the Syrian army has repeatedly said in recent days had not fallen into insurgent hands.
 
Al-Nusra Front has been an official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013, and dominates a swathe of northwest Syria despite months of international airstrikes.
 
As well as fighting President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, the group has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State (ISIS) group.
 
Al-Nusra Front recently reaffirmed its allegiance to Al-Qaeda and denied any plan to break away and become a more internationally acceptable rebel force, amid speculations on Internet social networks of a split between the jihadist allies.

ISIS Attacks Kurdish-Held Town Near its De Facto Syrian Capital

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 09 July 2015 21:13
ISIS Attacks Kurdish-Held TownIslamic State (ISIS) group fighters attacked a town near their de facto Syrian capital Monday in a bid to recapture it from Kurdish and Arab rebel forces, a Kurdish spokesman told the AFP news agency.
 
"ISIS launched a large-scale offensive at dawn... and managed to enter Ain Issa," said Redur Khalil, a spokesman for the Kurdish People's Protection Units.
 
"Clashes are continuing inside the town in the southern part to expel ISIS," he told AFP.
 
Ain Issa is some 55 kilometers (35 miles) north of IS's de facto Syrian capital of Raqa city, and fell to Kurdish and Arab forces on June 23, shortly after they took the border town of Tal Abyad from the jihadists.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, said that the ISIS attack had succeeded and jihadist fighters were in control of Ain Issa and several nearby villages after a wide-ranging assault.
 
The Britain-based monitor said ISIS had launched a counter-attack against fronts in both Raqa province and neighboring Hasakeh.
 
Kurdish and rebel spokesmen also said ISIS was engaged in a large-scale attack in the two provinces, but denied Ain Issa had fallen.
 
According to the Observatory, 37 ISIS fighters have been killed and 46 wounded along a front line stretching between the provinces since Monday's assault began.
 
The wounded ISIS members have been taken to hospital in Raqa.
 
"The jihadists were killed and wounded in fighting and shelling," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
 
There were also Kurdish casualties, but the numbers were not yet known.
 
Kurdish fighters backed by Arab allies seized the frontier town of Tal Abyad from ISIS on June 16, after weeks of fighting during which they captured numerous villages in Raqa province from the jihadists.
 
The fall of Tal Abyad was a major blow for the group, which had used the town as a conduit for weapons and fighters.
 
After its capture, the anti-ISIS forces advanced to Ain Issa, taking both it and a former military base nearby.
 
But in recent weeks, ISIS forces have launched several counterattacks against the Kurds, including in Kobane, a small border town the jihadists had battled to capture for some four months.
 
ISIS has seized large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq since 2013 and declared an Islamic "caliphate" in the land under its control.
 
The jihadists have carried out numerous atrocities in areas they control, ranging from public beheadings to enslavement and mass rape.
 
The group has been accused of torturing and murdering prisoners, among them children and teenagers, and forcing Druze men to convert to Islam or die.

ISIS Video Shows Slaughter of Syrian Soldiers on Ancient Ruins

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 08 July 2015 09:48
Slaughter of Syrian Soldiers on Ancient RuinsThe Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group on Saturday released a video showing 25 Syrian government soldiers being executed by teenagers in the ancient amphitheater  in the city of Palmyra.
 
The video documented an execution that reportedly happened shortly after the jihadist group captured the city on May 21.
 
It shows the soldiers in green and brown military uniforms being shot dead on the amphitheater's stage in front of an enormous version of the group's black and white flag.
 
The executioners all appear to be children or teenagers and are wearing desert camouflage and brown bandanas.

The killings are carried out in front of a relatively sparse crowd of men and some children watching from the ancient theatre's seats.  
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ISIS reportedly carried out more than 200 executions, including of civilians, in and around Palmyra in the period when it captured the city.    
 
The executions in the Palmyra amphitheater were first reported on May 27 by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, less than a week after ISIS captured the city.
 
At the time, Syria's antiquities director Mamoun Abdelkarim said he feared the killings could signal the start of "the group's barbarism and savagery against the ancient monuments of Palmyra."
 
"Using the Roman theater to execute people proves that these people are against humanity," he told AFP.
 
The Greco-Roman ruins at Palmyra are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the city's capture by ISIS prompted international concerns for the fate of its spectacular ancient treasures.
 
So far, ISIS is not reported to have damaged the actual ruins, although it has blown up and desecrated Muslim graves in the city and destroyed a statue outside the Palmyra Museum.
 
ISIS has regularly released videos of its mass executions, with slick production and gruesome violence that experts say is a key propaganda tool for

Syrian Rebels Execute ISIS Fighters in 'Retribution'

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 02 July 2015 12:37
Syrian Rebels Execute ISIS FightersA Syrian rebel group operating around Damascus has executed 18 alleged members of the Islamic State group in a video
mimicking the extremist organization's own macabre productions.
 
The video, which emerged overnight, AFP reported, shows fighters from Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) wearing the orange prison clothes that ISIS victims often sport.
 
The ISIS prisoners however are wearing black clothes and chained together wearing ankle and hand shackles with metal balls attached.
 
The nearly 20-minute production mimics many aspects of ISIS's own execution videos, with similar sound effects and visuals.
 
Jaysh al-Islam fighters in the video say the ISIS forces are being executed in part as revenge for the deaths of at least three of the rebel group's members who were beheaded by ISIS.
 
The rebel group also refers to a major battle it fought with ISIS in February.
 
It accuses ISIS of being allied with President Bashar al-Assad's regime against its fighters and those of other Islamist rebel groups.
 
The video includes starkly sectarian language, accusing ISIS of betraying Sunni Muslims and allying with Shiite Muslims and "Nusayris," a derogatory terms for the Alawite sect to which Assad belongs.
 
It also contains lengthy "confessions" from ISIS fighters who claim that they did not fight against the Syrian army while with ISIS.
 
The interrogations appear intended to show that ISIS has focused its fight on other opposition forces, rather than the Syrian government.
 
The last part of the video shows the 18 ISIS fighters in black, kneeling before Jaysh al-Islam executioners who shoot them in the head. The shots are filmed from multiple angles and include gruesome close-ups. 
 
The Islamic State group emerged in Syria in 2013, when it sought to merge with Al-Qaeda's local affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
 
But Al-Nusra refused, and ISIS has since been at odds with the group as well as Islamist and moderate rebels. In the area around Damascus, its forces have battled Jaysh al-Islam and other rebel organizations.
 
Last week, a video emerged showing ISIS jihadists beheading 12 men from rival groups, among them at least three from Jaysh al-Islam and one from Al-Nusra.

Kurds Regain Full Control of Tal Abyad from ISIS

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 02 July 2015 11:23
Kurds Regain Full Control of Tal AbyadSyrian Kurdish forces regained full control of Tal Abyad on Wednesday, expelling Islamic State fighters who had seized a district of the strategic border town, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
 
"Kurdish fighters expelled ISIS from the Mashur al-Fawqani district that they had captured yesterday (Tuesday)," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory. 
 
He said at least three fighters of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and four ISIS jihadists were killed in clashes on Wednesday.
 
YPG spokesman Redur Khalil confirmed that the town had been secured. "The Daesh group that entered the Mashur al-Fawqani district... was eliminated completely and expelled from the area," he told AFP, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
 
He said three ISIS fighters had been killed in the fighting, and a fourth died detonating an explosive belt.
 
Tal Abyad, on the border with Turkey, was formerly an ISIS stronghold, which served as a key conduit for the group to bring in weapons and fighters, and export black market oil.
 
But just over two weeks ago, Kurdish forces, backed by Syrian rebel allies and US-led air strikes, seized the town from the extremist group.
 
ISIS forces launched a surprise attack against the town on Tuesday, overrunning the Mashur al-Fawqani district in heavy fighting.
 
But by late Wednesday morning, the town was back under full Kurdish control, the Observatory said.

ISIS Massacres 120 Civilians in Kobane in a Day

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 27 June 2015 08:08
ISIS Massacres CiviliansAt least 120 civilians have been killed by the Islamic State (ISIS) group since it entered the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane just over 24 hours ago, a monitoring group said Friday.
 
"According to medical sources and Kobane residents, 120 civilians were executed by ISIS in their homes or killed by the group's rockets or snipers," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
He described it as one of the group's "worst massacres" in Syria.
 
Another 26 civilians were executed by ISIS on Thursday in a village near Kobane, on the border with Turkey, the Observatory said.
 
"When they entered the town, the jihadists took up positions in buildings at the southeast and southwest entrances, firing at everything that moved," Abdel Rahman said.
 
He said the bodies of civilians, among them women and children, were found in their homes and in the streets.
 
"The jihadists knew that they could not stay and control the town in the face of the Kurdish forces. They came just to kill and strike a moral blow to the Kurds," Abdel Rahman said.
 
Kurdish activist Arin Shekhmos said: "Every family in Kobane lost a family member on Thursday."
 
ISIS launched a surprise attack on Kobane on Thursday involving three suicide bombers, just over a week after Kurdish militia ousted it from Tal Abyad, another border town further east.
 
Analysts said the assault was revenge for the loss of Tal Abyad.
 
Backed by US air strikes and Syrian rebel groups, Kurdish militia had pushed ISIS out of Kobane in January in one of the jihadists' most dramatic defeats.

ISIS Beheads 12 Men from Rival Groups

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 27 June 2015 07:40
ISIS Beheads Men from Rival GroupsIslamic State (ISIS) jihadists beheaded 12 men from rival Syrian rebel movements accused of fighting against them, in a video released on Thursday, according to AFP.
 
It is the latest in a long series of mass beheadings by ISIS, and comes two days after the group released a video showing it killing 16 people in neighboring Iraq, drowning some of them in a cage.
 
Three of those killed in the new video were from Jaysh al-Islam, one of the main rebel groups in the Damascus area, and a fourth from Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate and ISIS’ main jihadist rival in the country.
 
While the men, whom ISIS said were captured during a battle, were apparently from Islamist Syrian rebel groups, their heads and beards were shaved, likely as an insult by ISIS, noted AFP.
 
Powerful jihadist rebel groups in Syria, including the Islamic Front and Al-Nusra Front, became locked in fierce fighting with ISIS after allegations that ISIS brutally abused civilians and other opposition fighters battling to topple President Bashar AlAssad.
 
Tensions were further exacerbated when Al-Nusra and other rebel factions accused ISIS of killing Islamist Front commander Abu Khaled al-Suri in a suicide car bomb attack.
 
Last November, Al-Nusra and ISIS had temporarily agreed to work together.
 
Thursday’s video comes two days after ISIS released another gruesome video showing it killing 16 "spies" in Nineveh province in northern Iraq.
 
The terrorists killed four men with a rocket-propelled grenade fired at a car, five by drowning in a metal cage, and seven by wrapping explosive cord around their necks and detonating it.
 
Since taking over swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has executed hundreds of people by gunfire and dozens by beheading, while other victims have been stoned to death or thrown from buildings -- much of it documented in videos and photos.

Islamic State Making Gains Across Syria

Category: News
Created on Friday, 26 June 2015 19:18
Islamic State Across SyriaIslamic State terrorists reentered the Syrian Kurdish battleground town of Kobane on Thursday, detonating a suicide bomb and battling Kurdish forces, a monitoring group said, according to AFP. 
 
"ISIS detonated a suicide bomb in the area near the border crossing with Turkey, killing at least five people," said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
"Fierce clashes erupted afterwards in the centre of the town and there are bodies lying in the streets," he added, without giving a specific toll.
 
He said fighting was still raging on Thursday morning.
 
ISIS battled for some four months to seize Kobane but Kurdish fighters backed by US-led air strikes secured control of the border town in January in a symbolic defeat for the jihadists.
 
The terror group which controls large swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria also made other strides in Syria on Thursday, the Observatory said. 
 
Overnight Wednesday ISIS terrorists entered the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh, seizing two neighborhoods from government forces in heavy clashes. 
 
At least 30 regime loyalists and 20 IS jihadists were killed in the fighting, which continued into Thursday morning. 
 
"Heavy fighting is continuing, with shelling by both sides," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said. "Civilians in those areas and nearby are fleeing to the northern parts of the city. 
 
Control of Hasakeh, a provincial capital, is divided between Kurdish militia and government loyalists.
 
ISIS has sought repeatedly to enter Hasakeh, including earlier this month when it advanced to the southern outskirts of the city before regime forces pushed it back in heavy fighting.

Syrian Kurds Chase ISIS from Key Base

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 23 June 2015 21:58
Syrian Kurds Chase ISISSyrian Kurdish fighters have chased Islamic State (ISIS) members from a key base north of the jihadists' stronghold city of Raqa, a monitoring group said on Monday night, according to the AFP news agency.
 
The Kurdish People's Protection Units, with air support from the United States, took complete control of the Liwa (Brigade) 93 base, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
"IS lines of defense were pushed back to the gates of Raqa," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Observatory, added.
 
"The Kurds also entered the outskirts of the town of Ayn Issa, close to Brigade 93... this town has basically fallen in the military sense with the capture of the base," he was quoted as having said.
 
The base was important due to its position overlooking strategic roads linking Raqa to other ISIS outposts in the provinces of Aleppo to the west and Hasakah to the east, the report noted.
 
ISIS had held the military base after capturing it from regime forces last summer.
 
The taking of the base is the second blow inflicted on ISIS fighters by the Kurds in a week after the capture of Tal Abyad, on Syria's border with Turkey.
 
Tal Abyad was a key conduit for foreign fighters and supplies into ISIS-held territory in Syria and for exports of black market oil from jihadist-held fields.
 
Kurdish forces defended the Syrian town of Kobane against ISIS in a months-long battle, and have emerged as some of the most effective forces battling the jihadist group in the year since it declared a cross-border "caliphate" with neighboring Iraq.
 
Cutting off supplies to Raqa is important as it is the de-facto capital of the ISIS self-proclaimed “caliphate”, established a year ago after the jihadist group seized large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.
 
Recently the group began issuing photo identity cards to males residing in the Raqa province, along with a range of administrative documents.
 
The jihadists have carried out numerous atrocities in areas they control, ranging from public beheadings to enslavement and mass rape.
 
The group has been accused of torturing and murdering prisoners, among them children and teenagers, and forcing Druze men to convert to Islam or die.
 
ISIS is also enforcing a strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law in the areas under its control. On Monday, for example, the group executed two youths accused of eating during daylight hours in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

ISIS in Syria Hangs Two Boys for Eating During Ramadan

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 23 June 2015 18:07
ISIS in Syria Hangs Two BoysThe Islamic State (ISIS) on Monday hanged two youths after accusing them of eating during daylight hours in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said.
 
"Residents of the village of Mayadeen in Deir Ezzor province reported that IS hanged from a crossbar two boys aged under 18 near the HQ of the Hissba", the jihadist police, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told the AFP news agency.
 
"The children have been suspended by ropes from a pole since noon, and they were still there in the late evening," he added.
 
"Apparently, they were caught eating," Abdel Rahman continued.
 
A placard was attached to the bodies reading "They broke the fast with no religious justification".
 
Throughout the month of Ramadan, which began on Thursday, believers abstain from eating and drinking from dawn until sunset.
 
ISIS, which controls swathes of territory across Syria and Iraq where it has created a self-proclaimed "caliphate", advocates an extreme view of the application of Islamic law, or sharia.
 
Steps taken by ISIS against violations of Islamic include a ban on mannequins in shop displays as well as a ban on singing and dancing at weddings.
 
The jihadists do not hesitate to impose brutal punishments including beheadings, stonings, floggings and crucifixions.

Concern Mounts as ISIS Places Mines in Palmyra

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 23 June 2015 13:47
ancient city of PalmyraIslamic State (ISIS) group jihadists have mined the spectacular ancient ruins in Syria's Palmyra, an antiquities official and monitor said Sunday, prompting fears for the UNESCO World Heritage site.
 
The reports came one month after the extremist group overran the central Syrian city, reported the AFP news agency.
 
Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said that the group had laid mines and explosives in Palmyra's Greco-Roman ruins.
 
The Observatory, which relies on a network of sources on the ground, said the explosives were laid on Saturday.
 
"But it is not known if the purpose is to blow up the ruins or to prevent regime forces from advancing into the town," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman, according to AFP.
 
He said regime forces had launched heavy air strikes against the residential part of Palmyra in the past three days, killing at least 11 people.
 
"The regime forces are to the west outside the city, and in recent days they have brought in reinforcements suggesting they may be planning an operation to retake Palmyra," he added.
 
A political source told AFP that a leading commander had been dispatched to the region to organize an offensive to recapture and secure Palmyra and several key gas fields nearby.
 
Abdulkarim also said Sunday he had received reports from Palmyra residents that the ruins had been mined.
 
"We have preliminary information from residents saying that this is correct, they have laid mines at the temple site," he told AFP.
 
"I hope that these reports are not correct, but we are worried."
 
He urged "Palmyra's residents, tribal chiefs and religious and cultural figures to intervene to prevent this... and prevent what happened in northern Iraq", referring to ISIS destruction of heritage sites there.
 
"I am very pessimistic and feel sadness," he told AFP.
 
ISIS captured Palmyra, famed for its extensive and well-preserved ruins, on May 21, and since that time has regularly heavily mined its territory to make it more difficult to recapture.
 
The city's fall prompted international concern about the fate of the heritage site described by UNESCO as of "outstanding universal value".
 
Before it was overrun, the head of the UN cultural body urged that the ruins be spared, saying they were "an irreplaceable treasure for the Syrian people, and the world".

One Year On, No Quick Fix to ISIS 'Caliphate'

Category: News
Created on Monday, 22 June 2015 10:24
500 Bodies from ISIS Massacre in Tikrit(AFP) A year after its establishment, the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) group's self-declared "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq remains well-funded and heavily armed, and experts say it could be around for years to come.
 
The would-be state headed by IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi - called Caliph Ibrahim by his followers - has suffered setbacks in the months since it was proclaimed.
 
A US-led coalition is carrying out strikes against the group throughout its territory and this week it lost the key Syrian border town of Tal Abyad to Kurdish forces.
 
But the group has continued to score shocking victories elsewhere, including the seizure of Syria's ancient city of Palmyra, and experts say IS and its "caliphate" have the means to last for years.    
 
"The group operates as an insurgency and might shrink in one region and expand in another, but it'll stay with us for the foreseeable future," said Hassan Hassan, associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank's Middle East and North Africa program.
 
 "I see it existing and active for at least a decade."
 
Other experts agree that while the current borders of the caliphate are likely to shift, the entity is far from on its last legs.
 
"The very idea of the caliphate and 'Caliph Ibrahim' will surely remain for many of the movement's members and supporters around the world," said Charles Lister, a vising fellow at the Brookings Doha Center think thank.
 
Well-funded, well-armed
 
IS's success is driven by various factors, chief among them its significant financial resources, superior firepower, and ability to play on the legitimate grievances of local populations in Syria and Iraq.
 
"It remains the richest terrorist group in the world," with weekly revenues of about $2 million (1.7 million euros), said Patrick Johnston, a political scientist at the Rand Corporation think tank.
 
US-led strikes on the group's oil infrastructure and a drop in the price of crude have cut into its funds, but it has found ways to compensate.
 
"Key among them are extortion, taxation, and the sale of looted goods from areas they have captured," Johnston said.
 
More importantly, the group's operating costs are relatively low: it has a steady supply of recruits, particularly foreign fighters, and its vast armory is stocked largely from the spoils of battles against armies and other rebel groups.  
 
Fighters have access to a range of small arms and light weapons, as well as artillery, anti-tank guns and a "seemingly unending supply of pick-up trucks and captured armored vehicles and, in Syria, tanks," according to Lister.
 
He said the group seeks to "ensure a near-constant series of tactical-level victories are won, thereby resulting in the capture of additional weapons supplies."
 
IS also buys arms from the black market, making it "one of the most equipped groups in Syria and Iraq," said Hassan, author of a book on the group.
 
"IS has the weapons, training and means to operate as a small army," he said.  
 
A lack of alternatives
 
The US-led coalition fighting IS has had some successes, but experts say it is constrained by a lack of reliable ground forces and relatively poor intelligence.
 
IS meanwhile has strategically focused its expansion on areas where local government and security is weak.
 
And it quickly implements governance in captured territory, Johnston said, using its bureaucrats and police to consolidate its control.
 
The jihadists use a carrot-and-stick approach with local populations, terrorizing with brutal public executions but also offering relative stability and public services including healthcare and education.
 
"Its popularity is fluid... but generally it still has what it takes to rule without much pressure from within its areas," said Hassan.  
 
"People on the ground still fear the group's retribution, see value in its model of governance, and don't have any other acceptable alternatives."
 
The lack of alternatives has been key to IS's success in Syria and Iraq, where Sunni Muslims feel excluded from the ruling class.  
 
In Syria, Sunnis have led the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, who hails from the Alawite offshoot of Shiite Islam.
 
In Iraq, they frequently accuse the Shiite-led government of discrimination.
 
Those dynamics mean a purely military approach to the "caliphate problem" will fall short.
 
"So long as Assad remains in Syria and so long as Baghdad's improvements in representative government do not translate into a shift in perceptions on the ground, IS will always retain a chance of acquiring people's tacit acceptance," Lister said.
 
"Ultimately the only genuine solution to IS is to solve the underlying issues of societal division and political failure that IS has sought to exacerbate and exploit to its advantage."

A Rare Glimpse Inside ISIS 'Model City' - Hell on Earth

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 20 June 2015 18:22
Hell on EarthIt's called Heaven Square, but after the Islamic State (ISIS) group started using the roundabout in Raqqa for gruesome public executions it earned a new name: Hell Square.
 
In the year since the jihadist group announced its "caliphate" last June, its de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa has been transformed into a macabre metropolis.
 
Human heads are displayed on spikes at the central roundabout and crucified bodies hang for days to terrorize local residents, said Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi, a Raqqa resident and anti-ISIS activist.
 
"From the first moment of its control over Raqqa, ISIS adopted a policy of horror and terror, resorting to executions, beheadings, cutting off hands and legs, and crucifixion," said Raqqawi, who uses a pseudonym.
 
He belongs to the "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently" underground activist group, which documents ISIS abuses in the northern Syrian city and surrounding province.
 
Activists were among ISIS's first targets in Raqqa, but Raqqawi and the group's members have continued to work, providing a rare window into life in one of ISIS's bastions.
 
Raqqa was the first Syrian provincial capital to fall from regime control when rebels seized it in March 2013.
 
But ISIS soon routed those rebels and moved quickly to establish a "model city" under its harsh interpretation of Islamic law, said researcher and writer Hisham al-Hashimi.
 
ISIS wants to run Raqqa "like a central government, with police, services, justice and education," he said.
 
The "good life"
 
The group has taken over all levels of civil administration, rewriting school curriculums, establishing Islamic courts and creating police units - the male "Hesba" force and the female "Khansa Brigades" - to implement Islamic law.
 
It has focused heavily on education, closing the city's schools and universities for a full year while it developed new courses.
 
Mathematics and English are still on the menu, but little else of the old curriculum remains; courses in jurisprudence, jihad and the Koran have been added.
 
"What's the point of physics, chemistry, history or statistics...when we're learning medicine?" says Abu Abdul Rahman al-Shami, the head of Raqqa's hospital, in an ISIS-produced video about life in the city.
 
ISIS has sought to promote an image of the "good life" in Raqqa, with videos showing roads teeming with cars and storefronts full of customers.
 
It touts the implementation of its version of Islam, with life coming to a halt five times every day for prayers and all residents required to declare their assets and pay "zakat" - Islamic alms.
 
It also revels in meting out punishments for crimes ranging from collaboration with Syria's regime and theft to "witchcraft" and homosexuality.
 
The group regularly carries out beheadings, but also stones victims to death or throws them from building tops.
 
Women whose face veils do not cover their eyes are charged a gram of gold, while men who shave their beards pay a fine equivalent to $100.
 
Raqqawi recounted how a woman in a face veil, walking with her husband, tripped in the street, revealing part of her face as she fell.
 
ISIS members swarmed around the couple and threatened to lash her husband if the incident was repeated.
 
"Keep your head down"
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says ISIS has executed 2,618 people in Syria between the founding of its caliphate in late June 2014 and late May 2015.
 
Residents say those who comply with ISIS's rules can find a way to live a "normal" life, and even to benefit from the relative stability, lack of crime and municipal services in Raqqa.
 
"If you follow Daesh's laws and keep your head down, no one will bother you," Raqqawi said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
 
And for the thousands of foreign fighters who have flocked to ISIS-held territory, there are special perks in Raqqa, an occasional source of tension with Syrian residents who say they are treated as inferior.
 
A French ISIS fighter known as Abu Salman al-Fransi recently extolled the virtues of life in ISIS territory in a video posted online.
 
He said he was born to a Christian family but chose to convert to Islam and join ISIS in Syria along with his wife.
 
"The Islamic State gave us a house and everything we needed to prepare it, thank God, and our salary every month," he said in French.
 
In another such video, a clean-shaven blonde Australian doctor calling himself Abu Yusef al-Australi says he left home to live "in the shadow of the caliphate."
 
Now he works at Raqqa hospital, where foreign fighters are treated for free, while locals pay for care.
 
Dressed in green scrubs and speaking English, he says with a grin: "The situation here has exceeded my expectations."

Highest Ranking Iranian General Dies in Syria

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 17 June 2015 09:28
Hadi KajbafYet another senior Iranian general has been killed fighting in Syria to prop up President Bashar al-Assad's regime, Iranian news agencies revealed late on Friday.
 
Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Maj. Gen. Hadi Kajbaf was killed in April around 60 miles south of Damascus, near the rebel-hold town Busr al-Harir, according to the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim as cited by Reuters. His body was shipped back to Iran last Friday.
 
Another three Iranian soldiers were killed alongside the general, including a mid-ranking Shi'ite cleric, reported the state-run Fars News Agency.
 
Kajbaf's rank was the highest in Iran's military, meaning he was among the most senior losses the Islamic regime has suffered in Syria, and of a more senior rank than the IRGC brigadier general killed in January by an IDF strike near the Golan Heights as he was reportedly planning an attack on Israel.
 
Kajbaf's son Sajad Kajbaf told Tasnim that his father's body was to be flown to Iran on Friday night after a day's delay; he did not detail how Iran got the body back after rebel forces seized it upon his father's death.
 
Iran has been key in keeping Assad's regime afloat during the internecine civil war raging in Syria, dispatching both its own soldiers as well as its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah to the country where they have suffered painful losses.
 
Experts have revealed Iran is spending $35 billion a year propping up Assad's regime, and is likewise deploying thousands of its troops in the country. They say the reason for this is that Iran needs to maintain a route of access through Syria to the Mediterranean by which it can supply weapons to Hezbollah and strengthen its growing regional influence.
 
In late April Iran reportedly told Syria to open a war front against Israel on the Golan Heights to continue expanding its regional influence at all costs.

ISIS in Danger of Losing Key Supply Route from Turkey

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 17 June 2015 08:46
ISIS losing Key Supply Route from TurkeyA Syrian rebel alliance has pushed Islamic State (ISIS) group jihadists further away from one of its key supply routes from neighboring Turkey, a monitoring group said Saturday.
 
The Islamist rebels ousted ISIS from the village of Al-Bal, which it captured on Tuesday, threatening the Bab al-Salama border crossing, just 10 kilometers (six miles) away, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, according to AFP.
 
The village's recapture late Friday came after heavy fighting, which killed 14 rebels and 15 IS jihadists, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
 
Further south, the rebels were fighting to defend the town of Marea, on the road between the crossing and the rebel-held eastern sector of the main northern city of Aleppo.
 
Activists said the rebels were simultaneously launching their own attacks on ISIS positions in the area.
 
"The ultimate goal for ISIS is to cut off this crossing," said Abdel Rahman.
 
Mamun Abu Omar, head of a local pro-rebel press agency, said "ISIS is trying to surround the town by occupying the villages all around it."
 
The rebel alliance is fighting both ISIS and government forces in Aleppo province, which is one of the most complex battlegrounds of Syria's multi-front civil war.
 
In some areas, it is supported by fighters of ISIS's jihadist rival, Al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front.
 
ISIS fighters control areas in the province's east, and have been laying siege to the Kweyris military airport, still controlled by the regime.
 
Early Saturday, three government officers were killed when their helicopter was shot down by ISIS just outside the airport, Abdel Rahman told AFP.
 
"All three officers were killed, but it's not clear if ISIS has taken the bodies," he said.
 
Meanwhile, Kurdish militia advanced further into ISIS's bastion province Raqa, in Syria's north, in a bid to capture the key border town of Tal Abyad.
 
The Observatory said Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) had edged to within 10 kilometers (six miles) southwest of Tal Abyad, used by ISIS as a gateway from Turkey.
 
Backed by air strikes from a US-led coalition, Kurdish forces recaptured the flashpoint town of Kobane - which lies west of Raqa province - from ISIS in January.
 
Since then, YPG militia have chipped away at ISIS control along the Turkish border on both sides of Raqa.
 
According to the Observatory, the Kurdish fighters advancing from east and west aim to meet at Tal Abyad and lay siege to the town.

Kurds 'Storm' ISIS-held Town on Turkish Border

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 14 June 2015 11:31
Kurds Storm ISIS on Turkish BorderSyrian Kurdish fighters advanced towards the Islamic State (ISIS) group-held town of Tal Abyad on the Turkish border on Thursday, backed by US-led coalition strikes, a monitor said.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) forces backed by Arab rebel fighters "stormed the town of Suluk and took control of the eastern part of it," reports AFP.
 
Fierce clashes continued through the day between ISIS and Kurdish forces.
 
Suluk, in the ISIS bastion province of Raqa in northern Syria, lies to the east of Tal Abyad, a key border town that is controlled by the jihadist group.
 
The town is a key target for the Kurds who want to free up the route between Kobane to the west and Qamishli, further east along the Turkish border.
 
With their advance into Suluk, YPG forces are now some 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of Tal Abyad, and they are also positioned around 10 kilometers to the west.
 
"The Kurds plan to lay siege to Tal Abyad," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
 
The YPG has been backed by US-led air strikes targeting ISIS positions in the area, he added.
 
The latest fighting in the area has prompted a wave of several thousand people to flee into neighboring Turkey, which is already hosting 1.8 million Syrians.
 
Nearly 9,000 refugees have entered Turkey since last week, a Turkish official said on Wednesday.

Syrian Rebels Begin Conquest of Regime-held Province

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 14 June 2015 10:51
Terrorists Conquest of Regime-held ProvinceSyrian rebels seized most of a military airport in regime-controlled Sweida province on Thursday, their first such advance in the Druze-majority region, a spokesman told AFP.
 
"The Southern Front has liberated Al-Thaala military airport and is carrying out mopping-up operations against remaining forces," the alliance's spokesman Major Essam al-Rayes told AFP.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human rights monitor also reported the rebel advance into the airport.
 
"They have control of parts of the airport, which is used by the regime for aircraft that bomb Daraa and Damascus provinces," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
But Syrian state television denied the claims, and interviewed the provincial governor, who accused media of spreading lies.
 
"There is no truth to claims that terrorist groups have occupied Al-Thaala in Sweida province," state television said, citing its reporter in the area.
 
The Southern Front advance into the airport comes a day after the alliance, which groups moderate and Islamist rebel forces, seized the 52nd Brigade base in neighboring Daraa province.
 
Abdel Rahman said many of the regime forces who fled the 52nd Brigade as it was captured on Wednesday had withdrawn to Al-Thaala, which lies some 10 kilometers (six miles) away.
 
Sweida province has been spared much of the fighting in Syria, and remains almost entirely under regime control.
 
Most of its residents are Druze, followers of a secretive offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, who made up around 3% of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million people.
 
The community has been somewhat divided during the country's uprising, with some members fighting alongside the government while others expressing sympathy for the opposition.
 
Mostly, the Druze have taken up arms only in defense of their areas, and have kept out of the fighting more broadly.

Over 230,000 Killed in Syria Since 2011

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 13 June 2015 10:16
Over 230000 Killed in SyriaSyria's brutal conflict has left more than 230,000 people dead, including almost 11,500 children since it broke out in 2011, a monitoring group said Tuesday.
 
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had documented the deaths of 230,618 people, according to AFP. 
 
The toll includes 69,494 civilians, among them 11,493 children and 7,371 women.
 
Combatants account for a majority of those killed, with 49,106 regime forces and 36,464 government loyalists among the dead.
 
The loyalist fighters killed were mostly members of local militias, but also included 838 from Lebanon's powerful Shiite terror group Hezbollah and 3,093 Shiite fighters from other countries.
 
The Observatory documented the deaths of 41,116 rebels, Syrian jihadists and Kurdish fighters.
 
Anti-regime foreign fighter deaths numbered 31,247, most of them jihadists.
 
Abdel Rahman said another 3,191 of those documented killed in the conflict remained unidentified.
 
The Britain-based Observatory relies on a broad network of activists, fighters, and medics across the war-ravaged country.
 
May was the bloodiest month of 2015 in Syria, with 6,657 killed -- the majority of them regime forces and jihadist fighters locked in fierce clashes on several fronts.
 
The Observatory's toll does not include some 20,000 people who have disappeared after being arrested, 9,000 people in government detention, and at least 4,000 people held by the Islamic State jihadist group.
 
The monitoring group said thousands of people had disappeared or were unaccounted for after clashes.
 
As a result, the Observatory estimates that the conflict's actual death toll is likely tens of thousands higher than its figure.

Syria Asks UN to Dismantle its Nuclear Program

Category: News
Created on Friday, 12 June 2015 21:01
President Bashar al-Assad AFPWar-torn Syria has asked the UN atomic watchdog for help in converting a nuclear facility and shipping abroad potentially dangerous nuclear material, the head of the watchdog said Monday.
 
"We have received a request from Syria early this year...we are studying the request," International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano told reporters according to AFP.
 
The assistance would entail converting a small reactor near Damascus so that it can be fueled with low-enriched uranium (LEU) instead of the more dangerous highly-enriched uranium (HEU).
 
Syria's stock of around one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of HEU would then be sent back to China, which built the so-called Miniature Neutron Source (MNSR) reactor that is used for training and research.
 
HEU can be used inside a nuclear weapon, but this is extremely difficult to do.
 
A more likely risk in the case of Syria - where Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists control swathes of the country - is that HEU could be used in a so-called "dirty bomb."
 
This involves dispersing the material over a wide area using conventional explosives, likely causing mass panic.
 
Governments around the world have made considerable efforts in recent years to convert reactors to use LEU and to reduce HEU stockpiles because of the risks.

Rebels, Al Qaeda Advance on Regime in Northwest Syria

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 10 June 2015 09:41
Al-Nusra Front terroristsA rebel alliance including Al-Qaeda's Al-Nusra Front seized more territory in northwestern Syria overnight, strengthening its position on the borders of two key largely regime-controlled provinces, a monitor said Saturday.
 
The Army of Conquest rebel alliance had made a series of sweeping gains in Idlib province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor.
 
Rebels seized a major army position, the town of Muhambel, and several villages in the area between Jisr al-Shughur and Ariha, two key towns already under opposition control.
 
The 24 hours of fighting left 13 opposition fighters dead along with 32 regime forces, the Observatory said.
 
The advance cements their control over that part of the province, almost entirely lost by the government, but also allows the grouping to reinforce its positions on the edges of Latakia and Hama provinces.
 
They are largely regime-controlled, and coastal Latakia in particular is a government bastion and home to President Bashar al-Assad's ancestral village.
 
Al-Nusra touted the advances in Idlib on Twitter, listing the "liberation" of several villages and army positions.
 
State media effectively acknowledged the losses, quoting a military source as saying "the army evacuated several military sites around the town of Muhambel in Idlib province."
 
"They relocated to new positions and lines more suitable for the implementation of subsequent combat missions," official news agency SANA said.
 
Regime forces have lost control of nearly all of Idlib province since the Army of Conquest seized the provincial capital at the end of March.
 
In recent weeks, analysts and observers have said the regime is ready to accept the de facto partition of Syria and is concentrating on holding the areas it considers key and retreating elsewhere.
 
Elsewhere, the Observatory said nine people were killed - among them two children - in rebel rocket fire on the city of Aleppo.
 
The group said the rockets hit the Ashrafiyeh district in the western, government-controlled part of the city.
 
More than 220,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests that were met with a regime crackdown.

Nusra Front Leader: ISIS Caliphate is 'Illegitimate'

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 07 June 2015 15:55
Ansar Bayt al-MaqdisAbu Mohammad al-Golani, the chief of Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate the Al-Nusra Front, on Wednesday described the rival Islamic State (ISIS) group's self-proclaimed caliphate as "illegitimate", AFP reports.
 
The comments came in a the second part of al-Golani’s appearance on the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera news channel. In the first part, which aired last week, he said that his group will not target the country's Alawite minority, despite their support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's government.
 
On Wednesday, he criticized ISIS at length and said he did not foresee a reconciliation between the two jihadist groups soon.
 
"They announced a caliphate, but the scholars rejected it as illegitimate. It is not based on Islamic law," al-Golani said, his face hidden from view by a black scarf.
 
The rivalry between the two groups deepened after ISIS declared a caliphate spanning across Syria and Iraq in June 2014, though at one point  the two groups agreed to work together.
 
The conflict between the two groups, al-Golani said, had seen ISIS kill more than 700 members of Al-Nusra in a single battle, as well as women and children.
 
"There is no indication of a solution between us and them at this time. We hope that they repent and return to the Sunni people," he said, adding that the rivalry had allowed the Syrian regime "to flourish."
 
He refused to call ISIS fighters "infidels" -- a term usually referring to non-Muslims -- but instead said they had strayed from the path of Islam.
 
"They did not commit to the orders we had... including not blowing up markets or killing people in mosques," said al-Golani.
 
He also criticized IS for not "being serious in fighting the regime" of Assad.
 
When asked by Al-Jazeera interviewer Ahmad Mansur about Al-Nusra's ties to Al-Qaeda and whether a split was possible, the jihadist leader refrained from answering directly.
 
"The issue is not about leaving Al-Qaeda. It is about who rises up against hegemony," said al-Golani, who said he had fought in Iraq against American forces.
 
As with the first installment of the interview aired last week, an "Al-Qaeda in the Levant" flag featured prominently on the table in front of al-Golani.
 
He said as many as 30 percent of Al-Nusra's members were foreigners, including "a small number of Americans."
 
His television interview comes on the heels of several major victories for Al-Nusra against regime forces in Syria's northwest Idlib province.
 
As in the first interview, al-Golani again rejected political solutions to Syria's four-year war, saying an end to the crisis could only come through "jihad", or holy war.
 
Last week, the jihadist chief had said his group would be willing to protect Syria's minorities if they renounced Assad and "came into the bosom of Islam."
 
He also said he had received orders from Al-Qaeda's central command not to attack the West.
 
"Our mission in Syria is the downfall of the regime, its symbols, and its allies, like Hezbollah," al-Golani said, referring to the Lebanese group fighting alongside the Assad regime.

Kurds Push Back ISIS in Northern Syria Border Provinces

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 02 June 2015 10:37
Kurds Push Back ISIS in Northern SyriaKurdish militia in Syria wrested control of a dozen villages from the extremist Islamic State group (ISIS) either side of the jihadist's bastion province of Raqqa on Sunday, a monitor said.  
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), backed by air strikes from a US-led anti-ISIS coalition, seized eight villages from jihadists on the western edges of Raqqa province.  
 
"Kurdish units and their allies advanced and took control of at least eight villages southeast of Kobane, amid air strikes by the international coalition," the Britain-based monitor said.  
 
Kurdish militia and Syrian rebels pushed ISIS back from Kobane, which lies in northern Aleppo province on the Turkish-Syrian border, in January.
 
Since then, YPG units have edged east towards Raqqa, which ISIS declared the capital of its self-styled caliphate last year.
 
Syrian Kurdish fighters also seized control of four villages from ISIS near a border town in Hasakeh, east of Raqqa, the Observatory said.
 
"There are still clashes between the YPG and IS southwest of Ras al-Ain," the monitor said, adding that at least eight ISIS fighters and three Kurdish militia were killed in the fighting.  
 
On Saturday, ISIS launched an assault on Hasakeh's provincial capital, advancing to within four kilometers (less than three miles) of the key city.

Syrian Christian Beheads ISIS Jihadist in Act of Revenge

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 31 May 2015 10:11
ISIS A Syrian Christian fighter has beheaded an Islamic State group (ISIS) jihadist to avenge people executed by the group in northeastern Syria, a monitor said on Friday, according to AFP.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the incident took place on Thursday in Hasakeh province, where ISIS holds large areas of the countryside.
 
According to the monitor, the Christian fighter, a member of the minority Assyrian community, found the jihadist in the local village of Tal Shamiram.
 
"He took him prisoner and when he found out he was a member of ISIS, the Assyrian fighter beheaded him in revenge for abuses committed by the group in the region," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
 
The Observatory is based in Britain but has covered the Syrian conflict since it broke out four years ago thanks to a network of sources inside the country.
 
The Christian was fighting in the ranks of Kurdish forces who earlier this month drove ISIS out of more than a dozen Assyrian villages the jihadists had captured in Hasakeh, according to the AFP report.
 
ISIS has carried out a wave of abuses in areas it controls in both Syria and Iraq, including public beheadings, mass executions, enslavement and rape.

Video Shows Turkey Smuggling Arms to Syrian Jihadists

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 30 May 2015 10:14
isis-apImages and video footage allegedly showing trucks belonging to Turkey's state intelligence service carrying weapons en route to jihadist rebels in Syria were published Friday in a Turkish daily.
 
The Turkish government has vehemently denied earlier claims that it is arming rebels fighting in Syria and accused dozens of prosecutors, soldiers and security officers involved in the searching of trucks of attempting to bring it down by suggesting that it is doing so.
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Earlier this month, Turkey arrested four prosecutors who ordered searches in a similar incident in January 2014 and they are now in prison pending trial.
 
More than 30 security officers involved in that interception also face charges including military espionage and attempting to overthrow the government.
 
The footage published on opposition Cumhuriyet daily's website on Friday shows inspectors searching a metallic container watched by security officers, a prosecutor and sniffer dogs.
 
The officials first open cardboard boxes marked as "fragile" and full of antibiotics. But under those boxes they find dozens of mortar shells, the video, shot by an anonymous bystander, appears to show.
 
Cumhuriyet, which also published a series of still images, said the weapons were of Russian origin and had been supplied from ex-Soviet countries.
 
The daily claimed the trucks were carrying a total of 1,000 mortar shells, 80,000 rounds of ammunition for light and heavy weapons as well as hundreds of grenade launchers.
 
The Turkish authorities have sought to link the affair to US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of running a parallel state through supporters in the judiciary and police with the aim of usurping him.
 
Turkey has vehemently denied aiding jihadists in Syria such as the Islamic State (ISIS) group, although it wants to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad toppled.
 
Tensions are running high in Turkey ahead of June 7 parliamentary elections, with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) seeking to hold on to the dominance it has maintained since it first swept to power in 2002.

Syria on Brink of Economic Collapse as ISIS Grabs Mines

Category: News
Created on Friday, 29 May 2015 08:12
isisWith most of its natural and mineral resources having fallen under rebel control, Syrian state revenues have shrunk, leaving the government dependent on unstable sources of income for its survival.
 
Four years of conflict have decimated the state coffers, reports AFP.
 
Now the government's only revenues are drawn from dwindling customs and income taxes, heavily bolstered by lines of credit from key regime backer Iran.
 
With the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group, the regime has also lost control over swathes of vital resources - with two phosphate mines among its most recent losses.
 
According to local activists and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, ISIS last weekend seized Sharqiya and Khneifess, 50 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria.
 
Both sites were run by the state and accounted for much of the regime's last remaining exports.
 
An oil ministry official said Sharqiya produced at least three million tons of phosphate a year and Khneifess generated 850,000 tons.
 
Before the war broke out in 2011, Syria was the fifth largest phosphate exporter in the world, mainly selling to Lebanon, Romania and Greece.
 
In the first quarter of 2015, Syria sold 408,000 tons of phosphate in total, on the domestic market and abroad, according to the oil ministry.
 
Sales raised $39 million, with exports accounting for all but $4 million.
 
Oil revenues drying up
 
Already this year's exports have less than halved from the 988,000 tons sold in the first three months of 2011 that brought in $63 million for the government.
 
But with the loss of Sharqiya and Khneifess, prospects are dim for a government which projected income of $160 million in 2015 phosphate sales.
 
"For the state, whose resources are being depleted, it's a net loss. In the current situation, any returns are important," said Jihad Yazigi, who runs Syria Report, an economic weekly.
 
Syria's oil resources are not faring much better.
 
The regime had relied heavily on oil revenues, which brought in $3.8 billion in 2011, around a quarter of total state income.
 
But output took a drastic hit in 2011 when the European Union imposed an oil embargo to sanction the regime's brutal repression of anti-government protests.
 
The cash-strapped government has since lost control of a string of oil fields to ISIS terrorists.
 
In 2013, ISIS seized all the fields in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor, generating funds for its operations.
 
By September 2014, ISIS was producing more oil than the regime: 80,000 barrels per day, compared to the government's 17,000 bpd, the oil ministry said.
 
And by the end of last year, official production had plunged to 9,329 bpd, compared to pre-war output of 380,000 bpd.
 
According to Syria Report, ISIS seized yet another oil field from the regime last week - Jazal, which produced 2,500 bpd.
 
Natural gas under threat
 
So far, natural gas fields have been the least affected by ISIS's rampage through Syria.
 
Oil Minister Suleiman al-Abbas said regime-controlled fields produce some 10 million cubic meters per day.
 
But the figure does not take into account the loss of Arak and Al-Hail, two fields in central Syria that ISIS overran earlier this month.
 
"Even if Syria had never exported its gas, it would still be crucial for electricity generation. Losing gas fields is a terrible blow to an already devastated economy," Yazigi said.
 
Before its complex and multi-front conflict broke out four years ago, Syria was a key exporter of agricultural products, textiles and leather, medicine, flowers and ceramic goods.
 
Total exports have plummeted from $11.3 billion in 2010 to $1.8 billion in 2014, according to the pro-government newspaper Al-Watan.
 
With export markets drying up, Syria has grown increasingly reliant on income taxes and customs, which brought in around $550 million in 2014, an official told AFP.
 
And Iran's credit lines, which have provided at least $4.6 billion to President Bashar al-Assad's regime, are part of a shrinking network of crucial but unstable revenue sources.

Al Qaeda Captures Last Syrian Regime City in Idlib

Category: News
Created on Friday, 29 May 2015 07:52
Al Qaeda Captures City in IdlibA rebel coalition led by Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate edged into the last remaining government-held city in the northwest province of Idlib on Thursday, a monitoring group said.
 
The lightning offensive saw the Army of Conquest, or Jaish al-Fatah in Arabic, enter outer districts of Ariha within a matter of hours, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP.
 
"There was heavy shelling and rocket fire, then they stormed the city," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
"They have entered the city and are engaged in fierce clashes on its peripheries," he added.
 
Ariha, which was home to 40,000 people before the conflict began, is the last remaining government-held city in Idlib province which borders Turkey.
 
"The march of lions has begun...Let Allah liberate Ariha," the Army of Conquest's official Twitter account posted.
 
The coalition, which includes Al Qaeda branch Nusra Front, has won a series of victories in Idlib, including the provincial capital on March 28 and the key town of Jisr al-Shughur on April 25.
 
Most recently, the rebels seized the massive Al-Mastumah military base and overran a hospital complex where regime soldiers were trapped.
 
Many government forces retreated from these areas to Ariha, which Abdel Rahman said was heavily defended by fighters from Iran and its Lebanese Shi'ite terror proxy Hezbollah.
 
The Army of Conquest vowed to consolidate its control of Idlib province, where the regime still holds Ariha, the Abu Duhur military airport and a sprinkling of minority villages and military posts.

Iran and Turkey Spar over Syria No-fly Zone

Category: News
Created on Friday, 29 May 2015 07:27
Syria No-fly ZoneA senior Iranian official Thursday rejected the idea of a Syria no-fly zone, which Turkey wants, saying it would be "a mistake" and would not restore security to the region.
 
"Talk of the establishment of a buffer and no-fly zone is the repetition of previous mistakes and will not help with security and stability in the region," deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said, according to AFP.
 
Before it will join a US-led coalition staging air strikes on Islamic State (ISIS) group jihadists, Ankara wants an air exclusion zone and also a buffer zone along its border with Syria.
 
Turkey also wants moderate Syrian rebel groups to be trained in order to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
 
At the end of last year, the United States said a no-fly zone would not work because of the presence of more than a million Syrian refugees along the frontier.
 
Iran is the Damascus regime's main regional ally, and provides Assad's government with both financial and military help.
 
The Islamic republic also accuses Turkey of allowing the free movement of rebels and weapons across the border, an allegation Ankara denies.
 
Amir-Abdollahian, in comments reported by the website of Iran's state television channel, said that for a political solution in Syria to be reached, neighboring countries must control their borders and prevent insurgents from crossing.
 
He was speaking in Kuwait, on the sidelines of an Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting.
 
The Syria conflict erupted in 2011 with a popular uprising that descended into a complex civil war in which more than 220,000 people have been killed.

ISIS Executes 20 Men in Palmyra

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 28 May 2015 14:30
ISIS Executes 20 Men in PalmyraThe Islamic State (ISIS) group on Wednesday executed 20 men in front of a crowd in the UNESCO-listed Roman theater of Syria's ancient city of Palmyra, a monitor told AFP.
 
Nearly a week after seizing the strategic city, ISIS gathered 20 men they accused of fighting for the regime in the ruins of the theater and shot them dead, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the news agency.
 
"ISIS gathered a lot of people there on purpose, to show their force on the ground," he said.
 
Syria's antiquities director said he feared the killings were a harbinger of the much-dreaded destruction of the ancient site, considered one of the world's greatest heritage jewels.
 
The jihadist group has damaged priceless historical sites across the region but mainly used its sledgehammers and dynamite on statues and places of worship it considers idolatrous.
 
It seized Palmyra on May 21, a move analysts warned positioned the group to launch more ambitious attacks on Damascus and third city Homs.
 
Syrian state TV on Sunday reported that about 400 civilians were massacred by ISIS since last Wednesday, while activists in Palmyra said that ISIS fighters hunted down President Bashar al-Assad's troops and loyalists, killing up to 300 of them.
 
With the Syrian army retreat from Palmyra, there has been talk of the Assad's regime being forced to accept the de facto division of Syria.
 
Reportedly 10-15% of Syria's population is now in areas controlled by ISIS - which geographically controls around half of the country's landmass, much of which is sparsely populated - while 20-25% are in territory controlled by Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front or other rebel groups, and another 5-10% are in areas controlled by Kurdish forces.

Assad Starts Heavy Bombing of Ancient Palmyra

Category: News
Created on Monday, 25 May 2015 23:52
Ruins of SyriaSyrian regime aircraft launched at least 15 airstrikes in and around the ancient city of Palymra (Tadmor) on Monday, following its fall to the Islamic State (ISIS) group, a monitoring group said.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the raids on the city were the most intense since the jihadists overran it last Thursday, and indicating that heavy bombing was targeting ISIS captured sites, reports AFP.
 
"Since this morning, government aircraft have carried out at least 15 air strikes in Palmyra and the areas around it," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
 
He said there were reports of casualties but he had no firm toll.
 
The strikes targeted several areas of the city, including some close to the city's famed Greco-Roman ruins, a UNESCO world heritage site, he said.
 
The Observatory said on Sunday that it had documented the executions of at least 217 people, among them 67 civilians, including 14 children. Some of those killed had been beheaded, Abdel Rahman said, adding that the jihadists had also taken some 600 people prisoner.
 
Syrian state TV on Sunday reported that about400 civilians were massacred by ISIS since last Wednesday, while activists in Palmyra said that ISIS fighters hunted down President Bashar al-Assad's troops and loyalists, killing up to 300 of them.
 
The pro-government Al-Watan said Monday that the number of executions had risen to 450.
 
The capture of Palmyra has raised fears that ISIS might try to destroy the well-preserved, 2,000-year-old Roman-era city on the town's edge – as they have destroyed other archaeological treasures in Syria and Iraq.
 
With the Syrian army retreat from Palmyra, there has been talk of the Assad's regime being forced to accept the de facto division of Syria.
 
Reportedly 10-15% of Syria's population is now in areas controlled by ISIS - which geographically controls around half of the country's landmass, much of which is sparsely populated - while 20-25% are in territory controlled by Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front or other rebel groups, and another 5-10% are in areas controlled by Kurdish forces.

ISIS Conquers Last Syrian Border Crossing to Iraq

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 23 May 2015 20:44
Syrian Border Crossing to IraqThe brutal Islamic State (ISIS) terror group has seized the last of the border crossings between Syria and Iraq held by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
Regime forces were left with no choice but to retreat from the border crossing known as al-Tanf in Syria and al-Waleed in Iraq, reports BBC citing the Observatory.
 
The seizure of the crossing is not only a strategic boon for the terrorist organization allowing it to more effectively transfer its resources and supplies between its forces in Syria and Iraq, but also signifies how ISIS is continuing to solidify and expand its hold on Syria.
 
Just on Thursday ISIS terrorists conquered Palmyra, an ancient city with archaeological artifacts feared to now be in danger of destruction.
 
According to the Observatory, ISIS now controls "more than 95,000 sq km (36,679 sq miles)" in Syria, which constitutes no less than half of the country's entire territory.
 
ISIS's hold includes Deir al-Zour and Raqqa provinces, and the group likewise has a strong grasp in Hasakeh, Aleppo, Homs and Hama.
 
In neighboring Iraq, ISIS forces have been conquering new ground as well, seizing the strategic city of Ramadi in Anbar province on Sunday after a three-day blitz.
 
Despite the massive gains made by ISIS in spite of the US-led coalition airstrikes against them, US President Barack Obama struck a defiant tone on Thursday, saying, "I don't think we're losing."
 
"There's no doubt there was a tactical setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time," Obama said of the loss of the strategic city.

French President: The World Must Respond to Capture of Palmyra

Category: News
Created on Friday, 22 May 2015 16:58
Francois HollandeFrench President Francois Hollande on Thursday said the world must respond to Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists' seizure of Palmyra amid fears they could destroy the Syrian city's world renowned ancient monuments.
 
"We have to act because there is a threat against these monuments which are part of humankind's inheritance and at the same time we must act against Daesh," Hollande said, according to AFP, referring to the Islamic State group by its Arabic name.
 
"It is really upsetting when a site of such riches which belongs to all of humanity falls into the hands of a terrorist group," he added, as he arrived at an EU-Eastern Partnership summit in the Latvian capital Riga.
 
The comments came hours after UNESCO warned that the destruction of the ancient city would be "an enormous loss to humanity".
 
The capture of Palmyra, a 2,000-year-old metropolis from the Roman era, reportedly means ISIS now controls more than half of Syria at a time when it is also expanding its territory in neighboring Iraq.
 
In Iraq, ISIS has already sparked international outrage when it blew up the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and smashed artifacts in the Mosul museum.
 
The fear now is the extremists will do the same in Palmyra.

UNESCO: Palmyra Destruction 'Enormous Loss to Humanity'

Category: Archeology and History
Created on Friday, 22 May 2015 16:00
PalmyraThe destruction of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra would be an "enormous loss to humanity", the head of the organization warned Thursday after Islamic State seized the ancient Syrian city.
 
"Palmyra is an extraordinary World Heritage site in the desert and any destruction to Palmyra (would be) not just a war crime but ... an enormous loss to humanity," Irina Bokova said in a video published by the Paris-based group, AFP reported.
 
She added that she was "extremely worried" about recent events there and reiterated an appeal for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of military forces.
 
"At the end of the day, it's the birthplace of human civilization. It belongs to the whole of humanity and I think everyone today should be worried about what is happening," added the UNESCO chief.
 
Earlier Thursday, Islamic State terrorists seized full control of the city, putting the world heritage site and its priceless artifacts at risk of destruction.
 
ISIS, notorious for demolishing archaeological treasures since declaring a "caliphate" last year straddling Iraq and Syria, fought its way
into Palmyra on foot after breaking through in the city's north.
 
Bokova urged the international community, including the United Nations Security Council and religious leaders, to launch an appeal to stop the violence.
 
"It is important because we are speaking about the birth of human civilization, we are speaking about something that belongs to the whole of
humanity."

Why Now? Baghdadi Message Reaffirms ISIS Leadership

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 17 May 2015 10:44
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi makes his first appearance in Mosuls Great Mosque - ReutersThe Islamic State's release last week of an audio message by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reaffirmed his leadership of the group following a six-month silence and rumors over his health.  
 
In his half-hour speech posted on jihadist forums on Thursday, Baghdadi calls for a general mobilization and urges all Muslims to move to the caliphate he proclaimed last year or wage jihad (holy war) wherever they are.  
 
"I think this release partly has to do with rumours of his supposed incapacitation," said Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi of the Middle East Forum research group.  
 
Rumors emerged last month that Baghdadi was seriously wounded in a March air strike and had relinquished the organisation's leadership to a terrorist called Abu Alaa al-Afari.
 
"I do indeed think the release is well timed," said Patrick Skinner, an analyst with the Soufan Group intelligence consultancy.  
 
"It was important for him even in audio to show some level of engagement and persuasion. The group depends on image as much as reality," he told AFP.
 
The recording provides no clues as to Baghdadi's health but largely dispels any notion he is no longer the overall leader of an organisation which now claims branches all over the region, as well as in Asia and Africa.
 
A previous recording, which dates back to November, was also released a few days after rumors that he had been killed or wounded in an air raid.  
 
Thursday's message was not immediately authenticated or dated but the credibility of previous such releases by the group has in most cases stood the test of time.
 
Baghdadi's speech alludes mostly to battles in Anbar province and the Baiji area but not in Tikrit, suggesting it was recorded after the government took it back in early April.  
 
Hassan Hassan, co-author of the acclaimed and recently published "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror", said his assessment was also that the recording post-dated claims of his incapacitation.  
 
"Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's new statement was most likely recorded in last five days of April. Almost certain," he tweeted.
 
Secretive structure
 
Afari, an Iraqi from the Tal Afar region who is also sometimes referred to as Abdulrahman al-Qaduli, was little known until last month.  
 
The US State Department listed him - under the same Abd al-Rahman al-Qaduli - on its Rewards for Justice website, offering a $7-million bounty for information leading to him.
 
That makes him the Islamic State group's most senior leader on the list behind Baghdadi himself, who is in the $10-million bounty category.  
 
The Iraqi defense ministry issued a statement on Wednesday suggesting Afari may have been killed in an air strike but the US-led coalition cast doubt on the claim.  
 
ISIS' leadership structure remains shrouded in secrecy and there are only a handful of other senior figures on the US list.  
 
Among them are Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the group's official spokesman, and Omar al-Shishani, a Georgian citizen considered one of ISIS' top military commanders.
 
ISIS has its roots in Iraq, where earlier incarnations of the group emerged in reaction to the 2003 US invasion, and Iraqis are thought to be the largest contingent in its higher echelons.
 
The Pentagon claimed in December that coalition air strikes had killed Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, a top Baghdadi aide, in December.  
 
In his speech, Baghdadi is very much the fiery chief commander, calling for a general mobilization against the broad alliance of forces battling his organisation.    
 
He says it is an obligation for all Muslims to emigrate to his so-called "caliphate" or wage jihad on their homeland.
 
"His address does have the tone of an 'end of times' approach to the fighting. He is going all in with everything he can, urging his listeners to do the same," Skinner said.
 
He and Tamimi agreed that Baghdadi desperately needed to find new momentum to break out of the recent stalemate, which has seen ISIS fail to make any significant gain in Iraq or Syria.  
 
On the day the recording was released however, ISIS launched a fresh offensive on Ramadi that saw it eventually seize near-full control of Anbar's provincial capital, in what would be its biggest victory in months.
 
On Saturday, ISIS advanced in Syria as well, seizing control of part of the ancient city of Palmyra.
 
However, the jihadist group also suffered a major blow, when US special forces killed one of its most senior military leaders - Abu Sayyaf - in a daring raid in Syria.

US Kills Senior ISIS Leader in Syria, Captures His Wife

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 17 May 2015 00:08
abu-sayyafThe Pentagon has announced that a senior ISIS member was killed today (Saturday) in an operation by US Special Operations forces in Syria. No Americans were killed or injured during the mission.
 
"The operation represents another significant blow to ISIL, and it is a reminder that the United States will never waver in denying safe haven to terrorists who threaten our citizens, and those of our friends and allies," said Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
 
The wanted man, Abu Sayyaf, organized the jihadist group's oil, gas, and financial arms. Oil provides a major source of ISIS's funding, with analysts estimating the group's oil revenue at up to $3 million per day.
 
As part of the mission, Sayyaf's wife, Umm Sayyaf, was captured. She is believed to have been involved in ISIS's activities, particularly human trafficking, and reportedly had a captured Yazidi woman as a slave.
 
This mission was authorized by US President Barack Obama, despite his earlier promise to keep all ground forces out of Syria and Iraq. Another Special Operations raid last year attempted to rescue kidnapped journalists, but all the hostages were killed.
 
White House national security spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said Abu Sayyaf "was killed when he engaged US forces."    
 
His wife was being held in military detention in Iraq.  
 
The raid took place in Al-Omar, one of the largest oil fields in Syria, located in oil-rich Deir Ezzor province. Like much of Deir Ezzor, Al-Omar remains under ISIS control.
 
US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter called the operation a "significant blow" to ISIS.
 
Meehan said US forces based out of Iraq had conducted the raid "with the full consent" of Iraqi authorities.  
 
US forces suffered no casualties, American officials said, without giving details on the number of troops involved.
 
Members of the elite Delta special operations unit descended on Sayyaf's compound in Black Hawk helicopters and Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, a defence official told AFP.
 
In a firefight, US troops killed "about a dozen" armed terrorists, the official said, on condition of anonymity. At one point, fighting took place "at very close quarters, and there was hand-to-hand combat."  
 
ISIS enters Palmyra
 
In central Syria, ISIS jihadists stormed and seized control of most of Palmyra's northern neighborhoods, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.  
 
"IS advanced and took control of most of northern Palmyra, and there are fierce clashes happening now," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the monitoring group's director.
 
The official Syrian news agency SANA quoted a military source as saying regime forces had prevented IS fighters from seizing a hilltop southwest of the Islamic citadel.  
 
The head of Syria's antiquities department, Mamoum Abdulkarim, meanwhile, voiced extreme concern for the UNESCO world heritage site, located to Palmyra's southwest.
 
"I am living in a state of terror," Abdulkarim told AFP in a telephone call.
 
He said ISIS "will blow everything up. They will destroy everything," if they enter the site, adding that many of Palmyra's artefacts, like elaborate tombs, could not be moved.
 
ISIS began its offensive on Palmyra on Wednesday and has since inched closer to the ancient metropolis, executing at least 49 civilians in two days, according to the Observatory.  
 
Fearing the destruction of Palmyra, known as the "pearl of the desert," UNESCO has called on the UN Security Council to act in order to save one of the Middle East's historic treasures.
 
48 dead in air raids
 
Meanwhile, in northwest Syria, at least 48 civilians, including nine children, were killed on Saturday in regime air raids on Idlib province, the Observatory said.
 
It said the air strikes targeted rebel-held Idlib city and the towns of Saraqeb and Kafr Awid.
 
Also on Saturday, Turkey's defense minister said armed forces shot down a Syrian helicopter that had violated Turkish air space.
 
"A Syrian helicopter was downed that violated the border for a period of five minutes within a seven mile (11 kilometer) limit," Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said, quoted by the Dogan news agency.
 
Syrian state television had earlier indicated the aircraft was a drone and vehemently denied it could have been a manned aircraft.  
 
 In Iraq, ISIS fighters tightened their siege on the last government positions in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, a day after they seized the city's government headquarters.
 
Taking control of Ramadi would constitute the group's most important victory this year in Iraq, and would give the jihadists control of the capitals of two of its largest provinces.
 
Mosul, capital of Nineveh province, has been under ISIS control since the jihadists launched a lightning offensive in June 2014.
 
Anbar province, of which Ramadi is the capital, extends from the Syrian, Jordanian, and Saudi borders to the gates of Baghdad.  
 
Military reinforcements have been sent to Ramadi and other parts of Anbar, local officials said, and Iraq's army and the US-led coalition have struck ISIS positions in the area.

ISIS Seizes Part of Ancient Syrian City of Palmyra

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 16 May 2015 23:40
ISIS flag - ReutersJihadists from the Islamic State group (ISIS or IS) seized control Saturday of the northern part of Syria's ancient desert city of Palmyra after fierce clashes with government forces, a monitoring group said.  
 
"IS advanced and took control of most of northern Palmyra, and there are fierce clashes happening now," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
He said 13 jihadist fighters were killed in ongoing clashes near the Islamic citadel in the city's west.  
 
Abdel Rahman had no details on regime casualties.
 
Most of Palmyra's renowned ruins, including colonnaded streets and elaborately decorated tombs, lie to the southwest of the city.
 
ISIS began its offensive on Palmyra on Wednesday and inched closer to the ancient metropolis on Thursday and Friday, executing at least 49 civilians over those two days according to the Observatory.
 
The latest gains by ISIS in Syria come just a day after it seized the government compound in the Iraqi city of Ramadi on Friday and edged closer to what would be their biggest victory in Iraq this year.
 
The loss of the capital of Anbar province, which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had said would be the next target of government forces after wresting back Tikrit last month, would be a major setback.
 
The government stressed that Ramadi had not fallen yet and announced that a major counter-offensive was under way as Abadi held an emergency meeting with top security officials.
 
ISIS has threatened to take control of Ramadi for months, and the breakthrough came after a wide offensive on multiple fronts in the province, including an assault using several suicide car bombs in Ramadi on Thursday.
 
The jihadists seized the government complex at around 2:00 p.m. local time and raised the black flag, a police officer said, giving them nearly full control over Anbar's capital.

ISIS 'Barbarians' Threaten to Destroy Ancient Syrian City

Category: News
Created on Friday, 15 May 2015 16:59
AntiquitiesIslamic State group fighters advanced to the gates of ancient Palmyra Thursday, raising fears the Syrian world heritage site could face destruction of the kind the jihadists have already wreaked in Iraq.
 
IS fighters were battling Syrian troops less than two kilometers (barely a mile) from the remains of one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world, Syria's director of antiquities said.  
 
The jihadists reached the oasis town after a lightning advance across the desert in which they overran government forces in fierce fighting that cost the lives of 110 combatants, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
 
"Palmyra is under threat," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.  
 
Antiquities director Mamoun Abdulkarim said he was in touch with colleagues still in Palmyra every half hour.
 
"IS has not entered the city yet, and we hope these barbarians will never enter," Abdulkarim told AFP.
 
UNESCO describes Palmyra as a heritage site of "outstanding universal value".  
 
The ancient city stood on a caravan route at the crossroads of several civilizations and its 1st and 2nd century temples and colonnaded streets mark a unique blend of Graeco-Roman and Persian influences.
 
The jihadist advance on the well-preserved remains came as an international conference was under way in Cairo to address the destruction already wreaked by IS on the ancient sites of Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq.  
 
'International catastrophe'
 
Foreign affairs and antiquities officials from 11 Arab countries gathered in Egypt to condemn the jihadists' demolition of Iraq's heritage, with sledgehammers, bulldozers and high explosives.
 
Abdulkarim said Syria had not been invited to the conference and that he had not been contacted by any of those attending about the threat to Palmyra.  
 
He told AFP that antiquities officials would try to ensure the safety of artifacts found in archaeological digs over the years which are housed in an adjacent museum.
 
"We can protect the statues and artifacts, but we cannot protect the architecture, the temples," he said.
 
"IS will just destroy it from the outside."  
 
Abdulkarim said he had no doubt that if Palmyra fell to the jihadists, it would suffer a similar fate to ancient Nimrud, which they blew up earlier this year.  
 
"If IS enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction.
 
"If the ancient city falls, it will be an international catastrophe. It will be a repetition of the barbarism and savagery which we saw in Nimrud, Hatra and Mosul."  
 
It would not be the first time that government troops have lost control of Palmyra. Rebels held the site from February to September 2013 before government troops recaptured it.
 
One of the ancient city's masterpieces, the Temple of Baal, suffered some damage during the accompanying artillery exchanges.  
 
But those rebels did not share the fanatical devotion of ISIS to demolishing all of the region's pre-Islamic heritage.
 
There was ferocious fighting as the jihadists overran the town of Al-Suknah on Wednesday in their drive across the desert towards Palmyra.  
 
Provincial governor Talal Barazi said that 1,800 families who had fled the advancing jihadists were being sheltered in reception centers in the adjacent modern town of Tadmur.
 
Both sides suffered heavy losses in the battle for Al-Suknah, including senior commanders, the Observatory said.  
 
The army lost 70 men, including six officers. ISIS lost 40 men, including two commanders, one of them the leader of the offensive.
 
Jihadist websites named him as Abu Malik Anas al-Nashwan, who appeared in an ISIS video showing the beheadings of 28 Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians in Libya last month.

48 Dead as ISIS Seizes Town in Homs Province

Category: News
Created on Friday, 15 May 2015 15:11
48 Dead in Homs ProvinceIslamic State has seized large parts of a strategically located town in Syria's central Homs province in clashes that killed 48 soldiers and terrorists, a monitor said Wednesday, according to AFP.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the extremist group had captured areas of Al-Sukhnah and its surroundings in fighting that began overnight.
 
The town lies on the highway that leads from eastern Deir Ezzor province, an ISIS stronghold, to the ancient town of Palmyra.
 
Palmrya is controlled by the regime and home to spectacular Greco-Roman ruins that are listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
 
"The Islamic State managed to advance in Al-Sukhnah and take control of large parts of the town and the surrounding areas," the Britain-based Observatory said, adding that clashes were continuing Wednesday.
 
The group said at least 28 regime forces - soldiers and pro-government militants - and 20 ISIS fighters had been killed in the battles. More than 100 fighters from both sides were wounded, the monitor said.
 
Located in central Syria, control of Homs province is divided.
 
The provincial capital is almost completely under regime control, but opposition forces and ISIS control large parts of the surrounding countryside and desert.
 
ISIS has a significant presence in the desert region in the east of the province bordering Deir Ezzor, which is a stronghold of the terror group and forms part of its self-proclaimed Islamic "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq.
 
Homs is Syria's largest province and is particularly important for the government as it also neighbors Damascus province, where the capital is located.
 
It is also home to the key Shaar gas field, which is now back in government hands after IS fighters overran it last year, reportedly slaughtering several hundred government troops there.

Syria Rebel Victories Leave Lebanon Increasingly Isolated

Category: News
Created on Monday, 04 May 2015 08:17
Scene of explosion in Beirut Reuters(AFP) Lebanon's land exports to Gulf markets have been choked off, leaving millions of dollars in goods stranded after the closure of a vital crossing on the Syrian-Jordanian border last month.  
 
The Nasib border point was the last remaining gateway for Lebanese truck drivers transporting agricultural and industrial products to Iraq and Gulf countries.
 
After Syrian rebels seized Nasib on April 1, these exports came to an abrupt halt.
 
"Exports by land have stopped entirely," said Ahmad Alam, whose company exports Lebanese fruit and vegetables to Arab countries.
 
Goods transported overland made up 35 per cent of all of Lebanon's exports, economic analyst Nassib Ghobril told AFP.
 
The customs authorities say Lebanese exports to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in 2014 amounted to $920 million (821 million euros). Another $256 million was exported to Iraq.  
 
But all those potential exports are now effectively stuck in Lebanon, he said.
 
"The Nasib crossing was the only way for Lebanese products to be exported by land. Since it closed, there are no more land crossings now," Ghobril said.
 
Before the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, Lebanese products traveled frequently through Lebanon's neighbor, then on to Iraq to the east or to Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the Gulf to the south.  
 
The agriculture ministry says that agricultural products make up 6 per cent of GDP and 17 per cent of total exports.  
 
Agriculture hit hardest
 
As Syria's war worsened, its border crossings with Iraq closed, leaving Lebanese truckers with only one option: Nasib.
 
Omar al-Ali, head of Lebanon's Refrigerated Truckers Syndicate, told AFP that about 250 trucks would cross from Lebanon into Syria every day before the conflict.
 
That number dropped to 120 daily because of growing instability along Syria's major highways, and with Nasib closed, just a few trucks destined for the shrinking Syrian market only leave Lebanon every day.
 
Although one crossing along the Syria-Iraq border remains open, Ali said it is too dangerous to use.  
 
According to Ghobril, Lebanon's land exports have been affected the most by the Syrian crisis, apart from tourism.  
 
Road closures have hit agricultural exports the hardest, since they rely predominantly on land routes and cannot be easily transported by air or sea.  
 
"Our trucks transported our agricultural and industrial products. This is what carried Lebanon's economy," Ali said, adding that the losses could be in the millions of dollars.
 
"Now we have 900 refrigerated trucks that are just sitting inside Lebanon," with others stuck in the Gulf, he told AFP.  
 
Alam said he lost at least one million dollars in the three weeks after Nasib's closure.
 
According to the agriculture ministry, the sector employs 20 to 30 per cent of the Lebanese workforce.  
 
Livelihood on hold
 
Many truckers can now be found discussing their plight at their syndicate's offices in Bar Elias in east Lebanon.
 
Khaled Araji, 55, is just one of hundreds of Lebanese who used to drive goods through Syria to the Gulf, and whose livelihood has now on hold indefinitely.  
 
"I just spend my time in the house. I've worked in this business for more than 30 years, and if I don't see the (truck's) refrigerator every day, I can't relax. This job is in my blood," Araji told AFP.  
 
Ali said truck drivers made $1,500 a month "to provide for their families by generating activity in other sectors. All of this has stopped now."  
 
To make up for routes through Syria being closed, the Beirut government is looking at exporting these goods by sea.  
 
According to Ghobril, this alternative "requires more time than by land, and it's definitely more expensive, but it's still better than nothing".
 
But Alam downplayed the effectiveness of maritime transport, saying some green produce would not stay fresh long enough for the journey.
 
In his warehouse in Bar Elias, young men and girls pack oranges, apples and fresh lettuce - whose prices have dramatically dropped - into crates and boxes for export by air.    
 
As the peak harvest seasons in August and September draw closer, exporters and truckers are hoping for a speedy solution to the problem.  
 
But Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb, speaking after a cabinet meeting on the crisis last week, was not hopeful.  
 
"Unfortunately, we have become an island," he said.

Iran Tells Syria to Attack Israel on the Golan Heights

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 29 April 2015 08:11
Syria to Attack Israel on the Golan HeightsSyrian Defense Minister General Fahd al-Freij arrived in Iran on Tuesday for a rare two-day visit, the first since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, and was reportedly told by his Iranian backers to attack Israel.
 
As the Syrian regime continues to suffer key losses that have sharpened in the last month, Iran continues to exert ever-growing influence in the country which it is financially and militarily propping up.
 
Al-Freij was told by senior Iranian sources that Syria and Iran's terror proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, need to open a war front against Israel on the Golan Heights, according to the Hebrew-language Channel 10.
 
Iran told the Syrian defense minister to stir up conflict against Israel on the Golan, with the Islamic republic apparently unperturbed by the significant damage the move will cause to the Syrian regime, given that its goal is to expand its regional hegemony at all costs.
 
The Golan has been heating up with four terrorists eliminated on Sunday while placing an explosive on the Israeli border, and a day later stray mortar shells struck from Syria, as Al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front and Islamic State (ISIS) fight on the Syrian side, right on Israel's doorstep.
 
Iran spending $35B annually on Assad
 
In a press conference between al-Freij and his Iranian counterpart, the two said in a joint statement, "Syria, Iran and the axis of resistance will not allow enemies to achieve their goals in the region, and harm Syria and its firm position. Iran unreservedly supports Syria, and continues its strategic relations with it."
 
Regarding its strategic interests, experts have revealed Iran is spending $35 billion a year propping up President Bashar al-Assad's regime, and is likewise deploying thousands of its troops in the country.
 
The reason for this is that Iran needs to maintain a route of access through Syria to the Mediterranean by which it can supply weapons to Hezbollah and strengthen its growing regional influence.
 
Iran's call for Syria to attack Israel comes after three reports in Arab media since late last week claiming Israel conducted airstrikes on weapons depots and convoys in Syria heading for Hezbollah.
 
Israeli security sources appraised that the strikes were not conducted by Israel, but rather by Syrian rebel forces as part of the ongoing civil war that has already left over 220,000 dead.

Iraq: ISIS Stones Two Men to Death for Adultery

Category: Islam
Created on Tuesday, 28 April 2015 21:24
ISIS Stones Two Men to Death for AdulteryThe Islamic State jihadist group said it has stoned two men to death for adultery in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, according to a series of photos posted online.
 
One man is shown kneeling blindfolded in front of a group of men who hurl large stones at him until he is lying face down on the ground, blood running from his head.
 
A second man is then killed in the same way, as a crowd including children looks on.
 
It is not known when the stonings took place, and the authenticity of the pictures could not be immediately confirmed.
 
The Islamic State group led an offensive last June that overran large areas north and west of Baghdad, sweeping security forces aside.
 
ISIS has carried out a string of atrocities including videotaped beheadings and mass executions, rape and enslavement in areas it controls in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

Syria: 42 Dead in Clashes Between Rebels

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 25 April 2015 20:55
Rebel-Jihadist WarAt least 42 fighters were killed in 24 hours of fierce fighting between Islamist rebels and the Islamic State group in Syria's Damascus province, a monitoring group said Wednesday.
 
"At least 30 Islamist rebels and 12 fighters from ISIS were killed in fighting since Tuesday" in the hilly region of Qalamun, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, according to AFP.
 
Qalamun is divided into a western portion, which borders Lebanon and is mostly controlled by the regime and its ally, the Lebanese Shiite terror movement Hezbollah.
 
The eastern sector has seen intense clashes between rebels and ISIS, and is strategic because it borders the "badiya," the Syrian steppe.
 
These plains are used by rebels to transport weapons from the Turkish border to the north and the Jordanian frontier in the south.
 
According to the Britain-based Observatory, ISIS has already cut off one of these routes and aims to take more to "suffocate" the rebels.
 
Meanwhile, at least 11 people were killed in regime bombardment of two towns in Damascus province.
 
"It is likely that there were even more killed in the attack, and the number will increase due to people in a critical condition," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman, according to AFP.
 
The fighting among rebel groups is nothing new, as different rebel groups have been fighting one another constantly in addition to fighting the Bashar Al-Assad regime.
 
Al-Nusra Front, a rebel group which has been an official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013 and dominates a swathe of northwest Syria, has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State (ISIS) group.
 
Last November, Al-Nusra and ISIS temporarily agreed to work together in order to combat the international airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS Issuing Photo ID Cards in Syria's Raqa

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 23 April 2015 09:19
ID5The Islamic State (ISIS) group is now issuing photo identity cards in Syria's Raqa province, but only to males, along with a range of administrative documents, a monitor and activists told AFP on Friday.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS had begun issuing "identity cards to those without proof of identity and boys over the age of 13 in Raqa province."
 
The Britain-based group published a photo it said was provided by civilian sources showing a laminated card printed with the black and white flag of the Islamic State.
 
It carries the photo of the holder, his name, date and place of birth and his parents' names, and is marked "Wilayat (district of) Raqa."
 
An activist with the anti-ISIS "Raqa is Being Slaughtered Silently" group confirmed that IS had begun issuing identity documents.
 
The group is requesting "that people who do not have identity papers register at the civil registry in the city as a first step towards getting an identity card," activist Mohamed Saleh told AFP via the Internet.
 
He said its fighters were already receiving the new ID cards, but that civilians were still being registered to receive theirs.
 
The ID cards were not available for women "because printing their photos is considered forbidden."
 
"People don't want the cards, but they don't have a choice," he told AFP.
 
Saleh said residents feared the cards would become compulsory for all those in the province, even if they already have other proof of identity.
 
"That's what happened with their driver's licenses and license plates...Now there are checkpoints where they make sure you have them," he said.
 
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said issuance of the ID cards follows the introduction of a range of other administrative paperwork, including marriage and birth certificates, drivers' licenses and car registrations.
 
Land and building registration documents and permits were also being issued, he added.
 
ISIS has seized large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq since 2013 and declared an Islamic "caliphate" in the land under its control.
 
The jihadists have carried out numerous atrocities in areas they control, ranging from public beheadings to enslavement and mass rape.
 
The group has been accused of torturing and murdering prisoners, among them children and teenagers, and forcing Druze men to convert to Islam or die.
 
In one case, ISIS members beheaded a person they said was a member of an Iraqi Shiite militia fighting for Assad, only to discover they had accidentally beheaded a fighter belonging to an allied rebel group.
 
In March, the group live-tweeted the amputation of a hand of a man charged with theft in the northern province of Aleppo.

Antiquities Market on Alert for Looted Syrian Spoils

Category: Archeology and History
Created on Wednesday, 22 April 2015 19:59
Ancient City of NimrudAs armed groups in Syria and Iraq destroy priceless archaeological sites, European authorities and dealers are on high alert for smaller, looted artifacts put on sale to help finance the jihadists' war.
 
Stolen-art expert Chris Marinello, director of Art Recovery International, said he has been shown photographs of items being offered from Syria that were "clearly looted right out of the ground".
 
"You could still see dirt on some of these objects," he told AFP.
 
They included cylinder seals, Roman bottles and vases, although Marinello said it was unclear whether the items were still in Syria, were in transit or had arrived in the key markets of Europe and the United States.
 
Concerns about looting during the Syrian war have increased following the advance of the Islamic State group through parts of Syria and Iraq, and recent propaganda videos showing their destruction of ancient sites such as Nimrud.
 
The UN Security Council in February demanded UN states act to stop the trade in cultural property from those two countries, amid warnings that they represented a significant source of funding for the terrorist group.
 
Experts say it is impossible to put a value on antiquities looted from Syria, which has been home to many civilizations through the millennia, from the Canaanites to the Ottomans.
 
The London-based International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) estimates the entire legitimate antiquities market in 2013 was worth between 150 and 200 million euros ($160-215 million).
 
Marinello said reputable dealers are "being very careful not to touch anything that could remotely be part of this recent wave of looting".
 
But Hermann Parzinger, an archaeologist and president of the Germany-based Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, said there was an "enormous market" from private buyers.
 
He warned that the cultural costs were huge, telling AFP: "The context which is so important to reconstruct the history of these civilizations is completely destroyed."
 
Looted items held back
 
Italy has proposed that world heritage body UNESCO create a military taskforce to protect cultural sites in war zones, but many experts believe little can be done to stop the current destruction.
 
Instead, they are forced to wait until the conflict ends and watch in horror as priceless historic sites are destroyed and the spoils gradually
emerge onto the market.
 
Vernon Rapley, a former head of the art and antiquities squad at London's Metropolitan Police, expects many Syrian items to be held back to avoid flooding the market, as occurred after the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
The looted artifacts were likely to be "hauled up in warehouses either in the country or near the country, and only linked to the art trade in small pieces and at a later stage", he told AFP.
 
Stephane Thefo, who leads an Interpol unit dedicated to fighting the illegal trafficking of cultural goods, agreed that many items may disappear for years - but insisted that tackling the trade was the best way to combat looting.
 
The French policeman would like to see tougher national laws on trafficking of cultural goods, something Germany is currently considering.
 
"We have to act by seeking to narrow markets for the illicit trade, hoping that by curbing the demand, the supply would eventually decrease," Thefo said.
 
Identifying heritage items
 
Identifying looted objects is no easy task, however, not least because cultural crime is rarely a police priority.
 
The law puts the onus on the authorities to prove an item is illegal and a long delay in an artifact being sold, or multiple owners, make it hard to establish provenance.
 
At a conference at the V&A museum in London this week on the destruction of cultural property in conflict areas in Iraq and Syria, Mali, Libya and Yemen, archaeologists stressed the need for proper inventories of heritage sites.
 
They noted that objects that have been photographed and digitally catalogued are more likely to be recovered.
 
Interpol is currently building a database of stolen objects, and James Ede, a London dealer and IADAA board member, urged cultural bodies to share their information with dealers.
 
"This material will necessarily surface on the open market sooner or later. The challenge therefore is to identify it and where possible to return it when it is safe to do so," he said.

50 ISIS Hostages Include Ismaili Minorities

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 16 April 2015 22:39
ISIS HostagesJihadist fighters from the Islamic State (ISIS) group are holding hostage at least 50 civilians, almost half of them women, seized in a raid on a village in central Syria, a monitor said.
 
They were kidnapped from the village of Mabujeh in Hama province on March 31, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights according to AFP.
 
News of the kidnappings had been kept quiet because of ongoing negotiations for their release, but the talks have since faltered, said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
Ten of those taken, including six women, are Ismailis, a minority sect that is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. The remaining 40 are Sunni Muslims, including at least 15 women.
 
"There are fears that the women are being taken as slaves," Abdel Rahman told AFP.
 
He said the Ismailis were kidnapped because ISIS considers them "infidels," and that the Sunnis - although from the same sect as ISIS fighters - were taken because ISIS viewed them as "loyal to the Ismailis."
 
Mabujeh, east of the provincial capital Hama, has a population of Sunnis, Ismailis and Alawites, another offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that is the sect of President Bashar al-Assad and his clan.
 
On March 31, ISIS executed at least 37 civilians in Mabujeh, including two children, by "burning, beheading, and firing on them," the Observatory said.
 
ISIS has regularly targeted minority sects in Syria, especially Shi'ites it accuses of apostasy, as well as Sunnis who it alleges have violated its interpretation of Islam.
 
It has also carried out mass kidnappings of Kurds and Assyrian Christians in Syria, and members of the Yazidi faith in neighboring Iraq.
 
In another attack on a minority village in Syria, a car bomb exploded Friday in the Alawite neighborhood of Hay al-Arman in Homs city, the Observatory said.
 
Abdel Rahman told AFP that one child was killed and at least 10 people were wounded in the explosion.
 
He could not specify who was behind the car bomb, but Syrian state television said a "terrorist attack" had struck the area. Abdel Rahman said Hay al-Arman was under regime control and was a "stronghold" of pro-government militias.
 
Alawite areas in Homs have been under attack by jihadists, including a brutal suicide attack at a school in October 2014 that left 54 dead, among them 47 children.
 
In the northern city of Raqa, which ISIS has declared the capital of its self-styled "caliphate," 16 people were killed in a series of regime air strikes on the city and its suburbs.
 
Since Syria's conflict began in 2011, more than 215,000 people have been killed and nearly half the country's population has become displaced.

ISIS Repelled From Key Syrian Military Airport

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 14 April 2015 10:19
Strikes-DamascusPro-government forces repelled an attack on a key Syrian military airport by Islamic State (ISIS) group affiliated terrorists, losing 20 fighters but killing almost as many jihadists, a monitor said Saturday.
 
"Militants who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group attacked the outskirts of the Khalkhalah military airport in Sweida province on Friday," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, according to AFP.
 
Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad maintained control over the airport and its surrounding areas despite losing 20 fighters. At least 15 ISIS jihadists were killed.
 
Syria's official news agency SANA said the army had "blocked attempts from ISIS terrorists to infiltrate" areas near the airport.
 
Khalkhalah lies along a major highway between Damascus and the regime-held city of Sweida, a stronghold of the Druze minority that has largely avoided the bloodshed of Syria's war.
 
The attack on Khalkhalah was the first by ISIS, but the airport has been previously targeted by rebels and Syria's Al-Qaeda affiliate. 
 
In March, Syrian rebels and Islamist fighters seized the town of Bosra al-Sham, which is south of Sweida but located along the same highway as Khalkhalah airport.
 
Also on Friday, Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate withdrew from a key area along Syria's border with Jordan, the Observatory said.
 
Rebels and the Nusra Front took control of the Nasib crossing in the southern province of Daraa from regime forces last month. Nasib had been under attack by moderate rebel forces, but fell shortly after Nusra joined the ongoing offensive.
 
The jihadists and other rebels held the checkpoint, the duty-free zone between the two crossings, and the customs area. Nusra withdrew from the checkpoint last week and left the other areas Friday.
 
"The other fighters asked them to leave Nasib because they weren't in the fight to begin with," Abdel Rahman said.
 
Kurds counter ISIS offensive
 
ISIS terrorists were also fought back in the northeast province of Hasakeh, where Kurdish militia took on the extremist group in bloody clashes Friday night.
 
The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) "retook at least four checkpoints and a number of neighborhoods" around the town of Tal Tamr, Abdel Rahman told AFP.
 
He said the Kurds had launched a "counter-offensive" against an ISIS assault on the town that began in February, adding that in the past 24 hours, seven YPG fighters and 24 ISIS terrorists were killed.
 
Though small, Tal Tamr has strategic value because it lies on a road that runs east across the Iraqi border to ISIS's bastion in Mosul, as well as north to the Turkish border.
 
ISIS has seized over a dozen villages around Tal Tamr, said Abdel Rahman, adding that the group was attacking the town to make up for losses in other parts of Hasakeh.
 
The US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq also conducted air strikes on ISIS positions around Tal Tamr on Friday, he added.
 
The coalition began targeting ISIS around the town last month after Kurdish forces appealed for international action, and has provided air support for the YPG elsewhere in northern Syria, including the flashpoint border town of Kobane.
 
In the northern city of Aleppo, at least five people were killed and dozens wounded in rocket attacks Saturday on the Christian neighborhood of Suleimaniyah.
 
"The death toll will likely rise as there are a number of people in critical condition," Abdel Rahman said.
 
State television reported the attack but said "terrorist shelling" had killed eight people. Government forces regularly pound rebel-held areas from the air, and opposition fighters fire rockets and mortar rounds into regime-controlled neighborhoods.
 
More than 215,000 people have been killed in Syria's four-year war.

Palestinian Yarmouk Forces Unite with Syrian Regime to Beat ISIS

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 11 April 2015 05:55
Palestinian YarmoukA group of 14 Palestinian Arab factions said Thursday they backed a joint military operation with the Syrian government to expel Islamic State (ISIS) group jihadists from the Yarmouk neighborhood of southern Damascus.
 
After a meeting of the factions in the Syrian capital, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Ahmed Majdalani said the groups supported a coordinated military effort in the camp.
 
The factions support "a security solution that will be carried out in partnership with the Syrian state and will have as its priority maintaining the security of citizens," said PLO official Ahmed Majdalani, according to AFP.
 
"We agreed that there would be permanent cooperation with the Syrian leadership and the formation of a joint operations room with Syrian government forces and the Palestinian factions that have a significant presence in the camp or around it."
 
Majdalani added that Palestinian Arab forces would work in an "integrated" fashion "with the Syrian state to clear the camp of terrorists."
 
But it was unclear whether that position was shared by the Palestinian Arab fighters on the ground inside the camp.
 
The key Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis group fighting ISIS inside Yarmuk was not present at the meeting and could not be reached for comment.
 
The group is opposed to the Syrian government and has cooperated with rebel fighters against ISIS jihadists inside Yarmouk since the extremist organization entered the camp on April 1.
 
The Islamist terrorist group Hamas also did not attend the meeting, an official told AFP.
 
"Refugee camp?"
 
Majdalani said Palestinian Arab backing for a military operation was dependent on any action protecting civilian lives and infrastructure in the battered neighborhood.
 
"The action must take into account the lives of the camp's citizens and avoid massive destruction. It will be carried out in a progressive fashion," he said.
 
There were no further details on when any operation might take place and who would participate.
 
The ISIS conquest of Yarmouk has been garnering widespread media coverage, with the news generally referring to it as a "Palestinian refugee camp" - despite the fact that it was a normative and prosperous Damascus neighborhood.
 
The neighborhood is largely under the influence of Hamas, with senior officials of the terrorist group being among those targeted for executions and beheadings by the ISIS forces who have captured Yarmouk in recent days.
 
In response, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime has offered the Palestinian Arab forces in Yarmouk military aid in trying to repel ISIS from the neighborhood.
 
The move came after the the PLO sent a delegation to Syria to build support for Yarmouk.
 
"Syrian authorities are ready to support the Palestinian fighters in a number of ways, including militarily, to push ISIS out of the camp," said PLO official Anwar Abdul Hadi earlier this week.

Syria's Latest Blow on Lebanon: Goat Plague

Category: Press Releases
Created on Friday, 10 April 2015 12:08
Goat PlagueThe UN has launched an emergency vaccination campaign against lumpy skin disease and goat plague among animals brought to Lebanon by refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict, a report said Thursday.
 
Some of the 1.5 million refugees have brought with them large numbers of unvaccinated sheep, goats, cattle and other animals, raising concerns over the spread of high impact animal diseases, the UN's food agency said according to AFP.
 
The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said it was carrying out the second phase of "a campaign to immunize as much of the country's livestock as possible, with a target of vaccinating all animals."
 
"As many as 70,000 cows and around 900,000 sheep and goats could be exposed to transboundary diseases if left untreated, according to Lebanon's ministry for agriculture," the report said.
 
The campaign aims to reduce the number of animals dying from preventable diseases in rural areas in particular, where natural resources are already strained by the spill-over effects from the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
 
Some of the animal diseases are highly contagious and can spread extremely rapidly, causing high mortality and morbidity in animals, with serious socio-economic consequences and possible public health repercussions, FAO said.
 
"The three most prevalent animal diseases detected in Lebanon include lumpy skin disease, foot-and-mouth disease and peste des petits ruminants, also known as 'goat plague', which is highly contagious," it said.
 
FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) pledged earlier this month to eradicate sheep and goat plague - which causes fever, mouth sores, diarrhea and often leads to a swift death - by 2030.
 
The stress being placed on Lebanon's "natural resources and food production systems is particularly worrying...with more people than ever before now in need of animal protein and milk," FAO said.
 
According to the UN, Lebanon now has the highest per capita ratio of refugees in the world, accounting for a quarter of the population - and their arrival has seen unemployment figures double.
 
The vaccination project - funded by Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) - follows an initial program last year which was credited with stopping any widespread animal disease outbreaks.

Syrian Kurdish Leader: Break Syria Up into Separate States

Category: News
Created on Friday, 10 April 2015 09:40
Syrian KurdsSherkoh Abbas is a busy man. Residing in Washington D.C., he has the colossal job of lobbying for a state that does not yet exist – Syrian Kurdistan, a.k.a. Rojava. He is the Chairman of the Kurdistan National Assembly, an umbrella group of Kurdish organizations, political parties and civil leaders. Much like other exile groups in the past who have advocated in Washington, he has pushed hard for his people’s autonomy, if not independence.
 
“Our umbrella group came to the conclusion back in 2006 that Syria’s Kurds need to establish a federal region similar to the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG),” says Abbas, “to make Syria into a democratic federal state. A Kurdish region would enable Kurdish rights.”
 
Mr. Abbas went on to describe a philosophy of neutrality for such a region that seemed to reflect some of the goals declared by Israel’s own declaration of Independence.
 
“Our philosophy is compatible with a free market economy and Western values. It calls for good relations with Western nations, plus economic relations and friendly ties in the region with no meddling in the affairs of the rest of region. We are more concerned with the affairs of Syrian Kurds.”
 
Past exilic leaders have become major players in Middle Eastern politics. Ahmed Chalabi lobbied for regime change in Iraq for years before the 2003 American invasion, quickly rising up the ranks to become one of the first governors of post-Saddam Iraq. Abbas personally emphasizes that his community is still trying to establish its name abroad.
 
“It’s important to be here in Washington to focus on building relations for Syrian Kurds and the rest of Syrians as well; we also have other representatives and members in Europe doing the same. We see our job as bringing the support of international community and to communicate that we Kurds share the same values of stability, peace and democracy and preventing radical groups from gaining a foothold in the area.”
 
2006 was the original point when Mr. Abbas’ Assembly announced its position that Syria should be modeled on the new Iraq and federalized. But given the four years of civil war, Abbas admitted that that initial vision was likely unrealistic at this point when asked by Arutz Sheva.
 
“We initially had a vision of regime change where the country would become a democratic and federalist Syria with Kurdish, Alawite, Druze and several Sunni governments to bring it closer to the 1930s model when there would be five major regions.”
 
Abbas refers to the original French mandate for Syria after World War I. Basing borders off ethnic divisions, France created six separate regions. One of those was a Christian enclave that later became independent Lebanon. Another was the province of Alexandretta – Hatay – later annexed to Turkey. The rest of Syria included a Druze state in the south, an Alawite state on the coast, and separated north and south with capitals in Damascus and Aleppo. In Abbas’ scenario, the Kurds would get their own autonomy and the number of federated regions might be open for discussion.
 
“Syria is going in a direction that makes it difficult to establish such a state but it doesn't prevent the idea of establishing a federal Kurdish region. Even Henry Kissinger says Syria is a failed state that should be allowed to break up.”
 
While he advocates the Alawite population – who form the bulk of the regime’s upper echelon and military ranks – should also get its own regional government, he does not skip over the issue that the likely administrators of that region would be detested by a large number of Syrians. It is the current regime that is amplifying visceral hatred against the sect.
 
“The Alawites have controlled Syria and have too much blood on their hands – if the Sunnis win they would slaughter the Alawites and the Alawites have been doing whatever it can to retain its power.”
 
“In our view the political formula the State Department calls for is impossible. This is a regime that has killed 250,000 people and displaced more than half of Syria. Working with radical Islamists like ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra is also impossible.”
 
“It makes sense in the long run to protect rights of Alawites, Kurds and Druze by establishing federal regions for them. This is the only way you can have a solution. Anything contrary to that would fail.”
 
But Abbas sees a future where the sides have to come to some sort of arrangement in order to end that bloodshed. While he hints strongly at the likelihood these regions would probably become independent states, he does not dismiss the more established idea of his organization to form a confederation of ethnoreligious regions.
 
“We need to find way to work together in a very loose confederation,” says Abbas. He says this arrangement also benefits the various powers invested in Syria by “protecting the interests of Alawites and their allies in Russia, Iran and Hezbollah; the Kurds, the Druze and their allies the US, the West and Israel; Sunnis the other Arab Sunni states.”
 
“What Obama's done for Iraq since taking office has not worked and will never work. At this point we need to ask, ‘How do we make sure each group has the protection it needs?’”
 
When asked if this arrangement was meant to preserve a semblance of a single country or if every region would be viewed as virtually independent states by the world (with their own representation in international forums and separate voting in places like the United Nations), Abbas pointed out that the issue was not yet relevant because the international community was not invested enough in the situation to help inform on that question.
 
“The international community itself buries its head in the sand,” says Abbas, who suggests that drawing out the war just to have a situation that would enable a strong central government merely “prolongs and creates more radicalization. These people have gone years and will go longer with no education and destroyed lives. The only thing they know is violence. It is important for the international community to do their job and find a way.”
 
“Ensuring that there will be no punishment and each group rules itself. We can have a very loose, decentralized and confederal Syria. Each group would be king of its own area. General resources (among the regions) would be shared according to some formula.”
 
Abbas adds that the Western – particularly the Obama Administration’s – view to establish a clear winner is hopeless. Partition or confederation is a much more realistic and painless option in his opinion.
 
“It would establish a winner in a sense that each group needs to compromise and share power.”

Christians Struggle to Maintain Legacy versus ISIS

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 08 April 2015 08:47
220 assyrians abductedAmid the ISIS assault on Iraq, minorities have borne the brunt. One of those groups is Iraq’s Christians, who before the 2003 US invasion were spread throughout the country with a sizeable community in the northwest.  
 
The majority of Iraqi Christians come from the Syriac, Assyrian and Chaldean churches with affiliations mainly to the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Most other denominations have had a presence in Iraq, but have never overtaken these Churches, which are among the oldest in the world.
 
But many of those Christian areas have been in the crosshairs of last year’s sweeping military advances by ISIS.
 
“In all towns and villages where ISIS rules, the Christian population has disappeared," says Julie Lenarz, Executive Director of the Human Security Centre.
 
"Qaraqosh, a historic Assyrian city, was home to the largest Christian population in Iraq with approximately 50,000 members. Now the city is virtually devoid of its Christian population.”
 
This is not the first time a Muslim conquest has produced trouble for Christians there. In the early 1500s, the infamous Tamerlane swept through the area and beheaded an estimated 70,000 Christians in Tikrit and 90,000 in Baghdad. With that perspective, ISIS has not represented such a catastrophe – yet.
 
“When ISIS took control of Mosul, roughly 20,000 Christians initially stayed, but after the group issued an ultimatum – convert, flee or die – the remaining Christians had no other choice but to leave as well.”
 
“As well as attacks on Christians, there have also been attacks on Christian sites of worship, with deep historical value, particularly to the Assyrian community.”
 
Just last month, ISIS destroyed the Mar Behnam Monastery near the town of Beth Khdeda near the Kurdish border. The monastery had been built in the 4th century to memorialize a Christian martyr. This past Easter Sunday, ISIS also destroyed a church in the Syrian Kurdish (Rojava) city of al-Hasakah. The destruction of Christian heritage, both ancient and modern, is just bricks and mortar. Iraq and Syria over the last 12 years represent merely the latest iterations of existential threats to the Middle Eastern Christian rites.
 
“Less than 1% of the global Christian population lives in the Middle East and, as a result of discrimination, persecution and war, the proportion of Christians in the region has dropped from around 20% at the start of the 20th century to around 5% today. What we are witnessing now is only the latest phase of something that has been going for many decades.”
 
Christianity has been literally decimated by the onslaught in Iraq starting in 2003, then the Syrian Civil War which forced many resettled Iraqi refugees to return to northern Iraq in time for the current assault by ISIS.
 
“The number of Christians in Iraq has fallen from approximately 1.5 million prior to the US-led intervention in 2003 to 350,000-450,000 (data is unreliable and some estimate as low as 150,000). Many Christians had originally fled to Syria, but the civil war forced them to return to Iraq.”
 
“However, Christianity will not be eradicated in the Middle East,” says Lenarz. Judging by the moves many of them have made, Christians will remain in the region.
 
“Kurdistan currently host over 100,000 Christian refugees from other parts of the country and Lebanon has announced it will take in an additional 5000 Christian refugees.”
 
Perhaps under the radar of Western media, a large portion of the community has escaped to other parts of the Arab World. Many have gone to the Persian Gulf, where the economy and even the culture is far more open.
 
“The Gulf states, where religious minorities can practice their faith in relative freedom, have seen their Christian population surge from basically nothing a century ago to 10-13 percent and the trend is believed to continue.”
 
Most Christians hail from the Nineveh region in northern Iraq on the border between the Kurdish region and the rest of Iraq. Nineveh was once the capital of the historic Assyrian Empire, now the epicentre of an embattled Christian culture.
 
Yet, there are apparently silver linings in the storm clouds that are the region’s sectarianism.
 
“In the Nineveh Province of northern Iraq - a traditionally Christian part of the country where over 30,000 members of the community were forced to flee from ISIS – a Christian militia has been established which goes by the name of Nineveh Plains Protection Units (NPU).”
 
“It is approximately 4,000 men strong, is allied to the Iraqi Government and the Kurdish Peshmerga, receives funds from the Assyrian diaspora abroad and training from a private American security company.”
 
The Assyrian International News Agency reports that number might be as high as 5,500. Dr. Duraid Tobiya Zoma, an Assyrian and former adviser to the Governor of occupied Mosul, has said that to end Christians’ marginalization in the unified Iraq in the future that Assyrians “are requesting an autonomous region for Assyrians in the Nineveh Plain to protect them as the indigenous people, who are being extremely affected by ISIS.”
 
Despite attempts to organize the community to defend itself, the signs of a shifting future are already clear. This past Sunday’s Easter was one of emptiness for the community in a way not experienced in centuries.
 
“For the first time in 1600 years, no Christmas and Easter masses were celebrated in Mosul.”

Syria: Islamists Kidnap 300 Kurdish Civilians

Category: News
Created on Monday, 06 April 2015 19:30
Islamists Kidnap CiviliansIslamist fighters on Monday kidnapped some 300 Kurdish civilians at a checkpoint in northwestern Syria, Kurdish officials and a local journalist told AFP.
 
It was not immediately clear which group was responsible for the kidnapping, though Kurdish officials accused Al-Qaeda's affiliate Al-Nusra Front, which is active in Idlib province.
 
"A group of 300 people on five coaches and a mini-bus coming from Afrin were kidnapped at a checkpoint as they went to Aleppo to collect their salaries," said Newaf Khalil, a spokesman for the Kurdish Democratic Union
Party (PYD).
 
The kidnapping was confirmed by a second official from the PYD, the main Kurdish party in Syria, and a journalist in Afrin, who said the women in the group had been freed but the men and children taken.
 
"There were 300 people on five buses, and they were kidnapped in Dana, which is under the control of Islamist factions and Al-Nusra Front," said journalist Ali Abdul Rahman.
 
The PYD officials accused Al-Nusra of being behind the kidnapping, but Abdul Rahman and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said it remained unclear which group was responsible.
 
The Observatory reported similar details on the kidnapping, but said it was not immediately clear how many people were being held.
 
The Observatory said the captors had demanded, through the released women, that three men arrested by authorities in Afrin be freed.
 
There was no immediate confirmation of those demands from PYD officials or residents of Afrin, which is under Kurdish control.
 
The kidnapping occurred in northwestern Idlib province, where Al-Nusra and its allies wield considerable influence.
 
The Al-Qaeda affiliate helped capture the provincial capital Idlib city on March 28 along with a coalition of other opposition groups.
 
The incident is not the first mass kidnapping in Syria, where large groups of Kurds and Christians have been held, mostly by Al-Nusra's extremist rival, the Islamic State group.
 
ISIS fighters are accused of kidnapping over 200 Assyrian Christians from Hasakeh province, and last year held more than 150 Kurdish schoolchildren kidnapped in Aleppo province.
 
Al-Nusra has also been implicated in kidnappings.
 
It has been accused of holding journalists and aid workers and in 2013 kidnapped a group of 13 nuns who were later released in a prisoner exchange.
 
More than 215,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-regime protests that spiralled into a bloody civil war after a government crackdown.

ISIS Beheads Senior Hamas Operative in Syria

Category: Reports
Created on Monday, 06 April 2015 12:29
isis-beheading-syriaAmong the Palestinian Arab fighters beheaded by the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) in Damascus's Yarmouk camp was a senior Hamas figure in Syria, according to emerging reports.
 
On Saturday, senior Israel Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toumeh posted a graphic image which appeared to show the severed head of Sheikh Abu Salah Taha, held aloft by an ISIS fighter in Yarmouk.
 
ISIS has been involved in fierce clashes inside the camp since Wednesday, as it seeks to wrest control of it from Palestinian Islamist rebels aligned with Hamas.
 
As of Sunday morning, ISIS were said to be in control of between 50-90% of Yarmouk, according to various reports. The takeover of the camp - located at the southern edge of the Syrian capital - is the closest ISIS has come to the heart of the Assad regime. Even more alarming for the regime are reports that ISIS's Yarmouk offensive was made possible with the cooperation of the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's official arm in Syria, which until now has been involved in a bloody rivalry of its own with ISIS.
 
Concerns over the possibility of further jihadi advances into Damascus have even reportedly spurred the regime into making the unprecedented move of facilitating military aid to rebels inside the camp to fend off the ISIS assault.
 
Yarmouk has been under siege by government forces for nearly two years, with some 18,000 civilians still trapped inside, and the regime is currently in control of its northernmost areas, to block off any rebel advances further into the capital. Around 2,000 of those remaining civilians have been evacuated over the weekend as the fighting worsens, according to Palestinian sources.
 
Regime airstrikes have also been witnessed in the past several hours, although as yet there is no word on any casualties.
 
Despite that ISIS appears to have the upper hand, and has reportedly set about beheading Palestinian fighters and civilians alike in areas under its control in a grisly campaign of retribution, posting evidence of its atrocities online.

Palestinians Repel ISIS in Syrian Refugee Camp

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 05 April 2015 21:05
Fighters in Yarmouk campReutersPalestinian fighters and Syrian rebels retook control Thursday of large parts of a refugee camp in Damascus that had been seized by Islamic State terrorists, a monitoring group said, according to AFP. 
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a number of armed groups in the Yarmouk camp in south Damascus "were able to regain control over all of the areas that ISIS had taken over."
 
The terrorists overran the camp on Wednesday, raising fears for thousands of civilians inside and giving ISIS a potential beachhead inside Syria's capital.
 
But armed Palestinian groups, backed by local rebels, launched a fightback later in the day.
 
"Syrian rebel groups entered the camp and helped the Palestinians push back ISIS in fierce clashes," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Observatory.
 
Anwar Abdel Hadi, director of political affairs for the Palestine Liberation Organization in Damascus, said ISIS had been pushed "to the periphery" of the camp.
 
He said Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, a group loyal to Palestinian terror group Hamas, had clashed with ISIS overnight.
 
Six people were killed and 17 injured, he said, but he could not provide details on the toll.
 
The Britain-based Observatory said IS still controlled "some areas" in the camp and put the death toll at three.
 
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said it was "extremely concerned" about the safety of civilians in Yarmouk.
 
"UNRWA estimates that there are some 3,500 children among the 18,000 civilians living in Yarmouk. The intense armed clashes put these children at risk of serious injury and death," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said.
 
Yarmouk, located only about six kilometers (four miles) from downtown Damascus, was once a thriving home to 160,000 Palestinian refugees and Syrians.
 
But it has been devastated by fighting and a tight blockade imposed by the army nearly two years ago that created dire humanitarian conditions.

Al-Qaeda-Backed Rebels Seize Syria-Jordan Border Crossing

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 05 April 2015 20:40
Al-Nusra Front terroristsRebels backed by Syria's Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front, on Wednesday seized control of the last border crossing with Jordan that had been under the control of the Damascus regime, a monitor said, according to AFP.
 
"Armed groups, joined today by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, took over the Nasib border point from regime soldiers" on the Syrian side of the frontier, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
Abdel Rahman added that regime troops had withdrawn from Nasib, leaving no Syrian government presence along the entire border with Jordan.
 
There was no immediate information on any casualties. The Jordanian government had said earlier that it had closed the crossing on its side of the frontier to both travellers and goods, noted AFP.
 
Earlier this week, the Al-Nusra Front  seized the city of Idlib, the second provincial capital to fall from government control.
 
Al-Nusra Front has been an official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013, and dominates a swathe of northwest Syria despite months of international airstrikes.
 
As well as fighting President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, the group has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State (ISIS) group. Last November, Al-Nusra and ISIS agreed to work together.
 
Al-Nusra Front recently reaffirmed its allegiance to Al-Qaeda and denied any plan to break away and become a more internationally acceptable rebel force, amid speculations on Internet social networks of a split between the jihadist allies.

Syria is Splitting Apart, And Obama Shouldn't Stop It

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 29 March 2015 09:37
obama-syria-mapSyria’s civil war is a tragedy, but might in the long term stabilize the region’s borders. That is the thinking of Pinhas Inbari, who sees the number of refugees fleeing combat zones for other areas as having an ethnic homogenizing effect on Syria and beyond.
 
There was a long-standing idea among Middle East observers that should Syria collapse into open rebellion against the Alawite-minority regime, the regime might take all its assets and forces and retreat into the coastal region and its buttressing Nusayri Mountains. That region was briefly independent when the French occupied Syria after World War I, attempting a divide-and-conquer strategy that gave independence to the Christians of Lebanon, the Druze near the Golan and the Alawites of the coast.
 
“As far as the Alawites are concerned, they’re less affected in Nusayri Mountains overlooking Latakia because the Syrian army is the strongest 'sectarian militia,'” says Inbari. “They are defending the Alawites, the most well-protected group in Syria.”
 
It was not always like this. Before Hafez al-Assad (Bashar’s father) took power in a 1970 coup d’état, Syrian Arab nationalism was dominated by Sunnis as it was in other countries. But unlike in Iraq, where non-Sunnis eventually became disillusioned with Sunnis’ backhand discrimination even in the secular Arab nationalist movement, Syrian minorities reached the top of the political food chain.
 
Alawites, Ismailis, Druze and Christians embraced the nationalist Ba’ath Party. Since then, minorities have had a disproportionate share of power which they have been reluctant to give up for fear of Islamist movements bringing the hammer down on their communities.
 
But outside the Alawite stronghold, there are problems.
 
“They’re affected outside that Alawite region in Homs where Sunnis are by far greater. They’ve had to leave the Sunni heartland and go to Alawite heartland. Thanks to Hezbollah, parts of the Sunni regions have gone back to the regime, but that hasn’t affected the refugee Alawites.”
 
“But it did affect the Sunnis there, who are fleeing to Lebanon.”
 
While Jordan has received a lot of attention for its mass hosting of Iraqi and Syrian refugees over the last 10 years, Lebanon has also been rocked. Lebanon though is far more diverse and delicate ethnically than Jordan is. Lebanon’s mosaic broke down into a multilateral civil war in the 1970s and 80s, where every virtually every religious group had at least one of its own militias.
 
Lebanon has an odd constitutional structure to maintain the balance between communities. By law, the Prime Minister must be a Sunni Muslim, the President a Christian and the Parliament Speaker a Shiite Muslim. Lebanon has refused to take a census since 1932, worried the perceived balance of groups in the population might provoke one group to demand more power.
 
According to Inbari, the incremental growth of Shiites as the largest group in Lebanon has been abruptly stopped by the massive influx of Sunni refugees. According to the United Nations High Council for Refugees (UNHCR), there are over 1.1 million Syrian refugees held up in Lebanon. As a result, Sunnis are likely to gain more influence in Lebanon and give Lebanese a chance to roll back Hezbollah's influence, ironically "thanks to Hezbollah's" intervention in Syria.
 
In the other direction, Syria’s Kurds have been largely confined to their own theater of the war. While there has been fighting with ISIS in places like Kobane, the Kurds in the northeast corner of the country have consolidated some degree of independence.  According to Inbari, Syria’s Kurds have an alliance with the Damascus government.
 
“They are deeply coordinated with the Assad regime. They are working fighting ISIS to protect themselves.”
 
As ethnic divisions become sharper in certain parts of the country, Inbari advises Western powers to get more realistic about what has happened to the country.
 
“Syria doesn’t exist anymore, only just in the imagination of Obama and Putin. They want to find a solution that will see it united together as one single country, to establish strong government in Damascus in control of all of Syria.”
 
“They don’t support the ethnic groups. And of course the Christians, they haven’t.  They’ve left them to the slaughter.”
 
While US Secretary of State John Kerry backtracked from recent comments about finding an accommodation with the Assad regime, Inbari suggests the background of negotiations with Iran is misleading the United States on the wisest course of action for Syria’s future. He also calls the policy ruinous in a time that the entire region is already in ruins.
 
“They want Turkey and Iran to be partners on (backing) a strong government in Damascus.”
 
When asked if he felt Israel was partially responsible for the apparent success of anti-Assad groups along the Israeli-Syrian border near the Golan Heights, Inbari said he did.
 
“I think the Israeli policy of establishing good relations with the nearby rebels is a very good policy. I don’t know if they’re with groups like the Al-Nusra Front. There might be 200 groups in Syria. Maybe one or two groups are like Al-Nusra, but not all exactly like the version you might find in Daraa (near the Israeli border).”
 
Going forward, Inbari hints that as Syria continues down the road to an inevitable partition, that Israel should maintain its balance and keep pursuing a ‘good neighbors’ policy.
 
“I hope Israel can find ways to establish good relations with other parts of the Syrian population.”

Turkish Army Chief Visits Ottoman Tomb in Syria

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 28 March 2015 14:39
General OzelTurkey's army chief General Necdet Ozel and top commanders have for the first time visited the new location of an historic tomb inside Syrian territory, the military said on Friday.
 
Army chief of staff Ozel and the land and air forces commanders on Thursday went inside Syria to visit the Turkish soldiers guarding the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the Ottoman empire's founder Osman I.
 
The tomb lies in the settlement of Eshme, just 200 meters (650 feet) from the Turkish border and easily visible from Turkish territory.
 
The visit had not been announced in advance. Images on state media showed Ozel paying his respects at the tomb and then exiting the small brick-built mausoleum.
 
The visit came just over a month after hundreds of Turkish soldiers staged an unprecedented incursion deep inside Syrian territory to move the tomb from its previous location, retreating from approach Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists.
 
The complex, which is considered sovereign Turkish territory, had been located some 37 kilometers (23 miles) inside Syrian territory.
 
But the government ordered the tomb, which has a permanent honor guard of Turkish troops, to be moved due to security fears as it was located in territory controlled by ISIS.
 
The army said that Ozel inspected the new situation of the tomb and talked to Turkish and Syrian residents in the area.
 
Turkey has already reburied Suleyman Shah on the site and hastily constructed the new mausoleum.
 
The figure of Suleyman Shah is a key figure in the still-hazy history of the emergence of the Ottoman empire, which according to tradition was founded by Osman in 1299 with Turkic tribes who had swept through Anatolia from Asia.
 
The tomb of Suleyman Shah, who is said to have died in 1236, is considered Turkish territory under the 1921 Treaty of Ankara between the Turkish authorities and France, which then controlled French-mandated Syria.

Syria Destroys Three Chemical Weapons Sites

Category: News
Created on Friday, 27 March 2015 13:34
UN chemical weapons experts in Syria -ReutersSyria has destroyed three of its 12 chemical weapons production sites but is unable to dismantle three other facilities because of security conditions, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Wednesday in its latest report, according to AFP.
 
The report was released to the UN Security Council, which is overseeing efforts to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons program.
 
Syria has agreed to destroy seven aircraft hangars and five underground structures identified by the OPCW as chemical weapons production sites but there have been delays caused by logistical problems.
 
In the report obtained by AFP, OPCW director general Ahmet Uzumcu said his team of experts was able to verify that three tunnels have been destroyed and that work on dismantling a fourth underground structure was under way.
 
"Currently, one underground structure and two hangars are not accessible owing to the security situation near these sites," he wrote in the report.
 
Despite this hurdle, Uzumcu said he expected the destruction of all five underground tunnels to be completed by June.
 
Concerning the hangars, work has begun on five sites and explosives are to be delivered soon to begin demolishing the structures.
 
"The Syrian authorities have continued to extend the necessary cooperation" for the dismantling of the 12 sites, the report added, according to AFP.
 
The Security Council is due to discuss progress in dismantling Syria's chemical weapons program at a meeting on April 2.
 
A joint mission between the UN and the OPCW was tasked with eliminating Syria's chemical weapons program after the Security Council found rare agreement on Syria.
 
The deal was reached under threat of U.S. airstrikes after images of civilian victims laid out after an attack on a Damascus suburb shocked the world. President Bashar Al-Assad's government denied involvement and blamed rebel groups.
 
A total of 1,300 metric tons of chemical weapons have been removed from Syria, with the majority being destroyed aboard the US Navy ship MV Cape Ray.
 
Even after the destruction of Syria’s stockpile, an Israeli official recently said Israel believes Syria has retained caches of combat-ready chemical weapons after giving up raw materials used to produce such munitions.

Jihadist Syrian Rebels Capture Regime Helicopter, Take Hostages

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 24 March 2015 22:31
Jihadist SyrianIslamist rebels captured four crew members of a regime helicopter which crashed in the Idlib province of northwest Syria on Sunday, while a fifth serviceman was killed, a monitor said, reported AFP.
 
"A regime helicopter was forced to land in the region of Jabal al-Zawiya in the northwest, which is a bastion of (Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate) Al-Nusra Front," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the news agency.
 
"Four of the crew were captured and a fifth man was killed by armed men in a neighboring village," he added.
 
Abdel Rahman said the Al-Nusra Front held two of the servicemen, including the helicopter's pilot.
 
Official Al-Nusra Front accounts on Twitter published photos and videos with the caption "Helicopter pilot in the hands of jihadists," according to AFP.
 
The images depict the bandaged pilot sitting in front of Al-Nusra Front's official flag.
 
"To the Muslim children, to their mothers, who died two days ago because of their chlorine attack," a bearded fighter says in the video, pointing to the pilot.
 
On March 17, a family of six died in Idlib province after a regime gas attack on the village of Sarmin. Opposition forces accused the regime of using chlorine, a toxic agent that can be considered a chemical weapon.
 
Two other servicemen from the helicopter crash were captured by another Islamist group, and at least one more crew member was believed to be on the run, Abdel Rahman told AFP.
 
Regime helicopters are often used to drop crudely constructed barrel bombs on rebel-held areas.
 
Pictures provided by the Observatory showed groups of men gathering around a damaged helicopter lying on its side on a rocky hilltop.
 
Syrian state television confirmed a military helicopter had crashed in Idlib, saying it was due to a technical failure and that search efforts were underway to locate the crew.
 
Al-Nusra Front has been an official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013, and dominates a swathe of northwest Syria despite months of international airstrikes.
 
As well as fighting President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, the group has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State (ISIS) group. Last November, Al-Nusra and ISIS agreed to work together.
 
Al-Nusra Front recently reaffirmed its allegiance to Al-Qaeda and denied any plan to break away and become a more internationally acceptable rebel force, amid speculations on Internet social networks of a split between the jihadist allies.

Why Was a US Drone in Non-ISIS Syria?

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 21 March 2015 09:46
dronweSyria's military downed a US drone in the country's west because it was snooping in an area where Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists are not present, a military source said Wednesday.
 
"Did the drone come into Syrian territory just to have a picnic?" asked the source, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.
 
"As soon as it entered Syrian air space, we considered it to be gathering security and military information on Syria's territory," he said.
 
The source said the aircraft was not immediately identified as being American, but was "dealt with as a hostile target."
 
Syrian air defenses shot down the aircraft over the coastal province of Latakia, a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad, state media said Tuesday.
 
The US military confirmed it had lost communication with an unarmed Predator drone on Tuesday over northwest Syria and was looking into the claims it was brought down.
 
A US-led coalition has been conducting air strikes against Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists in Syria since September, but Syria's military said the drone did not appear to be part of that effort.
 
"The aircraft entered areas where Daesh is not present," the military source said, using the Arabic acronym for the group. He said investigations were ongoing, but that it was likely the drone entered Syria from Turkey; Turkey has in the past refused to allow the US to strike ISIS in Syria from its bases.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the drone was shot down in Al-Maqata, a village near the provincial capital of Latakia.
 
"There are no opposition fighters or jihadist groups anywhere in that area, but there is a large presence of regime forces," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
The port city of Latakia has been targeted by Israel in the past, in strikes taking out shipments of advanced missiles on their way to Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon.

'ISIS Destroyed Christian Civilization and the World Watches'

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 21 March 2015 09:18
ISIS Destroyed Christian CivilizationWaiting in an aid line outside Lebanon's capital Beirut, Assyrian Christian Francie Yaacoub remembers the well-stocked home she left behind in Syria as she fled advancing Islamic State (ISIS) group jihadists.
 
"We left behind a house full of everything. Why do we now have to stand at the church door?" she asked quietly as she waited to receive aid at the Assyrian diocese of Sid al-Boushriyeh, reports AFP.
 
She is one of hundreds of Assyrian Christians who have arrived in Lebanon in recent weeks after ISIS jihadists stormed their villages in Syria's northeastern province of Hasakeh.
 
Members of Lebanon's Assyrian community, many of them related to those who fled Hasakeh, are doing their best to welcome the new refugees, but the displacement has left them traumatized.
 
Yaacoub, in her fifties, now lives in a small house with her son, husband and five other Assyrian refugees. Her family fled their village, Tal Nasri, during a terrifying ISIS bombardment last week.
 
"We left in our pajamas. My son walked barefoot, we left without our shoes on," she said. "The shells were falling all around us...We had to flee because the safety of your children is the most important thing."
 
Yaacoub's family was not alone - thousands of Assyrians have been forced to abandon their villages along Hasakeh's Khabur river since ISIS jihadists began an attack there in February.
 
The group has seized at least 11 of the 33 Assyrian villages in the region, and kidnapped more than 200 members of the ancient Christian sect, which numbered around 30,000 in Syria before the war.
 
Many residents fled to the city of Qamishli, or the provincial capital Hasakeh, which are both under Kurdish and Syrian government control.
 
"A great tragedy"
 
Yaacoub and her family went to Hasakeh city first, then traveled on to Damascus before finally arriving in Sid al-Boushriyeh, east of Beirut.
 
Around 300 Assyrian refugees have arrived in the district since the beginning of March, and many lined up on Tuesday afternoon at the local Assyrian diocese to receive aid distributed by the In Defense Of Christians (IDC) group.
 
"The villages of Khabur are empty now, there is no one left except some fighters," lamented Chorbishop Yatron Koliana, as he oversaw the distribution at his diocese.
 
"Our people have experienced a great tragedy in Syria," he added with a sigh, saying that many of the new arrivals were traumatized. "They are depressed. Some of them have chronic illnesses. Their lives are difficult."
 
"How can we be comfortable, living on aid?" asked 50-year-old Simaan, who fled his village Tal Hormuz.
 
He railed against what he called international indifference to the plight of Assyrians under attack by ISIS in Syria and neighboring Iraq.
 
"The whole world, from the UN to the United States and Russia, is responsible," he said angrily. "They (ISIS) have destroyed our whole civilization...and the world is watching."
 
Waiting for asylum
 
Many of those receiving aid could not yet imagine a return to villages where they say ISIS fighters blew up churches and looted homes.
 
But staying in Lebanon is not easy. Authorities granted fleeing Assyrians a special exception to tight new restrictions on Syrian refugees imposed at the beginning of this year.
 
An influx of more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees into Lebanon has tested the country's resources and the patience of its four million citizens.
 
Yaacoub's family, and the five other refugees living with them, are struggling to pay monthly rent of around $500 for their home, with little left over for food.
 
IDC representative Alexei Moukarzel, overseeing the distribution of thousands of food baskets and hundreds of mattresses, criticized a lack of international attention.
 
"The world is not paying enough attention to these groups who have been forcibly displaced," he said.
 
The Assyrians are an ancient Christian community, present in the region for thousands of years, and Koliana and the Assyrian church are determined to ensure the minority continues to be represented in the region.
 
"I urge the Assyrians now in Lebanon...to keep alive the hope of returning to Khabur, because Khabur is our land, and is where our ancestors and martyrs are buried," Koliana told AFP.
 
But many Assyrians fleeing Syria, like the Christians displaced from Iraq before them, are now seeking to leave the region altogether.
 
One man at the diocese, who refused to give his name and spoke in a barely audible whisper, acknowledged that he had no plans to stay. "I'm waiting to get asylum in Australia with my family."

Qatar Emir Meets Erdogan in Surprise Visit to Turkey

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 14 March 2015 09:35
Qatar Emir -ErdoganThe emir of Qatar on Thursday met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for surprise talks in the capital Ankara, a Turkish presidential official said.
 
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was holding closed-door talks at Erdogan's newly built presidential palace in Ankara, the official told AFP, without elaborating further.
 
The meeting, which was not on Erdogan's official daily schedule, comes amid renewed tensions stemming from the presence of Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists in Iraq and Syria right up to the Turkish border.
 
Turkey and Qatar, both overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, have emerged as close allies in the last years during the conflict in Syria and Arab Spring uprisings.
 
They have closely aligned their policies on Syria and have also both intensively engaged with Palestinian terror organization Hamas.
 
Qatar has been one of the main supporters of the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has allowed demonstrations against him to be held in its capital, Doha.
 
However, some have accused the country of backing jihadists, a charge denied on several occasions by officials in the oil rich Gulf state, which joined the US-led coalition against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
 
Vocal against the regime in Damascus, Turkey has similarly backed opposition rebels fighting to topple Assad and plays host to nearly two million refugees.
 
But it has remained reluctant to take robust action against the ISIS threat in a US-led coalition, further straining ties with Washington, its NATO ally.
 
United States special envoy John Allen, who is coordinating international efforts against ISIS, is due to travel to Ankara this week to meet with Turkish officials after a visit to Italy, the US State Department said in a statement.

ISIS Launches Major Assault on Syrian Border Town

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 12 March 2015 10:44
ISIS Launches Major AssaultThe Islamic State jihadist group (ISIS) launched a major offensive Wednesday to try to capture a strategic town on the Syrian-Turkish border, leaving dozens dead in clashes, a monitor said.
 
"Fighters from the Islamic State group started a huge assault towards Ras al-Ain and were able to take over a village nearby," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
 
The offensive is a preemptive strike against Kurdish militia who were planning an attack on the IS-held town of Tal Abyad farther west along the border, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.  
 
Tal Abyad is an Arab and Kurdish town in the Syrian province of Raqqa used by ISIS jihadists as a gateway from Turkey.
 
At least 12 fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which control Ras al-Ain and the surrounding villages, were killed in the ISIS onslaught, according to Abdel Rahman.    
 
"This is a big hit to the morale of Kurdish fighters," he said.
 
He was unable to give an exact death toll for the jihadists but said that including ISIS casualties scores had been killed.
 
A spokesman for the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the YPG's political arm, confirmed an intense battle was raging around the town.
 
Ras al-Ain, in Hasakeh province, was the scene of major fighting in 2013 before Kurdish forces ousted rebels and Al Qaeda-linked jihadists from the town, which has a border crossing with Ceylanpinar in Turkey.
 
Kurdish fighters are also locked in clashes with ISIS around the strategic town of Tal Tamr, just southeast of Ras al-Ain, which lies near a key road that links to their Iraqi bastion of Mosul to the east.
 
The ISIS offensives come just weeks after Kurdish militia backed by Iraqi peshmerga fighters and Syrian rebels drove the Islamists out of Kobane farther west along the Turkish border.  
 
The town, which was devastated by months of fighting and US-led coalition air strikes, became a prominent symbol of resistance against the jihadists.  
 
Kurdish and allied forces have since taken much of the surrounding countryside in northern Aleppo province and have begun pushing east into neighboring Raqqa province, home to ISIS's self-proclaimed "capital."    
 
ISIS has seized large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq and imposed a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
 
Foreign jihadists have flocked to Syria, often crossing over from Turkey, since the country's conflict began in March 2011 as a popular revolt which later escalated into a full-blown civil war.

Al-Nusra Front Reaffirms Allegiance to Al-Qaeda

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 11 March 2015 08:22
Al-Nusra Front terroristsAl-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front, on Monday reaffirmed its allegiance to the global extremist network and denied any plan to break away and become a more internationally acceptable rebel force.
 
The angry statement followed weeks of speculation on Internet social networks of a split between the jihadist allies, AFP reported.
 
Al-Nusra "completely denies reports of a break-up with Al-Qaeda," the group said in a statement released on Twitter.
 
The statement added that Al-Nusra "remains the backbone of jihadists" in Syria, "the first into battle, dedicated to unifying the ranks around sharia (Islamic law)... righting injustice and defending the disadvantaged".
 
It denied "completely all reports of a meeting with Qatari or other intelligence services or seeking Qatari or Gulf funding, as this is contrary to the principles on which Al-Nusra has been based from the start".
 
An official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013, the group dominates a swathe of northwest Syria despite months of international airstrikes.
 
As well as fighting President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, it has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State (ISIS) group. Last November, Al-Nusra and ISIS agreed to work together.
 
Al-Nusra was formed in January 2012 by jihadists who had previously fought in Iraq, including its chief Abu Mohamed al-Jolani.
 
The group's military chief Abu Hammam al-Shami and several top commanders were last week reported to have been killed in Syria, although there was contradictory information on the circumstances.

220 Assyrian Christians Abducted by Islamic State

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 01 March 2015 10:05
220 assyrians abductedIslamic State terrorists have abducted 220 Assyrian Christians from villages in northeastern Syria in recent days, a monitoring group said Thursday, more than twice as many as previously reported.
 
"No fewer than 220 Assyrian citizens (of Syria) were abducted by ISIS over the past three days from 11 villages" in Hasakeh province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
 
"Negotiations are under way through mediators from Arab tribes and a member of the Assyrian community to secure the release of the hostages," the Britain-based monitoring group said.
 
Reports surfaced Wednesday that nearly 100 Assyrian Christians had been kidnapped, prompting terrified families to flee their village homes and take refuge in nearby cities. 
 
Nearly 1,000 Assyrian Christian families have fled their villages in the northeastern province of Hasakeh since Monday's kidnappings, said Osama Edward, director of the Sweden-based Assyrian Human Rights Network.
 
About 800 families have taken refuge in the city of Hasakeh and 150 in Qamishli, a Kurdish city on the border with Turkey, Edward said, adding that the number of displaced individuals came to about 5,000.
 
Most of the hostages were women, children or elderly, he added.
 
Edward told AFP he believed the mass abduction was linked to the ISIS' recent loss of ground in the face of US-led coalition air raids against ISIS that began in Syria in September.
 
"ISIS has been losing territory because of the international coalition's strikes and they took the hostages to use them as human shields," the activist said.
 
The jihadists, who are battling Kurdish fighters on the ground, may try to exchange the Assyrian Christians for ISIS prisoners, according to Edward.
 
He said the aim of the jihadists is to take over the Assyrian Christian village of Tal Tamer, which is located near a bridge over the Khabur river that links Syria to Iraq.
 
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Kurdish fighters battling ISIS terrorists on Wednesday recaptured three Assyrian villages and a nearby Arab village.
 
"The (Kurdish) People's Protection Units (YPG) have reclaimed Tal Shamiran, Tal Masri, Tal Hermel and Ghbeish," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman, adding that fighting continues in the area. 

Top ISIS Commanders Killed in Air Strike

Category: Reports
Created on Sunday, 01 March 2015 08:25
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi makes his first appearance in Mosuls Great Mosque - ReutersAn Arab satellite television network report claimed Thursday that a US-led coalition airstrike against Islamic State targets in areas they control has killed a “large number” of the organization's top commanders.
 
It is not yet clear if ISIS' top leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed.
 
The report on Al Arabiya television quoted sources in the US-led coalition as saying that the airstrike at a location on the Syria-Iraq border resulted in the deaths of “dozens” of top ISIS commanders.
 
The group was meeting in the city of Ka'im, and coalition forces, alerted to the meeting by ground intelligence, took advantage of the situation to eliminate the commanders.
 
Iraqi sources said that al-Baghdadi was set to attend the meeting, and may have been on his way there when the coalition planes struck. The fighters that carried out the strike were flown by French pilots.
 
Reports from the region indicated that coalition forces struck hard in a number of ISIS-controlled cities, and that damage across the area occupied by the terror group was widespread.
 
Witnesses said that ISIS militia ordered people to remain in their homes until further notice, and that fresh forces from neighboring states had poured in to help fight the coalition forces.

1,000 Assyrian Christian Families Flee Syria Jihadists

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 01 March 2015 07:34
Assyrian Christian Families Flee Syria JihadistsNearly 1,000 Assyrian Christian families have fled their homes in northeastern Syria after jihadists kidnapped dozens of members of their community, an activist said on Wednesday.  
 
Osama Edward, director of the Sweden-based Assyrian Human Rights Network, said they had fled in fear after jihadists from the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) took the Assyrian Christians hostage early this week.
 
"Since Monday, 800 families have taken refuge in the city of Hasakeh and another 150 in Qamishli," a Kurdish town on the border with Turkey, Edward told AFP.
 
{youtube}UsxdZCaSBuY{/youtube}
 
Edward said that, according to his sources in the community, ISIS terrorists had kidnapped "between 70 and 100 people, mainly women, children and the elderly."    
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said earlier that ISIS had taken 90 Assyrian Christians hostage in Hasakeh province since Monday.
 
Assyrian Christians, who are from one of the world's oldest Christian communities and whose presence in the Middle East predates Islam, have been under increasing threat since ISIS seized control of large parts of Syria.  
 
The group, which also holds swathes of Iraq, last year declared an Islamic "caliphate" in areas under its control and has committed widespread atrocities.
 
A native of part of the region where 35 Assyrian villages are located, Edward said "the jihadists broke into houses at around 4:00 a.m. while everyone was asleep" on Monday.
 
ISIS has since Monday captured at least a dozen villages in the area, Edward said, including his wife's hometown of Tal Shamiram.
 
"When she tried to reach her uncle by telephone, a man replied and said: 'This is the house of the Islamic State,'" Edward said.  
 
He said the hostages were taken to Shaddadi, an ISIS stronghold in Hasakeh province.  
 
The jihadists had been intimidating the Assyrian villagers for several weeks, he said, including by threatening to remove crosses from their churches.  
 
"People were expecting an attack, but they thought that either the Syrian army - which is just 30 kilometers (20 miles) from there - or the Kurds or the (US-led) coalition's strikes would protect them," he added.
 
A US-led coalition launched strikes against ISIS positions in Syria in September.
 
"ISIS has been losing territory because of the international coalition's strikes and they took the hostages to use them as human shields," Edward said.
 
The crisis for Christian communities in ISIS's crosshairs bears many chilling similarities to the plight of Syria's Yazidi community, which has been ravaged by massacres and forced expulsions at the hands of the jihadists.

ISIS Kidnaps 90 Christians in Syria, Says Monitor

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 11:05
ISIS Kidnaps 90 ChristiansJihadists from the Islamic State group (ISIS) have kidnapped at least 90 Assyrian Christians in northeast Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
The Britain-based monitor said the abductions took place on Tuesday after ISIS seized two Assyrian villages from Kurdish forces in the province of Hassakeh, reports AFP.
 
The abduction raises particular concerns after ISIS last Sunday released video showing its terrorists beheading Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya.
 
US-led air strikes against ISIS in Syria have killed more than 1,600 people, mainly jihadists, since they began five months ago, the Observatory said Monday. Almost all of those killed were jihadists from ISIS and Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Nusra Front, though the Observatory also documented the deaths of 62 civilians.
 
The strikes that began on September 23 reportedly killed 1,465 members of the Islamic State group, most of them non-Syrians. Another 73 fighters from Nusra Front were killed, along with a man from a rebel group being held prisoner by ISIS in the group's de facto capital Raqa.
 
Washington and a small coalition of Arab countries began strikes against ISIS in Syria last year, expanding US-led operations with a broader coalition already underway against ISIS in Iraq
 
New Pentagon chief Ashton Carter on Monday vowed "lasting defeat" of ISIS as he summoned top generals and diplomats to Kuwait to review the war effort against the jihadists.
 
Only days after taking office, Carter convened the extraordinary meeting of more than two dozen senior military officers, ambassadors and intelligence officials at the sprawling US Army base of Camp Arifjan.
 
Speaking to American troops at the base before the talks, Carter said the US-led coalition was "pressing" the ISIS group "very ably from Kuwait and elsewhere."
 
"And we will deliver lasting defeat, make no doubt," he said.

US, Turkey Agree to Arm and Train Syrian Rebels

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 15:36
Syrian RebelsThe United States and Turkey have agreed "in principle" on a deal to train and equip Syrian rebel forces, the State Department said Tuesday.
 
"As we have announced before, Turkey has agreed to be one of the regional hosts for the train-and-equip program for moderate Syrian opposition forces," department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
 
"We expect to conclude and sign the agreement with Turkey soon," she said, without providing any further details about the train-and-equip program, which is expected to begin next month.
 
The announcement puts an end to months of difficult negotiations between allies Washington and Ankara on how to train Syrian rebel forces to eventually take on the Islamic State (ISIS) group.
 
Last month, the Pentagon said it would send nearly 1,000 troops to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar as part of the effort.  
 
More than 400 trainers would be backed by a similar number of support troops that will provide help with logistics, communications and intelligence, spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said. 
 
The total troop number "for this mission could approach 1,000," Kirby said on January 16. "It might even exceed that."  
 
The US government hopes the effort can begin by late March, so the first rebel forces trained can be operational by year's end, according to the Pentagon.   
 
The goal is to train more than 5,000 Syrians in the first year of the program.
 
But such a deal with Turkey specifically raises some difficult questions about its own murky role in the Syrian conflict.
 
Turkey's Sunni Islamist government openly backs the Sunni rebellion against the Assad regime, and has repeatedly called for international intervention to remove the Syrian dictator. 
 
But many - including Turkey's Kurdish community - says Ankara's support for the rebels is also geared towards a more sinister objective of snuffing-out Kurdish hopes for self-determination in the region. They accuse Turkey of directly supporting Islamist rebels including Al Qaeda's Nusra Front and even ISIS in their battles against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
 
Turkey denies those charges, but has failed to explain how Islamist fighters and weapons destined for jihadists are able to flow freely through its borders into Syria.

ISIS 'Morality Police' Rules with Iron Fist

Category: News
Created on Monday, 16 February 2015 17:52
ISIS flagIslamic State (ISIS)'s "morality police" is enforcing modest dress through a reign of terror, human rights organizations claim Monday.
 
The Al-Merced NGO reports that the city Albuhamal in the Deir al-Zor province of eastern Syria, the modesty squad attacked a woman because her eyes were too exposed to their liking. Two young men who tried to protect the woman were arrested as well.
 
In Mosul, a center for ISIS in Iraq, the city's morality police regularly beat women with iron rods who are not dressed modestly according to a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law. 
 
Recently, the group published a guide for Muslim women.
 
Among other things, it was explained in that girls as young as 9 years old can marry, and that the role of women is to stay home unless there is a real need to exit the house. Women are also permitted to be taken captives as prisoners of war, as are children.
 
ISIS has already explained that Islam calls for non-Muslim women to be forced into sexual slavery, and likewise recently stoned a woman accused of adultery.
 
Young women have been targeted over and over again by the terror group, which recruits women to support its male terrorists and serve as wives, baby-sitters, and mothers to future jihadists.  
 
Despite the lack of equal rights for women within ISIS, scores of women from Syria and Iraq as well as from the West have volunteered to join the modesty squad - and appear to live relatively normal lives.

Nearly 100 Killed in Clashes Between Hezbollah, Syrian Rebels

Category: News
Created on Monday, 16 February 2015 11:01
Funeral of Hezbollah fighter killed in Syria file - ReutersNearly 100 fighters on both sides have been killed in a week of fighting in southern Syria between regime forces and rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday.
 
The army, backed by fighters from Lebanon's powerful Shiite group Hezbollah, began an offensive at the beginning of the week in Daraa, the province bordering Israel that was the cradle of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.  
 
Regime forces had indicated that the operation was aimed at "breaking the band of territory (the rebels) are trying to create" along the border.  
 
At least 50 rebels were killed and 43 soldiers, members of Hezbollah, Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Syrian pro-regime militia, according to the Britain-based monitor, which has a network of civilian, medical and military sources across Syria.
 
The Observatory also said 10 soldiers had been executed after being accused of collaborating with rebels in Daraa by giving them information about military movements.
 
"Hezbollah doesn't have a lot of confidence in the Syrian army because there have been several cases of soldiers giving the rebels information," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
 
His group said Hezbollah, which is reported to have some 5,000 fighters in Syria, is leading the regime offensive in the south. 
 
The rebels and their Al-Nusra Front jihadist allies have been making advances in southern provinces that are strategic because of their proximity to Damascus, Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
 
Since the start of October 2013, rebel forces have controlled a band of territory in the sector along the border with Jordan.

Snow Slows Hezbollah Advance Towards Golan Heights

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 14 February 2015 13:14
Mine field in Golan Heights fileSyrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops shelled rebel-held villages in southern Syria on Thursday, as a snowstorm slowed an advance led by Lebanon's pro-Assad Hezbollah terrorists near the Israeli Golan Heights, a monitor said.
 
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Syrian army shelled Jizeh and the west of Atman village in the southern province of Daraa, reports AFP.
 
Battles raged on in several parts of Daraa, pitting rebels and a local Al-Qaeda affiliate against Hezbollah and their Iranian and Syrian allies, said the Observatory.
 
"Despite the fighting, the Hezbollah-led advance was forced to slow down by heavy snow in the area," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
The reports come on the fifth day of a major Hezbollah-led offensive in the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra, as well as the west of Damascus province.
 
The area is important because of its proximity to Jordan, Damascus and Israel's Golan Heights.
 
In recent days, pro-regime troops have seized a string of villages and strategic hilltops that rebels and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front had been holding for around a year.
 
This week, for the first time in Syria's war, state television acknowledged that Assad's army is fighting alongside Hezbollah and Iranian officers in its bid to crush a nearly four-year rebellion against his dictatorship.
 
The Observatory's Abdel Rahman told AFP on Thursday that 300 elite Hezbollah fighters are deployed on Syria's southern front.
 
"This really is Hezbollah's battle," he said.
 
On January 18, six Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general were killed in an Israeli air strike in Quneitra as they conducted surveillance to plan a terrorist attack on Israel.

Iran Revolutionary Guards Chief Says ISIS 'Nearing its End'

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 14 February 2015 11:23
Maj Gen Qassem SuleimaniAn influential Iranian general who has reportedly been near the front line against the Islamic State (ISIS) group was quoted Thursday saying the Sunni jihadists are "nearing the end of their lives".
 
General Qassem Suleimani, the once rarely seen commander of the powerful Qods Force, has become the public face of Iran's support for the Iraqi and Syrian governments against Sunni rebellions in their countries.
 
He has frequently been pictured on social media in Iraq with pro-government forces, including Kurdish fighters and Shia Islamist militia units in battle areas.  
 
"Considering the heavy defeats suffered by Daesh and other terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria, we are certain these groups are nearing the end of their lives," Suleimani was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.  
 
His extremely rare published remarks came in a speech made Wednesday in his home province Kerman to mark the 36th anniversary of Iran's Islamic revolution.  
 
Suleimani also said Tehran's regional influence was growing.
 
"Today we see signs of the Islamic revolution being exported throughout the region, from Bahrain to Iraq and from Syria to Yemen and North Africa," he said.
 
"The arrogants and Zionists have admitted, more than before, to their own weakness and to the Islamic republic's power, following their successive defeats," he said.
 
Iranian officials often use the term "arrogants" to refer to the United States and other Western powers, while "Zionists" is used in Tehran to refer to Israel without acknowledging its existence as a state.
 
Suleimani reportedly landed in Baghdad hours after ISIS overran Mosul in June and led a counter-attack at the head of Iran's deep military involvement in Iraq.
 
The Qods Force - the foreign wing of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards - conducts sensitive security functions abroad, including intelligence, special operations and political action deemed necessary to "protect the Islamic republic", which often takes the form of terrorist attacks and sabotage.
 
It's primary aim is to "export the revolution" of radical Shia Islam in Iran.
 
It has provided key support to pro-regime forces in Syria, including training, advice and in active combat.

How Hezbollah Assassinated Hariri And Conquered Lebanon

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 11 February 2015 12:08
Gravesite of Rafiq Al-Hariri -ReutersA decade after former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri was assassinated, with Hezbollah terrorists charged over the murder, hopes that the fallout from his death would free Lebanon from Syria's influence have been dashed by the war raging across the border.
 
"Ten years, 100 years, 1,000 years, we will stay faithful to you" declare the billboards going up around Beirut as the country prepares to mark the February 14, 2005 murder of Hariri, reports AFP.
 
In the months that followed, a popular movement that accused Damascus of his killing forced Syrian troops out of Lebanon after a 30-year presence.
 
Many in the country saw the Syrian withdrawal as a chance for Lebanon to shake off the influence of its larger neighbor and its perpetual status as a pawn in wider regional struggles.
 
Yet the Lebanese public and analysts now see little cause for hope, with Syria's civil war deepening divisions that emerged after Hariri's death.
 
Lebanon is fractured between Hezbollah-led supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regional ally Iran, of which Hezbollah is a proxy, and a camp that backs the Syrian uprising and is allied with Saudi Arabia and the United States.
 
Hariri had close links to Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, which vies with Shi'ite Iran for influence in the Middle East.
 
After the assassination "Lebanon entered the orbit of Damascus, Tehran and Hezbollah, and this axis continues to prevail," said Daoud al-Sayegh, a former adviser to Hariri.
 
The division is at the root of ongoing instability, including a string of bomb attacks that have targeted both sides. It has also contributed to a political stalemate that has left the country without a president for eight months, the longest such vacuum since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
 
On the country's borders, the under-equipped Lebanese army is struggling to keep jihadists from Syria at bay, and in the streets residents fear the next conflict is around the corner.
 
"The country has collapsed since Hariri's assassination," said a resident of Beirut's Ain al-Mreisse district, where Hariri and 22 others were killed by a suicide bomber in a car.
 
Far from bringing together the country and freeing it of Syrian influence, analysts say the decade since Hariri's death has served to cement the preeminence of the Shi'ite movement Hezbollah, a key ally of Damascus.
 
"This murder has had the effect of a coup d'etat," said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University in Beirut.
 
Hariri "represented the Saudi project, and with him gone, it's the Iranian project that has taken over."
 
Khashan said Hariri had sought to "transform the country into a symbol of moderation and a safeguard against extremism."
 
"He was assassinated before he could do that," he said.
 
Nicknamed "Mr Lebanon," Hariri was known for his patience and "represented a moderate Sunni Muslim current," Khashan added. "After his murder, extremist Sunnis began to appear" in Lebanon.
 
Hariri served as prime minister under Syrian influence from 1992 to 1998, and again from 2000 to 2004.
 
He was vehemently opposed to Damascus's imposed extension of president Emile Lahoud's term in 2004, but was coerced into voting for it.
 
Angered by Hariri's opposition, Syria's Assad reportedly threatened to "destroy Lebanon on top of his head."
 
With the support of Riyadh and his close friend French former president Jacques Chirac, Hariri backed a UN Security Council resolution calling on foreign troops to leave Lebanon. "The Syrians never forgave him," Khashan said.
 
"Hariri put Lebanon on the international map, and that angered them," added former advisor Sayegh.
 
Hezbollah on trial for assassination
 
In a first for Lebanon, the frequent scene of political assassinations and intrigue, Hariri's murder is being prosecuted before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon at the Hague.
 
The court has indicted five Hezbollah members for their involvement, but the movement has refused to turn them over, accusing the tribunal of being an "Israeli-American tool."
 
In the months after Hariri's assassination, the murder was seen as a sort of "founding event for the unity of the country," according to Fares Souaid, a member of the movement that emerged against the Syrian regime after the ex-premier's murder.
 
But "10 years later, we are seeing the weakening of the state and communities returning back behind their barricades," he said.
 
Several events will be held in Beirut to mark the anniversary including a gathering at the site of the attack, where a flame will be lit in his honor, and a prayer at his tomb.
 
Hariri was often criticized for marrying politics and business and running up huge debts in his reconstruction projects.
 
But he also attracted investors, many of whom now shy away from Lebanon because of the violence, instability and spillover from the Syrian war that followed his death.
 
"The Lebanese are unable to free themselves from a situation where they are hostages of the region's conflict," said Sayegh.

Syrian Rebel Jihadists Capture Six Rebel Activists

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 10 February 2015 21:53
Syrian Rebel JihadistsSyrian activists on Tuesday accused Jaysh al-Islam, a powerful Islamist group near Damascus, of detaining a group of their colleagues, in what they said was the latest in a string of abuses.
 
"An armed group believed to be loyal to Jaysh al-Islam stormed the office of Erbin's local (activist) committee. ...It kidnapped the team there and took them to an area near the frontline," said the non-violent Local Coordination Committees (LCC) activist group, reports AFP.
 
The armed men also "seized and destroyed the Erbin committee's equipment," said the LCC, condemning the raid.
 
Its statement came a day after the Erbin committee announced via its Facebook page that its office had been broken into.
 
An LCC spokeswoman told AFP via the Internet that six activists had been taken from their office on Monday, while the Erbin committee said one had since been set free.
 
According to the Erbin committee's Facebook page, the unnamed activist who was released said his detained colleagues "are being held in isolation from each other, in solitary confinement."
 
LCC spokeswoman Majeda, who refused to be identified by her full name for fear of persecution, said the latest detention is part of a campaign by Jaysh al-Islam to "empty the revolution of its true activists."
 
Jaysh al-Islam is the most powerful rebel group operating in the Eastern Ghouta area, east of Damascus, where Erbin is located.
 
Critics have accused its chief, Zahran Alloush, of seeking to sideline any potential rivals, armed or peaceful.
 
Jaysh al-Islam spokesman Islam Alloush told AFP that the Erbin activists had been "detained by the United Judiciary," the local judicial authority in the region.
 
He said he had no further information on the case, or on what charges had been brought against the activists.
 
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman said the rebel judiciary in Eastern Ghouta is "dominated" by Jaysh al-Islam.
 
The rebel group has been accused of detaining activists before, including in late 2013, when four prominent activists in Douma, also east of Damascus, went missing.
 
"The kidnapper is one and the same," LCC spokeswoman Majeda said of the two incidents. "By no means is it the first time that we see such a kidnapping."
 
Syria's war began as a peaceful revolt demanding democratic change. It morphed into a civil war after President Bashar al-Assad's regime unleashed a brutal crackdown against dissent.

Kurds Seize Back Villages Around Kobane

Category: News
Created on Monday, 09 February 2015 19:28
KurdsSyrian Kurdish forces have recaptured more than a third of the villages around Kobane from the Islamic State terror group since routing the jihadists from the town a fortnight ago, a monitor said Sunday.
 
"The (Kurdish) People's Protection Units (YPG) have recaptured 128 villages out of some 350 in the past two weeks," said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
The YPG recaptured Kobane on the border with Turkey from ISIS terrorists on January 26, after four months of fierce fighting backed by Syrian rebels and US-led coalition air strikes.
 
"ISIS withdrew from villages east and south of Kobane mostly without resistance, but fought hard to try to keep control of villages to the west," said Abdel Rahman.
 
"That's because it wants to try to protect areas under its control in Aleppo province. But the Kurds are steadily advancing," he told AFP. 
 
The US-led coalition has been carrying out strikes against ISIS terrorists in Syria since September.
 
In recent days, it has continued to pound ISIS positions around Kobane, while YPG troops backed by Syrian rebels press the fight on the ground.

ISIS Claims American Hostage Killed in Coalition Airstrike

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 08 February 2015 16:58
American Hostage KilledThe Islamic State (ISIS) group claimed on Friday that a female American hostage had been killed in an air strike in Syria by the U.S.-led coalition, AFP reported.
 
In a statement on jihadist websites, ISIS said the woman, whom it named as Kayla Jean Mueller, was buried under rubble after a raid by a Jordanian warplane in Raqa.
 
"The plane from the crusader coalition bombed a position outside the city of Raqa after Friday prayers," it said.
 
"No fighter was wounded but we can confirm that an American hostage was killed in the strikes."
 
The statement did not show any pictures of a body and there was no independent confirmation of the claim. American officials declined to comment.
 
"I cannot confirm those reports in any way. I'm not going into specifics of Americans held overseas," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said, according to AFP.
 
National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan later said the United States has not yet seen any proof to confirm the claim.
 
"We are obviously deeply concerned by these reports. We have not at this time seen any evidence that corroborates ISIL's claim," she said.
 
The Britain-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 30 ISIS jihadists were killed in coalition raids Friday on the Raqa area.
 
It said they died in raids on "positions and depots sheltering military vehicles and tanks, east and west of the city of Raqa".
 
IS has seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, ruling with a brutal version of Islamic law.
 
It has murdered both locals and foreigners, including two American journalists, an American aid worker, two British aid workers, two Japanese hostages and a Jordanian fighter pilot.
 
Jordan, one of several Arab countries in the U.S.-led coalition, vowed a harsh response after ISIS released a video this week showing the burning alive of the pilot, Maaz al-Kassasbeh.
 
Kassasbeh was captured in December after his F-16 crashed in Syria while on a mission against the Sunni extremists.

Syria: Kurdish Fighters Seize Dozens of Villages from ISIS

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 08 February 2015 13:13
Kurdish YPG fighters on the frontline against ISIS in Ras al-Ain northern Syira - ReutersSyrian Kurdish fighters have seized dozens of villages from Islamic State (ISIS) group jihadists around the town of Kobane on the Turkish border, expanding their control in the area, a monitor said Friday.
 
The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) had captured 101 villages around Kobane since seizing it from ISIS on January 26 after four months of fighting, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.  
 
"They now control territory ranging from 15 to 25 kilometres (nine to 16 miles) from Kobane to the east, west and south," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
 
The small town became a key battleground, with ISIS poised at one point to overrun it and cement its grip on a large stretch of territory along the border.  
 
Since January 26, YPG forces have advanced steadily in the surrounding countryside, recapturing dozens of villages, some no larger than a few dozen homes.
 
In some villages, they have met little resistance, with ISIS fighters withdrawing as they advance.  
 
But in other places there have been clashes, with the Observatory saying at least 13 ISIS fighters were killed in a YPG ambush Friday.

ISIS Fires Cleric for Opposing Burning Alive of Jordanian Pilot

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 08 February 2015 12:44
jordan pilotA Saudi cleric with the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) jihadist group has been removed from his post after objecting to the burning alive of a captured Jordanian pilot, a monitoring group said Friday.  
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the cleric, known by the nom-de-guerre Abu Musab al-Jazrawi, raised objections during a Thursday meeting to the way pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh was killed.
 
"He raised objections during the weekly meeting that takes place between clerics and IS leaders in the Aleppo area," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
"He said the way Kassasbeh had been killed violated religious traditions."
 
Kassasbeh was captured by IS in December after his plane went down over Syria as he participated in the US-led coalition fighting the jihadist group.
 
A video purporting to show him being burned alive inside a cage emerged on Tuesday, though Jordanian state television said the execution was carried out weeks earlier.
 
Abdel Rahman said Jazrawi was removed from his post after the criticism, and could also face a religious tribunal and possible punishment.
 
ISIS and its supporters have sought to produce religious justifications for the horrific method by which they killed Kassasbeh, drawing on themes within Islamic texts that resonate with many; but some ordinary Muslims and Islamic scholars have fiercely criticized the execution.
 
The group emerged in Syria in 2013, and rules a self-proclaimed Islamic "caliphate" in territory under its control in Iraq and Syria.
 
It has become infamous for its brutal executions, including by beheading and stoning, as well as its mass-slaughter of religious and ethnic groups which refuse to convert to its brand of Islam.

ISIS 'Held Public Screenings' of Pilot Being Burned to Death

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 05 February 2015 06:50
jordan pilotThe Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) reportedly broadcast footage of its fighters burning alive a Jordanian pilot in public areas throughout its de-facto capitol of Raqqa in northern Syria.
 
"Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently" - a group made up of anonymous activists who risk their lives to expose ISIS atrocities in areas under its control - first reported news of the gruesome spectacle, which played out throughout the city following the release of the video Tuesday. 
 
"Using large viewing screens and Movie projectors across the City of al Raqqa, #ISIS Played the Burning of the #JordanianPilot... Mouaz Al Kasasbeh for the public to watch over and over again..." the group said in a series of Twitter posts.
 
ISIS regularly publicizes its executions and other forms of brutal punishments as a way of instilling fear in local populations and discourage them against rebelling despite their desperate conditions. In Raqqa - once a hub of relative modernity in Syria - residents say they have suffered greatly since ISIS took over and implemented its authoritarian Islamic law, with food shortages and regular power outages compounding their misery.
 
The video is possibly the most gruesome yet by ISIS, which has tended to behead previous hostages.
 
In the slick, high-quality production, al-Kassasbeh is first seen sitting behind a desk addressing the camera and condemning coalition strikes against ISIS. After that, he is shown walking past rows of masked terrorists into a metal cage, while doused in petrol; once inside, one of the terrorists lights a fuse leading into the cage, and he is engulfed in flames. A tractor is then used to bury his charred body in rubble.
 
In revenge for the killing, Jordan announced it would be executing a number of ISIS-linked terrorists held in its prisons - a threat it carried out swiftly early Wednesday morning.
 
Despite only releasing the video yesterday, it soon emerged that ISIS had in all likelihood killed al-Kassasbeh a month ago, with Jordanian state TV reporting his execution took place on January 3rd.
 
And a tweet on January 8 by the head of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, who writes under the pseudonym "Abu-Ibraham al-Raqqawi", had detailed a conversation between ISIS fighters in which they gloated of having burned the Jordanian airman to death.
 
Meanwhile, the fate of al-Kassasbeh appears to have had an effect on at least one member of the international coalition against ISIS, as reports surfaced that the United Arab Emirates pulled out of the air campaign against the so-called Islamic State after the pilot's capture in late December.
 
The UAE suspended air strikes after the capture due to fears over the safety of its own pilots, according to the New York Times. 
 
The United Arab Emirates want the US to improve its search-and-rescue efforts, including the use of V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, in northern Iraq, closer to the battleground.
 
As it stands, the US-led mission is based in Kuwait, administration officials said, according to the Times.  
 
It said UAE pilots will not rejoin the fight until the Ospreys - which take off and land like helicopters but fly like planes - are deployed in northern Iraq.
 
Al-Kassassbeh was captured by ISIS terrorists within minutes of his plane crashing in December near Raqqa, Syria, but UAE officials questioned if American military rescue teams would have been able to reach the pilot even if there had been more time for a rescue effort, administration officials said.  
 
UAE's Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan asked Barbara Leaf, the new US ambassador, why the United States had not put proper resources in northern Iraq for rescuing downed pilots, a senior administration official said, according to the Times.
 
Several rescue efforts do indeed appear to have been made to save the Jordanian pilot, including one on January 1st - just days before he was likely executed.
 
But that operation failed after special forces were forced to withdraw under heavy fire.

Iranian Commander: We Helped 'Palestine' Produce Missiles

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 04 February 2015 09:48
Amir Ali HajizadehA senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) boasted this week that Iran had provided Syria, Iraq, “Palestine” and Hezbollah with the needed know-how to produce missiles to hurt Israel.
 
"The IRGC's Aerospace Force has developed to a stage in the field of missile industries that it can mass-produce different types of short- and mid-range missiles," the commander, General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said in Tehran on Monday, according to the Fars news agency.
 
"The Islamic Republic of Iran has helped Iraq, Syria, Palestine and the Lebanese Hezbollah by exporting the technology that it has for the production of missiles and other equipment, and they can now stand against the Zionist regime, the [ISIS] and other Takfiri groups and cripple them," he boasted.
 
Hajizadeh also stressed Iran's self-sufficiency in building radar systems and drones, and added that the country has also exported its drone technology and products to other countries.
 
Iran often boasts of its military capabilities and of its assistance to terrorist groups dedicated to Israel’s destruction. Last August, Hajizadeh declared that Tehran will "accelerate" arming Palestinians in Judea and Samaria in retaliation for Israel allegedly deploying a spy drone over Iran, which was shot down.
 
A top Iranian military commander later declared that weapon shipments to Judea and Samaria have already begun and that more will be sent to other “Palestinian resistance groups.”
 
Iran has been upping its anti-Israel rhetoric in recent days, since a January 18 airstrike allegedly carried out by Israel in the Syrian Golan Heights killed an Iranian commander along with several members of Hezbollah.
 
General Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, threatened a missile attack on Israel, indicating it would come from Judea and Samaria and not from Lebanon.
 
Revolutionary Guards Minister Mohsen Rafighdoost said that the strike would pave the way for a war against Israel. A senior official in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, General Ramezan Sharif, declared that the airstrike “will accelerate the collapse of the Zionist regime.”

Syria: At Least 7 Dead in Damascus Bus Bombing

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 01 February 2015 09:55
Wreckage of bus destroyed in Damascus violence file - ReutersAt least seven people were killed when a blast ripped through a bus carrying Shiite pilgrims in a central district of the Syrian capital on Sunday, a monitoring group said.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was not immediately clear what had caused the blast near the Souq al-Hamadiyeh neighbourhood of Damascus.
 
The explosion was also reported by Syrian state media, with the official SANA news agency saying at least four people had been killed and 19 wounded.  
 
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the bus had a Lebanese licence plate and was carrying Shiite Muslim pilgrims visiting religious sites in the city.
 
Lebanese media reported that Lebanese nationals were among the dead and wounded, but there was no immediate official confirmation.
 
Syrian state television showed footage from the scene of the blast, with men in military uniforms picking through the wreckage of the bus.
 
Its front half was mostly blown off, leaving only the metal frame, and bags of belongings were strewn across the remaining seats.
 
The channel also showed images from inside a hospital where the wounded were being treated, including a woman whose black robes had been lifted up, revealing a bloodsoaked undershirt.
 
In the last few minutes, a social media account associated with Al Qaeda's Al Nusra Front posted a message claiming responsibility for the bus attack. That claim has not yet been independently verified.
 
Parts of Damascus have remained relatively unscathed by the fighting raging across much of Syria since an uprising erupted in March 2011.  
 
But rebels regularly fire rockets into the capital from rear bases in the surrounding countryside, and the city has also been hit by bombings.
 
Despite the conflict, the road from the Lebanese border to Damascus remains relatively safe, and Lebanese Shiite pilgrims have continued to visit religious sites in Syria.
 
More than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict started, and around half of the country's population has been displaced.

Scores of Foreign Fighters Among ISIS Dead in Kobane Defeat

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 28 January 2015 11:22
Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant -ReutersLarge numbers of foreign fighters are among the ISIS jihadists killed in the battle for the Syrian town of Kobane, a senior US official said Tuesday, saying the concerted campaign was halting the Islamists' march.
 
The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) announced the "liberation" of Kobane on Monday, depriving the Islamic State group of a strategic prize to add to its territory in Syria and Iraq.
 
The United States says Kurdish fighters are now in control of about 90 percent of the town on the Syrian-Turkish border.
 
"ISIL is now, whether on order or whether they are breaking ranks, is beginning to withdraw from the town," a senior State Department official told reporters, using another term for ISIS.  
 
But he warned that the terrorists were "adaptive and resilient" and no-one was declaring "mission accomplished" yet.
 
The US and some 60 coalition partners is engaged in the "first phase of a multi-year campaign," he stressed.
 
But a victory in Kobane was an important milestone in trying to change "the narrative" of the jihadists who have attracted thousands of foreign fighters to their ranks, mostly disaffected youth drawn by the promise of adventure.
 
ISIS had poured some of its best foreign fighters into Kobane, the State Department official said, but in the last six weeks the losses had begun to cause splits in the ranks.
 
The group has even executed foreign fighters for refusing orders to deploy to the town.
 
Observers say ISIS lost nearly 1,200 fighters in the battle, out of a total of 1,800 killed in total, despite outgunning YPG forces with sophisticated weaponry captured from Iraqi and Syrian military bases.
 
"We don't get into body counts, but it's in the four figures in terms of the overall number of ISIL fighters that have been killed," the State Department official confirmed.
 
Many foreign fighters - many of them Australians, Belgians, Canadians and Chechens - were among them, he said, refusing to give exact figures other than to say "it was hugely, hugely significant."  
 
"The entire notion of this organization which is on the march, inevitable expansion, (its) overall momentum has been halted at Kobane," he added.
 
The US began airstrikes on ISIS to stop its march on Kobane in September and in October airdropped in critical supplies to the anti-ISIS fighters.  
 
Washington also worked with Turkey to open a land corridor to allow Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region to help defend the beleaguered town.
 
With the eyes of the international media watching the jihadists "wanted to raise the largest flag they ever made over Kobane," the US official said.
 
"Kobane shows that you're not going to be part of something great... so the whole narrative that ISIL is trying to put out, Kobane really puts a dent in it."

Iranian Official Calls to 'Wipe Out the Zionist Regime'

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 27 January 2015 10:16
General Mohammad Reza NaqdiIran is continuing to threaten to retaliate against Israel for an airstrike last week, in which Iran's General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi was killed.
 
On Monday, a senior official in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, General Ramezan Sharif, declared that the airstrike “will accelerate the collapse of the Zionist regime.”
 
“Undoubtedly, the bloods shed in the front of awakening the Islamic Ummah have provided the ground more than ever for wiping out the Zionist regime,” Sharif said in Tehran, according to the Fars news agency.
 
He called on Muslim states to unite and said that the Islamic countries should desist from provoking rifts and use all their capacities to fight “the child-killing Zionist regime” instead.
 
Another Iranian official, General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, said that the airstrike justified “striking painful blows at the Zionist regime.”
 
Naqdi warned “the Zionists” that they would soon be forced to leave “the occupied Palestinian territories”, and added, according to Fars, "They will not experience tranquility, these bloods will not remain without a response and they should remain fully alerted until complete annihilation of the Zionist regime."
 
In the airstrike, six Iran-proxy Hezbollah terrorists were killed, including Jihad Mughniyeh who was the son of the late Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh. Six Iranian soldiers were also killed, including Allahdadi.
 
Reportedly the 12 were engaged in a surveillance mission planning an attack on Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights when they were taken out by a missile fired from an IDF helicopter.
 
Monday’s threats are the latest in a series of threats from Iranian officials over the airstrike. Several days ago, General Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, threatened a missile attack on Israel, indicating it would come from Judea and Samaria and not from Lebanon.
 
Going further, Revolutionary Guards Minister Mohsen Rafighdoost said last Wednesday that the strike would pave the way for a war against Israel.
 
As well, a Farsi-language Iranian news site affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, has suggested that the sons of Israeli leaders are being targeted as a response to the Israeli airstrike.
 
The news site, Mashregh News, detailed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's sons Yair and Avner may be targeted, and likewise listed the sons of former prime ministers, including Ehud Olmert's son Shaul and Ariel Sharon's sons Gilad and Omri.

Assad Threatens to Fight America's Anti-ISIS Rebels

Category: News
Created on Monday, 26 January 2015 08:55
Bashar Al-AssadSyrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been conducting a nearly four-year bloody crackdown on his own people, said US plans to train vetted rebels to fight Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists were "illusory" as they would eventually defect to the jihadists, in an interview published Monday.
 
The Syrian leader also questioned talks to be held in Moscow this week, telling Foreign Affairs magazine that his government would attend but was not convinced the opposition figures taking part represented Syrians on the ground, reports AFP.
 
Washington has backed the Syrian opposition since early in the uprising and has unveiled plans to train more than 5,000 vetted rebels in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to fight ISIS.
 
Assad said the planned US-trained force would be "illegal" and would be treated like any other rebel group. "They are going to be fought like any other illegal militia fighting against the Syrian army," he said.
 
"Bringing 5,000 (fighters) from the outside will make most of them defect and join ISIS and other groups. The idea itself... is illusory," he said.
 
The Pentagon has itself acknowledged that identifying and vetting potential rebel recruits for training is a difficult task that cannot be accomplished quickly without significant risks.
 
Assad questioned the seriousness of the US-led campaign against the jihadists, claiming "what we've seen so far is just, let's say, window-dressing, nothing real. Did the United States put any pressure on Turkey to stop the support of Al-Qaeda? They didn't."
 
He was referring to his government's longstanding accusations that Ankara has backed rebel groups including ISIS's jihadist rivals in the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
 
Meanwhile Assad's troops have been responsible for more atrocities than ISIS during the conflict that has already claimed over 200,000 lives according to a UN report last September, despite the media preoccupation with ISIS in recent months.
 
Political solution from Russia?
 
Assad said the nearly four-year-old conflict could only be ended with a political solution, but cast doubt on the value of talks being organized this week by his key ally Russia.
 
The dialogue, which was due to open later on Monday and run through Thursday, was intended to bring together government and opposition representatives, but the main exiled opposition bloc, the National Coalition, is boycotting.
 
"Any talks should be held in a neutral country and overseen by the United Nations," a source in the coalition said, referring to Russia's status as a key Assad ally. Five members of the National Coalition will attend in a personal capacity along with members of opposition groups tolerated by the Damascus authorities.
 
Assad said his government would attend, but asked: "Who do you negotiate with? We have institutions, we have an army and we have influence."
 
"The people we are going to negotiate with, who do they represent?" he said, dismissing the strong opposition movement that has been rebelling to his autocratic rule for many years.
 
His government has long argued that the exiled opposition does not represent people inside Syria, accusing it of being "puppets" of its main foreign backers, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States.

Syrian Opposition Agree on 10-Point Plan for 'Radical Change'

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 25 January 2015 08:49
Free Syrian Army fighters pose with their weaponsSyria's opposition factions called Saturday for "radical democratic change" in the war-torn country ahead of April talks aimed at unifying their plan for a political solution to the conflict, AFP reports.
 
In a two-day conference held in Cairo, the regime-tolerated opposition met with members of the exiled National Coalition and agreed on a 10-point vision, as well as announcing fresh talks slated for April. 
 
The groups agreed that "any negotiation process should lead to... a democratic regime and a sovereign civil state," according to a joint statement. 
 
They added that any political solution to Syria's four-year civil war "must guarantee a radical democratic change that criminalizes violence and sectarianism".   
 
The National Coalition was informally represented in Cairo by several members, including Ahmed Jarba, a former coalition chief who is close to Saudi Arabia.   
 
A Coalition source had earlier said its members were not attending the Cairo meet in an official capacity.
 
The next opposition general conference "aims at agreeing on a unified political vision and to unify the opposition's efforts," said Saleh al-Nebwani, member of the regime-tolerated domestic National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change. 
 
The Coalition and top opposition figure Moaz al-Khatib previously announced they will not attend talks with the Syrian regime in Moscow this month aimed at finding a political solution to the war that has killed more than 200,000 people so far.
 
But the internal opposition said on Saturday that some invited members were expected to attend the meeting. 
 
Fayez Sarah from the National Coalition said the Cairo meeting did not discuss the Moscow talks "because a decision was already taken" on this issue.   
 
Moscow's effort to host the peace talks comes after two UN-brokered meetings in Geneva last year between regime and opposition representatives failed to produce results. 
 
Russia is the most powerful backer of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards Vow War on Israel After Airstrike

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 24 January 2015 12:52
Hossein SalamiIranian officials repeatedly broadcast daily threats toward Israel following the attack carried out last week in Syria, which killed six Iranian soldiers, including commanders, as well as six members of Hezbollah.
 
Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said Israel should expect a strong reaction against it, as proven in the past by the Revolutionary Guards, and Israel will see the "destructive lightning" of the Islamic Republic. 
 
He said that Israel is a strategic component of Iran's struggle against the United States, and therefore Iran is building military strength along Israel's borders - areas from which it can launch missiles via Hezbollah and "Palestine," as well as Shahab missiles from its own soil.
 
Salami further claimed that the Israeli attack strategy in the airstrike reflects the failure of the US and Israel in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain and other countries, and that reality shows that these two states are in decline, so they took actions which are only a sign of weakness.
 
Mohsen Rafighdoost, Minister of the Revolutionary Guards, said during a memorial service held on Wednesday for the Hezbollah terrorists killed in the strike that it would pave the way for a war against Israel. 
 
Iran's backlash follows reports Thursday that Israeli military intelligence meticulously coordinated the strike, despite earlier claims that the hit on the Iranian and Hezbollah generals were an "accident." 
 
The strike killed Jihad Mughniyeh, son of the late Imad Mughniyeh who was Hezbollah's former military commander, and Iranian general General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi.
 
According to Kuwaiti sources, Israel ordered a specific assassination hit on Allahdadi as the general moved between Syrian outposts, through information gained via wiretapping. 

Iranian General Among Dead in IAF Golan Strike

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 18:19
Iran general died in Israeli strike in Syrian GolanAn Israeli strike on Syria that killed six members of the Iranian-proxy Hezbollah terrorist organization also killed six Iranian solders and commanders, including an Iranian general.
 
"The Israeli strike killed six Iranian soldiers, including commanders, as well as the six members of Hezbollah. They were all in a convoy of three cars," a source close to the Shia Islamist group told AFP on condition of anonymity.
 
Iranian officials confirmed the claim shortly after, adding that one of those killed was a general in the elite Revolutionary Guard force.
 
"General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi and a number of fighters and Islamic Resistance (Hezbollah) forces were attacked by the Zionist regime's helicopters," said a statement on the Guards' website. "This brave general and some members of Hezbollah were martyred."
 
The strike killed Jihad Mughniyeh, son of the late Imad Mughniyeh who was Hezbollah's former military commander. Mughniyeh was among six Hezbollah terrorists killed, including a Hezbollah commander.
 
Mughniyeh, who according to intelligence sources was planning attacks on Israel's north and had formed a terrorist organization of his own backed by Hezbollah and Iran, was to be buried on Monday afternoon in Beirut's southern suburbs, a stronghold of the terror group.
 
On Monday afternoon, mourners gathered in Hezbollah's south Beirut stronghold for Mughniyeh's funeral.
 
"God willing, the resistance will retaliate but the leadership of the resistance will be the one to decide the nature and timing," said Hassana Sadaqa, as she prepared to pay her respects.
 
Mughniyeh will be buried in the same grave as his father Imad, who was killed in a 2008 car bombing that Hezbollah blamed on Israel.
 
The six terrorists killed on Sunday afternoon were carrying out a field reconnaissance mission in Mazraat Amal village, near Quneitra on the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan Heights, Hezbollah's Al-Manar television said.
 
An Israeli security source confirmed that an Israeli helicopter had carried out a strike against terrorists in the Golan who were allegedly carrying out an attack.
 
Hezbollah responded by vowing an attack on Israel, but made clear it does not want another full-scale war.
 
"What happened is that the Israelis called Hezbollah's bluff last night," said Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University in Beirut. "Hezbollah will not be able to retaliate, because if it retaliates, it will be another war. Hezbollah is in Syria and it is not ready for another war against Israel."
 
That "bluff" was stated clearly last week, when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah bombastically threatened to conquer the northern Galilee region of Israel in two separate interviews.
 
Lebanese media weighed the prospect of conflict, with the Al-Safir newspaper saying Hezbollah needed something "more than a reply and less than a war." In Israel, analysts made the same calculation.
 
"Hezbollah doesn't want a full-fledged war," said Yoram Schweitzer, a former Israeli military counterterrorism chief.
 
"It has a number of possibilities to respond in different arenas. We assume that it currently does not want full contact," he told AFP.

Angry Syrian Protesters Burn 'Je suis Charlie' Poster

Category: News
Created on Monday, 19 January 2015 21:36
Stephane CharbonnierSyrian protesters in a rebel-held area of Aleppo on Thursday burned a poster expressing support for satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, accusing it of stoking Muslim anger, AFP reports.
 
Dozens of people marched in the battered district of Salaheddin, in the southwest of Syria's second city, against Charlie Hebdo's new cartoon, which depicts the Prophet Mohammed.
 
In Wednesday's new edition, the prophet is shown with a tear in his eye, under the headline "All is forgiven".
 
He holds a sign reading "Je suis Charlie", the slogan that has become a global rallying cry for those expressing sympathy for the victims and support for freedom of speech.
 
Wednesday's was the first issue of the magazine to be published since Islamist gunmen killed 12 people in an attack on its Paris offices on January 7.
 
The magazine’s new issue sold out across France in record time, but the Muslim world has not been as sympathetic.
 
The Afghan Taliban on Thursday condemned its publication of further Mohammed cartoons and praised the gunmen, saying they were "bringing the perpetrators of the obscene act to justice".
 
Angry opponents in countries from Pakistan and Turkey, the Philippines and Mauritania have staged protests over the new cartoons.
 
A Turkish court ordered a block on websites featuring images of the cover, while Senegal said it was banning the dissemination of Wednesday's editions of Charlie Hebdo and the French daily Liberation, which also put a cartoon of the Mohammed on the front page.
 
Some of the protesters in Aleppo carried banners inscribed with the Islamic profession of faith and a "Je suis Charlie" poster was burned.
 
"Mohammed is our leader forever," chanted some protesters, while others cried: "We will sacrifice ourselves for you, God's prophet."
 
Demonstrator Abu Mudar told AFP, "We are on the street today to support our prophet and to protest against the offensive drawings that Western governments are spreading, while hurting Muslims' feelings all over the world."
 
He added, "These drawings increase enmity, hatred and feelings of hostility among Muslims towards these governments and these countries."

ISIS Shows its Most Popular Execution Style is Crucifixion

Category: Islam
Created on Monday, 19 January 2015 21:17
crucified1The brutal Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization that has conquered large swathes of Iraq and Syria continues to impose Islamic Sharia law sprinkled with generous helping of executions - one of its favorite methods, crucifixion, was put on display this week in rare form.
 
In the last two days, ISIS terrorists crucified 15 Syrian civilians in several villages of the Deir ez-Zur region in the country's east, over accusations of "opposing" the Islamic State.
 
Two of the murdered were from the Shitat tribe, which has come in for mass executions by ISIS recently for daring to question the administrative authority the organization has claimed for itself in eastern Syria.
 
ISIS has perfected its brutal execution techniques, first shooting its victims and then crucifying their bodies and leaving them in the town square for three days as a message of deterrence to the rest of the residents to fear their iron rule.
 
The Syrian human rights group "Al-Musad" reported that in the northern city of Kara, ISIS also executed a man who was accused of photographing ISIS bases and one of their terrorists, and putting the pictures on Facebook.
 
In that case as well, the murdered man's body was crucified and left in the city square.

Nasrallah Vows Attack on Israel 'For Syria Strikes'

Category: News
Created on Monday, 19 January 2015 20:59
Hassan Nasrallah01Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist organization, threatened to attack Israel on Thursday, citing the pretext of reported Israeli airstrikes on missiles in Syria headed for Hezbollah.
 
Nasrallah, who spoke in an television interview with Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen to be broadcast Thursday night, said his Iran-proxy Shi'ite terrorist group is well armed and always ready to fight Israel, according to excerpts of the interview issued ahead of its broadcast.
 
The interview came after Nasrallah gave an interview on Tuesday in which he threatened to conquer Israel's Galilee region in the north - he restated that threat in the Thursday interview as well.
 
A key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Nasrallah said that reported Israeli strikes on Syria "target the whole of the resistance axis," which includes Hezbollah, Damascus and Tehran.
 
"The repeated bombings that struck several targets in Syria are a major violation, and we consider that any strike against Syria is a strike against the whole of the resistance axis, not just against Syria," he said. "The axis is capable of responding. This can happen any time."
 
The IAF has carried out several raids against terror targets in Syria, including depots storing weapons meant for Hezbollah to use against Israel, since the conflict there started nearly four years ago; Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters into Syria to defend Assad's regime.
 
The most recent strike was in December, when Israeli jets struck weapons warehouses near Damascus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
 
Israel has never confirmed it carried out the strikes, but it says it has a policy of preventing arms transfers to terrorist groups including Hezbollah. It was widely reported that the December strikes had targeted arms convoys or depots of Iranian-made rockets.
 
The last major conflict with Hezbollah was in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, when Hezbollah missile strikes forced Israel to defend its northern border.
 
In Thursday's interview, Nasrallah said his group was ready to fight a new war against Israel in Lebanon and renewed a threat to invade the Galilee region of northern Israel.
 
Hezbollah fighters "must be prepared", he said. "When the resistance (Hezbollah) leadership...asks you (fighters)...to enter into Galilee, that means the resistance must be ready to enter into Galilee and to go even beyond the Galilee."
 
Asked about Hezbollah's arsenal, Nasrallah said the group had "all (the weapons) you can imagine...and in great quantities." He added: "We are now stronger than we ever were as a resistance movement."

Five Canadians Killed in Syria Fighting with ISIS

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 18 January 2015 10:52
The face of ISISFive Canadians have died fighting alongside Islamic State terrorists in Syria, including a man who called for lone wolf attacks in Canada, local media reported Wednesday.
 
The National Post said Ottawa-born John Maguire, who joined ISIS terrorists in Syria in January 2013, died Wednesday in the flashpoint town Kobane.
 
In a video message last year, the former University of Ottawa student warned Canada it faces retaliation for participating in United States-led airstrikes against ISIS.
 
Calling himself Abu Anwar al-Canadi, Maguire urged Muslims to follow the example of a driver in a hit-and-run killing of a soldier near Montreal and of a gunman who killed an unarmed soldier in Ottawa.
 
Meanwhile, broadcaster CBC said that four other Canadians from a single family of Somali origin died in recent months while fighting with the Islamic State terrorist organization in Syria.
 
Three of the cousins are thought to have left Canada in October 2013, the CBC reported.
 
Ahmed Hirsi said his 20-year-old son Mahad was killed last fall along with cousins Hamsa and Hersi Kariye.
 
The CBC said another cousin from Minnesota, Hanad Abdullahi Mohallim, was also killed.
 
Hirsi said his son had called him from Egypt to say he was traveling to Syria.
 
Hamsa and Hersi's brother confirmed the two men had died, but did not say how or where. He denied they had traveled to Syria and said instead they went to Egypt to study Islam.
 
"That is the path my brothers wanted to take from day one," he told CBC. "These people left their country to go study their religion."
 
Canada has joined the US-led campaign against Islamic State, which has taken over large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.
 
Last week, three were arrested in Canada over "serious" potential threats, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said Tuesday.

Syrian Jihadists Shoot Woman in Town Square for 'Adultery'

Category: Islam
Created on Sunday, 18 January 2015 07:48
Syrian Jihadists Shoot Woman for AdulteryAl-Qaeda-linked terrorists have publicly executed a woman accused of adultery in northwestern Syria, a monitoring group said Wednesday.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that in total 14 people had been executed for alleged adultery or homosexuality in the war-torn country since July, half of them women.
 
It released a video showing fighters from Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, tying up a woman and shooting her in a square in the town of Maaret Masirin in the province of Idlib.
 
A crowd of civilians and fighters are seen watching, as a jihadist accuses the woman of "corrupting the earth, and adultery." Islamic law views all sex outside marriage as a punishable crime.
 
Other cases of execution documented by the Observatory include a man accused of adultery who was stoned to death by Al-Nusra Front and other Islamist groups in the town of Saraqeb in Idlib.
 
The rival Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist organization is also accused of executing several women and men for alleged adultery or homosexuality.
 
Another Islamist group threw a man thought to be gay off a building in the northern province of Aleppo.
 
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said that more executions might have taken place elsewhere in Syria that were not documented.
 
ISIS has captured large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, declaring a "caliphate" and imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic sharia law.

'Russian Spies' Executed by Child Soldier in Shocking ISIS Video

Category: News
Created on Friday, 16 January 2015 19:31
ISIS child executioner - ScreenshotA shocking video posted online Tuesday appears to show ISIS using a young child soldier to execute two alleged Russian spies in Syria.
 
The slickly-produced video - which bears all the hallmarks of previous ISIS propaganda productions - shows two men being interrogated in Russian about their alleged attempt to infiltrate the jihadi group on behalf of Russia's FSB spy agency.
 
In the forced confession one of the men, a Kazakh national, says he was ordered to gather intelligence on a particular ISIS leader and use a flash drive to steal sensitive information to pass on to the FSB. The other alleged spy confesses to having been sent to assassinate a senior ISIS commander.
 
Although it is unclear whether their confessions were genuine or not (the confessions were clearly made under duress), the video itself does appear to be authentic - as does its grisly end.
 
After extracting the confessions a burly ISIS fighter previously hidden off-screen appears in the video's final "scene", standing in a field behind the two kneeling suspects and delivering a speech against "disbelievers," a Kalashnikov assault rifle slung across his shoulder. Standing next to him is a young boy with shoulder-length hair, apparently from the Caucuses. The boy, who is no more than nine or ten years old, casually brandishes a pistol.
 
After quoting from the Koran, the adult terrorist adds in Russian: "Allah has gifted the Islamic State's security agency with the apprehension of these two spies... By Allah's grace, they are now in the custody of the lion cubs of the Caliphate."
 
At that point the young boy is gently nudged forward, pistol in hand, and calmly shoots the two men repeatedly inThe young child calmly holds a pistol in his hand the head.
 
The "lion cubs of the Caliphate" is a name given by ISIS to it's child soldiers, which the Islamist terror group regularly shows off in a bid to encourage Muslim parents to indoctrinate their children to become "mujahideen", or "holy warriors".
 
Indeed, the video ends with a scene from a previous ISIS propaganda video released in November, showcasing a training camp for "the next generation" of jihadis. The same young boy features prominently in that video, telling the camera of his ambitions to grow up to "kill infidels" and identifying himself as "Abdullah" from Kazakhstan.
 
A recent study by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) revealed the growing use of children by ISIS both in its propaganda and in military roles, but this is the first such graphic use of a young child in a public execution.

Syria: Turkey is Allowing Terrorists to Freely Cross the Border

Category: News
Created on Friday, 16 January 2015 05:34
IHH 00The Syrian government on Monday accused Turkey of allowing "terrorists" to freely cross the border, after Ankara said the wife of one of the Paris attackers entered Syria from Turkey earlier this month, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
 
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday that the woman, Hayat Boumedienne, arrived in Turkey from Madrid on January 2 before crossing into Syria on January 8, the day after the attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
 
In response, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said that Turkey had aided terrorists who "shed the blood of Syrians and innocent people worldwide".
 
Damascus called on the international community "to stop Turkey's destructive policy," as it put it.
 
Boumeddiene, 26, is the lone remaining suspect wanted in connection with the France terrorism spree, which included a shooting rampage at the Charlie Hebdo satirical news magazine on Wednesday, the killing of a French policewoman Thursday, and a dual hostage crisis in a printing company and a kosher supermarket Friday. 
 
CCTV footage which surfaced on Monday corroborates remarks from Turkish officials Saturday night, who said that Boumeddiene had arrived in Turkey and then made her way to Syria - and that during routine screening of passengers, the couple were flagged by Turkey's Risk Assessment Center and a decision made to maintain surveillance on their movements after landing. 
 
Syria’s comments are a reflection of the deterioration of ties between Syria and Turkey ever since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.
 
Turkey is a strong backer of Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad, whose government views all of its armed opponents as "terrorists."
 
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has several times called on Assad to resign. In August of 2013 Erdogan, then the Prime Minister of Turkey, said that the goal of any military intervention in Syria should be to topple Assad’s regime.
 
The heightened tensions between Turkey and Syria have led to several cross-border incidents, including the explosion of a Syrian mortar in Turkish territory, which killed five civilians.
 
The Turkish army responded by attacking several targets in Syria. Turkey's parliament later gave the government the green light to use military force against Syria if necessary.
 
In another incident, Turkey intercepted a Syrian Airbus A320 flying from Moscow to Damascus and escorted it to the Esenboga Airport in Ankara.
 
Turkey later claimed it had seized "objectionable cargo" aboard the Syrian passenger plane. Syria, in turn, accused Turkey of lying.

Pentagon: Training of Syrian Rebels Could Begin in Spring

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 07 January 2015 06:42
PentagonThe United States military has made progress in its effort to identify moderate Syrian rebels to train for the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists and a U.S. training mission could begin this spring, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
 
Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, welcomed statements from Ankara indicating Turkey and the United States plan to conclude a deal this month on training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels, part of the campaign to counter Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria.
 
Kirby said Major General Michael Nagata, commander of U.S. special operations forces in the Middle East, was in the process of talking with Syrian opposition groups in an effort to identify individual recruits to train and equip.
 
"I think if we continue to make the progress that we're making now, that we believe that we could start conducting some training of moderate opposition by early spring," Kirby told a news conference, according to Reuters.
 
The United States began conducting air strikes against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria last year after the group overran part of northwestern Iraq and Baghdad asked for Washington's assistance.
 
President Barack Obama has authorized more than 3,000 U.S. troops to advise and assist Iraqi forces and to train 12 brigades of Iraqi troops, including three from the Kurdish peshmerga forces.
 
He also approved a mission for the American military to train and equip a moderate force of Syrian rebels to counter Islamic State terrorists active in Syria, which is in the midst of a civil war between President Bashar al-Assad and his opponents.
 
The Pentagon hopes to be able to train about 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels a year for three years. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have agreed to host training sites for the rebels, but Kirby did not specify where the training might start.
 
Even before ISIS gained power in Syria and Iraq, there have been calls on the West to arm the rebels in order to help them fight Assad’s forces. Small-scale weapons aid and some military training has already been supplied to select rebel groups, along with "non-lethal" aid such as medical supplies and other equipment.
 
More extensive assistance has been ruled out, due to fear that jihadist rebel groups, such as ISIS and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, might get their hands on these weapons.
 
House Republicans recently started working on legislation that would keep the Obama administration on a short leash when it comes to arming and training Syrian rebels.
 
The legislation would require the Obama administration to send a progress report to Congress every 90 days if the arming and training is approved.

Syria Complains to UN: McCain Violated Our Sovereignty

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 06 January 2015 19:28
John McCainhas complained to the United Nations (UN) about several officials who, it claims, entered the country without visas in violation of its sovereignty.
 
These include Republican Senator John McCain, former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith, according to Reuters.
 
Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the 15-member Security Council to pressure governments to take "the necessary measures against their nationals who enter Syrian territory illegally."
 
"Such actions are a blatant violation of Syria's sovereignty and of the resolutions of the Security Council concerning Syria," Ja'afari wrote in a letter dated Dec. 30 and seen by Reuters on Monday.
 
He complained generally about "certain journalists and prominent figures" entering Syria illegally but singled out McCain for entering Syria in June 2013. McCain visited Syria in May 2013 and met with some Syrian rebels, his spokesman said at the time.
 
Ja'afari also cited Kouchner for visiting in November 2014, Galbraith for traveling to Syria in December 2014 with other U.S. political and military leaders, and former Kuwaiti politician Walid al-Tabtaba'i for entering Syria in September 2013.
 
McCain, been a vocal opponent of President Barack Obama's Syrian policy, has in the past repeatedly called for his country to take action in the civil war in Syria, saying that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will make no effort to end the country’s civil war as long as he is winning on the battle field.
 
Syria has used the tactic of complaining to the UN over “violation of its sovereignty” in the past, including complaining against Israel over alleged airstrikes in the country.

ISIS Holds 'Surprise' Public Amputation for Convicted Thief

Category: Islam
Created on Wednesday, 24 December 2014 20:29
ISIS - Public Amputation for Convicted ThiefThe Islamic State (IS), which has firmly established itself as the ruling entity in a large portion of Syria and Iraq, has recently begun instituting Shari'a Islamic law as the law of the land – in its full and literal sense.
 
According to classic Islamic law, a thief must have his right hand cut off – and last Friday, that is exactly what IS representatives did in the town of Al-Bab in northern Syria, near Aleppo. In a “surprise” event, members of the congregation of the town's main mosque (attendance at services is mandatory) were directed to the town square, where a large platform had been erected.
 
On the platform was a table, containing a knife, bandages, and what appeared to be medicines. An individual convicted of theft was brought to the platform and was held forcibly still by police officers. A large individual – the “hatchet man” - quickly grabbed the knife and cleanly cut off the thief's hand. A doctor quickly bandaged the victim's bleeding stump.
 
Friday's incident was just one of dozens IS has announced in recent weeks, delineating the crime and offense against Islamic law, and the punishment. So far, adulterers and homosexuals have been stoned or thrown off the roof of buildings, thieves have had hands and/or legs cut off, Muslims not deemed to be “religious” enough – goofing off during prayers, for example – have been whipped in public, and so on.
 
With that, witnesses in the IS-held areas said that fighters for the group were recently given an official religious ruling that stated that they could take women and girls who were not Muslims as their “sex slaves.” The men and boys, of course, are killed.

ISIS Establishing Itself as Political Entity in Every Way

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 24 December 2014 13:23
Islamic State terrorists paradeSince the terrorist organization Islamic State (ISIS), which controls wide expanses of territory in Syria and Iraq, proclaimed a worldwide Islamic caliphate in June, it has gradually formed into a fledgling political entity. 
 
The latest propaganda video distributed by Islamic State presents footage of the General Services Department in the al-Raqqah region of Syria. This department is responsible for providing government services to the public. 
 
In the video, teams of local government members, working on behalf of Islamic State inspectors, prepare flour and wheat to make bread to distribute to local residents.
 
ISIS has been able to develop into more than just a terrorist militia, primarily through the takeover of existing government institutions in Syria and Iraq and their subordination to the new Islamic regime.
 
Some of the institutions in al-Raqqah include the Communications Department, which oversees the management of postal services and contacts.
 
Another, the Electricity Department, is responsible for repairing power lines and electrical water pumps. One of its first projects was providing power to villages around al-Raqqah. 
 
Other local departments manage infrastructure work in the public domain, such as the maintenance and cleaning departments, as well as oversee the licensing of motor vehicles. 
 
These departments work in conjunction with other government systems operated by Islamic State. Those include the education system, which is engaged in creating a new generation taught on the values of jihad, and the health system. 
 
The other major government system is the Islamic legal system which enforces law and order through security forces and morality police. 

Rival Syrian Rebels Clash over War Booty

Category: Islam
Created on Monday, 22 December 2014 06:56
Syrian TerroristsDespite facing common enemies in the Assad regime and Islamic State/ISIS terrorist group, Syrian rebels appear as fractured as ever.
 
As Syria's bloody civil war continues to rage on with no end in sight, a recent video obtained and translated by MEMRI offered an insight into the tensions simmering between different rebel battalions - including rival Islamist groups.
 
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The video shows an angry group of fighters from several allied battalions belonging to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) - a loose coalition of rebel groups - clashing with members of Al Qaeda's Nusra Front. 
 
The FSA fighters were led by Sharif Al-Safouri, Commander of the Haramain Battalion, who claimed that Nusra fighters had stolen war booty taken from Assad regime troops.
 
"As we were loading the booty taken from the Bashar Al-Assad regime... We in the Haramain Battalion were loading the booty, along with the Murabiteen Battalion and the Al-Sabatten Battalion. Then we were attacked by Jabhat Al-Nusra people, who brandished their weapons in our faces," he says. "They brandished their weapons at their Muslim brothers. Everybody here can attest to that."
 
After a brief tussle with a masked Nusra Front fighter Al-Safouri can be heard shouting: "Aren't we Muslims?! Aren't we Muslims?! They are not our brothers. Anyone who points his gun at me is no brother of mine."
 
"See what kind of foreign fighters have come to our aid... They point their guns at their Muslim brothers," he adds sarcastically of the Nusra fighters, many of whom are non-Syrians.
 
At one point other commanders direct the camera to the Nusra commander, calling for him to be punished.
 
Despite the angry protests it appears that the detachment of Nusra fighters were able to make off with the weapons - an illustration of just how much more powerful the Al Qaeda affiliate is than many other rival rebel groups.
 
In fact, according to MEMRI, the angry exchange backfired completely on Al-Safouri, who was arrested by Nusra and forced to "confess" to being a collaborator with Israel - a charge which could result in his execution.

UN Attempt to Save Jewish Sites from ISIS - Too Little Too Late?

Category: Press Releases
Created on Monday, 08 December 2014 14:57
Wall fresco from ancient -Dura Europos- synagogue in Syria - ReutersLast week, a UNESCO conference was hastily convened at its Paris headquarters to discuss what can be done to preserve what's left of heritage sites in Iraq and Syria. The iconoclastic jihadists of Islamic State - or Da'esh (ISIS) - had captured a region in northern Iraq which contained 15 percent of Iraq's registered archaeological sites. Believing that shrines ought to be destroyed lest they encourage idol-worship, they have already blown up or burnt to the ground shrines such as the tombs of Jonah and Seth, Christian churches and Shi'a mosques. 
 
Like most UN agencies, UNESCO has blown hot and cold towards Israel and the Jewish people. On the one hand it has admitted Palestine as a member and backed Palestinian claims to Jewish holy sites like Rachel's tomb. On the other it has named Tel Aviv "creative city for media arts". On the one hand, it hosted an exhibition on "the Holy Land." On the other had it insisted that the word Israel not appear in the title and that "politically incorrect" aspects of the Jewish state, like wars and Jewish refugees from Arab lands, were left out.
 
But this time, UNESCO had made a point of including the Jews in its conference. The UNESCO director-general, Irina Bokova, has  condemned the destruction in May 2014 of the Jobar synagogue near Damascus, which, legend has it, goes back to the time of Elijah the Prophet.
 
When a JJAC delegation, accompanied by CRIF, the body representing French Jews, submitted a list of 100 endangered Jewish sites to Mrs Bokova in June, she lent a sympathetic ear. And when Professor Shmuel Moreh, who has worked long and hard for the preservation of ancient Jewish sites in Iraq made his case, Mrs Bokova  - or her aides - were listening. Professor Moreh was flown over from Israel to be a special guest at the conference, along with representatives of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen and Yazidis.
 
Mrs  Bokova herself has said: "Culture and heritage are not about stones and buildings - they are about identities and belongings."
 
A conflict against culture is by extension an effort to erase the identity of a people, especially vulnerable non-Muslim minorities.
 
No doubt, Irina Bokova's heart is in the right place, but when I arrived in the imposing glass and concrete building, the institutional bias was there in subtle ways. 
 
An exhibition of photographs in the foyer called "Palestine and Jerusalem" marked "International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian people". The photographs were taken by the French order of the Dominican friars at the turn of the 20th century. To judge by the images on display, Palestine was a pastoral land of monasteries and Arab shepherds, processions of Muslim and Christian pilgrims. Not a Jew in sight - yet we know that Jerusalem then had a Jewish majority. So much for not "erasing a people's identity".
 
Mrs Bokova opened the proceedings by thanking Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for funding the conference. (No one appreciated the irony that Saudi Arabia had not exactly preserved its own heritage itself - having destroyed Muhammed's house and other ancient sites).
 
In both Syria and Iraq, she observed, Islamic State have demolished, pillaged and dug up archaeological sites, sometimes with bulldozers, and sold relics on the international black market in order to finance their malevolent deeds. She called for "cultural zones" to be established, starting with the great Umayyad mosque in Aleppo.
 
Conference speaker after speaker called for good neighbourliness and respect. The UNESCO motto was a mantra: "It is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed." Education was the answer.
 
A cynic might ask: what planet do they live on? "Cultural zones" when people were starving? "Civic identity to be built from the bottom up" when people were being beheaded? "Good neighborliness and respect" when people were being sold into slavery?
 
One Syrian parliamentarian called for  refugees to return from exile to claim their heritage. But when the neighbors have been ethnically cleansed, as the Jews had been from Syria and Iraq, with no prospect of return, who will speak up for their heritage? Who would ensure that when the time came to rehabilitate and renovate, traditional Jewish shrines such as the most revered of all, Ezekiel's tomb, would not be turned into mosques?
 
It was already happening. The Hebrew inscriptions had been removed from the renovated tomb of Joshua the High Priest near Baghdad. Loudspeakers had already been affixed to Ezekiel's tomb, and Koranic inscriptions hung on the walls. Who would ensure that the original character of the shrine would be retained?
 
And if objects stolen from minority communities are recovered in the West, why should they be sent back to the Syrian or Iraqi governments? As the saga of the Iraqi-Jewish archive demonstrated - the personal possessions and mementos confiscated from their Jewish owners by Saddam Hussein and shipped for restoration to the US - they should be restituted not to governments, but  to the community which has been displaced.
 
Beyond the expression of high-minded sentiments, none of these questions were answered. 
 
In one important respect the conference might achieve results: museum chiefs declared they would treat with suspicion any artifacts offered to them from the Middle East, and would conduct "due diligence" checks as far as possible. But private collectors were less likely to be circumspect about the provenance of items. The international art market was a  vessel  too leaky to render watertight.
 
It is tempting to conclude that organisations like UNESCO, which were founded on the pillars of intergovernmental law, seem well past their sell-by date in a world where non-state actors ride roughshod over "kaffir" international treaties and conventions. Even before the era of Islamic state, neither Syria nor Iraq were signatories to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of armed conflict.
 
The great and the good gathered on that foggy day in Paris were right: education was the answer. But it would take many generations to instil respect for the Other. Too late for the Jews of Iraq and Syria, at any rate.
 
Lyn Julius is a journalist and blogger and helped found Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa

Jihad's Not All It's Cracked Up to Be

Category: News
Created on Monday, 08 December 2014 12:48
ISIS terroristA series of letters from French nationals, who have left home to join the terrorist group Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, were published recently by the Le Figaro newspaper.
 
The letters offer a rare glimpse into the lives of these unhappy militants - some even begging to come home - whose complaints range from the practical to the absurd. 
 
"I'm fed up. My iPod doesn't work anymore here. I have to come back," wrote one Frenchman, complaining about his mission in Syria. 
 
"I've basically done nothing except hand out clothes and food," another militant wrote, exemplifying a common complaint - unhappiness with the duties these fighters been ordered to carry out. 
 
This militant in particular wants to return to France from Aleppo, Syria, citing his work and the coming winter. "I also help clean weapons and transport dead bodies from the front. Winter's arrived here. It's begun to get really hard."
 
Another militant wrote: "I'm fed up. They make me do the washing up."
 
And yet another letter revealed how one man objected to being sent to the frontline of fighting; his protests were ignored. "They want to send me to the front, but I don't know how to fight."
 
There are approximately 376 French nationals currently fighting in Syria, according to The Telegraph. Of about 100 jihadists who have actually returned to France, 76 are serving time in prison. 
 
Despite the high chance of being thrown into French jail, many nationals are beginning to leave ISIS behind. 
 
"Everyone knows that, the longer these people stay there, the worse it will be because having watched or committed atrocities, they become ticking time bombs," a lawyer was quoted as saying in Le Figaro.
 
"But, when it comes to having a discussion about whether France is ready to accept repentants, no politician is willing to take the risk. Imagine if one of these ex-jihadis(ts) is involved subsequently in an attack?" 
 
Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, told Al Arabiya News  that the fundamental reason for the spike in foreign nationals traveling to Syria and Iraq was their “sense of anomie” (a sociological condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals). 
 
But, Khashan added, “after spending time fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria, they came to a conclusion that no matter how bad in their opinion their life was in the West, it still remains much better to what they are currently encountering."
 
“This is a wakeup call for them, probably, and it might as well open new horizons for them once they get back… Western countries need to treat this phenomenon as a psychological case rather than as a criminal issue,” he concluded.

Jihadists Using Cruise Ships to Reach Syria, Warns Interpol

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 11 November 2014 06:05
cruiseshipWould-be jihadists have been travelling on cruise ships to reach conflict areas in the Middle East, Interpol said Thursday, according to the BBC.
 
The international police body said some of those trying to join groups in Iraq and Syria had used cruise lines to get to countries including Turkey.
 
It said checks to passenger lists should be extended from airlines to cruise operators before the issue became more of a problem.
 
No figures were put on how many militants had travelled in this way, noted the BBC.
 
Speaking in Monaco, Interpol's outgoing chief, Ronald Noble, said countries should conduct checks on all passengers using airports "and, more and more, cruise lines".
 
The Turkish authorities say they have deported hundreds of suspected foreign jihadists in recent months after detaining them at airports and bus stations.
 
Interpol's director of counterterrorism, Pierre St. Hilaire, told The Associated Press (AP) that this had led prospective fighters to make alternative travel arrangements in an effort to avoid detection.
 
"Because they know the airports are monitored more closely now, there's a use of cruise ships to travel to those areas," he said.
 
Regular stops at ports in the region would allow prospective fighters to disembark undetected and make their onward journey to Syria or Iraq untracked by security agencies.
 
"There is evidence that the individuals, especially in Europe, are travelling mostly to [the Turkish coastal town of] Izmit and other places to engage in this type of activity," St. Hilaire told AP.
 
Interpol officials said the jihadist use of cruise ships had emerged only in the "past three months or so".
 
A recent United Nations report estimated there were 15,000 foreign jihadists from more than 80 countries fighting with the Islamic State (ISIS) and other extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.
 
Although the report itself did not mention the names of the countries from which foreign fighters are coming, it has been widely published that recruits are coming mainly from countries like France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Twin Car Bombs Kill 18 in Syria's Homs

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 02 October 2014 07:34
Car bomb illustrationTwin car bomb explosions in the central Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday killed at least 18 people, mostly children, and wounded 40 others, AFP reported, citing the state news agency SANA.
 
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the same toll in the double bombing in the Akrameh neighborhood of Homs.
 
The group said the death toll could rise as body parts were still being collected from the scene and several of the wounded were in serious condition.
 
“Two terrorist explosions near the Akrameh al-Makhzumi school and the Zaim hospital caused deaths and injuries,” Syrian state television reported.
 
The neighborhood is home to a majority of Alawites, members of the same offshoot of Shiite Islam to which President Bashar Al-Assad belongs.
 
The district has been targeted more than once before, including on June 19, when at least six people were killed in a car bomb attack.
 
In April, two car bombs in Homs killed at least 25 people, including women and children, this time in the neighborhood of Karam al-Luz, which is also mostly made up of Alawites.
 
Homs was once dubbed “the capital of the revolution” against Assad. Most of the city, except the battered district of Waar, has returned to regime control after two years of bombardment and siege.
 
Some 1,400 civilians were able to leave the area earlier this year under UN supervision.
 
Over the past few months, focus has shifted away from the civil war in Syria and onto the “Islamic State” (IS or ISIS), which has taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq.
 
A coalition led by the United States, having already launched airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, has also begun airstrikes against the group’s targets in Syria.
 
Speaking to the UN General Assembly this week, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem appealed to the world to fight back against ISIS.
 
Muallem said that his country supported all efforts to fight terror, adding that any attacks on the Islamists needed to ensure that Syrian citizens remained safe.

Head of Al-Nusra Front Warns West: You Will Pay

Category: News
Created on Monday, 29 September 2014 10:38
Head of Al-Nusra FrontThe head of Syria's Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front on Sunday said U.S.-led air strikes will not defeat Islamists in Syria and warned against retaliatory attacks against Western countries, Reuters reports.
 
Abu Mohamad al-Golani, in an audio message posted on pro-Nusra jihadi forums, urged European and U.S. citizens to denounce the U.S. actions if they wanted to keep out of the war.
 
"Muslims will not watch while their sons are bombed. Your leaders will not be the only ones who would pay the price of the war. You will pay the heaviest price," he said, warning that the battle would be brought "to the hearts of your homes".
 
"You should protect yourselves from this war by standing against the decisions of your rulers and stop them from bringing you the woes (of war)," he added, according to Reuters.
 
The United States has been carrying out strikes against “Islamic State” (IS) fighters in Iraq since August 8. It opened a new front on September 23, launching airstrikes in neighboring Syria.
 
Al-Golani’s threats came a day after a spokesman for Al-Nusra denounced U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria and threatened to retaliate against Western and Arab countries that took part.
 
"We are in a long war. This war will not end in months nor years. This war could last for decades," group spokesman Abu Firas al-Suri said.
 
"It's not a war against Nusra Front, it's a war against Islam,” he added.
 
IS and the Al-Nusra Front share the same ideology and rigid Islamic beliefs, but they fell out during a power struggle and have been battling each other this past year.
 
Nusra Front is now coming under pressure from its own members to reconcile with Islamic State and join forces to fight what they describe as a "crusader" campaign against Islam.
 
Al-Nusra Front, whose leader pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, has been heavily involved in the fighting in Syria as well as in neighboring Lebanon, where it has claimed responsibility for several bombings and has also threatened local Sunnis.
 
Most recently, members of the group kidnapped 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers and threatened to try them under Islamic law before ultimately releasing them.
 
At least 50 fighters from the group were killed in the first wave of U.S.-led attacks in Syria last Tuesday, a British-based monitoring group said, according to Reuters.
 
The air assault is also believed to have killed Mohsin al-Fadhli, the leader of another al-Qaeda linked organization, the Khorasan group, which worked in league with the Al-usra Front.
 
Golani did not directly mention Fadhli, but said the air attacks had killed fighters whose "loss would be felt on the whole war, not just on the Front", making clear that they had suffered a significant setback.

Al-Nusra Front Threatens Western Countries

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 28 September 2014 19:54
FlagThe Al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel group Al-Nusra Front on Saturday denounced U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria and threatened to retaliate against Western and Arab countries that took part, Reuters reported.
 
"We are in a long war. This war will not end in months nor years. This war could last for decades," group spokesman Abu Firas al-Suri was quoted as having said.
 
"It's not a war against Nusra Front, it's a war against Islam,” he added in an audio message published on the group's social media network in its first reaction since the launch of the U.S.-led strikes on Tuesday.
 
The airstrikes that include some Gulf and European nations killed scores of Al-Nusra fighters in an attack on a base in a rebel held area of northwestern Syria on the first day of the military campaign, according to Reuters.
 
"These countries have done a despicable act that will put them on the list of those targeted by jihadist forces all over the world," the spokesman said.
 
The United States has been carrying out strikes in Iraq since August 8 and in Syria, with the help of Arab allies, since Tuesday. It says the campaign is aimed at "degrading and destroying" Islamist terrorists who have captured swathes of both countries.
 
Al-Nusra Front, whose leader pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, has been heavily involved in the fighting in Syria as well as in neighboring Lebanon, where it has claimed responsibility for several bombings and has also threatened local Sunnis.
 
Most recently, members of the group kidnapped 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers and threatened to try them under Islamic law before ultimately releasing them.

One of Oldest Known Synagogues Seized by ISIS in Syria

Category: Islam
Created on Tuesday, 23 September 2014 19:26
Wall fresco Dura Europos synagogue in SyriaIslamic State (ISIS) jihadists not only threaten the current Middle East - according to antiquities officials in Iraq and Syria, the terror group threatens to erase 5,000 years of history and relics in upper Mesopotamia, including one of the earliest Jewish synagogues.
 
Much of northern Iraq and eastern Syria, which is rich in the archaeological remains of numerous ancient civilizations, is now under the iron fist of ISIS which has been destroying pagan idols as well as selling relics on the international black market to raise funds, reports Associated Press (AP).
 
Syrian Director-General of Antiquities and Museums Maamoun Abdulkarim says looting from archaeological sites in the country has gone up tenfold since early 2013, with ISIS seizing numerous important ancient sites.
 
Aside from destroying pagan statues from the Assyrian period in Tell Ajaja, Abdulkarim noted the 2,300-year-old city of Dura Europos has come in for particularly intense looting.
 
The ancient city lies near the Iraqi border on a cliff overlooking the Euphrates River, and has fallen into ISIS hands; satellite imagery from April shows numerous holes from looter digs littering the site.
 
Images show hundreds of people, including gunmen, taking part in the excavations from dawn until night in many cases. Abdulkarim notes dealers are present, and "when they discover an artifact, the sale takes place immediately. They are destroying entire pages of Syrian history."
 
One of the earliest known Jewish synagogues is located at Dura Europos along with numerous pagan temples and churches, making the digging particularly troubling.
 
The fate of the synagogue, which was discovered in 1932 and dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 CE, remains unknown.
 
Meanwhile in Iraq Qais Hussein Rashid, head of the country's Museums Department, reveals that ISIS captured 1,800 of Iraq's 12,000 registered archaeological sites when they seized the northern city of Mosul and Ninevah province in June. They have since captured even more as they pushed south to Baghdad.
 
ISIS has control of four ancient cities, Ninevah, Kalhu, Dur Sharrukin and Ashura, which were capitals of the Assyrian Empire that arose around 2,500 BCE. In Kalhu, reliefs in the grand palace of Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II from the 9th century BCE have been heavily looted to be sold on the black market.
 
Other casualties of the brutal Islamic group in the Mosul area were the tombs of the Jewish Biblical prophets Jonah and Daniel in July; Jonah's tomb reportedly dated from the 8th century BCE.
 
After destroying Jonah's tomb, thieves are thought to have dug into an unexcavated palace in Ninevah that was located underneath the tomb, according to Rashid who cited local antiquities officials still in Mosul.
 
The UN's cultural agency UNESCO has been taking steps to try and guard Iraq's relics, with Nada al-Hassan of UNESCO's World Heritage Center telling AP "we are very, very, very concerned that the situation could be aggravated in a way that causes more and more damage."

Islamic State Conquering Syria's Turkish Border

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 23 September 2014 19:09
Islamic State terroristThe brutal Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group has been conquering massive swathes of Syria and Iraq, and recently extended a foothold in Lebanon - now the push of the group's over 30,000 jihadsts has brought them to the very gates of Turkey in Syria's north.
 
Fierce fighting between ISIS and Kurdish forces Thursday night ended with the jihadists conquering 21 northern Syrian villages in 24 hours.
 
The ISIS fighters also beseiged the Kurdish city Ayn al-Arab (Kobani in Kurdish) located a mere 12 miles from the Turkish border, reports Al Jazeera as cited by Walla!.
 
The reported added that ISIS conquered large parts of the nearby city Jarabulus, also located right by the Turkish border on the Euphrates River.
 
In conquering the villages IS reportedly attacked with heavy weaponry including tanks, according the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
In response to the encroaching ISIS jihadists around 3,000 Syrian Kurds, mostly women and children, fled to the Turkish border on Thursday night, where they were left waiting Friday on the Syrian side opposite the Turkish village of Dikmetas near Ayn al-Arab, reports Reuters.
 
Their fears of the approaching ISIS terrorists are well founded, given the brutal torture the terrorists have been subjecting women and children to in the region.
 
"We're ready to help our brothers who are building up at the borders regardless of their ethnicity, religion and sect. But our priority is to deliver aid within Syria's borders," said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Thursday night, noting his aversion to letting in the Kurdish refugees.
 
Hours later on Friday Turkey finally relented, letting hundreds of Syrian Kurdish refugees into the country. Their entry was reportedly broadcast on Turkish TV.
 
The decision to temporarily keep out the Kurds may raise eyebrows given the fact that Turkey reportedly let 21 Gaza residents wounded in Operation Protective Edge into the country Thursday night for medical treatment, according to the Turkish Anatol as cited by Walla!.
 
Several senior Turkish officials reportedly were presented at the airport in Turkey to greet the wounded.
 
Some of Turkey's opposition to letting in the Syrian Kurds may be due to the fact that Kurds in Turkey have been at odds with the government, pushing for their own state through the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which Turkey has labelled a terrorist organization.
 
On Thursday night the PKK called for Turkish Kurds to help defending the Kurdish towns in northern Syria, but apparently they were denied access on the border as well.
 
It is worth noting that Turkey has recently been mulling a buffer zone with Syria so as to prevent ISIS incursions.

UN: Assad Responsible for More Atrocities in Syria Than ISIS

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 21 September 2014 15:56
United NationsDespite the high-profile and shocking nature of the so-called "Islamic State" and its push through Iraq and Syria, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is still responsible for the majority of war crimes being committed in that country, according to the author of a special UN report into the Syrian civil war.
 
With no end in sight to the three and a half year conflict, a special United Nations panel presented its findings Tuesday in a depressing 17-page report.
 
Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who led the four-person panel, said he had "run out of words to depict the gravity of the crimes committed inside Syria."
 
He noted that the Islamic State, which recently beheaded three western hostages James Foley, Steven Sotloff and David Haines, has similarly subjected countless other Syrian civilians to similar public executions and brutal punishments.
 
The report is based on eyewitness testimonies from Syrians interviewed by the team, hailing from across the country.
 
Pinheiro also highlighted the mass-killings of prisoners of war - as occurred after IS's recent capture of Tabqa airbase in northern Syria - as well as of dissenters and political opponents.
 
Women are particularly vulnerable to abuse at the hands of the Islamist terror group, with several already being stoned to death based on accusations of adultery, or publicly flogged for minor offenses such as walking in the street without a male chaperone.
 
Nevertheless, Pinheiro pointed out that the regime of Bashar al-Assad "remains responsible for the majority of the civilian casualties, killing and maiming scores of civilians daily."
 
Civilians are being slaughtered at the hands of the regime in a variety of ways - from indiscriminate shelling, air raids and "barrel bombings", to shootings and summary executions at the hands of soldiers and pro-government militiamen.
 
Those captured or arrested by the regime were subjected to horrific torture and denied food or water for prolonged periods of time. Female prisoners were regularly raped or otherwise sexually abused.
 
Pinheiro said that the inaction on the part of major world powers to intervene - via the UN Security Council or otherwise - has helped fuel the conflict. It's most recently "beneficiary", he said, was the Islamic State - but the Syrian government has been able to escape justice for its massacres for longer still.

Canadians Held US Journalists Hostage in Syria

Category: News
Created on Friday, 12 September 2014 07:07
Journalists HostageAt least three Canadians who joined Islamic State (IS; formerly known as ISIS) and other Al Qaeda-offshoot groups in Syria were directly involved in abducting and interrogating two US journalists, CBC News confirmed earlier this week.
 
Sources told the Canadian news outlet that the three took part in the imprisonment of Theo Curtis and Matt Schrier, who were held in captivity together between 2011 and 2013. Curtis was abducted in Antakya, Turkey in October 2012 and released last month; Schrier escaped last year. 
 
According to the latest CBC report, the Canadian captors allegedly forced the hostages to hand over their PINs and passwords, draining their bank accounts and then using their emails to callously write letters to the mens' families in their names. 
 
The report also contests a recent Canadian government statement claiming that some 130 citizens have become jihadists in the highly contested region; new data suggests the number is closer to 2-300. 
 
That threat was recently illustrated as two brothers from Calgary were identified as members of the Islamic State's (IS, formerly ISIS) group of foreign fighters in Syria. The two are recent converts to Islam.
 
The report surfaces just days after IS terrorists killed Jewish-American journalist and Israeli citizen Steve Sotloff in a brutal decapitation tape entitled "A Second Message to America." 
 
The tape not only vows death on another journalist - British civilian David Haines - but also threatens the US over its action against the terrorists. 
 
The incident has sparked a worldwide scramble to suppress terrorism in Syria and Iraq, where IS has been taking large swaths of land over the past several months and committing genocide against thousands of ethnic minorities. 
 
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that at least 67 journalists have been killed in Syria where Curtis was being held since the bloody conflict broke out there four years ago, leaving nearly 200,000 dead according to a recent UN report.

Senior Leaders of Islamic State Eliminated in Airstrikes

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 07 September 2014 20:23
Senior Leaders of Islamic State EliminatedThe leadership of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group in Syria and Iraq took a sharp blow on Thursday, as roughly 20 senior figures, including a top aide to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, were killed in airstrikes according to the Iraqi defense ministry.
 
In airstrikes on the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where IS began its blitz conquest of Iraq in June, Baghdadi's top aide was killed along with a senior IS military commander, Abu Alaa al-Iraqi, according to Iraqi sources cited by BBC.
 
It remains unclear if the airstrike was conducted by local US-trained Iraqi forces, or by the US, which has been engaged in a series of targeted airstrikes on IS terrorists in Iraq since last month.
 
IS took a blow in eastern Syria as well, where 18 foreign jihadist senior leaders of the group, including an American jihadist, were killed by an airstrike in the IS-held city of Raqqa according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
The top IS leaders were in the municipal building of Gharbiya, which has been used as a headquarters for the extremist group, when the strike occurred.
 
In yet another airstrike in the eastern Syrian city of Abu Kamal near the Iraqi border on Thursday, an as yet unknown number of IS terrorists were killed according to the human rights group. 
 
During the two airstrikes and the ensuing disorder, a total of 13 IS-held captives were able to escape according to the group.
 
However, IS was not deterred in its campaign of terror, abducting 40 men from the northern Iraqi Sunni town of Hawija in Kirkuk province on Thursday. Residents of the town said they were uncertain why the men were captured, since IS had captured the town without resistance last month.
 
The recent airstrikes in Iraq, if conducted by the US, illustrate the increasing seriousness with which America is considering IS after two US journalists, Steven Sotloff and James Foley, were brutally beheaded in executions filmed and broadcast to the world.
 
After the second journalist was murdered, US Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday warned IS, saying "they should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice. Because hell is where they will reside. Hell is where they will reside."

Syrian Jets Hit Rebels Close to the Israeli Border

Category: News
Created on Friday, 29 August 2014 11:42
Syrian Jets Hit RebelsSyrian jets shelled rebel positions near a border crossing close to the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, rebels and residents told Reuters overnight Wednesday.
 
Al-Qaeda's Syria wing, the Al-Nusra Front, alongside moderate rebel groups who had launched the attack early on Wednesday on the border post were "holding ground" despite the heavy bombardment, according to a source in the Islamist Beit al Maqdis brigade, whose fighters were involved in the fighting.
 
Abu Iyas al Horani, a spokesman for another rebel group operating in the area, told Reuters that at least six rebels were killed in the latest spillover of violence in the area that lies almost 20 kilometers west of the town of Quneitra.
 
The reports of the aerial attacks come hours after two incidents on Wednesday in which fire from the civil war in Syria spilled over to the Israeli side.
 
On Wednesday morning, six mortar shells careened into Israeli territory from the Quneitra area, lightly-to-moderately wounding an IDF officer and causing damage to several vehicles.
 
In response to the mortar shells, IDF artillery fired at a Syrian military position.
 
Later in the day, one Israeli was lightly wounded by tank fire in the area, after a possibly errant shell struck an Israeli community in the region.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 Syrian soldiers and 14 rebel fighters were killed in the clashes between the sides. The organization gathers information from all sides in the Syrian war.
 
The United Nations referred to the shells fired from Syria which hit the Israeli side of the Golan Heights and called on all sides to “exercise restraint”.

ISIS Issues a 'Passport' for its 'Caliphate'

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 13 July 2014 10:30
Caliphate PassportThe Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) declared itself an Islamic "caliphate" last Sunday, and now apparently has begun issuing "passports" to further establish its Jihadist state.
 
ISIS members this week circulated photographs of the supposed passport, which reads "State of the Islamic Caliphate" at the top and at the bottom states "the holder of the passport if harmed we will deploy armies for his services," reports Al Arabiya.
 
Regardless of the likelihood that the passport will be accepted by foreign states after ISIS conquered vast portions of Iraq and Syria, ISIS has said it will distribute the document to 11,000 citizens living in cities near the border of the two countries.
 
ISIS fighters already control a large corridor along the Euphrates River in Syria stretching from the Iraq border, along with Raqa in the north, as well as parts of neighboring Aleppo province. In Iraq, ISIS has captured sizeable territories in the north and west of the conflict-torn country in a lightning offensive last month.
 
With the reports of the passport, ISIS stated its goal is to have a caliphate spreading from Aleppo in Syria's north to Diyala in eastern Iraq.
 
The passport is reportedly being printed in a government facility in Iraq's Mosul, the second largest city in the country which ISIS captured at the start of its blitz offensive. The facility was scheduled by the Iraqi government to start issuing new ID cards next week before being taken over by ISIS, according to reports.
 
An ISIS spokesman on Monday revealed that his organization intends first to deal with "Muslims who have become infidels," and then attack Israel.
 
ISIS last Friday captured a Syrian oil field in the Deir el-Zour province in the east of the country near Iraq, after seizing Syria's largest oil field last Thursday in the same region.
 
It has already amassed great assets in Iraq, seizing Iraq's largest oil refinery, a chemical weapons facility, and becoming the "world's richest terrorist organization" by looting 500 billion Iraqi dinars ($425 million) from banks in Mosul.

Britain's Secret Plan to Arm Syrian Rebels Revealed

Category: News
Created on Monday, 07 July 2014 16:48
Syrian RebelsThe United Kingdom drew up plans to train and equip a 100,000-strong Syrian rebel army to defeat President Bashar Al-Assad, the BBC reported on Thursday.
 
The secret initiative, put forward two years ago, was the brainchild of the then most senior UK military officer, General Sir David Richards.
 
It was considered by Prime Minister David Cameron and the National Security Council, as well as U.S. officials, but was deemed too risky, according to the BBC.
 
Insiders told the BBC that Richards, then chief of the defense staff but since retired from the military, warned Downing Street there were only two ways to end the Syrian civil war quickly - to let Assad win, or to defeat him.
 
With ministers having pledged not to commit British "boots on the ground", his initiative proposed vetting and training a substantial army of moderate Syrian rebels at bases in Turkey and Jordan, according to the report.
 
Cameron was reportedly told the "extract, equip, train" plan would involve an international coalition. It would take a year, but this would buy time for an alternative Syrian government to be formed in exile.
 
Once the Syrian force was ready, it would march on Damascus, with the cover of fighter jets from the West and Gulf allies.
 
The plan envisaged a "shock and awe" campaign, similar to the one that routed Saddam's military in 2003, but spearheaded by Syrians.
 
Throughout the civil war in Syria, there have been calls on the West to arm the rebels in order to help them fight Assad’s forces. Small-scale weapons aid and some military training has already been supplied to select rebel groups, along with "non-lethal" aid such as medical supplies and other equipment. More extensive assistance has been ruled out, due to fear that jihadist rebel groups, such as the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, might get their hands on these weapons.
 
Last week, officials in Washington said that the Obama administration has proposed a $500 million program to train and equip the moderate opposition fighting in Syria, a plan which the BBC noted was similar to the British plan.
 
A leading Syrian opposition figure recently said that western states could send desperately-needed arms to rebel groups in Syria "within weeks" and a recent report indicated that Obama is close to authorizing a military-led mission to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight the regime and Al-Qaeda-linked groups.

Lebanon is Denying Entry to 'Palestinians' Fleeing Syria

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 06 July 2014 08:14
Syrian refugeesAn Amnesty International report released on Tuesday reveals that Lebanon has been implementing a discriminatory practice, blocking entry for "Palestinians" - descendants of Arab residents who left Israel in 1948 - who are fleeing the bloody conflict in Syria.
 
The report notes that while "Palestinian refugees" from Syria need to meet conditions for temporary residence in or transit through Lebanon, the same conditions are not required from regular Syrians fleeing the war.
 
While the conditions were put in place this May, the human rights watchdog reports that even prior to that date there were different discriminatory conditions for entry.
 
“The Lebanese authorities have displayed a chilling disregard for the rights of refugees who are fleeing a bloody conflict. Absolutely no-one seeking refuge from a conflict should be denied entry; by doing so Lebanon is flouting its obligations under international law,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Head of Refugee and Migrants’ Rights at Amnesty International.
 
In fact, Lebanon apparently is blocking "Palestinian" entry from Syria regardless of the conditions it purports to set as allowing entry.
 
The report revealed a leaked document, apparently issued by Lebanese security services, ordering airlines flying into the Beirut airport not to transport any "Palestinian refugees" from Syria to Lebanon, regardless of the documents they have.
 
Reports show that the discriminatory practice in Lebanon has been in place for a long time. In May, it was reported that 41 "Palestinian refugees" were deported back from Lebanon into the war zone of Syria, where "Palestinian refugee" camps, primarily the Yarmouk camp, have been hit by the violence and by army sieges blocking off food supplies, leading to mass starvation.
 
Lebanon is not alone in its policies; the new Amnesty report notes that Jordan has also barred "Palestinian refugees" since last January, and cited testimony from last year indicating that entrance to Turkey was also harder for them than for regular Syrians.
 
“Unfortunately the new restrictions in Lebanon are only the most recent example of policies that discriminate against Palestinian refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria”, said Sherif Elsayed–Ali.

Syrian Forces Bomb Sunni Targets in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 02 July 2014 07:27
Bombing in Aleppo - ReutersIraqi officials accused Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces of taking advantage of the crisis near Baghdad Wednesday, saying that Syrian warplanes struck several border areas in Anbar province Tuesday. 
 
At least 57 Iraqi civilians were killed and 120 wounded in the attacks, local officials told CNN, in cities controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). 
 
This is not the first time this week Syrian forces have fired into a neighboring country. On Sunday, Syrian forces lobbed a mortar shell into the Golan Heights, killing a 13 year-old boy and seriously wounding a Ministry of Defense civilian subcontractor. Israel responded with airstrikes. 
 
If true, the report would indicate an even broader spillover of the Syrian Civil War, which has mushroomed since 2011 from a statewide dispute into an all-out Islamic holy war between Sunni and Shi'te groups. 
 
Sabah Karkhout, the head of Iraq's Anbar provincial council, told CNN that Tuesday's airstrikes hit markets and fuel stations in Rutba, al-Walid and Al-Qaim Karkhout said he was certain the warplanes were Syrian because they bore the Syrian flag.
 
"Also, the planes flew directly from Syrian airspace and went back to Syria," he added. 
 
Nickolay Mladenov, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, confirmed Wednesday that the 
 
warplanes that bombed the Iraqi cities were not Iraqi jets, but told reporters he did not have information beyond that.
 
State-based media in Syria called the reports "completely baseless," blaming them on "malicious media outlets." 
 
Meanwhile, the Iraqi military continue to hold the entire area between Samarra and Baghdad, according to several international media outlets, despite constant skirmishes with advancing ISIS forces.
 
The ISIS has already controlled the Iraqi city of Fallujah for five months, and has also led one of the strongest rebel movements fighting Assad in Syria. 
 
This month's offensive has seen the ISIS claim an unprecedented number of victories in a lighting-fast takeover of the flashpoint region. 
 
So far, the Islamists have made a systemic advance from northern Iraq and southward. Several weeks ago, ISIS leaders seized Mosul; just 48 hours later, Tikrit - birthplace of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein - fell to the terrorists.

Susan Rice Hints U.S. Providing Weapons to Syrian Rebels

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 08 June 2014 16:04
Susan RicePresident Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, hinted on Friday that the United States was sending weapons to the Syrian rebels, when she said Washington was taking important steps in Syria by offering both "lethal and non-lethal" aid to the moderate opposition.
 
The comments were made in an interview Rice gave to CNN.
 
“The United States has been the single largest contributor of humanitarian assistance, providing over 1.7 billion dollars,” she said.
 
“That's why the United States has ramped up its support for the moderate vetted opposition, providing lethal and nonlethal support where we can to support both the civilian opposition and the military opposition,” added Rice.
 
The comments appear to confirm recent speculations that Washington was ready to arm the Syrian rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
Small-scale weapons aid and some military training has already been supplied to select rebel groups, along with "non-lethal" aid such as medical supplies and other equipment, but both Congressional caution and a hesitant White House have prevented anything further, mainly due to fear that the jihadist rebel groups would get their hands on any weapons.
 
A leading Syrian opposition figure recently said that western states could send desperately-needed arms to rebel groups in Syria "within weeks" and, last week it was reported that Obama is close to authorizing a military-led mission to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight the regime and Al-Qaeda-linked groups.
 
CNN noted that in a speech last week at West Point, Obama said he wanted to increase support to rebels “who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.”
 
Following that speech, officials said they were working with Congress to approve the increased support. They said lawmakers’ approval might be required under the War Powers Act.
 
Rice said on Friday the United States was working with Syria’s neighbors to help alleviate the dire situation of refugees, as well as working to confront an increasing threat that Syria’s becoming a hotbed for terrorists.
 
“We're working on the counterterrorism challenge because as we have seen there are increasingly emanating from Syria the threat of terrorism to the neighbors and beyond,” she told CNN.
 
“Our efforts are increasing and why we'll remain very much engaged, both in trying to support the Syrian people and trying to support the Syrian opposition,” she continued.
 
Critics have cited Obama’s record in Syria as evidence of a failed foreign policy, saying his decision to forgo air strikes after Assad deployed chemical weapons displayed weakness to rivals.
 
Rice countered those claims by pointing to still-strong alliances between the U.S. and partner nations.
 
“I don't think the criticism has been fair,” she said. “I think the fact of the matter is we're living in complex times, there are many different challenges that the United States and the world faces. But our leadership is unmatched. Our role is indispensable.”

Assad Wins Third Term

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 04 June 2014 18:07
assad obamaSyria's ongoing major civil war, which has pitted the country's population against each other, has apparently not affected the popularity of President Bashar al-Assad, apparently. Assad has been reelected as President of Syria in an overwhelming electoral victory, with nearly 90% of Syrian voters choosing him for another term.
 
Elections took place for Assad's third term took place Tuesday. Results were announced Wednesday by Syrian election officials, who said that Assad had gotten 88.7% of the vote. According to the officials, 73.4% of Syrians participated in the elections. Out of the 15.85 million eligible voters in Syria, Assad got 11.63 million votes, they said.
 
US Secretary of State John Kerry dismissed the announcement, calling the elections – and Assad - “a big zero.”'
 
"It's a coronation of Assad, it's a celebration of his ability to survive the violent storm and basically go on the offensive," Fawaz Gerges, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, told CNN Tuesday.
 
The New York Times added that observers at the scene include representatives from Syria's allies, many of which are no more democratic than Syria itself - including Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
 
France’s Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, spoke about the elections in Syria and indicated that the whole ordeal is one big “tragic joke.” Fabius said that “Syrians, and only those who live in areas under the government’s control, have a choice to vote for either Bashar or Bashar.”
 
“The reality is exactly what we already knew before the elections began- Syria is a state at war. Above all, Bashar Assad was named by the United Nations Secretary General as one who commits crimes against humanity. A man like Assad cannot represent the future of his nation,” the Foreign Minister told the France 2 television channel. 

Syrian 'Elections' Begin

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 03 June 2014 20:52
Syrian ElectionsPolling stations in Syria opened for presidential elections Tuesday, as political analysts predict that President Bashar Assad will win for a third consecutive presidential term against the backdrop of a bloody civil war. 
 
Six other candidates have now announced their intentions to run against Assad, including the first female presidential candidate; this is the first election in Syria since 1970 to have more than one candidate. 
 
Analysts remain pessimistic over the outcome, however - noting that Syria has a long history of rigged elections, and that Assad won his first term in 1999 with a 99% vote - and maintain that the competition is merely a veneer for legitimacy. 
 
"It's a coronation of Assad, it's a celebration of his ability to survive the violent storm and basically go on the offensive," Fawaz Gerges, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, told CNN Tuesday. 
 
The New York Times added that observers at the scene include representatives from Syria's allies, many of which are no more democratic than Syria itself - including Russia, Iran, and North Korea. 
 
Rigged or real?
 
Assad announced the elections just days after stating that he believed his forces were gaining ground in the war, which so far has killed at least 150,000 people and displaced over one million Syrians. 
 
Assad has consistently insisted that the elections are democratic, despite criticism from rights groups and the EU. 
 
"The Syrian presidency... maintains an equal distance from all candidates in order that Syrians can choose their... president freely and transparently," Assad maintained, in a statement translated by AFP in April. 
 
Syria's Foreign Ministry also responded sharply to the criticism, claiming the decision to hold the election was a "purely sovereign" one and that foreign interference would not be tolerated. 
 
"If these countries, foremost among them the Western nations, are calling for democracy and freedom, then they should listen to the views of Syrians and who they choose through the ballot box," state television quoted the ministry as stating. 
 
On Monday, Syria’s interior minister, Major General Mohammad al-Shaar, called on all Syrians to vote “to express the Syrian people’s aspiration for life and stability and to confront terrorism and sabotage.”
 
He also denied rumors that identification cards and passports would be stamped to create a record that their holders had voted, and reassured a nervous public that the voting would take place in private booths. 
 
Local dissent
 
Meanwhile, Syrian rebels have maintained that the elections are "pointless" - and a distraction from the real issues in Syria and the "tyranny" of Assad's regime.
 
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Syrian refugees - now numbering into the hundreds of thousands and spread in camps throughout Lebanon and Jordan - agree. 
 
"Where are the people who will vote for him?" one Syrian refugee, a resident of a northern Jordan camp, told CNN Monday. "Will the people he killed vote for him? Will the hundreds of thousands he has detained, who have disappeared [vote for him]?"
 
"[Assad] has reduced us to beggars," Hiba, a refugee holding a two-month old baby, added. 
 
Syrians stranded in Lebanon enthusiastically told the Times that they would vote for Assad - some emphatically pledging their loyalty, some musing he was "the lesser of two evils" when compared with Islamists, and others whispering rumors that they would be killed if they returned and had not voted. 
 
Others expressed doubts, however, vowing to boycott the elections based on a simple fact: that polling stations were open in the "no-man's land" at the Syrian-Lebanese border. Many potential voters, wary of being killed or injured after the long journey to refugee camps abroad, decided to stay home. 

State Department Confirms U.S. Citizen Carried Out Syria Attack

Category: News
Created on Friday, 30 May 2014 20:56
A fighter from the Al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front fires a mounted machine gun - ReutersThe United States confirmed on Friday that it believes an American citizen carried out a suicide bombing within Syria, AFP reported.
 
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki did not provide any details about the suspect, who had been identified in a New York Times report as a man in his 20s from Florida and of Middle Eastern descent.
 
"I can confirm that this individual was a U.S. citizen," Psaki said, adding that he was "involved in a suicide bombing inside Syria."
 
According to a video released by supporters of the rebel Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, the American, who was identified by the name Abu Hurayra al-Amriki, carried out a suicide truck bombing in the Syrian town of Idlib.
 
The video, reported by the private terrorism watchdog SITE Intelligence Group, depicts a huge explosion as well as footage of a young, bearded man cradling a cat and identified as the attacker.
 
The bombing is thought to have taken place on Sunday. The New York Times report cited U.S. officials as saying they thought it was the first such suicide attack to have been carried out by an American.
 
Western powers have expressed concern that some of their citizens have traveled to fight in the civil war in Syria, some of them joining extremist groups that might one day seek to strike their home countries.
 
In February it was estimated that at least 50 U.S. citizens are fighting in Syria against Assad, and are liable to bring terrorism back to their home country once the war is over.
 
Other published statistics say that over 75,000 foreign nationals have been fighting in the Syrian civil war. While the majority are from Muslim countries, there are also Russians, Germans, Canadians and French citizens taking part in the fighting.

American Citizen May Have Carried Out Syria Suicide Bombing

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 29 May 2014 11:43
american bomberAn American citizen carried out a suicide bombing in Syria on behalf of an Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group on Sunday, the first time a U.S. citizen has carried out such an attack in the Syrian civil war, NBC News reported on Wednesday.
 
Law enforcement and counterterrorism officials who spoke to NBC on condition of anonymity, confirmed the suicide bombing and said they have identified the American. They declined to release his identity or hometown.
 
Word of the American’s death in the suicide bombing first surfaced Tuesday in tweets from the Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda-linked group fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
The head of Al-Nusra Front has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the group has been blacklisted as a terrorist organization by both the U.S. and the United Nations.
 
According to NBC, the tweets identified the bomber only by his Arabic nom de guerre, “Abu Hurayra al-Amriki,” (Abu Hurayra the American) and said he carried out one of four suicide bombings of Syrian government sites in Jabal al-Arbaa'in in Idlib Province, the scene of heavy fighting in recent weeks and months.
 
The tweet included an image of a young, bearded and smiling Caucasian man holding a cat, as well as images of the bombing it said he had carried out. Another tweet, this one in Arabic, included a photo showing the same light-skinned man sitting on the ground wearing what appeared to be a suicide vest.
 
Separately, a video circulating on jihadi forums showed what appears to be the same man loading artillery shells into a truck bomb and then the bomb exploding in the city.
 
Syrian rebel sources based in London told NBC News that other jihadi tweets suggest the American was of Palestinian Arab descent.
 
The incident is believed to be the first suicide bombing by a U.S. citizen in the Syrian civil war. Three Americans were confirmed to have carried suicide attacks in Somalia on behalf of another Al-Qaeda linked group, Al-Shabaab, between 2009 and 2011.
 
Foreign fighters entering Syria and fighting alongside the rebels has been a great concern for several countries.
 
In February it was estimated that at least 50 U.S. citizens are fighting in Syria against Assad, and are liable to bring terrorism back to their home country once the war is over.
 
Other published statistics say that over 75,000 foreign nationals have been fighting in the Syrian civil war. While the majority are from Muslim countries, there are also Russians, Germans, Canadians and French citizens taking part in the fighting.

Syria Death Toll Tops 160,000 and Counting

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 21 May 2014 08:15
Muslim TerroristThe death toll in Syria’s three-year conflict has exceeded 160,000 and no end is in sight, an activist group said Monday, according to The Associated Press (AP).
 
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it has documented 162,402 deaths since the uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad’s government began in March 2011.
 
The figure includes civilians, rebels and members of the Syrian military, the Observatory said.
 
It also includes militiamen, such as Lebanese Hezbollah members, who have been fighting alongside Assad’s forces, and foreign fighters battling with the rebels for Assad’s ouster, according to AP.
 
The Observatory remains the sole organization providing a reliable tally of Syria’s dead, after  the UN stopped updating its own tally of the Syrian dead, saying it can no longer verify the sources of information.
 
The Observatory bases its tally on information it gets from a network of activists on the ground in Syria. The figures are based on the names of those killed, collected by activists who document the dead in hospitals, morgues and identify them from video materials.
 
The updated tally comes a month and a half after the Observatory said that the death toll had topped 150,000.
 
As the civil war continues, Syria is preparing for a presidential election to take place in June.
 
Campaigning for the June 3 election began last week. Assad, who is competing for his third seven-year term, will face Hassan bin Abdullah al-Nouri, a 54-year-old lawmaker from Damascus, and 43-year-old Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar, a lawmaker from the northern city of Aleppo.
 
Opposition activists and Western countries have condemned the elections as a sham as voting is expected to be held only in government-controlled territory.
 
Assad has dismissed the claims, saying, “The Syrian presidency... maintains an equal distance from all candidates in order that Syrians can choose their... president freely and transparently.”

Huge Tunnel Bomb Kills 30 in Syria

Category: Media
Created on Thursday, 08 May 2014 07:22
40 tons of explosives killed at least 30 Syrian troopsSyrian insurgents attacked a regime checkpoint with 40 tons of explosives on Monday, killing at least 30 Syrian troops, including two officers.
 
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Videos and images posted by opposition supporters online showed an enormous plume of smoke and earth shooting into the air near a small town as men shouted "Allahu akbar".
 
Rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad regularly carry out guerrilla attacks against his forces, but the size of the blast, which occurred on Monday, was unusual.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blast took place outside the town of Ma'arat al-Nu'man in the northwestern Idlib province.
 
To carry out the detonation, 60 fighters dug a 300-meter (325-yard) tunnel, over 50 days, under the Sahaba checkpoint in Wadi al-Deif. Four buildings were destroyed, reported EA Worldview.
 
The operation was carried out by three brigades from the Islamic Front and fighters from the Shields of the Revolution Council, which is linked to the Free Syrian Army.
 
Tunnel bombs by insurgents have destroyed a series of regime positions over the past year, notably in Aleppo. Sources claims that the Syrian military in Aleppo and some areas of Damascus is digging up streets and drilling wells to counter the tactic.

Clashes Erupt Between Jordan, Syria

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 24 April 2014 08:02
Syrian tank file -ReutersJordanian air forces destroyed a number of armored vehicles on Wednesday as they crossed the border from war-torn Syria, increasing fears of the sectarian conflict spilling into new territory after more than three years of civil war. 
 
"Royal air force jets fighters today at 10:30 am (0730 GMT) destroyed a number of vehicles that attempted to cross into Jordan from Syria," the Jordanian army said, noting the vehicles had been warned before the attack. 
 
"The camouflaged vehicles tried to enter from an area with rugged terrain.The fighter jets fired warning shots, but they were ignored, promoting them to destroy the vehicles," it continued. "The army will not tolerate such actions." 
 
A military official told AFP that the rogue Syrian vehicles were "three-wheeled vehicles which tried to enter the kingdom" near Ruwaished, in northern Jordan.
 
According to Al-Arabiya, this is not the first border-related clash between Jordan and Syria. Over the past several months, Jordan's border guards arrested several refugees fleeing the war-torn country and seeking new life in the Hashemite kingdom.
 
Damascus, meanwhile, frequently accuses Jordan of assisting rebel forces - which Amman denies.

Obama May Provide Syrian Rebels with Manpads

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 30 March 2014 17:09
Moderate Syrian RebelsThe Obama administration is considering allowing shipments of new air defense systems to Syrian rebels, a U.S. official said Friday, according to The Associated Press (AP).
 
President Barack Obama’s possible shift would likely be welcomed by Saudi Arabia, which has been pressing the White House to allow the man-portable air-defense systems, known as “manpads,” into Syria.
 
Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Friday for meetings with King Abdullah.
 
Allowing manpads to be delivered to Syrian rebels would mark a shift in strategy for the U.S., which until this point has limited its lethal assistance to small weapons and ammunition, as well as humanitarian aid.
 
The U.S. has been grappling for ways to boost the rebels, who have lost ground in recent months, allowing Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to regain a tighter grip on the war-torn nation.
 
A report in January said that the U.S. had been supplying “moderate” rebel groups with light arms and that Congress had approved funding for months of further deliveries.
 
There has been pressure to arm the Syrian rebels for quite some time, particularly since the U.S. government confirmed that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against rebel forces on multiple occasions, thus violating the “red line” set by President Obama.
 
However, lawmakers were concerned that weapons could reach factions like the Al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
 
Islamist rebel factions such as Al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)  have performed atrocities during the ongoing civil war, including publicly beheading those accused of collaborating with the Assad regime, and even executing members of rival rebel groups.
 
According to Friday’s AP report, if Obama does indeed decide to supply rebels with manpads, the actual manpad shipments could come from the Saudis, who have so far held off sending in the equipment because of U.S. opposition.
 
The president is not expected to announce a final decision on the matter during his overnight trip to the Gulf kingdom, according to the report. U.S. and Saudi intelligence officials have been discussing the possibility of injecting manpads into the crisis for some time, including during a meeting in Washington earlier this year.
 
Rebels said back in June of 2013 they had received Russian-made “Konkurs” anti-tank missiles supplied by Saudi Arabia. Other reports said that the Central Intelligence Agency had begun moving weapons to Jordan from a network of secret warehouses and plans to start arming small groups of vetted Syrian rebels within a month.
 
Earlier this week, Syria's opposition called for "sophisticated" arms at an Arab summit in Kuwait. At the same summit, Saudi Arabia stressed the need for a change in military balance to "end the impasse".
 
The Syrian rebels recently suffered a series of setbacks, particularly after Assad’s troops captured the key town of Yabroud on the Lebanese border from rebel groups.
 
The more moderate rebel groups have also been dealing with attacks from the jihadist rebel groups, who consider fighting the moderates “more important than fighting Jews and Christians

IDF Eliminates Terrorists Near Syrian Border

Category: Press Releases
Created on Friday, 28 March 2014 20:08
Israel-Syria border archive - ReutersIDF soldiers were able to prevent two terrorists from infiltrating into Israel in the Golan Heights, near the border with Syria, on Friday night.
 
According to the IDF, the soldiers identified two suspects tampering with the security fence along the border. It is believed they also tried to place an explosive device. The troops open fired, hitting the two terrorists.
 
"The IDF will continue to protect the border and prevent attacks,” said the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit in a statement quoted by Channel 2 News.
 
Friday’s incident comes only one day after the IDF Northern Command announced that it was changing its orders regarding opening fire in areas along the Golan border fence. Anyone from the Syrian side who comes near the fence should expect to be shot, the IDF said.
 
Previously, soldiers would fire in the air to warn off and ward off suspicious figures. As per the new orders, soldiers will immediately open fire in the direction of suspicious looking characters.
 
There have been heightened tensions along the Israel-Syria border in recent weeks. Last week, an explosive device went off on the Golan Heights, as an IDF jeep was passing by.
 
Three soldiers were wounded in the attack and were taken to the Rambam Hospital in Haifa. One of them sustained serious injuries in the explosion.
 
The Israel Air Force (IAF) retaliated several hours later, striking several targets on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights which had aided and abetted the attack against the soldiers.
 
Two weeks ago, also on a Friday night, an explosive device went off as IDF soldiers patrolled near the Lebanese border. No one was injured in that incident, although three soldiers were treated for shock at Ziv Hospital in Tzfat.
 
The following day, Saturday, IDF soldiers identified several individuals approaching the border in a suspected attempt to set another explosive. The soldiers fired on the suspects, who fled.

Hezbollah Suffers Severe Losses in Syria

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 15 March 2014 22:15
HezbollahfuneralThe Lebanese-based terror group Hezbollah has been active in Syria, fighting on the side of President Bashar Assad. However, that support, which was reportedly forced on Hezbollah by its backer Iran, has come with heavy costs for the terror organization.
 
Over the last several weeks, the fighting for the rebel-held town of Yabroud has left over 120 Hezbollah fighters dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
The Lebanese Daily Star quotes a Hezbollah source saying a total of 500 Hezbollah fighters have died since the group joined the Syrian war, noting that the Yabroud battle marks a drastic increase in losses.
 
Yabroud is located in an important strategic area, as it is the last town giving rebels access to supply lines in Lebanon. The town is in the Qalamoun Mountains, a crucial point of conflict given as it is held by the rebels and is a corridor to the Lebanese town of Arsal.
 
Hezbollah second-in-command Sheikh Naim Qassem in February highlighted the religious sectarianism fueling his group's involvement in Syria, when he attacked Syrian rebels as "takfiris" - a derogatory word for Sunni Muslim extremists.
 
Qassem further pledged his group's ongoing military involvement, signifying that despite the heavy losses the terror organization is likely to continue its military presence in Syria.
 
On another front, two weeks ago Hezbollah threatened revenge against Israel after a transfer of missiles from Syria was destroyed in an air strike. In the threat, Hezbollah warned it would strike at "the appropriate time, place and means."
 
The missiles, destroyed in the strike near the Syrian-Lebanese border, reportedly could carry warheads heavier and more dangerous than almost all of Hezbollah's current massive arsenal.

Head of Syrian Jihadist Group Gives Rivals an Ultimatum

Category: News
Created on Friday, 07 March 2014 04:37
A fighter from the Al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front fires a mounted machine gun - ReutersThe inter-rebel war in Syria is heating up, after the leader of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated rebel group in Syria on Tuesday gave rival jihadists an ultimatum to accept arbitration by clerics or be expelled.
 
The BBC reported that Abu Mohammed al-Golani of the Al-Nusra Front warned the rival Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) that it would be driven from Syria and "even from Iraq" if it did not comply within five days.
 
The threat came after Sunday’s killing of an Al-Qaeda emissary, Abu Khaled al-Suri, at the hands of ISIS rebels.
 
Al-Suri, a commander from the Ahrar al-Sham group who fought alongside Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and was close to its current chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed by a suicide attack carried out by ISIS members.
 
Al-Suri had reportedly been sent to end the clashes between ISIS and other rebels, reported the BBC.
 
The civil war in Syria has attracted many jihadist rebel groups which have been fighting the more moderate rebel groups in what has turned into a second war.
 
In recent weeks, the infighting between rebels has worsened, as three powerful rebel alliances – among them Islamist groups - have teamed up to fight ISIS, which they have warned is even worse than Assad’s regime.
 
ISIS has been accused of several human rights abuses, including torturing and murdering prisoners, among them children and teenagers, and forcing Druze men to convert to Islam or die.
 
In an audio message produced by Al-Nusra's media arm and posted on jihadist websites on Tuesday, Al-Golani said Al-Suri had been a "man who solved problems, not one to create conflicts" and that they had seen each other a few days before his death.
 
"We say to his killers: may your hands perish and your deed be damned. You, those who give you your orders, and those who write your fatwas are wretched, O deceived ones," he said, according to the BBC.
 
Without naming ISIS, Al-Golani denounced those attacking fellow rebels in Syria, using a derogatory term for President Bashar Al-Assad's Alawite sect.

Is Hezbollah About to Withdraw from Syria?

Category: Op-Eds
Created on Sunday, 02 March 2014 07:55
Hizbullah posterHezbollah's military involvement in Syria is now a subject of heated domestic debate in Iran. This debate is being waged against the backdrop of the international refusal to let Iran take part in the Geneva 2 talks on Syria's future, in light of Iran's opposition to the principle of a transitional period leading to Bashar Assad's removal from power.
 
On one side of the debate is the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, which is backed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and favors ongoing military involvement in Syria as one way of advancing Iran's regional ambitions. Those ambitions entail making Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon a sphere of Iranian influence, to which Bahrain and Yemen are eventually to be added.
 
Against the Revolutionary Guards and Khamenei stand President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, who are supported by former president Hashemi Rafsanjani and see the Syrian involvement as an albatross that hampers Iran's efforts at rapprochement with the West – efforts which are primarily aimed at vitiating the sanctions regime that is seriously damaging the Iranian economy.
 
An echo of the struggle in Tehran could be heard at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where Zarif denied that Iran had dispatched Hezbollah to Syria – "We are not sending people, Hezbollah has made its own decision.” Zarif, however, refused to call for Hezbollah's removal from Syria, though he agreed to call on all foreign forces to leave the country. His words, in any case, provoked the rage of the Revolutionary Guards. They are well aware of the Hezbollah leadership's difficult straits in light of the growing military entanglement in Syria and, even more, the recent Salafi bombing attacks on the organization's home base, the Dahiya quarter of Beirut.
 
Although Hezbollah's leaders claim it is fighting in Syria in order to protect Lebanon, Lebanese Shiites are not convinced and Hezbollah's supporters are dubious. Hezbollah has now lost almost 350 men in Syria, not all of whom have been brought back to Lebanon for burial, while the number of wounded has passed a thousand.
 
This puts into question Hezbollah's ability to keep sacrificing its fighters in Syria when its target of jihad is Israel. Moreover, the devastating Salafi terror attacks in Beirut, including an attack on the symbolically charged Iranian embassy, have left Hezbollah helpless to respond.
 
Even more critically, Hezbollah has trouble functioning as a movement when its leaders, operatives, and supporters are busy trying to survive and searching for car bombs. Indeed, Hezbollah is losing the public and popular support that is so important for a movement of its kind.
 
The question of Hezbollah's continued involvement in Syria will not be decided in Lebanon. The heads of the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran, who are aware of the organization's intensifying plight, will have to ponder which is worse – the loss of Hezbollah's power and influence in Lebanon or its removal from Syria, which at this stage would not influence Assad's ability to continue slaughtering his opponents in the Syrian revolt.
 
Above all, the Revolutionary Guards and Khamenei want to preserve Hezbollah's power and status so that it can pursue its principal mission of anti-Israeli jihad. At the end of the day, Hezbollah's entire raison d'être is to be Iran's spearhead in its struggle against Israel.
 
Hence, it appears that the more Hezbollah is battered, the greater will be the pressure on Khamenei to order his representative in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, to significantly scale back the organization's involvement in Syria. Nasrallah will humbly and unquestioningly obey.
 
Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira is a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
 
Brig-Gen.Ret. Dr. Shimon ShapiraBrig-Gen.(Ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira
Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira is a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Bin Laden's Associate Killed by Syrian Jihadists

Category: News
Created on Friday, 28 February 2014 19:04
Syrian JihadistsA Syrian rebel commander who fought alongside Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and was close to its current chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed by a suicide attack on Sunday, Reuters reports.
 
The Observatory for Human Rights in Syria said Abu Khaled al-Soury, also known as Abu Omair al-Shamy, a commander of the Salafi group Ahrar al-Sham was killed along with six comrades by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
 
The Observatory said al-Soury had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Reuters.
 
Al-Soury's death will fuel the infighting among jihadists fighting President Bashar Al-Assad, a violent rivalry that has killed hundreds of fighters in recent months, rebels said.
 
Two rebels told Reuters that five ISIS members had entered Ahrar al-Sham headquarters in Aleppo, engaged its fighters and then one ISIS fighter blew himself up.
 
"Sheikh Abu Khaled was an important jihadi figure, he fought the Americans in Iraq and in Afghanistan. They (ISIL) gave the Americans a present, a free gift, by killing him," a Syrian rebel close to the group told the news agency.
 
The civil war in Syria has attracted many jihadist rebel groups, such as the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS. In addition to fighting Assad’s forces, these groups have been fighting the more moderate rebel groups in what has turned into a second war.
 
These Al-Qaeda-linked groups have been heading to war-torn Syria from many other countries since fighting broke out in 2011.
 
In recent weeks, the infighting between rebels has worsened, as three powerful rebel alliances – among them Islamist groups - have teamed up to fight ISIS, which they have warned is even worse than Assad’s regime.
 
ISIS has been accused of several human rights abuses, including torturing and murdering prisoners, among them children and teenagers, and forcing Druze men to convert to Islam or die.
 

Syrian rebels mourning al-Soury posted his picture on social media accounts. A fighter called for revenge, saying that ISIS had "pushed it too far this time."
 
Al-Soury was born in Aleppo in 1963. A senior rebel source said he had been based in Afghanistan but was sent by Zawahiri to Syria a few months ago on a mission to try to end the infighting, reported Reuters.
 
Sources said that, by killing al-Soury, ISIs had taken the war between jihadist factions to a new level, and that the decision to kill him must have been taken by the high command of ISIS, most probably its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who fell out last year with Zawahiri and the leader of the Al-Nusra Front.

Syrian Jihadists Tell Women: Cover Your Faces or Else

Category: Islam
Created on Sunday, 23 February 2014 09:59
Muslim womenIslamist rebels in eastern Syria have ordered women to put on the Islamic veil, warning that anyone not doing so would be held to account, Reuters reports.
 
According to the report, an organization calling itself the Islamic Law Council of Deir al-Zor said in a statement released Wednesday that women have until Saturday to don the face veil.
 
The group did not say what punishment would befall women who fail to comply with the order.
 
Armed Islamist groups have become the most powerful force in the almost three-year-old uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
"Given that sins are the main reason delaying victory, the legal council in the town of Deir al-Zor is obliged to promote virtue and prevent vice," said the statement posted by an activist on Facebook and also reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
The civil war in Syria has attracted rebel groups with links to Al-Qaeda, such as the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). In addition to fighting President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, these groups have been fighting the more moderate rebel groups in what has turned into a second war.
 
These Al-Qaeda-linked groups have been heading to war-torn Syria from many other countries since fighting broke out in 2011.
 
In recent weeks, the infighting between rebels has worsened, as three powerful rebel alliances – among them Islamist groups - have teamed up to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which they have warned is even worse than Assad’s regime.
 
ISIS has been accused of several human rights abuses, including torturing and murdering prisoners, among them children and teenagers, and forcing Druze men to convert to Islam or die.
 
Last month, the New York-based Human Rights Watch reported that ISIS and another jihadist group, Al-Nusra Front, were enforcing their strict interpretation of Islamic law by requiring women to wear head scarves and full-length robes.
 
Several months ago, ISIS members raided a wedding party in a suburb of Aleppo, which Islamist rebels have declared to be an independent Islamist state, and ordered that music and singing be stopped.
 
The groups’ leader reportedly asked the man in charge of the wedding to memorize a verse of the Quran and attend several religious courses at Al-Qaeda’s center in Maskana, near Aleppo.
 
Some of the Islamist groups have attempted to soften their image in an attempt to win hearts and minds - holding stand up comedy shows and handing out toys to local children.

More than 75,000 Foreign Nationals Fight in Syria

Category: Reports
Created on Monday, 03 February 2014 13:20
Free Syrian Army fighters pose with their weaponsDisturbing statistics have surfaced from Syria Sunday: over 75,000 foreign nationals have been fighting in the Syrian Civil War, according to a local website. 
 
The majority are from majority-Muslim countries or regions - where foreign nationals have been stirred to join by government forces, national-cultural ideologies, and religious fervor. According to the site, 14,000 hail from Chechnya; 12,000 from Saudi Arabia; 11,000 from Iraq; 5,600 from Turkey; 4,400 from Libya; 4,000 from Tunisia; 1,900 from Pakistan; 1,600 from Yemen; and 1,200 from Afghanistan.
 
Statistics show that Israel may be caught up in the effect the foreign nationals - who are being trained to bring terror home with them - could have on the Middle East. Among Israel's neighbors, 9,000 Lebanese, 2,600 Egyptians, and 2,400 Jordanians have joined the war; as have at least 5,000 Palestinian Arabs. 
 
Among Europeans, 750 Russian nationals, 660 Germans, and 450 French citizens have reportedly joined the fight.
 
It is not entirely clear how the statistics were compiled, but they do more or less reflect the kinds of numbers estimated by Western security agencies. On Saturday, French Prime Minister Francoise Hollande claimed that both France and Great Britain had seen up to 700 Muslim citizens each leaving their shores to fight in Syria.
 
While Western countries - especially the US and United Kingdom - have backed the rebel forces during the three year conflict, western states have become uneasy over the growing influence of radical Islamist elements among the rebel movement.
 
Recently, funding for some "extremist" rebel groups has been revoked, but foreign nationals - including many western citizens - continue to pour into Syria, and western security services are concerned about what this means for their own countries' future security. 
 
The West has become so concerned, in fact, that they have reached out to Assad's regime forces over the issue - but no progress has yet been made.
 
In the meantime, eyewitness accounts have confirmed what analysts have long suspected: that Al Qaeda is training Western nationals in the war-torn country to bring fundamentalist Islam - and terrorism - back home with them. 

Junior Jihad: Syrian Rebels Present Four-Year-Old Fighter

Category: Islam
Created on Saturday, 01 February 2014 18:13
Child in Islamic Jihad summer camp in GazaIn the latest alarming evidence of child soldiers being used by Syrian rebel forces, an Islamist brigade linked to Al Qaeda released footage of a four year old it claimed as its youngest recruit.
 
In the video (below), the child - who can barely hold the AK-47 rifle he is firing - lets off two shots to cheers of "Allahu Akbar". The tiny boy is clad in a black ski mask and is forced to rest the barrel of the rifle on what appears to be a section of a roadblock to prevent himself from falling over.
 
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Britain's Daily Mail reported that the child is believed to be the son of an Albanian jihadi, one of thousands of foreign Islamist fighters who have flocked to fight on both sides of the Syrian civil war, which is increasingly being waged as a sectarian conflict between Islam's Shia and Sunni sects.
 
In December, a video by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) illustrated the numerous cases of young Syrian children - often orphans who parents were killed by the Assad regime - fighting among the ranks of the country's various rebel factions.
 
The video comes as French Prime Minister Francois Hollande claimed that both France and the UK had seen up to 700 foreign Islamist fighters from each of their countries leave to fight in Syria.
 
"We have young people who live in our respective countries who are being manipulated, and they are going off to the combat areas," he said after a press conference with his British counterpart David Cameron. "Today we were exchanging figures – 600 to 700 young people are involved in each of our countries."
 
Western security officials are concerned that some of the scores of fighters from Europe and North America could eventually return - radicalized and well-trained - to their native countries and commit attacks there.
 
Earlier this month a report revealed how an Islamist network led by British Muslim extremist Anjem Choudary was actively recruiting young British Muslims to fight in Syria, under the noses of British authorities.

Congress Approves 'Light Weapons' to 'Moderate' Syrian Rebels

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 23:48
Moderate Syrian RebelsLight arms supplied by the United States are flowing to "moderate" Syrian rebel factions in the south of the country, officials said on Monday, according to Reuters.
 
American funding for months of further deliveries has been approved by Congress, U.S. and European security officials cited in the report said.
 
The weapons, most of which are moving to non-Islamist Syrian rebels via Jordan, include a variety of small arms, as well as some more powerful weapons, such as anti-tank rockets, according to Reuters.
 
The deliveries do not include weapons such as shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, known as MANPADs, which could shoot down military or civilian aircraft, the officials said.
 
The weapons deliveries have been funded by the U.S. Congress, in votes behind closed doors, through the end of government fiscal year 2014, which ends on September 30, two officials said.
 
The apparently steady weapons flow contrasts with the situation last summer, when lethal U.S. aid to the Syrian rebels dried up for a time due to congressional reservations.
 
Congressional committees held up weapons deliveries for months over fears that U.S. arms would not prove decisive in the rebels' efforts to oust President Bashar Al-Assad and his government and could well end up in the hands of Islamist militants.
 
A U.S. official familiar with recent developments said national security officials and members of Congress are more confident that weapons delivered to southern Syria are going to, and remaining in, the hands of moderate rebels rather than militant jihadist factions.
 
Congress approved funding for weapons deliveries to the Syrian rebels in classified sections of defense appropriations legislation, two sources familiar with the matter said. It was not clear when the funding was approved, but unclassified defense funding passed Congress in late December.
 
There has been pressure to arm the Syrian rebels for quite some time, particularly since the U.S. government confirmed that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against rebel forces on multiple occasions, thus violating the “red line” set by President Obama. This confirmation came even before the major chemical attack near Damascus in August, which killed hundreds
 
The U.S. said at the time that it will increase the “scope and scale” of its assistance to rebels in Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.
 
However, lawmakers were concerned that weapons could reach factions like the Al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
 
Islamist rebel factions such as Al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)  have performed atrocities during the ongoing civil war, including publicly beheading those accused of collaborating with the Assad regime, and even executing members of rival rebel groups.
 
In recent days, the fighting between ISIS and other Syrian rebels has escalated, with hundreds having been killed in the fighting between rival groups.
 
Officials who support providing U.S. arms to the rebels acknowledged that the latest approval of arms has not greatly increased U.S. expectations of victory by anti-Assad forces, whether moderate or militant.
 
"The Syrian war is a stalemate. The rebels lack the organization and weapons to defeat Assad; the regime lacks the loyal manpower to suppress the rebellion. Both sides' external allies... are ready to supply enough money and arms to fuel the stalemate for the foreseeable future," said Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA analyst and sometime foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama.
 
Both U.S. and European officials said that "moderate" rebels had recently consolidated their positions in the Syrian south, where they are pushing out elements linked to al-Qaeda. More militant factions remain dominant in the north and east.
 
Rebels said back in June of 2013 they had received Russian-made “Konkurs” anti-tank missiles supplied by Saudi Arabia. Other reports said that the Central Intelligence Agency had begun moving weapons to Jordan from a network of secret warehouses and plans to start arming small groups of vetted Syrian rebels within a month.
 
A White House spokeswoman had no comment on Monday’s report. Other U.S. agencies did not respond to requests for comment.
 
As for "non-lethal" aid like communications and transportation equipment, the United States hopes to resume deliveries to moderate groups in Syria soon, a U.S. official said on Monday, according to Reuters.
 
The United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to northern Syria in December after reports that Islamist fighters seized Western-backed rebel weapons warehouses, highlighting fears that supplies could end up in hostile hands.
 
Non-lethal aid was resumed to civilian groups in that region in late December.

Syria: ISIS Executes Members of Rival Islamist Groups

Category: Islam
Created on Friday, 17 January 2014 16:10
Rebel-Jihadist WarThe Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has executed dozens of rival Islamists over the last two days, activists told Reuters on Sunday.
 
The executions took place as the group recaptured most territory it had lost in the northeastern Syrian province of Raqqa, according to the activists.
 
One of the activists, who spoke from the province on condition of anonymity, said that up to 100 fighters from the Nusra Front, another Al-Qaeda affiliate, and the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, captured by ISIS in the town of Tel Abyad on the border with Turkey, the nearby area of Qantari and the provincial capital city of Raqqa, were shot dead.
 
There was no independent confirmation of the report.
 
"About 70 bodies, most shot in the head, were collected and sent to the Raqqa National hospital," the activist told Reuters.
 
"Many of those executed had been wounded in the fighting. The fact that Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham are ideologically similar to the ISIS did not matter," he added.
 
In recent days, the fighting between ISIS and other Syrian rebels has escalated. Earlier Sunday it was reported that close to 500 people had been killed in the fighting between rival groups.
 
Three powerful rebel alliances – among them Islamist groups - have teamed up to fight ISIS, which they have warned is worse than Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
 
The fact that ISIS executed rivals it caught should come as no surprise. The group has been accused of several human rights abuses, including torturing and murdering prisoners, among them children and teenagers, and forcing Druze men to convert to Islam or die.
 
The Al-Qaeda linked group has vowed to “crush” other rebel groups in Syria.
 
The group’s growth has alarmed Western nations, who are pushing the opposition to attend peace talks in Switzerland later this month, and has helped Assad to portray himself as the only secular alternative to Islamist extremism.
 
ISIS regrouped and recaptured much of its stronghold in Raqqa city on Sunday, activists told Reuters, dealing a blow to rival rebel groups backed by Gulf Arab and Western states.
 
Among those reportedly executed on the weekend was Abu Saad al-Hadram, Nusra Front's commander for Raqqa province who was captured several months, opposition sources said.

Syrian Rebels Exchange Insults

Category: Media
Created on Tuesday, 14 January 2014 07:50
Members of the Free Syrian Army perform prayers in Damascus ReutersFighting the “moderate” rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) takes precedence over fighting Jews and Christians, according to a rebel from the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
 
In a two-way radio conversation between ISIS and FSA fighters, which was posted on the internet on Monday and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), rebels from rival Syrian groups can be heard exchanging insults.
 
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In recent days, several groups of Syrian rebels united for the purpose of launching a new “revolution” against the Al-Qaeda-affiliated ISIS, which is part of a group of jihadist rebels that declared Aleppo to be an independent Islamist state and have summarily executed members of the Western-backed rebel groups.
 
In the video, one ISIS fighter is seen and heard speaking with an FSA fighter and saying that members of the FSA are not Muslims.
 
When the FSA fighter on the other side says that ISIS does not belong in Syria and should go fight Israel, the ISIS member replies, “Fighting apostates takes precedence over fighting original infidels. Fighting apostates, like you people, who curse Allah and His Messenger, and violate the honor of Muslims, takes precedence over fighting the Jews and the Christians. All imams concur on that.”

Iran Not Invited to Syria Peace Talks

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 07:03
Irans Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei R meets Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Tehran Dec. 15 2009.Iran will not be part of the planned Geneva II peace conference on Syria, despite President Bashar Al-Assad’s wish to have his key ally attend, Al Arabiya reported on Monday.
 
According to the report, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday started sending out invitations to the peace conference, but Iran was not on the first list.
 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet on January 13 in a bid to decide on whether Iran should take part in the conference due to be held on January 22, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told Al Arabiya.
 
American officials in Brussels have said that Iran could participate in the talks if it helps put an end to the Syrian regime’s bombardment of Aleppo and improve humanitarian access to trapped civilians.
 
“There are also steps that Iran could take to show the international community that they are serious about being a positive player,” a senior State Department official told reporters travelling with Secretary of State John Kerry.
 
“Those include calling for an end to the bombardment by the Syrian regime of their own people, it includes calling for encouraging humanitarian access,” the official said, according to Al Arabiya.
 
One U.S. official said Washington still believed it was ‘less likely than likely’ that Iran would play any role at the peace conference, even on the sidelines.
 
Another official said Iran and the United States had not discussed the matter directly. All the officials declined to be named.
 
Washington has long opposed Iranian participation in the talks without it signing up to a June 2012 accord calling for a transitional government to replace the Assad regime.
 
Ban last month launched a fresh appeal for Iran to take part, but UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said that the United States was blocking this from happening.
 
"It's no secret that we in the United Nations welcome the participation of Iran, but our partners in the United States are still not convinced" that "Iran's participation is the right thing to do," he said.
 
Kerry on Sunday opened the door to possible involvement by Tehran in the conference.
 
“Could they contribute from the sidelines? Are there ways, conceivably, to weigh in? Can their mission that is already in Geneva be there in order to help the process? It may be that there are ways that can happen,” Kerry said.
 
“We’re happy to have Iran be helpful,” he added.
 
Throughout the civil war in Syria, Iran has provided Assad with military support during his fight against the rebels.
 
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad personally sanctioned the dispatch of officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria to fight alongside Assad’s troops.
 
An Iranian parliamentarian recently boasted that his country sent “hundreds of battalions” to fight in Syria alongside Assad’s troops.

Syria: Rebel-Jihadist War Claims at Least 50 Lives

Category: News
Created on Monday, 06 January 2014 19:42
Rebel-Jihadist WarAt least 50 Syrian rebels were killed on Sunday as the country’s “second civil war” between moderate and jihadist rebels continued, AFP reported.
 
The latest deaths came one day after several groups of Syrian rebels said they had united for the purpose of launching a new “revolution” the Al-Qaeda-affiliated the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP the rebels were killed in fighting, car bombings and summary executions by forces loyal to the jihadist group.
 
Sunday's deaths came on day three of fighting that began when rebels, including Islamists, attacked checkpoints and bases manned by ISIL, which is accused of horrific abuses in areas where its fighters operate.
 
ISIL has been taking key roads and checkpoints from its rivals, and some opponents of President Bashar Al-Assad have even accused it of serving regime interests.
 
At least nine fighters from the jihadist group were also killed on Sunday, the Britain-based Observatory said.
 
Most of the non-ISIL fatalities were in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, where the fighting began on Friday.
 
Among the dead were "seven who were summarily executed by ISIL", AFP quoted the group as saying.
 
Clashes also erupted in Raqa and Hama provinces on Sunday, in a sign the fighting was spreading.
 
Scores of fighters on both sides have been killed in the past three days, the Observatory says.
 
"The rebels have made significant gains (since Friday) in the west of Aleppo province, in the north of Idlib and east of Maaret al-Numan (Idlib)," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
 
The Observatory also said ISIL fighters were laying down their arms and withdrawing from some areas, without elaborating.
 
The Islamic Front, the country's biggest rebel alliance, issued a strong warning to the jihadists.
 
"We fight against whoever attacks us and whoever pushes us to battle, whether they are Syrian or foreign," said the alliance grouping tens of thousands of anti-Assad rebels.
 
Meanwhile, an ISIL statement similarly warned the rebels to stop pressuring them, or they would withdraw from the front lines in Aleppo city and let in Assad's forces.
 
The Islamic Front on Sunday said it was "thankful to the foreigners who came to help us" but "we will not accept any group that claims to be a state".
 
ISIL is one of several jihadist rebel groups operating in Syria and which at one point split off from the Western-backed Syrian National Council opposition force, declaring Aleppo to be an independent Islamist state.
 
In addition to its involvement in the Syrian war, the Al-Qaeda affiliate seized the city of Fallujah in neighboring Iraq on Saturday, and claimed a suicide bomb attack in a Beirut stronghold of Hezbollah, the movement fighting alongside Assad's forces.

Syria: 25 Lashes for Failing to Pray

Category: Islam
Created on Saturday, 04 January 2014 18:12
Preparing to be floggedSyria is undergoing an accelerated process of Islamization, which is led by extremist Islamist rebel groups that follow sharia courts, and who operate a morality police force that enforces law and order Islam-style.
 
In Haleb, two men were convicted of failing to take part in the Friday prayers, and were sentenced to 25 lashes each, to be delivered publicly.
 
The two convicted men were brought to the city square, where they were flogged on their bare backs. The crowd that had gathered watched the scene quietly.
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This is not the first time that the Ahrar al-Sham Islamist organization carried out flogging sentences in public. The Islamic organizations' religious court has even meted out sentences of capital punishment in the past.

Syrian Mufti's Aide Gives Army Permission to Rape

Category: Islam
Created on Friday, 03 January 2014 12:13
fatwa-on-sexual-jihadHuman rights groups report that thousands of women have been raped by Syrian army soldiers in the ongoing war, which is now in its third year and has left 130,000 dead. That trend appears likely to only increase, as a deputy to the Chief Mufti (Islamic scholar) of Syria has given religious permission to rape.
 
On Thursday, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman Ali al-Dala, aid to the chief mufti of Syria, who is loyal to President Bashar Assad, gave an interview to Sham FM, a radio station that supports Assad.
 
In the interview, Al-Dala said Syrian army soldiers have permission to "marry" unmarried and married women, sisters and mothers of the rebel fighters, without any official marriage agreement. He clarified that the rape is intended as a punishment for not reporting the rebels to the goverment forces.
 
In making his statement, the Sheikh placed his religious authority behind the rape of women and girls by soldiers, as part of their fight against the rebels.
 
According to testimony taken from captured soldiers and captains before they were put to death by rebels, rape has been employed as a common practice by the army, well before Al-Dala's official religious support was stated.
 
While particularly attractive women are reportedly brought to senior commanders, rape victims include religious muslim women dressed in face veils and full-body cloaks (niqab).
 
It must be noted that for their part, the rebels have publicized religious permission for their fighters to do as they please with women who fall into their hands. Rebels from Al Qaeda have also apparently have been forcing Syrian Druze communities to convert to Islam.
 
A study in November found that Syria was the fourth worst country in the Arab world in terms of women's rights. Egypt was found to be the worst.
 
On December 31, Syria missed the deadline to transfer its most lethal chemical weapons out of the country for destruction.

Al Qaeda Opens Syrian Jihad School

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 02 January 2014 07:47
Syrian jihad schoolJabhat Al Nusra, an Islamist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, maintains an infrastructure of governance as one of the central opposition forces. Aside from managing religious courts based on Islamic sharia law, the group has opened new schooling programs emphasizing Islam and jihad.
 
In the southern Syrian town of Daraa, a school established by the organization teaches roughly 30 students ranging in age from 10 to 15 to believe in Allah, follow Islam, and aspire to jihad holy war.
 
Video footage from the school shows students learning by rote passages from the Koran, reading "our path is the path of jihad."
 
The use of child soldiers by rebel forces, including the more "moderate" Free Syrian Army (FSA), has been documented, and shows how the lessons learned in the school may quickly be turned into action.
 
On the walls of the classroom hang posters featuring verses from the Koran, including one praising jihadist "martyrs," explaining that they aren't "dead" but rather "living" with Allah.
 
One of the teachers explains that the students learn how to use weapons and are prepared to become jihadists. Video can be seen here:
 
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The Islamist nature of the Syrian opposition forces has been a point of contention, with Russia recently claiming the West understands Syrian President Bashar Assad is "better" than the rebels.
 
The Russian comment came after Islamic Front battalions, which call for an Islamic state, took over warehouses held by the more secular FSA in early December, leading the US and Britain to suspend military funding to rebel factions.
 
Geneva II peace talks, aiming to end the 3 year conflict that has claimed over 100,000 lives and created over 2 million refugees, are set for January 22.

Al Qaeda Forces Syrian Druze to Renounce Faith

Category: Reports
Created on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 16:31
JihadistsSyrian rebels from Al-Qaeda are systematically forcing Syrian Druze communities to convert to Islam - or die, Walla! reported Monday.
 
Syrian opposition forces have reportedly declared to the Israeli daily that at least 14 Druze villages have been forced to convert to Islam by the Islamist group so far.
 
The information has apparently leaked from representatives of the villages, who declared that they had no choice but to convert and had been threatened with death. 
 
The specific group responsible for the attack is the Al Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS). The group has seized large sections of Northern Syria and has reportedly been implementing Sharia law there. 
 
ISIS officials have openly declared that they plan to turn Druze places of worships in mosques and change the entire region to a fundamentalist Islamist state. 
 
Israeli Druze leaders stated Monday to the daily that they have been aware of ongoing issues with Islamists near their Syrian communities, and that they have pledged to help Syrian Druze as much as possible. 

Again: Russia Vetoes Resolution on Syria

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 21 December 2013 17:42
UN Security CouncilIn what has become routine since the start of the Syrian civil war, Russia on Thursday night once again blocked a UN Security Council statement on Syria.
 
This time, the U.S.-drafted resolution condemned the Syrian government's increasing military offensive on the city of Aleppo, according to AFP.
 
The move heightened diplomatic tensions ahead of a key Russia-U.S.-UN meeting in Geneva on Friday on organizing an international Syria peace conference.
 
Russian diplomats refused to allow any mention in the statement of President Bashar Al-Assad's tactics, diplomats said.
 
In the face of the obstacles, the United States decided to withdraw the draft which needs the approval of all 15 Security Council members to be released.
 
A spokesman said that Washington was "very disappointed" at the Russian blocking.
 
The United States wanted the statement to express "outrage at the use of air strikes by the Syrian government, in particular the use of heavy indiscriminate weapons, including Scud missiles and 'barrel bombs,' which were dropped on Aleppo" this week.
 
The Doctors Without Borders group says at least 189 people have been killed and nearly 900 wounded in the Aleppo bombings since Sunday.
 
The statement would have expressed concern at the general "escalating level of violence in the Syrian conflict and condemned all violence by all parties," reported AFP.
 
Russia, a close ally of Assad’s, has used its power as a permanent member of the Security Council to veto at least three western proposed resolutions which sought to increase pressure on the Syrian leader.
 
Russia supplies Assad with ground-to-surface interceptor missiles as well as warplanes and helicopters and other heavy machinery meant for national self-defense.
 
"We are very disappointed that a Security Council statement expressing our collective outrage at the brutal and indiscriminant tactics employed by the Syrian regime against civilians has been blocked," said Kurtis Cooper, deputy spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, after Russia vetoed the latest resolution.
 
"These barrel bombs -- and the explosive materials contained within them -- further underscore the brutality of the Assad regime and the lengths they will go to attack and kill their own people," he added.
 
The Russian veto came hours after Moscow seemed to take a step back from its uncompromising support of Assad. Earlier Thursday, the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister criticized statements that Assad wanted to seek another term in 2014.
 
"Exchanging such rhetorical statements just makes the atmosphere heavier and does not make the situation calmer,” said Mikhail Bogdanov.
 
In response, Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister said that nobody can stop Assad from seeking re-election.

UN Condemns Iran's Human Rights Violations

Category: News
Created on Friday, 20 December 2013 13:17
Hassan RouhaniThe United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday condemned human rights violations in Iran, but welcomed pledges by Iran's president to improve in some areas.
 
The resolution on Iran was approved with 86 votes in favor, 36 against and 61 abstentions, reported Reuters.
 
While the resolution on Iran expressed concern at serious ongoing abuses, it acknowledged pledges by Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, on human rights issues such as eliminating discrimination against women and members of ethnic minorities and promoting freedom of expression and opinion.
 
Reuters reported that the resolution also praised Rouhani's plan to implement a civil rights charter and encouraged Iran "to take concrete action to ensure these pledges can result in demonstrable improvements as soon as possible and to uphold the government's obligations under its domestic laws and under international human rights law."
 
Rouhani has previously said that a strong government does not “limit the lives of the people and has claimed that he believed social networking sites such as Facebook were a welcome phenomenon.
 
Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi recently criticized Rouhani’s human rights record, citing a dramatic increase in executions since he took office this year and accusing the government of lying about the release of political prisoners.
 
The UN envoy on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, said in October that Iran's rights record should not be overlooked amid overtures to the West by Rouhani. He criticized Tehran for executing 724 people in 18 months, including dozens after Rouhani was elected in June.
 
Iran regularly executes people who are convicted of murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking, adultery and espionage. In 2011, Iran put to death more than twice as many people as it did the year before.
 
An Iranian delegate told General Assembly members before the vote that the resolution does not reflect the actual situation inside Iran and will be counterproductive, according to Reuters.
 
Meanwhile, the news agency reported, a similar condemnation of Syria was adopted with 127 votes in favor, 13 against and 47 abstentions. A third resolution condemning North Korea was passed by consensus, but some states publicly disassociated themselves from the text.
 
The resolutions on these countries have become an annual rite. They intensify international pressure and further isolate those states but have no legal consequences. All three countries lobby hard against adoption of the resolutions, noted Reuters.

Former Jihadi Warns of Syrian Rebels with '9/11 Ideology'

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 18:40
makeshift memorial for Boston Marathon attack victimsA French Islamist who fought as part of a jihadi rebel faction in Syria has said that foreign fighters with a "9/11 ideology" could return to the West, where they would pose a definitive security threat.
 
In an interview with the BBC the anonymous former rebel fighter told of how he had fought for an unnamed Islamist brigade, before leaving after it pledged its allegiance to Al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS), saying that he opposed the brutal methods of the group - but not necessarily its vision for Syria.
 
The interview offers an intriguing insight into the mindset, ideology and motivations of the increasingly dominant Islamist rebel movement in Syria, which has eclipsed the more secular Free Syrian Army. It also once again highlights the growing security concerns shared by most Western countries over the increasingly large number of Western-born Islamists fighting in Syria - and the prospect of there return to their countries of birth at some point in the future.
 
Western states have recently opened diplomatic channels with the largest such faction - the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF) - in a bid to gain their support for upcoming peace talks in Geneva. The move has also been seen as an attempt to drive a wedge between the non-Al Qaeda-aligned factions fighting under the banner of SIF, and Al Qaeda franchises such as Al Nusra Front and ISIS, with whom they sometimes coordinate operations, particularly in the north of the country.
 
But such efforts are fraught with risks.
 
As the unnamed fighter, who chose to hide his identity, presumably out of concerns for his safety after publicly declaring his desertion, explained to his interviewer, whilst he and other Islamists in Syria did not support the killing of "blasphemers" or even the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, "the final goal is an Islamic state".
 
"We are all Al Qaeda in the sense of ideology and mindset," he declared.
 
Illustrating his point, he explained how his unit did not view members of the Shia Islamic sect as Muslims, and viewed the conflict through the prism of a religious sectarian war.
 
Echoing sentiments made by Al Qaeda leaders, he said that the Syrian civil war is "Definitely a fight against the Shia. Shia is not a sect of Islam. The difference between Sunni and Shia are so huge that they are not related to our religion in any way."
 
Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is a member of the Alawite sect - an offshoot of Shia Islam whose adherents make up around 10% of the Syrian population. His forces are backed by pro-government Shia and Alawite militias raised from within Syria itself, as well as foreign Shia jihadis from Iraq and Lebanon - most notably Hezbollah.
 
Shia Iran has provided crucial support to the Assad regime, including sending members of its own armed forces to train and fight alongside regime troops.
 
Relating how his brigade would treat members of Syria's tiny Shia minority in the areas they controlled, the former rebel said they found it so "irritating" to hear Shia referring to themselves as "Muslims", that "in areas we controlled we would force them to stop calling themselves Muslims."
 
Neither the interviewer nor the former jihadi revealed which precise brigade he had been fighting with, but given his description and the fact that it is said to have "pledged allegiance" to ISIS it was likely to have been the Nusra Front, which did precisely that back in August of this year. Many within the Nusra Front were unhappy about the decision to effectively merge the two groups at the time, and resisted it - causing some tension between different factions within the group ever since.
 
He also revealed how many Islamists are motivated to join the conflict and were encouraged on the battlefield itself by a saying - or "Hadith" - attributed to Mohammed, the founder of Islam, in which he declared that "if Islam in the Greater Syria region is corrupted, there will not be any correct Islam anywhere in the world."
 
The fact that such fundamentalist religious sentiments are shared by Al Qaeda-linked and independent Islamist rebel groups alike illustrates just how easy the ideological journey into the fold of Al Qaeda would be for many foreign fighters - a trend he claimed is on the increase.
 
And crucially - despite saying that he himself did not share such beliefs - he warned that "the same people with the same 9/11 ideology" existed among the large contingent of European Muslim extremists currently fighting in Syria. Alarmingly, he claimed that "Europeans" were the third-largest group of foreign jihadis in Syria, after "the Saudis and Chechens".
 
"Yes, I think they would be a danger to the West," he said, "I wouldn't want them to go back."

Hamas Announces Renewed Ties with Iran

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 10 December 2013 12:09
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei illustration - ReutersHamas has "resumed" relations with Iran after a temporary falling out over the Syrian conflict, according to AFP.
 
"Relations between Hamas and Iran have resumed," senior official Mahmud al-Zahar told reporters at a Monday news conference in Gaza. 
 
Ties had been "affected by the Syria situation, and Hamas has withdrawn from Syria so that it can't be identified with this or that side," he said. "We've confirmed we are not interfering in the Syrian case, or in any other Arab country."
 
Shia Iran had long supported the Sunni Hamas against Israel, which is viewed as a common enemy. But exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal left his base in Damascus after the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, criticizing President Bashar al-Assad, a key ally of Iran, and moving to the Sunni Gulf state of Qatar.
 
But the Hamas leader made remarks in October of this year supporting the Assad regime and calling for an end in sectarian fighting at a Jerusalem conference. The move was subsequently slammed by powerful rebel group Army of Islam, who denounced Hamas's ties with the Assad ally and claimed that they were trying to restore funding to Gaza by exploiting their position on the conflict. 
 
Media reports indicate that the constant switching of sides has led to a huge decrease in Hamas's funding - especially from Iran. 
 
But Zahar denied there had been a complete severing of ties. "Our relations with Iran were not cut, and we don't wish to cut ties with any Arab countries either, even those that are fighting against us," he said. The latter reference was to Egypt, which has taken a hard line against the Islamist group since the military overthrow of president Mohammed Morsi in July.
 
Hamas is an affiliate of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which has been the target of a massive crackdown in Egypt in recent months that has seen hundreds of Morsi supporters killed and more than 2,000 arrested.
 
Zahar said there was still cooperation with Egypt on getting supplies, including fuel, into the Gaza Strip, but "there is no political contact, because the current (Egyptian) regime is against it."
 
Since July, Egypt's military has destroyed hundreds of tunnels used to bring crucial supplies, including fuel, into the blockaded Strip. It has also launched efforts to stop terror tunnels into Egypt and Israel and battled terror factions in the Sinai desert, angering Gaza officials. 
 
Having initially spoken out against Egypt's new military regime, Hamas has sought to avoid a further deterioration in relations with Cairo.

The Most Despised People in the World

Category: Op-Eds
Created on Saturday, 07 December 2013 21:01
Two Saints church Alexandria, Egypt 1/1/2011The most persecuted group in the world today is Christians. Christians in Nigeria, Egypt, Syria and other nations are murdered, raped, kidnapped, enslaved and persecuted on a daily basis. The reason for the vast majority of all of this violence is that they are Christian among Muslims.
 
But their abuse does not stop with the violence. The perpetrators of violence are measured in the thousands, but the greatest abuse is at the hands of those who should demand that the violence stop. The silence in the face this persecution is denial and justification. The persecutors are few, but the deniers are in the billions.
 
Christians are enjoined to care for all persecuted people, but in particular, they are to care for their own brothers and sisters. They manage to ignore the persecution by doing good works, such as care for the poor. Christians have compassion but no courage to face the enemy who kills them.
In Nashville, TN (the buckle on the Bible belt) the favorite indoor sport for those who should be dealing with the enemy, Islam, is going to Family of Abraham events and bridge building dialogues where they dance to the tune of Muslims. There is no problem of meeting with Islam, but the rules of engagement are that nothing will be said that offends Islam.
 
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, an injured man is on the side of the road. Two religious leaders pass him by on the other side of the road. They don’t harm the injured man, they just ignore him. This is the same thing that Christian leaders do at dialogues such as Family of Abraham. They meet with Muslims who adhere to a doctrine that includes killing Christians. But, the leaders will not bring up the Islamic persecution to them. The Christian leadership response to murder of their brothers and sisters is silence. They pass by on the other side of the road. Their silence is consent.
 
But Christians are not the only deniers. Normally, Jews are quick to step forward in the area of charity and support of victims, but not so with persecuted Christians. Some of this denial may be due to a dislike of Christianity, but Jews are no quicker to help their own. If you go to thereligionofpeace.com you will find an amazing data base of jihad attacks since 9/11. The current number of attacks is in excess of 22,000 attacks. It is very instructive to parse the data and see what are the top four nations of jihad attacks. When you put the data on a per capita basis, you get the following chart:
 
Read this chart by religion: Jews, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus. So Jews are the victims of violence by Islam, but the Jews of America love to go to Family of Abraham events and be as silent as the Christians.
But what about the most sensitive victim group – the black American? Victim-ology is the dogma of a myriad black “civil rights” groups with their high priests of race hustles such as Al Sharpton. The most persecuted Christians are in Africa. But the civil rights hustlers of America just love to hang with Muslims as their brothers. All of those dead Africans? Not a problem for African Americans.
It is surprising how many Buddhists are being killed in jihad, but is it a surprise that Buddhists never talk about it? And aside from a few Hindu activists, never a word is heard from the Hindu community about their deaths by jihad.
 
The deaths in the Philippines are Catholics and what does Pope Francis say about Islam? He says,
Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.
 
Oh, I see. Over 1400 years of Christian deaths at the hands of jihadists means that they were not true Muslims and that the 22,000 jihadic attacks since 9/11 are not authentic. The annihilation of Christianity in Turkey, Middle East and Africa is not the result of “proper reading of the Koran”. The Pope is the perfect candidate for magical thinking and idiot compassion. And notice the little hate speech riff: “avoid hateful generalizations”. Pope Francis, do you mean generalizations such as conclusions that result from reading the Koran, the Sunna, the Sharia and a 1400 year history of the murder of all kinds of Kafirs (non-Muslims)?
But, in his own way, Pope Francis is the leader of all Christians. He just happens to have on more elaborate clothing as he practices denial.
 
So, it turns out that Christians are not the most despised group of people in the world. They just happen to be the largest subgroup. The most despised group in the world is the victim of Islam. And whether it is a dead Christian congregation, a murdered apostate, a sad Muslim woman with FGM, or any other victim of jihad, no one will speak out for the victim and against the perpetrator. All leaders share in the shame of being ignorant cowards practicing idiot compassion.
 
How is this to stop? Well, being polite won’t help, because if polite worked, the problem would be solved. The key to our response is that we have the high moral ground. We must oppose the oppressor, Islam, and stand with the oppressed – Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and all others who are oppressed by jihad. Our opponents, the deniers, support the oppressor, Islam, and ignore and suppress the fate of the victims. The deniers are evil, period.
If you are a Christian, get some allies, and come up with a program about the persecuted church.

The program could be bringing in some persecuted Christians, such as Copts, to speak to Sunday school classes or doing a long term study of the Armenian holocaust in 20th century Turkey. When you go to leadership, do not ask permission or make a request. Make demands and if those demands are not met, then some form of protest inside your church must be launched.
 
Stand up at services and protest, hand out brochures, do whatever it takes until “leadership” agrees to not pass by on the other side of the road and neglect the dead Christians. Point out their moral position is wrong and evil. Do not be shy. Ask them to use scripture to morally justify their denial and ignorance. Be respectful, but firm and do not stop until good prevails.
 
This is a moral battle and if you are not a Christian, you should do the same in other venues. A possible venue is the local media. Make demands to recognize the victims of jihad and if they are not met, make a protest. Public protest is a powerful tool for change. We must acknowledge the world’s largest human rights tragedy. Being nice is the road to civilizational annihilation.
 
Bill WarnerBill Warner is the director of Center for the Study of Political Islam.
He holds a PhD in physics and math, NC State University, 1968. He has been a university professor, businessman, and applied physicist. 

Powerful Explosion Heard in Golan Heights

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 07 December 2013 10:23
Golan Heights - Powerful Explosion ArchiveA powerful explosion was heard on Friday evening in the Golan Heights, near an IDF vehicle that was on routine patrol along the Syrian-Israeli border, near the slopes of Mount Hermon.
 
No one was injured as a result of the explosion, but damage was caused to the rear window of the military vehicle.
 
The explosion was so powerful that it was heard for kilometers away, and many forces were called to the scene to investigate. It is believed that the explosion was caused either by an explosive device, a mine that was swept away in the winds and the rain, or an explosion from the Syrian side of the border relating to the civil war in that country.
 
The army is expected to continue the investigation in daylight.
 
If the explosion is related to the Syrian civil war, it will not be the first time that the country’s civil war has spilled over into Israel.
 
On Monday, IDF forces on the Golan Heights near the Syria border were shot at from a Syrian army outpost. The IDF returned fire and identified a direct hit on a Syrian soldier. No IDF soldiers were injured.
 
The clash followed a mortar shell fired into Israel from Syria earlier in the day. The shell landed 50 meters (160 feet) from a house in the Israeli Druze town of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights and caused no injuries or damage.
 
In October, two Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded by cross-border fire in the Golan Heights, along the border with Syria.
 
Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor has sent a letter of complaint to the Security Council denouncing a series of Syrian violations of the 1974 ceasefire agreement between the two countries. 
 
In one such incident, gunfire from the Syrian side of the border hit close to an IDF patrol in the northern Golan Heights. There were no injuries or damage.

Syrian Rebels Capture Christian Town, Kidnap Nuns

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 03 December 2013 16:45
Syrian RebelsSyrian rebels, including jihadist groups, captured the historic Christian town of Maalula north of Damascus on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP.
 
Rebels assaulted the town by rolling explosive-filled tires down the hills onto regime forces and were able to reach the city center after three days of intense fighting, with clashes still raging in the surrounding areas, reported the organization. The town is considered a symbol of the ancient Christian presence in Syria.
 
The fighting came as the regime has been battling to gain control of a string of nearby towns and villages along the strategic Damascus-Homs highway north of the capital.
 
The Observatory told AFP that several groups, including the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, had taken part in the capture of the town.
 
The rebels abducted 12 Syrian and Lebanese Orthodox nuns from their convent after moving into the town, Vatican Radio reported.
 
Syrian state news agency SANA had earlier said the rebels had entered the Mar Takla convent, in the middle of the city, which had previously been controlled by the army.
 
The convent is home to some 40 nuns and orphans, some of the few residents of the town who remained after rebels first entered in September, prompting fierce fighting with the army.
 
Jihadist rebel groups have carried out atrocities throughout the civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest in Idlib in July. The priest was executed because he was accused of collaborating with President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
 
In Aleppo, several Islamist groups split off from the Western-backed Syrian National Council and declared the region to be an independent Islamist state. The jihadists in Aleppo have set up a court based on Sharia (Islamic law) which is authorized to issue execution orders for serious offenses.
 
Rebels, however, are not the only ones to have carried out atrocities. Assad’s troops have also carried out war crimes and on Monday, for the first time, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that these war crimes were authorized "at the highest level," including by Assad himself.
 
It is the first time Navi Pillay has directly accused Assad of crimes against humanity, and could pave the way to an international prosecution - although with western states and Russia pinning their hopes on an upcoming "peace conference" in Geneva, that seems an unlikely prospect.
 
Pillay made the statements based on the findings of a special inquiry into abuses by both sides in the Syrian civil war, and added that "the scale and viciousness of the abuses being perpetrated by elements on both sides almost defies belief."

Syria Jihadists Execute Members of Rival Faction

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 01 December 2013 08:52
Jihadists Behead the Wrong ManIn the latest atrocity of the Syrian civil war, Reuters reports that Al-Qaeda-linked rebels have executed the commander of a rival rebel faction and six of his men.
 
An amateur video of the public execution was posted online, the news agency reported.
 
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a jihadist group fighting to overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad, has taken advantage of a power vacuum in rebel-held areas to assert its authority over more moderate elements of the armed opposition.
 
The video, posted online by the anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group on Wednesday, shows armed men in black standing below an ISIL banner.
 
The Observatory said the video was taken in the northern Syrian town of Atarib in Idlib province. Its authenticity could not be independently confirmed.
 
A masked man on the video identifies seven men kneeling as members of the Ghurabaa al-Sham brigade, a moderate Islamist group that was one of the first to fight Assad. A man who appeared to be the group’s commander, Hassan Jazera, was among them.
 
“Hassan Jazera is the most corrupt and the biggest thief,” said the man. He spoke into a microphone to a crowd of men, some of whom used their mobile phones to film the killing.
 
The man, reading from a piece of paper, said Jazera’s men were also charged with kidnapping and had been tried in a religious court run by ISIL. They were then shot in the head.
 
Jazera and his men were arrested by ISIL a month ago, the UK-based Observatory said, according to Reuters.
 
The rebels have long ago split into rival factions and have begun fighting one another, essentially creating a second civil war in Syria.
 
In Aleppo, several Islamist groups split off from the Western-backed Syrian National Council declared the region to be an independent Islamist state.
 
The jihadists in Aleppo have set up a court based on Sharia (Islamic law) which is authorized to issue execution orders for serious offenses.
 
These executions, usually carried out by beheading those convicted, are a regular occurrence and an example of atrocities carried out by the rebels.
 
Several weeks ago, jihadist rebels had to ask for "understanding and forgiveness" after they beheaded the wrong man.
 
The rebels published a video showing the head of a man they said was part of a Shiite militia fighting for Assad. As it turned out the head belonged to a member of another jihadist rebel group.
 
Several months ago, a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with Assad’s regime was publicly beheaded, with the execution filmed and posted to the Internet for all to see.
 
Some of the Islamist groups have attempted to soften their image in an attempt to win hearts and minds - holding stand up comedy shows and handing out toys to local children.
 
A British think-tank said this week that more than 11,000 children have died in Syria's civil war, including 128 killed by chemical weapons.
 
In addition to clashes between rebels, there have also been numerous clashes between Arab rebel groups and Kurdish militias in the northern part of Syria - essentially a third civil war.

Lethal Mortar Lands by Russian Embassy in Damascus

Category: News
Created on Friday, 29 November 2013 15:22
Bombing in Aleppo - Reuters (archive)A mortar landed by the Russian Embassy in Damascus on Thursday, killing a Syrian civilian and injuring 9 security personnel working at the site, reports CNN.
 
The Russian Foreign Ministry announced no Russians were hurt in the attack, and said it was investigating who was responsible. Meanwhile the US Department of State condemned the attack.
 
The mortar attack in the Syrian capital comes despite the Syrian army's recapturing of the strategic town of Deir Attiyeh just north of Damascus on Thursday, just under a week after the army lost the town.
 
Deir Attiyeh is located on the Damascus-Homs highway. It is an important point for the ongoing army offensive in the region due to its closeness to Damascus, and is important to the rebels for the supply lines to Lebanon it grants access to, according to Al Jazeera.
 
The explosion comes after an attack on Iran's embassy in the Lebanese capital of Beirut on November 19 killed 23, including the Iranian cultural attaché.
 
That attack was claimed by an Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group that supports the rebel forces in Syria. It was meant as a message to Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah to pull their forces out of Syria where they are supporting President Bashar Assad's regime.
 
Russia has likewise been associated with Assad's regime. The reported IAF strike on the Latakia region of Syria October 31 apparently targeted an advanced Russian missile system that could be updated to the highly touted S-300 missile system.
 
In fact, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Meir Rosenne said Russia, Syria and Iran through their alliance "defeated" America by forcing US President Barack Obama to back down from his planned intervention in Syria in September.
 
On Wednesday Assad's government said it would attend the January 22 peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending the conflict now stretching into its third year. The war has left over 120,000 dead.

American Jihadist in Syria: Entire World Will Be Muslim

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 27 November 2013 05:59
Western jihadests - ReutersA US citizen, who joined the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) in Syria, has sent a video message to the West expressing his desire to wage total war against the "infidels" and impose Islamic rule over the entire world. 
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The video features "the American Abu-Dj'ana," brandishing a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a bayonet, who says the following:
"This is a message to people in the West from the Mujahideen (lit. "holy warriors") in Syria. We came here from different countries to protect this land, this Islamic land; to spread the Law of Allah on earth; and to dedicate our lives for Jihad in order so that we can get to heaven."
 
"We are coming to kill all the infidels in the West and beyond to spread Allah's law (Sharia) and the book of Allah (Koran) and to raise them to the highest level," he continues. 
 
"We came to kill anyone that stands in our way. The flag that says that 'there is no God but Allah' will be raised over Parliament Buildings and in capital cities around the world [. . .] with these simple weapons we will liberate this country and this people and  bring Islamic law to control all the world - Europe, U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Asia and Africa. "
 
Western states have grown increasingly worried over the influx of foreign fighters - many of them from Europe and North America - to take part in the Syrian civil war. Although many of them are fighting with non-Al Qaeda-aligned groups, a growing number are joining the ranks of its affiliates such as ISIS and the Nusra Front. Western intelligence officials worry about "the day after", when those battle-hardened Islamists return to their home countries, posing a real security threat there.
 
Videos like these, showcasing Western-born Islamists fighting for Al Qaeda in Syria, are still rare, but have become increasingly common as ISIS and the Nusra Front seek to bolster their presence and encourage new recruits, in the face of mounting losses both against government forces and Kurdish militias in northern Syria.
 
Over 11,000 children alone have been killed in the bloody conflict, which has raged in the region since 2011. Foreign nationals have been pouring into Syria to engage in the Civil War, which has mushroomed from a national conflict into an all-out holy war between various Islamic factions. Even among the rebels, there has been a marked lack of unity, with Al Qaeda groups like this one dividing the rebel camps, as some rebels focus more on domestic issues and less on a global Jihad campaign. 

British Protester Killed Fighting for Syrian Rebels

Category: News
Created on Friday, 22 November 2013 10:22
jihadists in Syria has accelerated due to a convergence with the sectarian tensions across the countrys border with Iraq. APMohammed el-Araj, a twenty-year-old British Muslim, was killed in Syria while fighting for rebel forces against President Bashar Assad's regime. Araj, the second confirmed British citizen killed fighting in the Syrian war, previously was jailed for violently protesting outside the Israeli embassy in London.
 
Araj, the UK-raised son of Palestinian parents, was arrested in 2009 protesting the IDF counter-terror Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The Guardian reports that his sentence was cut from 2 years to 18 months.
 
Araj's story has raised concerns about home-grown UK terror, given that security services were unable to stop him from joining the fighting in Syria even after being jailed.
 
"This blows the lid off the traditional idea that if you create a space for angry, quite radical protests in the UK, in London, it provides a channel through which angry young men can dissipate their energies, lest they be attracted into terrorism," said Shiraz Maher, Senior research fellow at the British think-tank International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR)
 
Further concerns were recently raised by Andrew Parker, head of the British intelligence agency MI5, that "British-based jihadists will one day return from the killing fields of Syria and turn their new-found skills on the population back home."
 
There are an estimated 200 UK fighters in Syria, along with numerous other foreigners. Just recently Burak Kran, a former player on the German national soccer team, was killed fighting for the rebel forces.
 
Meanwhile Araj's death comes as reports say the ongoing internecine clashes in Syria will have a long term devastating effect on the refugees created by the crisis.

About 600 Saudi fighters are in Syria

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 16 November 2013 10:05
Faris Bin Hizam Al ArabiyaAn estimated 600 Saudis have joined al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria fighting against President Bashar’s al-Assad’s regime, a Saudi expert in Islamist movements told Al Arabiya’s weekly program “Death making” on Friday.
 
Faris Bin Hizam said many Saudis are fighting on the ranks of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the al-Nusra Front.
 
But the Saudi fighters are only a small number if compared to other foreign nationalities fighting in Syria, Bin Hizam said.
 
He added that unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda has a strong presence, there is increased awareness amongst Saudis regarding the dangers of belonging to al-Qaeda, and a widely held belief that the Syrian revolution does not need more fighters but rather financial support.
 
Bin Hizam noted that Saudi Arabia’s tight security measures are able to contain the al-Qaeda, something Libya and Tunisia failed to do after their revolution.
 
The ISIL is al-Qaeda’s main branch in Syria, although al-Qaeda Chief Ayman al-Zawahiri recently ordered its disbanding. He said al-Qaeda in Syria is to be represented only by the al-Nusra Front.
 
The al-Nusra Front, created in January 2012, joined al-Qaeda in December of that year and is on a U.S. list of foreign terrorist’s organizations.
 
The al-Nusra Front has carried out major attacks against the Syrian armed forces, including several suicide bombings.
 
The Saudi expert said that there were no Saudis among the top 10 commanders in the al-Qaeda groups in Syria. According to him, they join the terrorist group only to take part in suicide bombings and civil operations.
 
Bin Hizam noted that the al-Qaeda tends to amplify the number of its Saudi members in Syria, Pakistan, Yemen and Iraq as a way to attract more more volunteers and more financial support from its donors.
 
Most-wanted Saudi man
 
The program also aired the latest images of Saleh al-Qarawi, the most-wanted man on a list of 85 terrorists, issued by the Saudi Interior Ministry in 2009. Qarawi appeared to have lost an eye, his right hand and his feet.
 
The analyst said Qarawi sustained those injuries last month and is now in Saudi Arabia as he surrendered to the authorities to receive treatment.
 
Al-Qarawi served as a senior leader and operative for the Abdullah Azzam Brigades (AAB), a Lebanese militant organization and also operated in Iran and Afghanistan.

Syrian Jihadists Behead the Wrong Man, then Apologize

Category: Islam
Created on Friday, 15 November 2013 11:37
Jihadists Behead the Wrong ManJihadist rebels in Syria had to ask for "understanding and forgiveness" after they beheaded the wrong man, the British Telegraph reports.
 
In a public appearance filmed and posted online, members of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), one brandishing a knife, held up a bearded head before a crowd in Aleppo.
 
The jihadists triumphantly described the execution of what they said was a member of an Iraqi Shiite militia fighting for President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
As it turned out, reported the Telegraph, the head belonged to a member of Ahrar al-Sham, which is a Sunni jihadist rebel group that often fights alongside ISIS, though it does not share its Al-Qaeda ideology.
 
After inquiries, an ISIS spokesman admitted the beheaded man was Mohammed Fares, an Ahrar commander reported missing some days ago.
 
The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, an organization which monitors deaths in the Syrian conflict, said that ISIS rebels misunderstood comments Fares had made, resulting in his beheading.
 
Other reports indicate that in the fog of battle, Fares - who was wounded in fighting around Aleppo - thought he had been captured by a Shia militia, and offered up Shia prayers in an attempt to hide his Sunni identity. Sunni Islamist fighters overheard his prayers, assumed he was a Shia, and beheaded him.
 
The incident underlines not only the cruelty of the jihadist rebels, but also the deep divisions between the jihadist rebels and the Western-backed more moderate rebels.
 
Nearly a year ago, several Islamist groups split off from the Western-backed Syrian National Council opposition force and declared Aleppo to be an independent Islamist state.
 
The jihadists in Aleppo have set up a court based on Sharia (Islamic law) which is authorized to issue execution orders for serious offenses.
 
Beheading those who are deemed to be “collaborating” with the Assad regime is a regular occurrence and an example of atrocities carried out by the rebels. Several months ago, a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with Assad’s regime was publicly beheaded, with the execution filmed and posted to the Internet for all to see.
 
Some of the Islamist groups have attempted to soften their image in an attempt to win hearts and minds - holding stand up comedy shows and handing out toys to local children.
 
A second civil war has begun in war-ravaged Syria as the more moderate rebel groups and the Islamist extremist groups are also fighting each other, in addition to fighting Assad’s troops. There have also been numerous clashes between Arab rebel groups and Kurdish militias in the north of the country. 

Canadians Join Foreign Jihadists Fighting in Syria

Category: News
Created on Friday, 15 November 2013 11:17
SYRIA-WAR-CHECHNYA-ISLAMIC-MILITANTS-JOIN-facebook
 
On Thursday reports were released that a Canadian citizen described only as Abu Abd Al-Rahman was killed in March in the city of Aleppo, according to Shalom Toronto. Al-Rahman is one of many Canadian and other foreign jihadists journeying to Syria to join the bloodbath.
 
The report of Al-Rahman's death appeared on a Syrian Internet site that specializes in documenting the names of foreign jihadists killed while fighting in the ranks of opposition forces. The fighting has been intense, as documented by video footage.
 
Just last Thursday Andrew Parker, Director of the British domestic intelligence service MI5, announced that hundreds of British citizens have traveled to Syria to join the fighting, most of them siding with the rebel forces.
 
Al-Rahman is just one of many Canadians making the jihad pilgrimage to Syria.
 
In February Jamal Mohammed Abd Al-Kadar, a student from Montreal, was killed in the truck bomb attack he drove in Damascus. Al-Kadar had joined the Al-Nusra Front terrorist organization associated with Al-Qaeda.
 
Then in May a man, apparently bearing Canadian citizenship, was killed while on an observation mission prior to carrying out an attack with a male British citizen and a female American citizen.
 
Damien Clairmont, a Calgary convert to Islam, joined the wave of foreign jihadists when in June he went to collaborate with Al-Nusra Front. It is possible that he was the fighter filmed in Homs in July with a Canadian flag sewn onto his clothes.
 
In one last example, Ali Mohammed Dirie of Toronto was killed in September fighting for Al-Nusra Front. Dirie had previously been convicted of organizing a terror attack that planned to strike governmental targets in Canada in 2006, and consequently served an extended sentence.
 
The Syrian conflict is now in its third year and has claimed over 120,000 lives since November 2011.

'We Will Fly the Islamic Flag Over the White House'

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 14 November 2013 21:20
Hamas terrorists in GazaA video offering a rare look at the two Al Qaeda-linked rebel groups operating in Syria offers some of the most compelling evidence yet of the involvement of western citizens in the country's ongoing civil war - and raises fears over the threat posed by these radicalized Muslims towards western countries "the day after" the conflict.
 
Vice News has released footage of Westerners who have joined with Jabhat Al Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) to fight for Islamic rule - not only over Syria, but over Western countries. 
 
"I say to the United States that your time will come," says one of the men, who gives his age as 26, "and we will bleed you to death and, Inshallah [with the help of God], shall raise a flag in the White House."
 
Other fighters declared that new Caliphate will "pave the way to Al-Aqsa" through Syria, confirming fears in Israel that Islamist rebels plan to turn on the Jewish state in the event they succeed in overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
 
One British national declares that the UK has decided to side with the "enemies" of the Syrian people - which he identifies as the US and Iran, leaving Sunni Muslims "no choice" but to fight in Syria, "Palestine". And he warns that Britain is next. 
 
The channel also notes that about 10% of Syrian rebels are foreign nationals - and that after the consolidation of rebel forces, that number will only continue to grow.
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Just last week, BBC reported that hundreds of British citizens have left to fight in the bloody conflict. 
 
The video comes as Islamist rebels in northern Syria - where the video was allegedly taken - have suffered a series of setbacks, both at the hands of regime forces and against independent Kurdish militias, who oppose both the Assad regime and predominantly-Arab rebel movement.

Russia Sends Most Powerful Ships to Mediterranean

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 06 November 2013 10:51
Russias Pyotr Veliky Peter the Great nulcear-powered battleship - ReutersOn Saturday, Russian news agency RT reported that the "Varyag," flagship of Russia's Pacific Fleet, and "Pyotr Veliky" ("Peter the Great"), the nation's most powerful nuclear-powered battleship, were moved into the Mediterranean Sea.
 
The Varyag, which has been dubbed the "aircraft carrier killer," will perform a number of maneuvers, some in coordination with the Russian naval forces currently stationed on the Mediterranean.
 
The ship will replace the missile cruiser "Moskva," taking command of Russia's Pacific Fleet in the Mediterranean. The Moskva was sent to the region in September to take over local operations.
 
Back in 2011 China started its first tests on its own variation of the Varyag, the "Liaoning," which it had been retrofitting since 1998.
 
Along with the Varyag, the Pyotr Veliky entered the western Mediterranean Saturday, anchoring in the Alboran Sea.
 
In September, admiral of the fleet Viktor Chirkov said the Russian Navy intends to continue increasing its presence, particularly off the Syrian shore. Russian military buildup on the Mediterranean began December 2012.
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The move is seen as aid for Russian ally Syria. Turkish President Abdullah Gul warned today (Monday) that Syria is in danger of becoming an "Afghanistan on the shores of the Mediterranean."
 
Russia has been heavily involved in supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, reportedly having transferred S-300 missile batteries in September. Russia denied the validity of the report.
 
While Western powers are reportedly accepting the idea that Assad will stay in power during Syrian transition up until the Spring 2014 elections, Syrian opposition forces have refused to participate in Geneva peace talks until a timeframe for Assad's removal is established.
 
Naval-Technology.com gives details about the Kirov class Pyotr Veliky, which is designed to sink aircraft carriers and defend the fleet against air and submarine attacks.
 
The ship is fitted with a number of missile systems as well as a 130mm AK-130 twin-barrel gun sporting a 22 km range, and carries 3 Ka-27 helicopters. The following video showcases some of the ship's capabilities.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Commander Killed in Syria

Category: Reports
Created on Tuesday, 05 November 2013 14:14
Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander General Mohammad Ali JafariMuhammad G'malizda, a senior commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has been reported to have been killed in the Syrian Civil War, according to the State-backed Iranian Mehr news agency.
 
G'mazlida was killed sometime over the last few days by "Wahhabi terrorists", the agency said, giving no more details. Wahhabism is an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam, but Iranian state outlets regularly use the term to describe the wider Syrian rebel movement in general. The report once again highlights the extent towards which the IRGC, which is a special branch of Iran's military, has been directly involved in the ongoing conflict on behalf of Syrian Regime President Bashar Assad. 
 
Fighters from both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide have been streaming across Syria's border's to join opposing sides of the ongoing conflict there, which has killed well over 100,000 people. The rebel movement is made up primarily of Sunni Muslims, while the regime counts mainly on the support of Shia Muslims and members of President Assad's Allawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.
 
The IRGC was allegedly established after the 1979 Iranian Revolution to defend and enforce Iran's religious systems, which follow a sect of Shi'a Islam. It is estimated to number some 125,000 military personnel. 
 
This is not the first time that the IRGC has been involved in a neighboring military conflict. Besides for the Iran-Iraq war, the terrorist force was also involved in both the First and Second Lebanon Wars. 
 
IRGC officials recently reiterated Iran's hardline stance against involvement with the US in international talks to stall their nuclear weapons program, declaring that "Death to America" is still their slogan. The remarks came in advance of Iran's annual celebration of the toppling of the US Embassy in Tehran, commemorated today, November 4. 

Massive Explosion at Syria Missile Site, Israel Blamed

Category: News
Created on Friday, 01 November 2013 10:45
Massive Explosion at Syria Missile SiteThere was a massive explosion early Thursday morning at an aerial defense base near the city of Latakia in northeastern Syria, Walla reports, based on reports from the Syrian opposition.
 
Opposition sources said the base, which held anti-aircraft missiles, was destroyed in the blast.
 
Sources in Syria and Lebanon blamed Israel for the strike. However, they offered alternate versions of events: while Syrian sources said the base was hit by a strike from at sea, Lebanese media outlets reported that Israeli planes were seen in the area before the blast.
 
Israel was widely assumed to be responsible for two airstrikes targeting Syrian weapons in May 2013.
 
An Israeli source confirmed that Israel bombed a shipment of “game changing” weapons headed for Hezbollah in early May. Israel was later accused of bombing the Jamraya research center in Damascus as well.
 
Israeli also implicitly confirmed it was behind an air strike in Syria in late January that targeted surface-to-air missiles and a military compound believed to house chemical agents.

Assad: Western Backing of Rebels Must Stop

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 31 October 2013 11:04
President Bashar al-Assad AFPForeign support for Syrian rebels must stop for peace to take place in the war-battered country, President Bashar Al-Assad told visiting UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Wednesday, according to Al Arabiya.
 
“The success of any political solution is tied to stopping support for terrorist groups and pressuring their patron states,” Syrian state television quoted Assad as saying.
 
“Terrorists” is the term used by the Assad regime to describe the rebels trying to oust him.
 
Ahead of a planned peace conference in Geneva, Assad also told Brahimi that a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis cannot be dictated by foreign powers.
 
“The Syrian people are the only ones who have the right to decide on Syria's future, and any solution or agreement must have the acceptance of the Syrian people, and reflect their desires,” Assad said.
 
Assad warned there must not be “any foreign intervention” in seeking a solution to Syria's civil war, in which an estimated 115,000 people have died in 31 months according to AFP.
 
Brahimi seemed to agree with Assad, saying, “The efforts being made for the Geneva conference to be held are focused on finding the way for the Syrians themselves to meet and to agree on solving the crisis as quickly as possible.”
 
Wednesday’s gathering is the first direct talks between the two men since December when Brahimi angered the Syrian ruling family by saying that it has been leading the country for too long.
 
Brahimi’s meeting with Assad comes as part of a regional tour aimed at bringing together the Syrian government and opposition parties on the same table during Geneva II.
 
Opposition and rebel groups have so far refused to take part in the Geneva II unless Assad agrees to leave power.
 
The Geneva II peace conference, backed by Russia and the United States, has been constantly postponed due to disputes over which parties and countries, including Iran, should participate.
 
Last week there were conflicting reports on whether a date had finally been set for the long-delayed conference.
 
Arab League chief Nabil el-Araby said that Brahimi informed him that the talks will convene on November 23. Brahimi, however, denied that any date has been set.
 
The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition is to meet on November 9 to decide whether to take part in the peace talks but has stated emphatically it will only attend if there are guarantees Assad will step down.
 
In recent weeks, dozens of major insurgent groups across Syria said the Western-backed umbrella group had "failed."
 
The Syrian National Council, a key group within the SNC, had said it would not attend proposed peace talks in Geneva and would quit the Coalition if it participated.
 
This group was later followed by nearly 70 rebels groups which declared that the SNC had failed and announced they no longer recognize the Western-backed group.
 
This week, 19 Islamist groups fighting to topple Assad declared that attending peace talks or negotiating with the regime would be an act of betrayal.
 
Assad has refused to step down and has even declared that he is not ruling out running for another term.

Experts Warn of Al Qaeda Biological Weapons Threat

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 19 October 2013 10:59
Chemical Weapons
 
As international attention in Syria focuses on efforts to dismantle the Assad regime's chemical weapons stockpile, British experts are warning of another, potentially more lethal threat.
 
Experts from the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) have issued a stark warning over what they say is the "clear and present danger" of Al Qaeda gaining possession of the Assad regime's stockpile of biological weapons, claiming to have substantial evidence that Al Qaeda-linked groups may already have possession of toxic agents.
 
Unlike chemical weapons, which utilize chemical agents to poison victims, biological weapons make use of diseases, toxins and other contagious agents. Biological weapons have the potential to kill far greater numbers, and are also far harder to detect or protect against.
 
Both are banned under international treaties, but the Syrian government possesses active programs in both fields. However, whilst the use of chemical weapons during the Syrian civil war has been seen on numerous occasions - most notably, but by no means exclusively, during the August 21 attack which killed more than 1,000 people in a number of Damascus suburbs - biological weapons have not been used by either side.
 
That is likely because bioweapons are notoriously difficult to control or contain.
 
But the HJS report, released on Tuesday, says that jihadists in Syria are actively seeking to gain control of the regime's biological weapons' stockpile and, chillingly, suggests they may already have done so.
 
The report claims that the Assad regime is losing control of its bioweapons arsenal, in part because it was never centrally-controlled in the way the country's chemical weapons stockpile has been.
 
"Unlike chemical weapons, maintained in military designated stockpiles which are generally identifiable and which Assad maintains command and control over, the structure of Syria's biological warfare programs are latent, compartmentalized and spread across its remaining bio-pharmaceutical infrastructure. The programs are designed to be highly agile to allow swift production if required."
 
Worryingly, the report suggests that the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front may already have possession of "biological pathogens or weaponized agents either of which would pose a threat to the international community."
 
It points to the widespread looting of bio-pharmasuitical laboratories throughout the country, and cites a "credible eyewitness" as claiming to have personally witnessed "a looted pharmaceutical laboratory," near Aleppo, where Syria's biological weapons program is concentrated, "which was probably a cover for a biological weapons production site."
 
The fact that a Malaysian Al Qaeda operative named as Yazid Sufaat, identified as "Al Qaeda's primary biological weapon expert", was arrested in February as he attempted to enter Syria, was said to indicate the clear interest that the group has in developing such a program in the country.
 
Other Al Qaeda branches, most notably in Yemen and North Africa, have previously attempted to obtain such weapons, and the group's founder, Osama Bin Laden, had expressed an interest in them prior to the infamous 9/11 attacks.
 
While the report does not cite any clear and definitive evidence of Al Qaeda physically possessing biological agents, the circumstantial evidence paints a fairly alarming picture.
 
On the other hand, analysts will find some solace in the fact that neither Al Qaeda nor any other terrorist group has successfully manufactured and deployed biological weapons to lethal effect.
 
But HJS's Associate Fellow Dr Bellamy van Aalst, a former EU and NATO bio-defence consultant, warned against complacency, in light of the relative availability of already-weaponized and readily-deployable biological weapons in Syria.
 
“Establishing the extent to which Assad may have developed biological WMDs is extremely difficult, given that their production is indistinguishable from benign biological lab processes.
 
“But this is certainly a risk to which we should not turn a blind eye. If Assad has been developing biological weapons, as the evidence suggests, and if those weapons fall into the hands of extremists, global health security could be in grave danger.”

Rebels Kill Top Syrian Intelligence Officer

Category: News
Created on Friday, 18 October 2013 08:13
Major General Jamaa JamaaSyrian rebels have killed a top intelligence officer in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, Syrian state media said on Thursday, according to AFP.
 
"Major General Jamaa Jamaa was martyred while carrying out his national duties to defend Syria and its people and pursuing terrorists in Deir Ezzor," state television said in a breaking news alert.
 
Jamaa was head of military intelligence in the province, where the regime has been battling armed opposition fighters seeking to overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
State media gave no immediate details on where in the province Jamaa was killed or how, but jihadist forums said he died during clashes with jihadist fighters in the city of Deir Ezzor.
 
Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights NGO, said initial reports suggested Jamaa had been shot by a sniper in the Rashdiya district of Deir Ezzor city, but there was no confirmation.
 
The group also reported fierce fighting between regime troops and rebels in several parts of the province, including the city, which is the largest in eastern Syria.
 
Jamaa was one of Syria's top security officers in Lebanon during Damascus's military deployment in the country between 1976 and 2005.
 
He was interrogated over the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri though he was not charged in connection with his death.
 
In 2006, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it was blacklisting him and another Syrian general for their role in supporting "terrorist groups" and over the presence in Lebanon.
 
He is believed to be from Jableh, a town in coastal Latakia province, a stronghold of the Syrian regime.
 
On Wednesday, Syrian rebels assaulted the regime-controlled central prison in the main northern city of Aleppo.
 
Abdel Rahman said the assault was carried out primarily by rebels from the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front and from another Islamist faction, Ahrar Al-Sham.
 
As the fighting in Syria continues, Assad’s forces have also recorded some victories, having retaken a key town to the south of the capital Damascus earlier this week.
 
The Syrian army seized control of the town of Bweida with the help of foreign fighters from Iraq and Lebanon.
 
The push appears to be part of a concerted effort by regime forces to dislodge rebels from areas of Damascus under their control.

Syria: 41 Killed in Clashes Between Kurdish, Islamist Groups

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 17 October 2013 08:29
Ghouta massacre1
 
At least 41 people have been killed in renewed clashes between Kurdish militias and Al Qaeda-linked terrorists.
 
The clashes took place in the oil-rich Hasake province in northern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
The Observatory claimed that at least 29 Al Qaeda fighters and 12 Kurdish fighters had been killed in the clashes between the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG) and Islamist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) and the Nusra Front.
 
The Observatory added that among the dead was a local Nusra Front commander of Egyptian origin, and claimed that the YPG had succeeded in capturing an ISIS checkpoint Tuesday.
 
The YPG has been engaged in a prolonged and bloody struggle for control of Kurdish-majority regions in northern Syria against Islamist groups, many of whom are linked to Al Qaeda.
 
Not long after the start of the uprising against the Assad regime, government forces pulled out of Kurdish areas to focus on attacks by Sunni Arab rebels against major regime strongholds.
 
Kurdish militias quickly moved in to take control - in particular the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) - the military wing of the People's Council of Western Kurdistan (PYD) - declaring their opposition to both the regime and the rebel movement, both of whom they say aim to continue a process of discrimination and "Arabization" against Syria's Kurdish population.
 
Arab and Islamist groups within the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) initially made a grab for Kurdish areas but were beaten back.
 
But the most recent clashes over the past several months have been between the YPG and Al Qaeda-linked groups, after the latter began a concerted and violent campaign to install their own independent "emirates," or Islamic mini-statelets in the oil-rich region. That was met with fierce opposition by Kurdish forces, who responded by ejecting Islamist forces from the border town of Ras al-Ain, near the Turkish border, among other areas.
 
Frequent battles have continued since then, amid claims of war crimes by Islamist forces against Kurdish civilians.
 
The PYD recently announced plans for an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria.
 
Bus bomb blast kills 21
 
Meanwhile, in the south of the country, a bus bomb has killed 21 people in Syria's southern Deraa province, near the border with Israel.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that "Four children and six women [were killed] in a blast that detonated as their vehicle went past Tal al-Jumua" in the Nawa area.
 
The bombing took place in rebel-held territory near to a besieged pro-regime outpost, and opposition activists have blamed regime forces for the attack.

Islamist 'Serial Butcher' Assassinated

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 16 October 2013 17:03
Free Syrian Army fighter - ReutersChechnya's President Ramzan Kadyrov announced last week the assassination of Rastom Saleef one of the most extremist Islamic fighters, by elite Chechen forces.
 
Saleef, known by his fighting name, Abu Muslim al Shishani, belonged to an extremist Islamic movement that had called for the establishment of  a "Caucasus Emirate" as the basis for the future Islamic caliphate.
 
Chechnya declared independence from Russia in 1991, leading to a bitter battle with Russian forces. A peace treaty was signed in 1996, but three years later, after Chechen fighters assisted neighboring Dagestan to also gain independence, Russia re-occupied the country. Almost fifteen years of fighting have followed - with thousands of Islamic fighters in the country behind a series of deadly terrorist attacks in Chechnya, Russia and other countries. 
 
Saleef had spent the last year fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad with the Islamist rebels of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al Nusra terrorist organization.
 
Websites associated with Islamic terrorist groups in Syria "credit" Saleef with the slaughter of 378 people - including soldiers and officers in the Syrian army as well as Assad regime loyalists - by cutting their throats with a knife.
 
Described as among the fiercest fighter in the ranks of the rebels, Saleef is said to have beheaded his victims after killing them, placing the head on top of the detached body to cries of "Allahu Akhbar" (Allah is great).
 
Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Syrian rebel forces of war crimes against humanity for the execution of 180  Syrian civilians in the town of Latakia. Meanwhile also last week but on the other side of the conflict, Hezbollah men fighting alongside the Syrian military were filmed celebrating the brutal execution of a group of seriously wounded Syrian civilians.
 
The fighting in Syria has killed at least 110,000.

'Terror Tunnel' Discovered - This Time in Damascus

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 15 October 2013 08:30
Syrian rebels of shoulder-launched missile systems including the U.S.-made Stingers. AFP
 
Syrian regime forces operating in the suburbs of the capital Damascus on Monday made a startling discovery: a "terror tunnel" along the lines of the one recently discovered by Israeli security forces along the perimeter with Hamas-controlled Gaza, leading all the way to neighboring Deraa.
 
Rebel forces had apparently been using the tunnel to shuttle men and equipment between the southeastern suburb of Damascus to the flashpoint city of Deraa, which has strategic significance due to its close proximity to the Al-Mazza military airport.
 
The tunnel was approximately 10 meters deep, 250-300 meters long and was equipped with lighting and openings for ventilation.
 
The discovery of the tunnel comes just days after a similar, though somewhat more sophisticated tunnel was discovered by Israeli security forces leading from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip towards neighboring Israeli communities. Security sources have speculated that the tunnel could have been used to carry out attacks against Israeli soldiers or civilians.
 
Since the start of the uprising against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the Hamas movement - once close to Damascus - quickly shifted its allegiance to back the rebels, prompting the Syrian government to expel the movement from its Damascus headquarters.
 
Hamas has since attempted to keep a low profile on the conflict, seeking to avoid clashing with either of its major patrons - Qatar, which supports the rebels, and Iran, which supports the regime. However, reports soon surfaced of Hamas fighters training rebel fighters in urban warfare, including the use of tunnels to launch attacks and move equipment, a tactic which the group has carefully honed over years of conflict with Israel.
 
Though the use of tunnels in asymmetrical warfare is nothing new, in light of the above - as well as the fact that the skills necessary for such an operation would require significant training from somewhere - means that the similarities between the two cases may be more than a coincidence.
 
The fact that Hamas' own tactics - once sponsored by the Assad regime as a means to murder Israeli civilians - are now being utilized in the battle to oust its former ally, bears testament to the unpredictable nature of the Middle East's patchwork of competing and ever-changing alliances.  
 
Though the use of tunnels in asymmetrical warfare is nothing new, the similarities between the two cases may be more than a coincidence.

Syria Has Non-nuke EMP Bombs

Category: Op-Eds
Created on Monday, 14 October 2013 10:31
Chemical WeaponsSometimes you need to spend billions to unearth supreme strategic military secrets. Other times, self-intoxicated leaders let the cat out of the bag.
 
On 3 March 1917, German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman blurted out, "I cannot deny it.  It is true." Zimmerman had just admitted that as a German gambit to keep America "busy," Germany had secretly offered Mexico funding to attack America, and regain Texas and virtually America's entire Southwest.
 
In no small part due to Zimmerman's admission, America entered the war against Germany the next month, April 1917.
 
On 26 September 2013, Syrian president Bashar Assad said that Syria possesses "more advanced weaponry, which can serve as a deterrent, and blindside Israel within seconds."  Loose lips sink ships.
 
Sometimes you need to spend billions to unearth supreme strategic military secrets.  Other times, self-intoxicated leaders like Zimmerman articulate a casus belli of Germany against America in World War I.
 
Today, Assad gives a game-changing military secret to Israel more valuable than rubies.  By letting slip that Syria could "blindside" Israel, Assad admitted Syria likely possesses non-nuclear, conventional Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) weapons. The ramifications of a conventional EMP attack on Israel apply not only from Syria, but also, most critically, from any Palestinian Arab "demilitarized" state.
 
(I have previously discussed nuclear EMP weapons in my article, “The 100% Fatwa-Compliant Iranian EMP NuclearWeapon.” (/Articles/Article.aspx/11551#.Uk4umDK9KK0))
 
As explained in previous articles, a nuclear EMP bomb is merely a regular nuclear weapon which is ignited 50 kilometers above the earth where they don't kill people but kill electronics, instead of 1-5 kilometers above the ground where it would kill many people.  Non-nuclear EMP bombs are microwave-emitting weapons which electronically fry a much smaller electronic kill radius than a nuclear EMP bomb would.
 
But, a conventional EMP bomb has the same end result in that it totally destroys any electronics in a given target zone.  The reason I hadn't raised this issue previously is because it is the likeliest critical element to any possible strike on Iran.  But since Assad let the cat out of the bag, it must now be discussed openly.
 
No one can describe non-nuclear conventional EMPs better than its maker the Boeing Company.   On 22 October 2012, Boeing released a press release http://www.boeing.com/Features/2012/10/bds_champ_10_22_12.html, and video that explained conventional EMP weapons as follows:
 
"A recent weapons flight test in the Utah desert may change future warfare after the missile successfully defeated electronic targets with little to no collateral damage.
 
Boeing and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Directed Energy Directorate, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., successfully tested the Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) during a flight over the Utah Test and Training Range.
 
CHAMP, which renders electronic targets useless, is a non-kinetic alternative to traditional explosive weapons that use the energy of motion to defeat a target.
 
During the test, the CHAMP missile navigated a pre-programmed flight plan and emitted bursts of high-powered energy, effectively knocking out the target's data and electronic subsystems. CHAMP allows for selective high-frequency radio wave strikes against numerous targets during a single mission.
 
‘This technology marks a new era in modern-day warfare,’ said Keith Coleman, CHAMP program manager for Boeing Phantom Works. ‘In the near future, this technology may be used to render an enemy’s electronic and data systems useless even before the first troops or aircraft arrive.’”
 
It is entirely feasible, if not highly probable, that Syria possesses such a conventional EMP weapon.  How Syria could deliver the weapon to Israel's electronic soft-underbelly is another question.  But leaving the question of delivery aside for the moment, the real question is: how does this effect Israel's strategic equation?
 
 Apart from other aspects, the most worrisome effect would be if Israel attempted to strike Iran's nuclear facilities.  Such a sophisticated weapon in Syria is likely under the control of Iran's al Quds forces in Syria.  And, it would likely be used as a second-strike against Israel if Israel attacked. A non-nuclear counter strike against Israel when Israel is in the midst of attacking Iran could bring Israel a grievous military catastrophe.
 
Therefore, it now becomes a military necessity that Assad is liquidated before any Israeli attack on Iran proceeds.  By Israel's supplying the rebels with critical real-time intelligence of the locations of Assad's weapons' depots, and an unlimited amount of untraceable small caliber bullets (preferably 7.62x39mm Kalash rounds), Assad will crumble and crumble fast.
 
But the most dramatic threat posed by a non-nuclear conventional EMP bomb is not from Syria, it's from the "demilitarized" Palestinian Arab State that Tzipi Livni is concocting for Israel's future.  The reason being, with absolute Israeli military control of all goods coming into that area and absolute military control over the Samarian mountains facing Tel Aviv, it will be impossible to keep out the electronic parts necessary for the Palestinian Arabs to make such a conventional EMP bomb.
 
They wouldn't need a "delivery system" because the EMP bomb would have already been "delivered" to striking range of Israel's electronic soft-underbelly, Tel Aviv.  The Palestinian Arabs could then conventionally first-strike decapitate Israel's entire military force structure and electronic system as a prelude to a second wave attack by Iranian or Arab missiles or armies.  The Kirya (Israel's "Pentagon" in Tel Aviv) would be electronically toasted from the word "go."  All of Israel's anti-missile, air defense and mobilization systems would be paralyzed from the very first second of a Muslim war of decimation.  It would be lights-out, game-over for Israel before the war against Israel even began. 
 
A Palestinian Arab state no longer threatens Israel with chemical Katyushas, it now threatens Israel with annihilation by EMP bombs.  Unless Israel short-circuits its suicidal "peace" process, a Palestinian CHAMP EMP bomb could instantly turn Israel's electronic defense into a clump of burning wiring. 
 
For more information, please visit www.marklangfan.com
 
mark langfanMark Langfan
The writer, who writes on security issues, has created an original educational 3d Topographic Map System of Israel to facilitate clear understanding of the dangers facing Israel and its water supply. It has been studied by US lawmakers and can be seen at www.marklangfan.com

Syria: 50 Killed as Rebels Fight Each Other

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 12 October 2013 20:44
RebelesAlmost 50 rebel fighters have been killed in three days of skirmishes between jihadists and mainstream rebels in the Syrian city of Aleppo, reports Al Arabiya.
 
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday that the violence began on Thursday between members of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and a battalion linked to the Arab and Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), both of which are fighting to overthrow Syria’s embattled President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
“At least 30 fighters from the Ababil Brigade and 14 from ISIL have been killed in combat, and that toll could rise further,” the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman said, according to AFP.
 
Rahman said that fighting broke out in several district of the city, with ISIL making gains in several areas.
 
Since July last year, Aleppo’s east district has been held by the rebels, and the west has been held by forces loyal to Assad.
 
The 13-member Islamic Front for the Liberation of Syria, which split off from the Syrian National Council opposition force, declared the northern commercial hub city of Aleppo to be an independent Islamist state months ago.
 
Since that time, a second civil war has begun in war-ravaged Syria, between the more moderate rebel groups and the Islamist extremist groups.
 
Members of Al-Nusra and other Syrian rebels groups have committed atrocities during the Syrian civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
 
Some of the Islamist groups have attempted to soften their image in an attempt to win hearts and minds - holding stand up comedy shows and handing out toys to local children.

Hezbollah Fighters Execute Injured Syrian Civilians

Category: News
Created on Friday, 11 October 2013 12:07
Islamic Fighters v/s Syrian Civilians
 
In one of the most disturbing scenes to emerge from the fighting in Syria, Hezbollah fighters operating under the command of the Syrian army, have been filmed celebrating and rejoicing, as they dragged injured Syrian civilians from a van and executed them.
 
Hezbollah are fighting alongside Bashar Al Assad's men, in their bitter battle against rebels in the country, where over 110,000 people have been killed in the last two years.  
 
The video clip, which somehow fell into the hands of Syrian rebels, and looks to be filmed from a mobile phone of one of the execution squad, clearly documents a war crime perpetrated by the Hizbullah fighters.
 
The clip - which Arutz Sheva has decided not to show due to its disturbing, graphic content - shows the Hezbollah fighters dragging a number of seriously injured civilians wearing blood soaked clothes from a Syrian military vehicle. The civilians are seen being thrown to the ground whereupon Hezbollah fighters shoot them to death at close range.
 
At one stage, one of the injured begs for his life and attempts with his last strength to move. Hezbollah fighters standing over him, one of whom is directing the executions, mock the man quoting a slogan of the Syrian rebels "in the way of Allah," and shortly after shots are seen fired at the injured man who dies on the spot. Hezbollah fighters are then heard celebrating with satisfaction at the executions.
 
Hezbollah were also previously been accused of murdering women and children in early June as they helped Assad's men retake the city of Qusair, near the border with Lebanon, which they did in early June. 
 
Earlier this month, a former secretary-general of Hezbollah said that Iran, who sponsors and controls the terrorist organization, had ordered it to participate in the Syrian war.

Erdogan: 'Syria's Assad is a Terrorist, Not a Politician'

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 09 October 2013 08:02
Nazi flag hoisted by Turkish flotilla supportIn an interview with a Turkish newspaper on Monday, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a jab at Bashar Assad, saying the Syrian president is a terrorist and no longer a political figure.
 
“I don’t regard Bashar al-Assad as a politician any more. Assad is a terrorist who uses state terror," Erdogan told Hurriyet after a meeting with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in Ankara. "A person who has killed 110,000 of his own people is a terrorist."
 
Erdogan also told reporters that "There is state terrorism [in Syria] - I’m speaking frankly. I’m having difficulty understanding those in the Turkish media who defend this [state terrorism].”
 
Erdogan has been one of Assad’s harshest critics since Syria’s uprising erupted in March 2011.
 
During Monday's interview, Erdogan also denounced US Secretary of State John Kerry for praising Syria’s compliance with the international community in relinquishing its chemical weapons.
 
“You are a human being and me, too,” said Erdogan. “How can we appreciate the behavior of a person who killed 110,000 people, I ask you. The result of either chemical or other types of weapons is death. Then how can we appreciate this? I cannot imagine a person who appreciates this."
 
The media reported that Kerry said earlier on Monday that Assad could take "credit" for quickly starting the process of destroying his government chemical weapons arsenal while thanking Moscow for its help. "I don't think Mr. Kerry made a statement like this," said Erdogan."If he did, he has run into a contradiction with himself."
 
Erdogan’s comments came only days after his country was harshly criticized by Assad. 
 
In an interview with Turkey’s private Halk TV last Thursday, the Syrian president warned that Ankara would pay “a high price” for allowing foreign fighters to enter Syria from its territory and join rebel forces. Assad also called Erdogan "bigoted" and "a liar," and accused him of supporting terrorists.
 
Assad made no mention of his government’s role in the civil war that has killed at least 100,000 people so far, instead blaming foreign fighters and governments, including Turkey’s, for the bloodshed.
 
“This government, represented by Erdogan, is responsible for the blood of tens of thousands of Syrians, and is responsible for the destruction of Syria’s infrastructure,” Assad said. It is also “responsible for endangering security of the region, not only Syria.”
 
“You cannot hide terrorists in your pocket. They are like a scorpion, which will eventually sting you,” Assad added, saying Muslim extremists from more than 80 countries are coming to Syria by sneaking across the border with Turkey.
 
Erdogan has long advocated the removal of Assad from power.
 
On August 31, the Turkish leader said a limited military response to the reported use of chemical weapons by Assad’s regime was not enough, and any kind of intervention should aim to topple him.
 
“It can’t be a 24 hours hit-and-run,” Erdogan told reporters at the presidential palace in Ankara. “What matters is stopping the bloodshed in Syria and weakening the regime to the point where it gives up.”
 
There are currently some 500,000 Syrian refugees living in Turkey. 
 
Erdogan, a former ally of the Syrian president, turned against him several months after the Syrian conflict began in March 2011.

Tunisia women ministry to fight 'sex jihad' trips to Syria

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 21 September 2013 16:19
fatwa-on-sexual-jihad
 
Tunisia's women's ministry said Saturday it would come up with a plan to counter the growing number of women travelling to Syria to wage so-called "sex jihad" by comforting militants.
 
"The ministry intends to boost its cooperation with both government and non-government bodies on this issue to come up with appropriate ways to thwart the plans of those who encourage such practices," a ministry statement said.
 
"The ministry will work to introduce a plan of information, sensitivity and education targeting women and families everywhere to warn them of the seriousness of these practices," it said.
 
A crisis group has already been set up, it added.
 
Interior Minister Lotfi ben Jeddou told the National Constituent Assembly on Thursday that Tunisian women had gone to Syria where "they have sexual relations with 20, 30, 100" militants. 
 
"After the sexual liaisons they have there in the name of 'jihad al-nikah' -- (sexual holy war, in Arabic) -- they come home pregnant," he told MPs.
 
Ben Jeddou did not elaborate on how many Tunisian women had returned to the country pregnant with the children of jihadist fighters.
 
On Saturday, the health ministry statement said it had noted "an increase in the number of young women leaving for so-called jihad al-nikah", although it did not give any figures.
 
Jihad al-nikah, permitting extramarital sexual relations with multiple partners, is considered by some hardline Sunni Muslim Salafists as a legitimate form of holy war.
 
Media reports have said hundreds of Tunisian women have gone to Syria for this purpose, in addition to hundreds of Tunisian men joining jihadists battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
 
Ben Jeddou said that since he assumed office in March, "six thousand of our young people have been prevented from going there".
 
He has said in the past that border controls have been boosted to intercept young Tunisians seeking to travel to Syria.
 
Media reports say thousands of Tunisians have, over the past 15 years, joined jihadists across the world in Afghanistan Iraq and Syria, mainly travelling via Turkey or Libya.
 

An Iranian Expatriate's Message to Obama

Category: Op-Eds
Created on Saturday, 21 September 2013 06:50
Chemical Weapons0Mr. President, the terrible fix you find yourself in is the predictable result of your own making. You showed vacillation and weakness at every turn. And the thugs are watching.
 
The civilized world witnessed in revulsion the graphic images, which emerged showing the aftermath of a dawn poison gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus, Syria. The attack wiped out some 1300 people as they lay sleeping in their beds. The Obama administration claims President Bashar al-Assad's forces launched the nerve gas attack while the Syrian government has denounced the US’s assessment of chemical weapons, calling the this accusation, "full of lies."
 
Gassing of Syrian civilians is a crime beyond the pale, no matter who did it. Yet, where is the rest of the world’s reaction to this atrocity? Some countries, with Russia's Colonel Putin in the lead, are siding with the alleged gasser. In fact, they are turning the tables and accusing the Syrian opposition forces of being the ones who did the gassing to garner support from foreign "fundamentalists."
 
As for Assad's gassing, Mr. President, perhaps he was testing your resolve in a stepwise manner, to make doubly sure that you are all bluster and your threats, in contrast to his, only hot air. Allegedly, Assad used poison gas several times on a smaller scale and you looked the other way. See what happens when villains go unchecked?
 
Regardless of who used any chemical weapons, the world can’t just let a thug like Assad go unpunished for murdering well over a hundred thousand people since the conflict began on 15 March 2011. That would be a travesty and a license for him and his handlers, Iran’s mullahs and the Russians, to go on a rampage.
 
There are no good guys to support in this senseless civil war. The choice seems to be between the devil and the deep blue sea--between Assad's Ba'ath-o-fascists and the Islam-o-fascists. Fascists are fascists. Even the democratic-appearing “Syrian Free Army” suspiciously seems to be of the same old Arab-Muslim hate Israel crowd. Hate Israel. Destroy Israel is the rallying cry of these people.
 
President Obama, you have my sympathy. You are in a very tight spot, largely of your own doing. You piped up about the “red-line” thing, for whatever reason. Did you think of yourself as the chief constable of the world when you made that statement? Didn't you realize that when push comes to shove, the team you thought you had would turn tail and you yourself get forced to do the same?
 
Again, Mr. President, the terrible fix you find yourself in is the predictable result of your own making. From the time you took your apology world tour, bad-mouthing the United States, singing the praises of Islam and internationalism, you showed vacillation and weakness at every turn. For one, you did not even find it in yourself to voice your support for the valiant Iranians against the rule of fascist mullahs in the 2009 Green Revolution.
 
The results: Thousands of democracy’s best children of Iran were slaughtered, maimed, or imprisoned and the Iranian mullahs are emboldened and have tripled their speed in the quest for their ultimate weapon, knowing full well that you neither can nor will do anything to stop them.
 
More than a year ago, an American ambassador and three other American heroes were brutally murdered in Benghazi, Libya.  Along the way, there was the notion of the laughably false explanation initially given to the American public by your administration that the attack was incited by a video. Mr. President, you said while campaigning in Colorado "I want people around the world to hear me: No act of terror will go unpunished."
 
But you have failed thus far to make good on your promise to do anything when a bunch of Muslim jihadists massacred our ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi. Your “toothless” rhetoric is proven useless and you have become a laughingstock, Mr. President. You have no credibility left.
 
Now, Mr. President, you are forced to cover yourself with Colonel Putin's fig leaf. It breaks my heart and mocks our great nation that so trustingly placed its destiny in your hands. I pray you work your way out of this terrible mess with minimal harm. But take heart, bigger and more deadly challenges are down the road in this troubling world.
 
Mr. President, since the collapse of your “red-line” rhetoric threat and making good on it, the mullahs in the person of none other than the "moderate" selected president of Iran, Mr. Rouhani, announced to the world that they have no intention of retreating one iota from their full speed ahead nuclear project.  And then the North Koreans, as if on cue, are re-activating their nuclear facilities.
 
Well, the bad boys see that this policeman is all bluff. The tiger is toothless. Obama is so impotent and vacillating that a former KGB thug by the name of Putin, a diehard admirer of Stalin, is lecturing him and setting the tone on the world stage. It must be the end of the world.
 
Bashar Assad is a true son to his genocidal father, Hafiz al-Assad, who had entire towns murdered when they dared to raise their voices demanding their God-given rights. Iranian government officials have repeatedly said that Bashar Assad is Iran's redline. Assad is the Islamic Republic’s puppet. The Islamic government in Iran, is helping Bashar Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite, fight predominately Sunni rebels. This includes a presence on the ground of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards actively murdering Sunni brethren.
 
Bashar Assad's patron saint Putin and his Kremlin Mafia are not exactly running a world charity when they supply the gasser Assad with all kinds of weapons, including the deadly pricy attack helicopters, as well as the raw chemicals for his chemical weapons. Where then does Assad get the money to pay the cash-and-carry Kremlin Inc. for the weapons? Just trace the money. The purser for this puppet, genocidal myopic murdering eye doctor is none other than the Islamic Republic of Iran. The mullahs are calling the shots because they control the purse strings.
 
Some, playing with words, called Assad a shortsighted eye doctor. He is clearly a genocidal killer of civilian men, women and children. He may even indeed be shortsighted. His handlers, the mullahs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, are anything but shortsighted. They have deadly grandiose plans and aim to pursue them for long after you are gone.
 
Mr. President, we really need to deal with the source of this mayhem and bloodletting--the turbaned snakes of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the puppeteers who are hell-bent at promoting their death-bearing agenda.
 
Now, we have the North Korean juvenile with big aspirations trying to do some fishing of his own from the murky water. He has reactivated the shut down plutonium plant to make some of his favorite toys. There is a lesson here, Mr. Obama: Show a little weakness, bleed just a few drops and sharks, big and small, will be all over you to finish you off. And it is not only you; the prize is the annihilation of humanity's finest nation of all nations--the United States of America.
 
Mr. Obama, don't let a known murderer and former KGB colonel who rose through ranks of that dreaded organization get away with his stunts and his suddenly new found role of abiding by the United Nations’ Security Council guidelines for settling disputes. This duplicitous lowlife is the same person who presided over the killing of tens of thousands in Chechnya. Then he sent his army into the independent nation of Georgia, occupying and basically annexing two provinces of that nation. But, what happened to Putin? You didn’t hear of the UN at those times.
 
Mr. President, miscreant villains respect only power. Remember the Iranian hostage crisis? The mullahs turned their noses up at Carter and dared him to do anything. They wouldn't budge. The minute it looked like Reagan, the no nonsense candidate, was going to replace the indecisive illusionary Carter, the mullahs released the Americans.
 
The mullahs’ method of staying in power relies heavily on preventive measures. They don’t bother much with due process of law. They just dispense with the “due” and get on with the “process.” On the slightest suspicion, they arrest, convict and execute. They let Allah in the next world take the time to determine the person’s guilt or innocence. The mullahs have their job to do on God’s earth: To cleanse it from all infidels. When one has a tall order like that to fill, he can’t be bothered with the tedious due process on which the Western democracies “waste” so much time and resources.
 
Mr. Obama, it takes two to tango, as the old saying goes. The uncompromising oil-intoxicated fanatics of Iran and their proxies don't want to dance with you. They want the entire floor -- the Middle East -- and the rest of the world down the road.
 
Mr. President, please don't misunderstand me. I sincerely despise violence of all sorts. I am not advocating war. But I certainly believe in the imperative of self-defense. I am certain that with every appeasing step, we incur huge damage to our nation.
 
President Obama, please don't let the Putins and mullahs of the world become further emboldened. A little North Korean thug is watching very closely to have his turn at us. This one already has the ultimate weapon and is itching to use it. It is a race between him and the mullahs. This is not the time for America to have shaky knees for the world to see.
 
Amil ImaniAmil Imani
The writer is an Iranian-American writer, poet, satirist, novelist, essayist, literary translator, public speaker and political analyst who has been writing and speaking out about the danger of radical Islam internationally. He has become a formidable voice in the USA against the danger of global jihad and Islamization of America. He maintains a website at www.amilimani.com. and wrote the book Obama Meets Ahmadinejad and a new thriller Operation Persian Gulf

Tunisian girls return home pregnant after ‘sexual jihad’ in Syria

Category: Islam
Created on Saturday, 21 September 2013 06:32
Tunisian girls travelled for sexual jihad Photo-www.febrayer.com
 
A number of Tunisian girls who had travelled to Syria to perform “sexual jihad” there have returned back home pregnant, Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfi Bin Jeddo said on Thursday.
 
The Tunisian girls “are (sexually) swapped between 20, 30, and 100 rebels and they come back bearing the fruit of sexual contacts in the name of sexual jihad and we are silent doing nothing and standing idle,” the non-partisan minister said during an address to the National Constituent Assembly.
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Bin Jeddo said the interior ministry has banned 6,000 Tunisians from travelling to Syria since March 2013 and arrested 86 individuals suspected of forming “networks” that send Tunisian youth for “jihad” to Syria.
The minister hit back at human rights groups criticizing the government’s decision to ban suspected “jihadists” from travel. Most of those slapped with travel bans were less than 35 years old, he said.
“Our youths are positioned in the frontlines and are taught how to steal and raid (Syrian) villages,” Bin Jeddo said.
 
Former Mufti of Tunisia Sheikh Othman Battikh said in April that 13 Tunisian girls “were fooled” into travelling to Syria to offer their sexual services to rebels fighting to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
 
The mufti, who was dismissed from his post days afterwards, described the so-called “sexual Jihad” as a form of “prostitution.”
“For Jihad in Syria, they are now pushing girls to go there. 13 young girls have been sent for sexual jihad. What is this? This is called prostitution. It is moral educational corruption,” the mufti told reporters.
 
In August, general director of the public security service Mostafa Bin Omar said a “sexual jihad cell” was broken up in an area west of the country where al-Qaead fighters holed up.
Bin Omar told reporters that al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar Shariah was using minor girls, dressed in the full face cover to offer sexual services for jihadist male fighters.

Iran Takes Aim at Israel on Chemical Weapons

Category: News
Created on Monday, 16 September 2013 17:45
Chemical Weapons0In a press conference responding to Syria's agreement to renounce its chemical weapons, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziah Afkham took the opportunity to direct international attention towards Israel.
 
Referring to the Chemical Weapons Convention which Syria pledged to sign last week, Afkham said Israel had not signed up and should be forced to do so.
 
“It is concerning that the Zionist regime [of Israel] … is not a member of any treaty on the prohibition of weapons of mass destruction including the Chemical Weapons Convention,” Afkham said on Sunday. 
 
She added: “We call on the [UN] Security Council and the international community to adopt serious measures to [make] this [Israeli] regime join the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
 
Last week, Syria officially handed in a request to the United Nations to join the convention which which outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons.
 
The regime led by President Bashar Al-Assad is widely believed to have used lethal sarin gas in an attack on a Damascus neighborhood on August 21 killing over over a thousand civilians including hundreds of children. 
 
According to U.S. estimates, the Syrian regime has an arsenal  of 100 tonnes of chemical weapons.
 
Israel's Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz dismissed pressure on Israel to publish details of Israel's chemical weaponry, telling Army Radio the expected pressure was a smokescreen to deviate international from Syrias obligation to disarm.
 
Israel signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1982 but has never ratified it, despite American and Russian pressure to do so, leading analysts to suggest that Israel considers itself bound by the spirit of the treaty, but not legally obligated to observe it.
 
Afkham's remarks come during a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry to Israel, during which the Syrian chemical weapons question has already featured prominently on the agenda.
 
But although many Israelis will be pleased to see Assad disarmed of his chemical weapons stockpile, many remain skeptical as to the outcome of the Russian-led initiative.
 
Some commentators have suggested that Kerry could attempt to use the opportunity to pressure Israel to ratify the treaty.
 
"Kerry may tell Netanyahu the United States is working to remove one of the gravest threats on Israel's security, by combining a credible military threat with creative diplomacy.
 
"Now, Kerry may say, the US needs Israel's help by ratifying the treaty prohibiting the use of chemical weapons," wrote Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz newspaper. 
 
But on Sunday, former Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who currently heads the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, insisted that Israel's stance regarding the treaty remained unchanged.
 
"Only when current Middle East becomes a completely new Middle East will we be able to sign on such a treaty," he explained.
 
Days after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem pledged to sign the convention intelligence reports indicated Assad had begun scattering his chemical stockpile to around 50 different sites across the country making them harder for the international community to track.
 
Another unconfirmed report claimed that the regime had begun moving its stockpiles to Iraq, although both the Syrian and Iraqi governments firmly denied the report.
 
Referring to the Russian-brokered deal on Syria committing President Assad to hand over its chemical weapons arsenal to the international community, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urged for "The complete destruction of all of the chemical weapons stockpiles that the Syrian regime has used against its own people," adding, "The test of results is also incumbent on the efforts of the international community to stop Iran's nuclear armament."
 
Iran has continued on its path to acquire nuclear weapons capability despite international condemnation and a series of sanctions against the regime.
 
Regarding Iran, Netanyahu emphasized that "Here too, it is not words but actions that will determine the outcome. In any case, Israel must be prepared and ready to defend itself against every threat, something that is more important today than ever." 

Prof. Gilboa: The Time to Decide is Now, Obama

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 15 September 2013 08:56
Bemoaning the loss of his anonymity AFPAs a leading scholar in the field of public diplomacy, Professor Eytan Gilboa has said Obama has mishandled the situation in Syria and potential negotiations with Iran.
 
Arutz Sheva met this week with Gilboa, the Director of the Center for International Communication at Bar-Ilan University, who has made it clear that "time is running out" for United States President Barak Obama to diplomatically handle the crisis in the Middle East. 
 
"Everybody agrees that this is going to be the time for decision, otherwise, if nothing is going to be done, Iran will become a nuclear power. Obama has shown in the chemical weapons crisis in Syria that what he promises may not really become policy," Gilboa said.
 
Gilboa stated that "there are very serious question about his [Obama's] commitment to stop nuclear Iran by all means, including military force if necessary." He went on to say that Israel may find itself alone in the last effort to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. 
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"Israel can only rely on itself as a potential response to Obama's mishandling the crisis in Syria and his potential mishandling of the negotiations with Iran."

Iranian Media Lauds Humiliating Blow for U.S.

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 14 September 2013 15:46
Hassan RowhaniIran's conservative press trumpeted as a "humiliating blow" the decision by its arch-foe the United States to put on hold plans for a military intervention in Syria following a surprise Russian initiative aimed at defusing the stand-off.
 
"By taking the Russian initiative seriously, Washington will send a signal to Tehran that it's willing to take risks and make compromises for peace," Reza Marashi of the National Iranian American Council, a Washington-based advocacy organisation, told the AFP news agency.
 
Moscow's initiative came as US President Barack Obama was seeking congressional approval to launch punitive strikes against the Damascus regime for allegedly using deadly sarin gas against its own people last month.
 
Amir Mohebian, a Tehran-based conservative commentator, says Obama's decision to put possible military action on hold "strengthens Iran's position in the region".
 
Tehran has provided Damascus with material and intelligence support, but denies accusations that it has armed the Assad regime to fight the uprising-turned-civil war that has claimed more than 110,000 lives since 2011. "Perhaps the Americans now understand that it is less costly to solve the Syrian crisis with Iran's help," Mohebian told AFP. "
 
It may also affect the issue of (Iran's) nuclear program " which Western powers and Israel suspect has military objectives despite Iranian denials. A Western diplomat in Tehran, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Iranian leadership, who had feared a military escalation in the region, was now "relieved". "The Russian proposal has given Iran more room" over Syria, the source said.
 
The US, France and Israel have maintained that any action against Syria would also send a message to Iran, which is embroiled in a decade-long stand-off with world powers on its nuclear ambitions. US Secretary of State John Kerry warned last week that inaction on Syria would embolden Iran, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that Syria must be stripped of its chemical weapons as a lesson to the Islamic republic.
 
Rouhani on Tuesday insisted that Iran would not give up "one iota" of what it considers its right to develop a nuclear program for peaceful purposes. This strong stand, which echoes the position of his hardline predecessor Mahmud Ahmadinejad, comes as world powers prepare to restart negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.

Obama Insists: Assad Must Step Down

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 14 September 2013 15:26
Obama InsistsLeading Kuwaiti newspaper Alrai has reported that the U.S. administration will demand that any agreement made with Syria should commit President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, and commit the remaining parties to working towards a cease-fire agreement.
 
Momentum towards a U.S. led strike against Syria following its suspected use of deadly sarin gas on August 21 has been stopped in its tracks by a Russian brokered deal that would see Syria hand over its chemical weapons arsenal to the international community.
 
Reportedly, the new U.S. demand has been met with fury in Syria, where regime officials claim such a move would ride roughshod over the "democratic rights" of the Syrian people to elect their own leader.
 
Sources close to the Syrian President were quoted as saying: "Not Iran, Russia and not the United State can decide who the Syrian President will be, " adding,  "the Syrian leadership expected the demands of Washington to get bigger and bigger, but this is illegal and cannot be considered."
 
The source added: "The intention was to enter into an agreement regarding chemical weapons that would ensure they don't fall into the wrong hands, but there will be no agreement that seeks to further strengthen the terrorist rebel forces."
 
As talks are set to get underway in Geneva between, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor voiced his pessimism over the Russian initiative through which Syria's Assad regime could comply with chemical weapons treaties as a way of avoiding western military intervention.
 
Palmor said that the existing 20-year-old Chemical Weapons Convention, which has been proposed as the tool for verifying Syrian compliance, has failed to attract the multilateral support that would allow it to work.
 
Syria's neighbor Turkey has also voiced its cynicism over the diplomatic initiative.  Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Bashar al-Assad was buying time and should not be trusted.
 
"We are doubtful that the promises regarding chemical weapons will be met," Erdogan said Thursday. 

US Plans '3-Day Attack' on Syria

Category: Reports
Created on Sunday, 08 September 2013 11:18
USS Nimitz ReutersThe US military is planning a more extensive military operation against regime targets in Syria than had been previously planned, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.
 
Unnamed "US officers" told the paper that the Pentagon is drawing up plans for 3 days of strikes against a list of targets significantly longer than the original list of 50, though it is still expected to be more a "show of force" than an attempt to influence events on the battlefield.
 
According to the report, the US military could utilize Air Force bombers, in addition to five US missile destroyers currently patrolling the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The plan would include two waves of strikes: an initial barrage against the extended list of targets, to be followed by a secondary one which would aim to strike missed targets, or those which hadn't been destroyed by the first.
 
The attack would involve the use of cruise missiles and air-to-surface missiles which would be lanched from outside of the range of Syrian air defenses.
 
The USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group, which includes cruiser USS Princeton and the destroyers USS William P. Lawrence, USS Stockdale and USS Shoup, could be included in the operation.
 
"There will be several volleys and an assessment after each volley, but all within 72 hours and a clear indication when we are done," an officer familiar with the planning told the Times.
 
The report comes as US President Obama embarks on an intensive campaign to obtain popular support for an American-led military intervention in Syria.
 
Recent polls have shown that more than 60% of Americans oppose U.S. military involvement in Syria, while just over 10% support it.
 
Six media interviews and one national address are part of Obama’s plan to explain why he thinks America must take action in the wake of chemical weapons attacks in Syria – and to argue that U.S. involvement would not end in another drawn-out campaign like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pope: Abandon ‘futile’ military solution in Syria

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 07 September 2013 11:53
Pope Francis  File -Reuters
 
Pope Francis urged the Group of 20 leaders on Thursday to abandon the “futile pursuit” of a military solution in Syria as the Vatican laid out its case for a negotiated settlement that guarantees rights for all Syrians, including minority Christians.
 
In a letter to the G-20 host, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Francis lamented that “one-sided interests” had prevailed in Syria, preventing a diplomatic end to the conflict and allowing the continued "senseless massacre" of innocents.
 
“To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution,” Francis wrote as the G-20 meeting got under way in St. Petersburg.
 
Francis has ratcheted up his call for peace in Syria amid threatened U.S.-led military strikes following an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. But he has also been careful not to lay blame on any one side, exhorting world leaders instead to focus on the plight of Syrian civilians and the need to end the violence.
 
Francis will host a peace vigil in St. Peter's Square on Saturday, a test of whether his immense popular appeal will translate into popular support for his peace message. It's the first time any such peace rally has been held at the Vatican, though Holy See officials have stressed it's a religious event, not a political protest.
 
On Thursday, the Vatican summoned ambassadors accredited to the Holy See to outline its position on Syria, with Foreign Minister Archbishop Dominique Mamberti noting that the Aug. 21 attack had generated “horror and concern” around the world.
 
“Confronted with similar acts one cannot remain silent, and the Holy See hopes that the competent institutions make clear what happened and that those responsible face justice,” Mamberti told the 71 ambassadors gathered.
 
He didn't refer explicitly to the threat of military strikes to punish the Syrian regime for the attack. But he said the main priority must be to stop the violence which he said risked involving other countries and creating “unforeseeable consequences in various parts of the world.”
 
The Vatican, he said, wants a return to dialogue and for the country to not be split up along ethnic or religious lines.
 
Minorities, including Christians, must have their basic rights guaranteed, including their right to profess their religion, he said. And he called for the opposition to distance itself from extremists, isolate them “and openly and clearly oppose terrorism” - a reference to the al-Qaida-affiliated rebels fighting against the government.
 
The Assad family's four-decade iron rule over Syria long has rested on support from the country's ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians, Shiite Muslims and Kurds. As a result, the Catholic Church has toed a careful line on Syria, staying largely silent at the start of the civil war even after the regime's brutal crackdown on dissent.
 
As the violence raged, Pope Benedict XVI and later Francis stepped up calls for dialogue. And amid the U.S. threat of military intervention, officials in the region and at the Vatican have warned that any outside military intervention will only exacerbate tensions, with Christians in the region bearing the brunt of the fallout.
 
On Wednesday, the superior general of Francis' Jesuit order, the Rev. Adolfo Nicolas, told a Catholic news agency that military action by the U.S. and France would be an “abuse of power.”
 
“I cannot understand who gave the United States or France the right to act against a country in a way that will certainly increase the suffering of the citizens of that country, who, by the way, have already suffered beyond measure,” he was quoted as saying in the interview, the text of which was released by a Vatican-affiliated spokesman.
 
In the United States, the head of the U.S. bishops' conference, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, wrote a letter to members of Congress urging them not to resort to military strikes. He cited bishops in the region as warning that any outside military intervention would be counterproductive, particularly given the lack of international consensus.

U.S. says Russia holding U.N. Security Council ‘hostage’ on Syria

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 07 September 2013 11:10
U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power pictured with U.S. President Obama File -Reuters
 
The United States declared on Thursday that Russia is holding the U.N. Security Council on Syria hostage.
 
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, lashed out at Russia, and left little doubt that Washington would not seek U.N. approval in response to the August 21 chemical weapons attack near Syria’s capital Damascus.
 
Power blames the structure of the Security Council, which lets five major nations hold veto power - Russia, the United States, China, France and Britain. Russia has consistently used its veto power to block action President Bashar Assad’s regime.
 
U.N. approval requires a unanimous vote to take action in Syria, considering recent events, this appears unlikely.
 
“I was present in the meeting where the UK laid down the resolution, and everything in that meeting, in word and in body language, suggests that that resolution has no prospect of being adopted, by Russia in particular,” Power told reporters.
 
“Our considered view, after months of efforts on chemical weapons and after 2-1/2 years of efforts on Geneva (peace talks), the humanitarian situation, is that there is no viable path forward in this Security Council,” she said.
 
Reactions by governments around the world have differed.
Britain’s parliament voted against British participation in planned U.S. military strikes to punish Syria's government for the chemical attack.
 
On the other hand, Russia, backed by China, has used its veto power three times to block council resolutions condemning Assad's government and threatening it with sanctions.
 
The United States has bypassed the United Nations in the past when the council was deadlocked, such as during the Kosovo war in 1999. 

Kerry says lack of action on Syria would send dangerous signal to Iran

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 04 September 2013 10:06
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ReutersFailure to take military action against Syria would send a dangerous signal to Iran, North Korea and other U.S. foes, Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.
 
“Iran is hoping you look the other way,” Kerry said.
“Our inaction would surely give them (Iran) a permission slip for them to at least misinterpret our intention, if not to put it to the test,” Kerry added.
 
Kerry said that the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah is “hoping that isolationism will prevail” and that “North Korea is hoping that ambivalence carries the day.”
 
“They are all listening for our silence,” Kerry said.
Seeking to dispel American people’s fears of another war, Kerry said that U.S. soldiers will not be deployed in Syria.
 
“Whatever prohibition clarifies it to Congress or the American people, there will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war,” Kerry added, AFP reported.
He was speaking in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee together with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.
Hagel said several key allies in the region strongly support U.S. military action in Syria.
 
Hagel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and others in the region are key partners in any U.S. action.
 
He said U.S. forces were ready to act whenever President Barack Obama gives the order.

Assad: Striking Syria Could Lead to a Regional War

Category: News
Created on Monday, 02 September 2013 18:01
Assad
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad challenged the United States and France on Monday to produce proof that his regime attacked civilians with poison gas, warning in an interview that any military strikes against Syria would risk triggering a regional war.
 
"The Middle East is a powder keg, and today the flame is coming very near. We cannot talk merely about the Syrian response, but about what might take place after the first strike. But nobody knows what will happen. Everyone will lose control of the situation when the powder keg explodes. Chaos and extremism will spread. There is a risk of regional war," Assad told the French newspaper Le Figaro.
 
He dismissed the findings from both the United States and France, which have both said they have proof that his regime was behind an August 21 chemical attack near Damascus, which the U.S. said killed more than 1,400 people.
 
"It is for those who are making the accusations to provide the proof. We have challenged the United States and France to put forward a single proof. Obama and Hollande have been unable to do so, even to their own people,” said Assad.
 
“I'm not at all suggesting that the Syrian army does or does not possess such weapons. Let's suppose that our army wishes to use WMD: is it really going to do so in an area where it is actually present and where soldiers have been wounded by these weapons, as the UN inspectors found during their visit to the hospital where they were being treated? Where is the logic in that?" he said.
 
On Monday, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault shared intelligence with lawmakers which he said proves the chemical attack on 21 August came from government forces.
 
The dossier shared with the French parliament reportedly includes satellite images showing a large offensive on the Damascus neighborhood of Ghouta coming from government controlled areas to the east and west of the area held by rebel forces.
 
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the administration had new evidence that sarin gas was used in the chemical attack.
 
"We know that the regime ordered this attack," he said. "We know they prepared for it. We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed. We know the damage that was done afterwards."
 
There has been pressure on President Barack Obama to respond to the chemical attack by striking in Syria.
 
The United States has delayed its military strike on Syria for now, with Obama announcing on Saturday that he plans to wait for Congress' approval before deciding whether to intervene in Syria.

Obama Delayed Attack to Get Russia 'On Board'

Category: News
Created on Monday, 02 September 2013 16:32
putin obamaA report Monday said that the reason U.S. President Barack H. Obama effectively delayed the threatened American response to the recent chemical attack by Bashar al-Assad's forces was to give the diplomatic process a chance – and to bring Russia on board with the efforts to force Assad to give up his chemical weapons.
 
The Kuwaiti report said that Obama was consulting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on ways to persuade Assad to step down from his position without the need to resort to force. Russia sees Syria as a patron state, and has threatened to “take action” if the U.S. or other Western powers attack Syria.
 
American officials have been concerned over the negative effect of the delay. On Sunday, Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister, Kadri Jamil, mocked Obama, saying that the U.S. “was defeated before the war began.” America’s “muddled” position on airstrikes “has made a mockery of the U.S. administration all over the world,” he said, adding, “previous administrations never cared about public opinion, Congress or allies.”
 
The U.S. has sent several warships and even a nuclear submarine to the Mediterranean, in apparent preparation for an attack on Syria, and Russia has sent its own warships to the region.
 
According to the report, Obama told aides last weekend that the delay would give him time to persuade other leaders, including Putin, on the importance of taking action. Obama is set to travel to Russia this week for the G20 Economic Forum Leader's Summit, set to take place in St. Petersburg. Sources said that it was likely Obama and Putin would meet on the sidelines of the event to discuss the Syrian situation.

Syria: Kerry's Accusations Based on Lies

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 01 September 2013 09:37
John Kerry in Ramallah - AFPSyria rejected on Friday remarks by United States Secretary of State John Kerry, who said earlier that U.S. intelligence had concluded that the regime was behind a chemical attack last week which killed more than 1,400 people.
 
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said Kerry’s claims were fabricated.
 
An official source at the Foreign Ministry quoted by the official Syrian SANA news agency said that after days of media exaggeration about what the U.S. administration described as decisive evidence, Kerry had only produced material based on old stories which were published by “terrorists” and are full of fabrication and lies.
 
When the Syrian government uses the term “terrorists”, it refers to the rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
The source quoted by SANA said that the ministry is surprised that one of the bigger countries in the world is attempting to deceive its public opinion in such a naïve manner by relying on non-evidence, and that the Ministry denounces the U.S. act of basing its positions on war and peace on what was published on social networking sites, which the ministry views as a desperate attempt to talk the world into accepting upcoming U.S. aggression.
 
The source said that the numbers quoted by Kerry are fictional and produced by armed groups in Syria and the opposition abroad, both of whom instigate the U.S. aggression, adding that this scene brings to mind the lies promoted by former Secretary of State Colin Powell before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
 
The source said that the Foreign Ministry confirms that all the accusations leveled by Kerry against the Syrian state are lies and devoid of truth.
 
Syria, claimed the Foreign Ministry, never impeded or restricted the international investigation committee into the chemical attack. According to the source quoted by SANA, the UN Secretary-General “has lauded the Syrian cooperation with the committee in his most recent call with the Foreign and Expatriates Minister on 30/8/2013, asserting that Syria permitted the committee to move exactly as per the agreement signed by the two sides.”
 
“The Syrian government affirms that Kerry's allegations that the Syrian Army knew about chemical weapons use three days prior to the incident are lies, as proven by the fact that Syria requested the investigation committee to visit al-Baharia area where Syrian Army soldiers were exposed to toxic gas, and the committee met the affected soldiers in the hospital,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said.
 
“If the aggression on Syria, as Kerry claims, intends to halt the use of chemical weapons, we would like to remind Kerry and the United States that Syria was the first to propose a draft resolution at the Security Council to make the Middle East free of all forms of weapons of mass destruction, and that the United States was the one who prevented the draft resolution from being passed,” the Ministry said.
 
The remarks were made as Syria prepares for a possible military strike. The Syrian opposition said on Friday that the Syrian government was moving its political offices to schools and universities to seek safe haven in case of a military attack by the West.
 
Assad’s armed forces have also moved their scud missiles and launchers from a military base in northern to Damascus to unidentified regions, the opposition added.
 
President Barack Obama repeated on Friday that he has not made a final decision about a military strike against Syria, but added he is considering a limited action in response to the chemical weapons attack last week.
 
British lawmakers have rejected any involvement in military action in Syria, but French President Francois Hollande gave a boost on Friday to U.S. hopes of forging an international coalition for possible strikes against Syria, saying the British vote would not affect his government's stance.    
 
Nevertheless, Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke on Friday and agreed they would continue to work closely together on a wider response to the Syrian crisis and try to find a solution.

Syrian Army Seals Damascus, Prepares ‘Martyrs’

Category: News
Created on Friday, 30 August 2013 06:40
Damascus Carnage May10 2012The Syrian army is blocking off entrances to Damascus in advance of anticipated airstrikes by Western armies, Lebanese media outlets reported Thursday.
 
According to Al-Arabiya, quoting Syrian rebel sources, the Syrian army is also continuing to evacuate its bases in the region, and has left the Damascus international airport.
 
Residents of Damascus are reportedly storing food, water and other essential supplies in case airstrikes begin in the near future. Those living near army command centers have evacuated their homes.
 
However, Al-Arabiya also spoke with many Damascus residents who appeared unconcerned, and said they do not believe there is cause to panic.
 
The British Guardian spoke to a Syrian army officer who claimed that the army has also prepared crews of “martyrs” who are willing to stop United States warplanes using kamikaze attacks.
 
"If the US and British armies launch a single rocket we will launch three or four, and if their warplanes raid our skies they will face hell fire,” he declared.
 
"If we are unable to shoot down their warplanes with artillery, we have military pilots who are ready to attack these foreign warplanes by their own warplanes and blow them up in the air."
 
Thirteen pilots, and a total of more than 8,000 Syrian soldiers, have expressed willingness to die in suicide missions if necessary, he claimed, adding, “I myself am ready to blow myself up against US aircraft carriers to stop them attacking Syria and its people."
 
The Syrian regime continues to deny involvement in the chemical weapons attack near Damascus last week that has led U.S. and British leaders to openly consider military intervention.

Syrian Intervention Could Begin 'Within a Week'

Category: Reports
Created on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 09:31
The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Montpelier
British and American naval vessels are currently preparing for military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, following an alleged chemical attack by the regime against its own civilians, according to The Telegraph.
 
According to the paper, military commanders are currently drawing up a list of potential targets to strike, in a operation that would resemble the opening phase of the western intervention in Libya which helped oust Colonel Gaddafi.
 
In that operation, western forces used air and naval forces to back rebels fighters on the ground, but stopped short of sending "boots on the ground" of their own.
 
Talks between western leaders are still ongoing, but a potential military intervention involving a joint air and naval attack could potentially begin within a week, according to British government sources.
 
The report comes soon after British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu upped the ante by claiming United Nations approval was not necessarily needed for intervention to take place.
 
"Is it possible to act on chemical weapons, is it possible to respond to chemical weapons without complete unity on the UN Security Council?" Hague asked, rhetorically. 
 
"I would argue, yes it is. Otherwise, of course, it might be impossible to respond to such outrages, such crimes and I don’t think that is an acceptable situation."
 
Davutoglu was quoted by the newspaper Milliyetas as saying on Monday that Turkey "always prioritize[s] acting together with the international community, with United Nations decisions," but insisted that "if such a decision doesn’t emerge from the UN Security Council, other alternatives ... would come onto the agenda.”
 
As the war of words continues, Syrian President Assad has dismissed claims his forces used chemical weapons, countering that it was in fact rebel troops who used them.
 
Assad threatened that any western intervention would end in failure.
 
“The United States faces failure (if it attacks Syria), just like in all the previous wars they waged, starting with Vietnam and up to our days,” he said.
 
Intervention in Syria would be more complex and potentially messy than the relatively smooth western intervention in Libya.
 
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had succeeded in isolating himself from most potential allies, paving the way for widespread international support, or at the very least the absence of any meaningful objection, to military intervention. Syria, on the other hand, can count on the vetoes of Russia, and potentially China, in any UN Security Council vote on intervention.
 
But it is not just political support that the Assad regime is relying on. Apart from the stream of arms and ammunition provided by his Russian allies - including far more advanced weaponry than Gaddafi's forces were able to field, and which could pose a greater challenge to western forces - he is also backed by the Iranian regime and its Lebanese proxies, Hezbollah, both of whom have a vested interest in preventing the establishment of a Sunni-dominated state that would effectively cut off Iran from its Lebanese allies.
 
Any western intervention would likely see the deaths of Iranian and Lebanese fighters, which could prompt an escalation in tensions between Tehran and the west.

Syria: If US Attacks Us, We'll Attack Israel

Category: News
Created on Monday, 26 August 2013 19:04
Syrian Tanks - ReutersAs talk and rumors of an impending Western attack against Syria mount, a top Syrian official said Monday that if attacked, his country would react – against Israel.
 
Speaking to an Arabic-language radio station operated by the United States, Syria's Deputy Information Minister Halaf Al-Maftah said that Israel would face not only Syria in the event that the US, Britain and France attempted to unseat Bashar al-Assad. A coalition consisting of Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria would respond to any attack against Assad with a response against Israel. In addition, terrorist groups in Syria and Lebanon would attack Israel with full force.
 
Al-Maftah added that Syria has “strategic weapons” that it would use in its attack on Israel. He did not specify what those weapons were.
 
“Syria is ready to deal with all scenarios,” said Al-Maftah. “We consider these declarations of a possible attack as a form of psychological warfare and pressure on Syria. We are not worried about them. We hope that those threatening us will listen closely to what we are saying. We believe that the only solution for the Syrian issue is a political one,” he added.
 
In recent days, the U.S. has sent warships off Syria's coast, with the assumption being that they were waiting for word from the White House to attack Syria and remove Assad from power. Over the weekend, the U.S. Navy expanded its presence in the Mediterranean Sea with a fourth cruise-missile-armed warship.

Syrian Jihadists Threaten Revenge on Alawites

Category: News
Created on Monday, 26 August 2013 08:38
Nusra front
Al-Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda-linked Syrian jihadist group, on Sunday vowed revenge strikes against villages from President Bashar Al-Assad's Alawite community over claims his forces used chemical weapons, AFP reports.
 
"The Alawite villages will pay the price for each chemical rocket that struck our people in Damascus," Al-Nusra front chief Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani said in an audio message posted on the Internet and on his Twitter account.
 
He added that "one thousand rockets will be used for this purpose".
 
"It is a debt towards... our relatives in the eastern Ghouta," he said, according to AFP.
 
"This regime attacked the eastern region (of Damascus province) with dozens of chemical rockets that killed hundreds of children, women and men," Jawlani said, calling on opposition fighters across the country to take revenge.
 
Jawlani called on "the soldiers of Al-Nusra" to "spread their fire... before the end of the day and the setting of the sun."
 
Assad hails from the Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam unlike most Sunni rebel groups fighting to topple him, including Al-Nusra, whose chief in March pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda.
 
Members of Al-Nusra and other rebel groups have committed atrocities during the Syrian civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
 
Al-Nusra was once was the largest faction in the Islamist Front for the Liberation of Syria (ISIS), the 13-member rebel coalition that broke away from the main opposition force and has declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo.
 
Syria's main opposition body, the National Coalition, has accused Assad's forces of "massacring" more than 1,300 people in chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus on Wednesday, which his regime has denied.
 
On Friday it was reported that a preliminary assessment made by U.S. and allied intelligence agencies has concluded that chemical weapons were indeed used by Syrian forces in the attack near Damascus.
 
It is believed the attack was carried out with high-level approval from Assad’s government.

British Navy Ready to Attack Syria

Category: Reports
Created on Monday, 26 August 2013 07:46
British Navy
 
Britain is planning to join forces with the United States and launch military action against Syria in response to the chemical attack believed to have been carried out by President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, the British Telegraph reported on Sunday.
 
Royal Navy vessels are being readied to take part in a possible series of cruise missile strikes, alongside the United States, as military commanders finalize a list of potential targets, the report said.
 
Government sources said talks between Prime Minister David Cameron and international leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, would continue, but that any military action that was agreed could begin within the next week.
 
The escalation comes as a direct response to what the British Government is convinced was a gas attack perpetrated by Syrian forces on a civilian district of Damascus last Wednesday.
 
The Assad regime has been under mounting pressure to allow United Nations inspectors on to the site to establish who was to blame for the atrocity. One international agency said it had counted at least 355 people dead and 3,600 injured following the attack, while reports suggested the true death toll could be as high as 1,300.
 
According to the Telegraph, Cameron interrupted his holiday for talks with Obama, French President Francois Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel. After discussions over the weekend, all the leaders agreed on the need for a “serious response”, according to the report.
 
Government sources confirmed to the Telegraph that military action was among the options “on the table” but said no decisions had been taken.
 
The Prime Minister, however, is believed to have abandoned hope of securing any further meaningful response from the UN amid opposition from Russia, which has already vetoed several Security Council resolutions condemning the Assad regime, including one from last week after the chemical attack.
 
The Royal Navy declined to comment on the current positions of its submarines, but said they regularly pass through the area on their way to the Suez Canal.
 
Pressure has been piling up on the West, particularly on Obama, to respond to the attack. Obama said last year that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a "red line" and force a tough U.S. response, but so far has failed to deliver such a response other than deciding to directly arm selected Syrian rebel groups without publicly specifying the extent of the support.

Obama Meets Advisers to 'Gather Facts' on Syria Attack

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 25 August 2013 21:33
Barack Hussein Obama  U.S. President Obama met on Saturday with top national security advisers following widespread reports about the Syrian government using chemical weapons on civilians.
 
The president will continue to gather facts before deciding on a course of action, the White House said, according to Fox News.
 
The reports of thousands killed or stricken by chemical weapons Wednesday near Damascus is the latest allegation about such tactics in the Middle East country’s roughly two-year-long civil war.
 
A preliminary assessment made by U.S. and allied intelligence agencies has concluded that chemical weapons were indeed used by Syrian forces in an attack near Damascus this week.
 
It is believed the attack was carried out with high-level approval from the government of President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
Obama said last year that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad would “cross a red line.”  However, the White House has been reluctant to take direct military actions, instead supplying rebel forces with non-lethal aid, weighing military options and trying to garner international support.
 
The president and his National Security Council considered eyewitness accounts and medical-records reports but “the U.S. intelligence community continues to gather facts to ascertain what occurred,” the White House said Saturday.
 
In addition to the president holding the meeting, he spoke Saturday with United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron.
 
The leaders talked about shared security challenges, including the continued violence in Syria, and expressed their “grave concern” about the reported use of chemical weapons. And they will continue to consult closely about “possible responses by the international community,” the White House said.
 
The White House meeting was attended by at least 15 members of the president’s security council, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
 
Hagel suggested Friday that the Pentagon might move Naval forces closer to Syria in preparation for a possible decision by Obama to order military strikes.
 
However, U.S. defense officials told The Associated Press on Saturday that the Navy has already sent a fourth warship armed with ballistic missiles into the eastern Mediterranean Sea, but without immediate orders for any missile launch into Syria.
 
In a CNN interview, Obama on Friday called the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians "a big event of grave concern," but was very cautious as regards the possibility of using force in Syria, noting that there is still a war going on in Afghanistan.

Syria Warns U.S.: Don't Attack Us

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 25 August 2013 17:34
The Sterett Destroyer escorts the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln CVN 72  ReutersAmid speculations that U.S. President Barack Obama may decide on some form of military action in Syria in response to a deadly chemical attack last week, Syria on Saturday warned the U.S. against taking such a move.
 
Syria's Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi dismissed the possibility of an American attack, warning that such a move would risk triggering more violence in the region.
 
"The basic repercussion would be a ball of fire that would burn not only Syria but the whole Middle East," al-Zoubi told the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV.
 
"An attack on Syria would be no easy trip," he warned.
 
Al-Zoubi placed the blame on the rebels for last week’s chemical attacks, saying that the Syrian government had proof of their responsibility.
 
"The rockets were fired from their positions and fell on civilians. They are responsible," he stated.
 
Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Abbas Arakji, warned that U.S. military intervention in Syria will "complicate matters."
 
"Sending warships will not solve the problems but will worsen the situation," Arakji told the Iranian Arabic-language Al-Alam TV.
 
He added that any such U.S. move does not have international backing and that Iran "rejects military solutions."
 
On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that if claims that Syria used chemical weapons several days ago are true, a speedy response will be needed to prevent another such attack.
 
A senior Defense Department official told CNN that military planners have updated Syrian target lists.
 
The U.S. navy is expanding its presence in the Mediterranean Sea with a fourth cruise-missile-armed warship.
 
In a CNN interview, Obama on Friday called the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians "a big event of grave concern," but was very cautious as regards the possibility of using force in Syria, noting that there is still a war going on in Afghanistan.
 
A preliminary assessment made by U.S. and allied intelligence agencies has concluded that chemical weapons were indeed used by Syrian forces in an attack near Damascus this week.
 
It is believed the attack was carried out with high-level approval from the government of President Bashar Al-Assad.

Obama: Time is Nearing for a Definitive Response on Syria

Category: News
Created on Friday, 23 August 2013 19:51
Barack Obama
 
U.S. President Barack Obama, who is under pressure to act on reports that the Syrian government staged a chemical attack on civilians, said on Friday that the time is nearing for a potentially definitive U.S. response to the alleged Syrian government atrocities.
 
The U.S. remains "one indispensable nation" in the volatile Middle East and elsewhere, Obama told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
 
"We have to think through strategically what's going to be in our long term national interests," he said.
 
Asked whether the U.S. government is now facing a "more abbreviated time frame" on key decisions in Egypt and Syria, Obama repeatedly gave a one-word response: yes.
 
Asked about claims by anti-regime activists in Syria that Bashar Al-Assad's government used chemical weapons in an attack that was said to have killed more than 1,300 people, Obama responded that officials are "right now gathering information" and that "what we've seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern."
 
"It is very troublesome," he stressed. On Thursday, Obama ordered local spy agencies to urgently probe claims of the chemical attack in Syria.
 
He said U.S. officials are pushing "to prompt better action" from the United Nations, and are calling on the Syrian government to allow an investigation of the site of the alleged attack outside Damascus.
 
"We don't expect cooperation (from the Syrian government), given their past history," Obama conceded.
 
He quickly followed up with a warning, however, that "core national interests" of the U.S. are now involved in Syria's civil war, "both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region."
 
Cuomo asked Obama to respond to harsh criticism from his 2008 presidential rival, Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain, who told CNN a day earlier that America's credibility in the region has been damaged by a slow administration response in both Syria and Egypt.
 
"When the president of the United States says that if he uses these weapons that it would be a, quote, 'red line and a game-changer,' (Assad) now sees that as a green light," McCain said.
 
In response, Obama said, "I am sympathetic to Senator McCain's passion for helping people work through what is an extraordinarily difficult and heartbreaking situation, both in Syria and in Egypt. But what I think the American people also expect me to do as president is to think through what we do from the perspective of what is in our long term national interests."
 
Obama said last year that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a "red line" and force a tough U.S. response, but so far has failed to deliver such a response other than deciding to directly arm selected Syrian rebel groups without publicly specifying the extent of the support.
 
"If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a UN mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it," Obama told CNN.
 
"Do we have the coalition to make it work?" he asked. "You know, those are considerations that we have to take into account."
 
The costs of military action "have to take those into account as we try to work within an international framework to do everything we can to see Assad ousted," Obama concluded.

Obama is a Prisoner of his own Agenda

Category: Op-Eds
Created on Monday, 19 August 2013 23:15
Sharia lawHow does Obama react to the Muslim Brotherhood's excesses? With open arms.
 
If the American President was not a prisoner to his own pro-Muslim Brotherhood agenda, the U.S. Administration would now be applauding the Egyptian military’s crackdown on the anti-Western, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel Muslim Brotherhood thugs who have instigated horrific violence in Cairo and throughout much of the country.
 
Indeed, his own agenda has resulted in untold bloodshed and a human rights meltdown in Syria, Iraq, North Africa, Afghanistan and Yemen. It threatens Jordan, Saudi-Arabia and the Gulf States while leaving Iran free to acquire nuclear weapons capability. And it imposes upon Israel a course which will inevitably lead to national suicide unless the Lion of Judah can finally awake and roar back.
 
The Egyptian military, acceding to the demands of some 33 million of its citizens to remove the Islamic and Sharia colluding Morsi regime, redeployed to end Mohammed Morsi’s Brotherhood supporters from their occupation of areas of the Egyptian capital. They were met by heavy gunfire and over 100 soldiers and police were killed in the first few hours of the confrontation.
 
Not surprisingly, Obama never mentioned this fact during his August 15th press conference; a long harangue during which, according to former UN Ambassador John Bolton, Obama predictably blamed not the Morsi rioters but the Egyptian military; again revealing this president’s egregious and systemic support for the Muslim extremists who wish to turn Egypt into an Islamic republic.
 
Nor did Obama castigate fully the pro-Morsi thugs who turned their savagery upon the hapless embattled Coptic Christian community. It is estimated that perhaps as many as 50 churches and Christian establishments were burned to the ground during the Muslim anti-Christian pogrom; this after Copts have been beheaded in the streets of Cairo. And still the Vatican and world Christendom remain in the main deathly silent.
 
For decades, ever since the secular revolution of Gamal Abdul Nasser in 1954, successive Egyptian presidents and governments have tried to crush the Brotherhood. This has been done by popular demand from the majority of Egyptians.
 
Obama’s threats against the military thus fly in the face of all reality. His actions will most certainly act against the best interests of the West and particularly of the United States. But there are many who believe that Barack Hussein Obama is on track to tactically do just that – harm America economically, politically and militarily - and not by incompetence, but by a planned and mendacious strategy. After all, did not Obama promise that he would fundamentally transform America?
 
During Morsi’s time in office, it should be remembered that sexual assaults against women skyrocketed. Islamic discrimination against women in Egypt under Morsi echoed the horrors perpetrated against females under the Taliban in Afghanistan. It encouraged genital mutilation among Egyptian women, opposed any moves to stop polygamy, and rejected any rights for women to have equality in the distribution of inheritance and assets.
 
And still, apart from a very few brave souls, the feminists around the world have remained deathly silent. And was there a word of censure by President Obama? Not one peep.
 
Remember, too, that the first public announcement Morsi made was to call for war against Israel and utter his vile insult – straight out of the Koran – equating Jews with monkeys and pigs.
 
But what did Obama continue to do in the face of the Muslim Brotherhood’s excesses? Why, he showered the Morsi government with F16 fighter bombers and 400 Abrams tanks – all, no doubt, weapons that eventually could be turned against the Jewish state.
 
According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI): Egyptian cleric Dr. Khaled Said, in an interview aired on Al-Hafez TV (via the Internet) on March 17, 2013 described American foreign military aid this way:
 
“If the (Islamic) revolution declares a framework for dealing with the West and America – they will accept it, kiss our hands, and double the aid they give us. We consider this aid to be jizya [poll tax], not regular aid. They pay so that we will let them be. The aid constitutes jizya.”
 
All non-Muslims living under Muslim control were forced over the centuries to pay the discriminatory jizya tax if they refused to convert to Islam. Thus American aid to the Morsi regime was considered just that by the Muslim Brotherhood.
 
According to a report by Debka, an intelligence organization which some commentators often respond to negatively, whether with good reason or not, “President Barack Obama put in a call to Egypt’s strongman, Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, debkafile’s intelligence sources report. The US president wanted to give the general a dressing-down much on the lines of the call he made to former president Hosni Mubarak in February, 2011.”
 
The Debka report continued:  “Realizing what was coming, Gen. El-Sissi decided not to accept Obama’s call. The anecdote shows that the military strongman is not only determined to avoid the pitfalls which brought Mubarak down but is equally determined to keep the US Administration from interfering in his plans for driving the Muslim Brotherhood out of Egyptian politics.”
 
El-Sissi has a trump card that he will use against pressure from the Obama Administration. Saudi-Arabia has already begun to provide the financial support he needs to quell the Muslim Brotherhood, whom the Saudis loathe, as do several of the Gulf States. All this will create another self-induced foreign affairs nightmare for Obama as an ever-widening rift opens up between the rulers of the Gulf States, Saudi-Arabia and the White House.
 
Indeed, according to Debka, “Our intelligence sources also disclose that, while President Obama was trying to get through to Gen. El-Sissi, the general was on the phone with Prince Bandar, Director of Saudi Intelligence.”
 
Sadly, Israel, unlike Egypt, doesn’t possess alternate allies who can help buttress the Jewish state from hostile pressure from the Obama Administration; pressure which has forced the Netanyahu government to timidly accede to obscene demands from the Holocaust denying Chairman of the so-called Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and from U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, to release Muslim monsters with Jewish blood on their hands:  Next, to agree to enter into “piece” talks with the Jew hating thugdom, the PA, that currently occupies parts of biblical and ancestral Jewish Judea and Samaria.
 
Calls have been made by myself and others in the Opinion columns of Arutz Sheva for a push by Israel to be made to create just such foreign alliances, perhaps with India or China. Israel might not be faced with such intolerable pressures from such a presidency as that of Barack Obama if thought had been given to such a strategy much earlier.
 
Notwithstanding the above, it would be a salutary admonition to the Netanyahu government to consider what Winston Churchill said during his fractious June, 1940 Cabinet discussions with then Foreign Minister, Lord Halifax. During those dark days, when the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, Halifax had wanted to appease Hitler with peace overtures via Mussolini. Churchill withstood the appeasement pressure from Halifax and shot back with the following words:
 
“Nations which go down fighting, rise again; those that surrender timidly are finished.”
 
Victor SharpeVictor Sharpe
Victor Sharpe is a prolific freelance writer with many published articles in leading national and international conservative websites and magazines. Born and educated in England, he has been a broadcaster and has authored several books including a collection of short stories under the title The Blue Hour. His three-volume set of in-depth studies on the threats from resurgent Islam to Israel, the West and to Judeo-Christian civilization is titled, Politicide: The Attempted Murder of the Jewish State. www.amazon.com

Syria: A Bad Week for Islamism

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 15:35
RebelesSyrian opposition hails EU Hizbullah ban
 
Syria's mainly Sunni opposition is celebrating yesterday's decision by the EU to blacklist the "military wing" of the Shia Islamist group Hizbullah as a terrorist organisation, Lebanon's NOW news agency reported.
 
The Syrian National Coalition declared that the ban was "a step in the right direction and highlights the need for the European Union to take measures to stop [the] militia from intervening in Syria," and called for "Hizbullah officials to be brought to justice for the terrorist crimes they committed on Syrian soil".
 
"The free world must take preventive measures against Hezbollah's leaders, members and supporters, who participated in the spilling of Syrian blood," the statement added. 
Hizbullah - based in Lebanon - is backed by both Iran and the Syrian regime of Bashar el-Assad, and has played an increasingly important role in recapturing rebel-held areas, though at considerable cost to its own manpower. 
 
Israel and other western states, including Great Britain, have long urged sanctions against the group for a long string of terrorist atrocities, but it was apparently the groups intervention in Syria which finally cost it dearly, convincing EU member-states who were previously against a ban to change their minds.
 
The ban may only have gone "halfway" by excluding Hizbullah's "political wing", to quote Avigdor Lieberman, but it will mean significant restrictions on the group's activity in one of its most important pools of fundraising - including denying visas to key individuals and freezing assets across the continent. Hizbullah's Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, has himself previously remarked that a European ban would "destroy" the group because 'the sources of our funding will dry up and the sources of moral, political and material support will be destroyed."
 
The Assad regime, meanwhile, condemned the move. 
 
In a statement, the Syrian Foreign Minister declared,
 
"Syria strongly condemns this decision and the powers that are behind it because it targets the present and future of the Arab nation... and serves Israel's plans in the region."
 
Kurdish rebels drive Sunni jihadis from villages
 
Also on Tuesday, AFP reported that Kurdish groups made rapid advances in northern Syria, expelling Sunni jihadists from several villages.
 
Tuesday's fighting hit several villages including Yabseh, Kandal and Jalbeh, which lie in the northern province of Raqa on Syria's border with Turkey and are home to a mixture of ethnic and religious communities, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
It also reported that the Kurds expelled the jihadists from Kur Hassu, Atwan, Sarej and Khirbet Alu villages in the same area, which lies near the majority Kurdish town of Cobany.
 
In Hasake to the east, Kurdish-jihadist fighting went into the seventh consecutive day in the Jal Agha area and other villages in the majority Kurdish province, the Observatory added.
 
The latest battles come a week after fighters loyal to the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG) expelled the jihadist Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) from the strategic Kurdish town of Ras al-Ain in Hasake province.
 
Ever since, fighting has spread from Hasakeh in northeastern Syria to several hotspots in Raqa province in the north.
 
At least 70, most of them jihadists, have been killed in eight consecutive days of Kurdish-jihadist fighting, said the Observatory.
 
"What we are seeing is the spreading of fighting between Kurds and jihadists westwards, across areas that are home to both Arab and Kurdish communities," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
 
Though the fighting is between jihadists and organised Kurdish forces, there is "a growing gulf between Kurdish and Arab residents of these areas," Abdel Rahman said.
 
"The battle is morphing from a fight between the YPG and the jihadists to a struggle between Kurds and Arabs as a whole."
 
Prior to the outbreak of the 2011 revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's rule, the Kurds suffered for decades from marginalisation and oppression at the hands of the Syrian Arab regime.
 
When the revolt erupted, one of the first measures taken by Assad was to grant the Syrian nationality to Kurds who had up until then been deprived of this right.
 
Then, starting mid-2012, Assad's forces withdrew from Kurdish regions which now are run by local Kurdish councils.
 
The Kurds, who represent about 15 percent of the Syrian population, have since walked a fine line, trying to avoid antagonising either the regime or the rebels.
 
But as abuses by jihadist groups in areas that have fallen out of Assad's control mounted, the Kurds announced they would seek a temporary autonomous state and establish a constitution.
 
The speedy developments have brought to the surface a deep-seated mistrust that has been heightened by the Syrian opposition's failure to adequately represent Kurdish groups, activists say.
 
"There hasn't been real trust at the political level since the start" of the revolt, Syrian Kurdish activist Havidar told AFP via the Internet.
 
"We (Kurds) all stood by the revolution but unfortunately the Syrian opposition... has played games with the Kurds... and marginalised them," Havidar said.
 
As a consequence, "there is a very obvious divide now" between Kurds and Arabs, he said.
 
The Kurdish people are the largest nation without an independent state in the Middle East. There ancestral homeland is currently occupied by Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria, although the Kurdish populations in the latter two states are enjoying increasing levels of autonomy.

Head of Syrian Jihadists: We Support an Islamic Caliphate

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 15:37
Rebels clash with Syrian government forces - AFPThe leader of the jihadist Syrian rebel group Jabhat Al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front) has declared that his group is in favor of establishing an Islamic caliphate in civil war torn Syria.
 
In an audio recorded that has been disseminated over the past several days, Abu Mohammad al-Julani stresses that he strongly opposes parliamentary elections or any political settlement in the country which would be achieved through international intervention.
 
"Being Muslims, we do not believe in political parties or parliamentary elections, but rather in an Islamic regime based on the Shura (advisory council) and which implements justice ... Our heading towards the establishment of Islamic law (Sharia) is jihad in Allah's way," Julani says in the recording.
 
Al-Nusra Front several months ago pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and has blacklisted by the United States and the United Nations as a terrorist again.
 
In the recording, Julani is unfazed by his organization being blacklisted and, in fact, says he is proud to be blacklisted by the U.S.
 
Julani attacked the Hizbullah terror group which is assisting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in fighting the Syrian rebels, saying, "We thank Allah for the stupidity of the leader of this organization (Nasrallah) who revealed the organization's disguised hatred against Sunni Muslims."
 
Al-Nusra Front is part of the 13-member Islamic Front for the Liberation of Syria, which split off from the Syrian National Council opposition force. The front declared the northern commercial hub city of Aleppo to be an independent Islamist state already months ago.
 
However, a senior figure in the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) told the A-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper this week that the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization is set to officially announce an independent Islamic state in northern Syria.
 
Members of Al-Nusra and other jihadist Syrian rebels groups have committed atrocities during the Syrian civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with Assad’s regime.

Wall Street Journal: Netanyahu Has Red Lines, Obama Doesn't

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 18 July 2013 08:55
Netanyahu embraces ObamaA Wall Street Journal editorial has claimed that Israel has attacked Syria at least four times in 2013.
 
The editorial, which appeared in the print edition of the newspaper on Tuesday, was critical of U.S. President Barack Obama over his inaction on Syria, while noting that Israel has red lines and it acts on them when they are crossed.
 
It asserted that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s comments during an interview with CBS this week were confirmation that Israel had carried out air strikes near the Syrian port city of Latakia to destroy Russian-supplied anti-ship missiles.
 
I'm not in the habit of saying what we did or we didn't do," Netanyahu said, adding, "My policy is to prevent the transfer of dangerous weapons to Hizbullah and other terror groups.”
 
“So Israel has red lines after all,” said the Wall Street Journal. “Mr. Netanyahu's non-denial amounts to confirmation that Israel has launched at least four attacks on Syrian targets this year. Previous targets include a convoy of surface-to-air missiles headed for Lebanon, and an arms depot near Damascus believed to contain Iranian ballistic missiles that could have brought Tel Aviv within Hizbullah’s range.”
 
The article then went on to criticize Obama, who has in the past said that use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would be a red line that “would change my equation.” The editorial quoted two similar statements by Obama, one dated August 2012 and another one from this past March.
 
“As everyone—most especially Bashar Assad—now knows, Mr. Obama has no red lines regarding Syria or chemical weapons,” the editorial charged. “Even his belated policy change to deliver small arms to the opposition is bogged down in bureaucratic inertia and congressional resistance. Readers may or may not think the U.S. should involve itself in Syria, but serious powers cannot issue empty threats and not expect consequences.”
 
The U.S. government, which has confirmed that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against rebel forces on multiple occasions, has said it will increase the “scope and scale” of its assistance to rebels in Syria in response.
 
U.S. sources said last week that congressional committees are holding up a plan to send U.S. weapons to rebels fighting Assad, fearing such deliveries will not be decisive and the arms might end up in the hands of Islamist rebel groups.
 
Finally, noted the Wall Street Journal editorial, “In his CBS interview, Mr. Netanyahu was also asked when he would be prepared to take military action to stop Iran's nuclear programs. ‘Well, I can tell you I won't wait until it's too late,’ he replied. The Prime Minister has been saying this for nearly two years, perhaps waiting for the U.S. to act instead, but he is learning in Syria that Israel will have to enforce its own red lines.”

Syria: Dozens of Bodies Found in Well

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 07:46
Destruction in Syria fileThe civil war in Syria continues and atrocities are being committed on a daily basis, both by troops loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad as well as by the rebel forces fighting to oust Assad.
 
Videos documenting the atrocities are uploaded to the internet every day. One clip that was uploaded this past week shows completely charred and unrecognizable bodies. The speakers in the video explain that the Assad regime took the men, executed them and then burned their bodies.
 
Another video, filmed in the community of Al-Safira in the Aleppo district on northern Syria, documents the locating of bodies of dozens of civilians who were executed and then thrown into a well.
 
Rebels who located the well indicate in the video that that the decomposing bodies that were found inside are unrecognizable and include dozens of murdered men and women.
 
Rebels have also committed atrocities during the civil war, particularly the extremist factions among them such as the Al-Nusra Front which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. These atrocities included publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with the Assad regime.
 
Meanwhile, the Syrian rebels are also turning on each other, as fighters from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) are clashing with jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
 
Last week, Syrian rebels linked to Al-Qaeda killed a senior figure in the FSA.

Clashes Escalate Between Free Syrian Army, Al Qaeda

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 13 July 2013 15:49
Syrian rebels patrol in the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughur -AFPTensions between rival Syrian rebel groups boiled over Saturday near Ras al-Hosn, in the north of Idlib province.
 
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) clashed with jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), exposing a growing rift between Al Qaeda-affiliated groups and their Syrian rebel counterparts.
 
Saturday's clashes were only the most recent example of the escalating hostilities between the FSA - whose goals in the 2-year Syrian uprising are more localised and whose leadership is considered more "moderate" - and Al Qaeda-affiliated groups such as ISIS, whose ranks are made up largely of foreign fighters.
 
ISIS and other radical Islamist rebels, such as the Nusra Front, reject what they see as the "un-Islamic" notions of nationalism espoused by the FSA, in favour of the imposition of strict Islamic Law (sharia) in the region. They further view the Syrian conflict as merely one stage in a larger war against the "enemies of Islam", including Shia Iran, Israel and western powers. The FSA, though made up of a variety factions with differing views of how a future Syria should look, remains focussed purely on ousting the Assad regime and ending decades of domination by his minority Allawite faction and its allies.
 
These latest clashes apparently occurred after ISIS fighters attempted to seize weapons from a local FSA battalion, and came only days after the Al Qaeda franchise apparently assassinated an local FSA commander. 
 
According to the Observatory, last week "dozens" of FSA fighters were killed in a battle against ISIS, after which the FSA battalion chief was beheaded.

Al-Qaeda Linked Rebels Kill Free Syrian Army Officer

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 13 July 2013 09:05
Syrian supporters of the Al-Nusra group - AFPThe Syrian rebels are continuing to turn on one another. Syrian rebels linked to Al-Qaeda killed a senior figure in the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Thursday, an FSA source told Reuters.
 
Kamal Hamami, a member of the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council, known by his nom de guerre Abu Bassel al-Ladkani, was meeting with members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the port city of Latakia when they killed him, Qassem Saadeddine, a Free Syrian Army spokesman, told the news agency.
 
"The Islamic State phoned me saying that they killed Abu Bassel and that they will kill all of the Supreme Military Council," Saadeddine said from Syria.
 
"He met them to discuss battle plans," Saadeddine added.
 
Reports earlier this week indicated that local infighting between Islamist rebel factions – and between the jihadists and the more moderate opposition forces – has begun in Syria.
 
The violence is taking place despite the fact that the civil war between the opposition fighters and loyalists defending President Bashar Al-Assad has not yet ended.
 
A merger formed between the Islamic State of Iraq, and al-Sham (ISIS), the Syrian unit, has been working to swallow northern Syrian real estate over the past year.
 
It also is becoming increasingly clear that ISIS has swallowed the local Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front), which once was the largest faction in the Islamist Front for the Liberation of Syria – the 13-member rebel coalition that broke away from the main opposition force.
 
Members of Al-Nusra have performed atrocities during the ongoing civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with the Assad regime.
 
There has been growing pressure to arm the Syrian rebels, particularly since the U.S. government confirmed that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against rebel forces on multiple occasions, thus violating the “red line” set by Obama.
 
However, there has also been reluctance by some to arm the rebels, out of a fear that the weapons may end up in the hands of the radicals.

Brotherhood Leader: Egyptian Army 'Worse Than the Jews'

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 11 July 2013 19:22
Egyptian military in Sinai Airport 
 
Egypt's temporary President Adli Mansour announced the establishment of a commission of inquiry which will investigate the events surrounding the deaths of at least 51 people Monday in clashes outside a military building in Cairo. At least 435 people were wounded as well in the incident.
 
Most of those killed were Muslim Brotherhood members, and the chain of events leading to the deaths were being hotly contested by the Brotherhood and the Egyptian Army. The Brotherhood claimed that those killed were innocent, doing nothing more than holding a sit-in against the ousting of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in what they described as an “illegal coup.” The Brotherhood said that most of those killed were praying when they were shot.
 
Mahmoud Badia, a top Brotherhood leader, said that the Egyptian Army was clearly interested in instigating a Syria-style civil war in Egypt. The crime of the army in opening fire on innocent protesters was so severe, he said, “that even the Jews have never done to Egypt what the army did.”
 
The army, meanwhile, said that soldiers were set upon by a mob of Brotherhood members, who were aiming to murder them. In self-defense, the army said, soldiers opened fire, after repeatedly trying to use other methods to break up the riot and protect themselves.
 
An army spokesperson said that Egyptian soldiers were being “framed,” and that claims that they had shot children were lies. At protests by Brotherhood and Morsi supporters throughout Monday, the spokesperson said, speakers had stressed that the army had killed several children who were among the protesters, and had circulated photos of the dead children. “But this is not true,” the spokesperson said. “They are using photos from the civil war in Syria. The army killed its enemies, not children,” the spokesperson said.
 
“We were attacked from rooftops by firebombs and bricks,” the spokesperson added. “According to international law, we have a right to defend strategic sites and facilities, which the group was attacking.”

The Flames Are Creeping Up on Nasrallah

Category: News
Created on Friday, 28 June 2013 14:03
Hassan NasrallahThe graduation ceremony of the IAF's 166th flight course took place on Thursday, and leaders who spoke at the ceremony mentioned the tense situation along Israel’s northern borders, saying that the IDF is ready for any scenario and reminding Israel's enemies that the army has acted and will act in the face of security threats.
 
Particularly blunt was IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz who, in a rare statement about the situation in the north said, “Syria is still bleeding, and in Lebanon, the flames are creeping up on [Hizbullah chief] Nasrallah. In the face of this changing reality we need to be ready and more prepared than ever."
 
Gantz’s remarks come in the wake of an Israeli assessment that the Hizbullah terror group is at one of its lowest points in years. The organization is now fighting on three fronts: against Israel, in Syria, and in Lebanon, where the group has been slammed for its support of President Bashar Al-Assad.Gantz with officers
 
Speaking at the same ceremony, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, "The Air Force is prepared for any mission, near or far, and those who need to know that we not only talk but also act - know that. Over the past year we worked on many fronts, some visible and some hidden. In all of them, the mission was accomplished by the IAF pilots and navigators.”
 
The prime minister added, "We have defensive capabilities and offensive capabilities and we know to how to combine them. The future of the Jews depends on the Jewish State, and the future of the Jewish State depends primarily on its army and security forces."
 
The commander of the IAF, Major General Amir Eshel, said at the ceremony, “The reality has forced many things on us over the past year, most of them distant and out of sight. The IAF must be ready for any mission. We do not have a second chance.”
 
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon spoke about the situation in Iran and told the young pilots, "You and your friends must be prepared for that moment when you will be required to apply your skills and hurt those who want to disrupt our lives here. Those who work tirelessly to arm themselves, transfer dangerous weapons through air, land and sea or build long-term unconventional capability which threatens our cities and our citizens and undermines the stability of the entire Middle East.”

Syrian army renews offensive on Damascus opposition fighters

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 22 June 2013 14:50
Al Nusra terrorist in Raqa - ReutersSyria activists reported a military offensive by regime forces against rebel strongholds in northern and eastern Damascus.
“The district of Qaboon in (northeastern) Damascus is being intensely shelled by regime forces,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said according to AFP.
 
Rebels were battling troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad on the edges of Qaboon as the army tried to storm the neighborhood, the Britain-based group said.
 
Three children from one family were killed overnight by mortar fires targeting Qaboon, the observatory said.
 
Activists from Qaboun posted on Facebook that government forces deployed additional tanks outside the neighborhood, and the bombardment had brought buildings down, The Associated Press reported.
 
Meanwhile, clashes intensified between rebels, troops and pro-Assad militiamen in the Barzeh neighborhood of the capital, said the watchdog.
 
The fighting erupted as rebels fought off an army attempt to enter the district, said the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of activists on the ground.
 
The heavy shelling on many fronts appears to be an attempt to cut links between districts under rebel control, AP said.
Also on Saturday, the military pushed on with its bid to end the insurgency in and around Homs in central Syria, said the Observatory.
 
While troops shelled rebel-held besieged districts in the heart of Homs city, Assad loyalists also tried to storm the town of Tal Kalakh near the border with Lebanon.
 
Referred to by activists as “the capital of the revolution”, Homs has suffered massive damage during Syria's 27-month conflict. 

Fight or flight? Saudi cleric heads to London after call for Jihad in Syria

Category: Islam
Created on Saturday, 22 June 2013 06:38
Sheikh Mohamed al-Arifi Photo - gololy.com
 
A Saudi cleric has been criticized for currently spending time in London, only weeks after he urged Muslim youth to join Jihad in Syria.
 
Sheikh Mohamed al-Arifi, a leading Saudi preacher, called for jihad in Syria “in every possible way” during a high-level meeting of Muslim scholars in Cairo on June 14.Sheikh Arifi seemingly being filmed by a crew. Photo - al-Madina news
 
But the Saudi preacher, instead of translating his words into action and providing a model for Jihadist wannabes in Syrian frontlines, has chosen to shine elsewhere.
 
Recently he has been spotted in the streets of London, which he previously described as "a place where Muslims should not go to during times of crisis."
 
In London, he sometime threw off his white Thobe, the traditional Saudi dress, and embraced more modern attire.
 
Not so many pictures of him in London are available, but the few ones that came out showed the cleric in a white shirt and a jacket.
 
However, the sheikh claims he is on a business trip. He went to London to shoot his new television program "My Trip with al-Arifi" to be screened during the Muslim month of Ramadan on the religious “Iqra” television station, the Saudi Okaz daily reported.
 
Sheikh Arifi pictured at a London bus stop. Photo - Twitter and FacebookThe newspaper said the television will be shooting several programs around Europe this year, including Arifi’s show.
 
On his upcoming program, the Saudi cleric will address religious diversity in Britain as he meets Muslim youth to promote peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims.
 
He has already begun pushing his agenda on the social media. “I've mixed with the British public in London & found them to be pleasant, polite & respectful towards all religions," Arifi tweeted on Thursday to his more than five million followers.
 
"The Law in UK treats British Muslims with fairness. Muslims should reflect a true image of their religion through their dealing," Arifi added on Twitter.
 
He is due to take part in a charity television event from London, focusing on presenting several reports about the Syrian refugees in Jordan.Sheikh Arifi seemingly being filmed by a crew. Photo - alarab.qa
 
However, Arifi’s call for Jihad and subsequent travel to London exposed him to harsh criticism back home.
 
Saudi journalist Mohamed Suhaimi described clerics like Arifi as propaganda artists who talk the talk, but do not walk the walk.
But the media cleric has got a response to that.
 
He re-tweeted on Wednesday a statement by the Syria Army (FSA) saying: "Frankly, we do not care about your differences with Sheikh al-Arifi as long as we Syrians know what he has done for our sake…God bless him…What have you done?"
 
The Sheikh also re-tweeted a statement attacking Al Arabiya television for reporting on his travel to London.
 
“The channel was surprised when al-Arifi offered them his busy schedule in London," the tweet said.
 
Al-Arifi’s televised fatwas and twitter statements have regularly been a source of contention among religious and political circles.
 
In December 2012, Sheikh Arifi urged parents to prevent their kids from watching MBC3, a sister channel of Al Arabiya TV, because he described its content (which is mostly cartoons) as a way to promote “atheism and corruption” .
 
MBC3 issued a statement describing Arifi's twitter post as "tendentious and far from reality altogether," saying that the sheikh should seek psychiatric help.
 
It is also note-worthy that the Saudi cleric who is currently visiting London has also infamously called for daughters should not seek to seduce their fathers by wearing revealing clothes at home.

Spain breaks up al-Qaeda linked ring, eight arrested

Category: News
Created on Friday, 21 June 2013 08:46
Two al Qaeda-linked rebel policemen File -AFP
 
Spanish security forces on Friday broke up an Al-Qaeda-linked network in north Africa suspected of sending fighters to Syria, arresting eight people in early morning raids.
 
Police launched operations against the ring in Ceuta, a Spanish territory in north Africa, the government said.
 
“We have broken up a network responsible for sending combatants to Al-Qaeda linked terrorist groups operating in Syria,” the Spanish Interior Ministry said in a statement.
 
The network, operating in Ceuta and the neighboring Moroccan town of Fnideq, sent dozens of Islamist militants -- some minors -- to Syria, the ministry said.
 
“Some of them would have carried out suicide attacks while others would have been incorporated into training camps prior to carrying out armed action,” the government said.
 
“This network, based in Ceuta and Fnideq, carried out fundraising, indoctrination, and organizing and financing travel, in contact with other terrorists and following the guidelines of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization.”
 
Security forces confirmed that several “jihadists” were waiting to travel from Spain to Syria, it said. 
 
Spain's police had investigated the network since 2009 and the military-linked Civil Guard since 2011 before they joined forces early this year.
 
The eight suspects faced charges of belonging to a terrorist organization, the government said. 
 
A National Court judge supervising the investigation had issued search warrants that were being executed on Friday, it said. 

Free Syrian Army Accuses Hizbullah of Using Chemical Weapons

Category: News
Created on Friday, 21 June 2013 08:09
Lebanons Islamist group Hezbollah
 
The opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) reported on Wednesday that chemical weapons had been used in a Damascus town by Hizbullah terrorists and forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
According to Al Arabiya, the town of Zamalka, outside of Damascus, was targeted by chemical weapons, which caused victims to choke and led to a number of casualties, opposition activists said.
 
Assad’s government has faced accusations from the United States, Britain and France of using banned weapons, including the nerve gas sarin, in attacks that have reportedly killed many.
 
The U.S. government confirmed last week that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against rebel forces on multiple occasions, adding that America will increase the “scope and scale” of its assistance to rebels in Syria in response.
 
France had previously revealed that it had firm evidence sarin had been used by the Syrian regime in at least one case.
 
The Lebanon-based Shiite Hizbullah has been playing a key role in supporting the Syrian government, which is mainly controlled by the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
 
Initially Hizbullah said it wanted only to defend 13 Syrian villages along the border where Lebanese Shiites live, and the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine near Damascus, which is revered by Shiites around the world.
 
However, its terrorists later encircled Qusayr with regime troops before the launch of a withering assault on the strategic border town.
 
Last week Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah promised that his group will be wherever is needed in Syria.
 
Meanwhile on the ground Wednesday, more cities and towns were bombarded by Syrian regime forces, according to activists who spoke to Al Arabiya.
 
Tanks reportedly deployed at the entrance of the southwestern city of Zabadani shelled its agricultural lands, causing extensive damage.
 
In the province of Idlib, battles between opposition fighters and regime forces killed a number of Syrian army forces.
 
Meanwhile, the FSA said that it managed to take control of a military airport in the area of Deir Al-Zour.

Syrian Rebels: We've Received Heavy Weapons from Saudis

Category: News
Created on Friday, 21 June 2013 07:46
Al Nusra terrorist in Raqa - ReutersThe first delivery of heavy weapons has arrived on Syria’s front lines following President Barack Obama’s decision to put Western military might behind the official opposition, rebels told the British Daily Telegraph on Wednesday.
 
The sources told the newspaper that Russian-made “Konkurs” anti-tank missiles had been supplied by America’s key Gulf ally, Saudi Arabia. They have already been used to destructive effect and may have held up a promised regime assault on Aleppo, the report said.
 
A handful of the missiles were already in use and in high demand after opposition forces looted them from captured regime bases.
 
More have now arrived, confirming reports that the White House has lifted an unofficial embargo on its Gulf allies sending heavy weapons to the rebels.
 
Last week, the White House said it would send military support to Syria’s opposition after concluding that President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime had used chemical agents against them.
 
Unlike rocket-propelled grenades, the Konkurs – Contest in English – can penetrate the regime’s most advanced tanks, Russian-made T72s, noted the Telegraph.
 
“We now have supplies from Saudi Arabia,” a rebel source said. “We have been told more weapons are on their way, even higher-end missiles.”
 
At the G8 this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the West’s attempts to send arms to the opposition, even though he did not rule out fulfilling existing arms contracts with the regime.
 
On Syria’s front lines, rebels are already using Russian missiles to destroy the regime’s Russian tanks, the Telegraph reported.
 
Thanks to Russian backing over the last half century, Syria’s army was the best equipped in the region, and its captured bases have handed a limited number of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to the opposition.
 
But the number of Konkurs missiles seen in videos escalated at the beginning of this month, tangible evidence of the new Saudi supply line, noted the newspaper.
 
Assad warned this week that Europe will “pay the price” if it arms Syrian rebels. European Union foreign ministers agreed at the end of May to lift an arms embargo in order to supply weapons to Syrian rebels, but British Foreign Secretary William Hague said at the time that "no immediate decision" would be made on sending arms to the rebels.
 
“If the Europeans deliver weapons (to rebels), Europe’s backyard will become a terrorists’ place and Europe will pay the price for it,” Assad told the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
 
He said that chaos in Syria would result in "the direct export of terrorism to Europe”, adding, "Terrorists will return to Europe with fighting experience and extremist ideologies."
 
Referring to statements that his regime has used chemical weapons on rebels, Assad said, "If Paris, London and Washington had only one piece of evidence backing up their allegations, they would have unveiled it to the world.

Lebanese singer-turned Islamist will sell home to back FSA

Category: Islam
Created on Monday, 17 June 2013 08:39
Lebanons Sunni ReutersA famed Lebanese singer, who has turned into a self-proclaimed Sunni Islamist, will put his home up for sale to back the Free Syrian Army (FSA) battling the Syrian regime, he said during an interview with a Lebanese TV channel this week.
 
“I would rather sleep on the ground just for the Syrian revolution’s sake,” Fadhel al-Shaker told the al-Jadeed TV channel, adding “whoever attacks us (Sunnis), we will do the same.”
 
The conflict in Syria has become increasingly sectarian with fighters from the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, an ally of the Syrian regime, joining the fight against the rebels.
 
Shaker rejected the TV presenter's reference to him as an “artist,” saying he prefers to be called by his name or as “Hajj,” a title given to a Muslim who completed pilgrimage in Mecca.
 
The former artist, who was the voice of popular romance songs that captivated thousands from all across the Arab world, said fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces was a “legitimate” act.
 
He urged support for the “oppressed” Syrian people and said the FSA should be given financial aid, as well as weaponry.
 
The ex-singer acknowledged the fact that he knows how to use arms; however, didn’t give further details on whether he will join the anti-Assad opposition fighters in Syria.
 
While describing his voice as a “gift from God,” he said he will only continue singing religious Islamic songs.
 
Late last year, Shaker announced the end of his career as a singer and said singing was forbidden in Islam.

Explosions Shake Damascus Military Airport

Category: News
Created on Monday, 17 June 2013 08:06
blast in the central Damascus - AFPTwo bombs struck a large military airport outside the Syrian capital of Damascus on Sunday night, the main rebel army said, according to CNN.
 
The first of a series of explosions was near a checkpoint near the main door of the al-Mazzeh airport, and the second was near an exterior wall, said Louay Mikdad, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army.
 
It wasn't immediately clear who was behind the blasts.
 
It was not known how many people were hurt, but Mikdad said witnesses told of "many ambulances" taking away the wounded, CNN reported. Al-Jazeera reported 12 dead.
 
After the explosions, mortar bombs were fired from inside the airport into surrounding neighborhoods, Mikdad said. The targets weren't known.
 
In addition to being the site of the military airport, the al-Mazzeh area is home to embassies, security buildings and the homes of some members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle, according to opposition activists.

Syrian Minister: Morsi Should Close Israeli Embassy

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 16 June 2013 21:53
Mohammed Morsi - AFPEgyptian President Mohammed Morsi should close down the Israeli embassy in Egypt and not the Syrian one, a Syrian minister said on Sunday.
 
Omran Zoubi, Syria’s Information Minister, was responding to Morsi’s announcement from Saturday that Egypt was cutting diplomatic ties with Damascus and has ordered Syria's embassy in Cairo to be closed.
 
Morsi also urged world powers to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria.
 
"We would have expected Morsi to announce he is closing the Israeli embassy in Egypt, but these are the ways of a leader who refuses to accept such positions," Zoubi said on Sunday, adding that “the heretic project taking place in Egypt is part of the Zionist project.”
 
A Syrian official source quoted by the Xinhua news agency slammed Morsi’s decision as "irresponsible," adding that his calls for foreign intervention and imposing a no fly zone on Syria constitute an infringement upon the region's sovereignty and serve only the interests of Israel and the United States.
 
"We condemn Morsi's irresponsible stance that mirrors his attempt to implement the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood," the Syrian source said, scoffing that Morsi should have saved his "enthusiasm" to the time when he boycotts Israel “that is still killing Palestinians.”
 
Egypt sides with the Islamist rebels who are trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose offshoot movement, Hamas, has already been removed from Damascus due to its support for the rebels.

Syrian Rebels Are Cannibals; Don't Arm Them

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 16 June 2013 21:39
Screen shot of a Syrian rebel cutting out and eating the organs of a regime soldier. Al ArabyiaThe Syrian rebels are “cannibals” and should not be given arms, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday.
 
"I think you will not deny that one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines, in front of the public and cameras," Putin said at a joint press conference in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
 
Putin was referring to video footage posted on the Internet last month of a rebel fighter eating the heart of a government soldier.Putin in Israel
 
"Is it them who you want to supply with weapons?" he said, adding that this behavior does not correspond with international humanitarian norms.
 
Putin’s comments mark the first time that he has publicly responded to a decision by the United States last week to provide arms for the rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Russia is an open supporter of Assad and has indicated that it plans to provide him with advanced missile systems.
 
The U.S. government announced on Thursday that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against rebel forces on multiple occasions, adding that America will increase the “scope and scale” of its assistance to rebels in Syria in response.
 
An aide to Putin said on Friday that Russia is not convinced by the evidence which the U.S. provided alleging that the Assad government used chemical weapons against rebel forces.
 
“The Americans tried to present us with information on the use of chemical weapons by the regime, but frankly we thought that it was not convincing,” the aide, Yury Ushakov, said.
 
On Sunday, The Independent reported that Iran is sending 4,000 new troops to help Assad crush rebel forces in the country’s ongoing civil war.
 
The report in warned that the U.S. decision to arm rebels “has plunged America into the great Sunni-Shia conflict of the Islamic Middle East… the U.S. is now fully engaged on the side of armed groups which include the most extreme Sunni Islamist movements in the Middle East.”

Egypt Salafist party casts doubt over Mursi’s Syria stance

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 16 June 2013 08:38
Egypts President Mursi Al ArabiyaEgypt's Salafist al-Nour Party on Saturday boycotted a “support for Syria” rally in which president Mohammed Mursi announced the cutting of ties with the Syrian regime.
 
The group said the boycott was due to party officials questioning the timing of Mursi’s announcement.
 
"The first reason we boycotted the rally is that because we have in fact been (supporting) Syria for more than a year and a half on different levels as part of (our campaign) 'One Nation.' Speaking of which, a new cargo of aid is headed to Syria on Monday, God willing," Nadar Bakkar, the party's spokesperson, wrote on Twitter.
 
He added that the second reason is linked to the party's reservations over such events.
 
"We have reservations over several events held at particularly this time and aiming to mobilize one group of people against another before June 30," Bakkar said, in reference to nationwide protests that have been planned by opposition groups, marking Mursi’s first anniversary in power.
 
Mursi announced on Saturday the “definitive” cutting of ties with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and called for imposing a no-fly zone over the warn-torn country.
 
Egypt “decided today to definitively break off relations with the current regime in Syria, to close that regime's embassy in Cairo and to recall Egypt's charge d'affaires,” President Mursi said at a rally in Cairo on Saturday.
 
The “Support for Syria” rally was organized in Cairo and came a day after the Muslim Brotherhood denounced Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria and backed calls for Jihad (holy war) there.
 
Bakkar said Mursi's announcements on Saturday contradicted his previous statements, which have included him saying that Egyptian and Russian stances on the Syrian conflict are similar. Moscow is an ally of the Syrian regime.

Iran to send 4,000 Revolutionary Guards to bolster Assad’s forces

Category: Reports
Created on Sunday, 16 June 2013 08:11
Irans Revolutionary Guards AFPIran is to reportedly send 4,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad in the fight against opposition forces, according to the The Independent on Sunday.
 
In what was described as an Iranian “military decision,” the British newspaper said Iran was now “fully committed to preserving Assad’s regime,” citing unnamed pro-Iranian sources.
The sources “have been deeply involved in the Islamic Republic’s security, even to the extent of proposing to open up a new ‘Syrian’ front on the Golan Heights against Israel,” The Independent’s Robert Fisk wrote.
 
The decision, allegedly made before this week’s presidential election, was “to send a first contingent of 4,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad's forces against the largely Sunni rebellion,” Fisk reported.
 
Iran is a predominantly Shiite Muslim country, and a close ally of President Assad, who belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
 
Earlier this month Iran congratulated the Syrian army on their victory in the strategic central town of Qusayr after an 18-day battle.
 
Syrian army forces were supported by allied fighters from the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.
 
“Iranian sources say they liaise constantly with Moscow [a Syrian ally], and that while Hezbollah's overall withdrawal from Syria is likely to be completed soon - with the maintenance of the militia's 'intelligence' teams inside Syria - Iran's support for Damascus will grow rather than wither,” The Independent reported.
 
“They point out that the Taliban recently sent a formal delegation for talks in Tehran and that America will need Iran's help in withdrawing from Afghanistan,” the report added.
 
In August last year, Syrian opposition fighters announced that the 48 kidnapped Iranians were current and former members of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards and not pilgrims as Iran alleges, in footage aired exclusively by Al Arabiya TV.
 
The fighters “captured 48 of the Shabiha (militiamen) of Iran who were on a reconnaissance mission in Damascus,” said a man dressed as an officer of the Free Syrian Army, in the video aired by Al Arabiya.
 
“During the investigation, we found that some of them were officers of the Revolutionary Guards,” he said, showing ID documents taken from one of the men, who appeared in the background with a large Syrian independence flag held by two armed men behind them.

Lebanese cleric: War is coming to Lebanon

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 15 June 2013 07:18
Lebanese Sunni cleric Ahmed al-Assir  ReutersHardline Lebanese Sunni Muslim cleric Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir warned on Friday that “a war is coming to Lebanon” as Syrian rebels and their Lebanese supporters prepare to launch attacks against Hezbollah “everywhere.”
 
Sheikh Assir said in a Friday sermon that a response to Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria could happen in a “few days” and will take place “anywhere” including Lebanon.
 
In April Sheikh Assir urged his followers to join Syrian rebels fighting troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.
 
“Lately, we have seen our people [Sunnis] in the region of Qusayr be subjected to violence, murder and slaughter by the hands of the Iranian party,” Assir told Al Arabiya in an interview. “We found that it is our legitimate duty to see to the [Sunnis’] victory.”
 
Senior Muslim Sunni voices have accused Hezbollah of starting a sectarian war by intervening in Syria against the Sunni opposition.
 
On Friday, Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood threw its weight behind the calls for Jihad in Syria, slamming Hezbollah for starting a sectarian war in Syria. “Throughout history, Sunnis have never been involved in starting a sectarian war,” spokesman Ahmed Aref said.
 
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday that his group is not involved in a war against Sunnis but that it is fighting against a U.S. Israeli conspiracy to control the Middle East.
He vowed to stay in Syria and continue fighting against what he said were extremist Islamists being used by major Western powers to re-draw the regional map.

Egypt Brotherhood backs Syria jihad, denounces Shi’ites

Category: News
Created on Friday, 14 June 2013 17:24
 
An Egyptian man holds the old Syrian flag in support of Syrian terrorists in Cairo AFP
Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood blamed Shi’ites for creating religious strife throughout Islam’s history, as the movement joined a call by Sunni clerics for jihad against the Syrian government and its Shi’ite allies.
 
In a striking display of the religious enmity sweeping the region since Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah committed its forces behind Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Brotherhood spokesman in Cairo told Reuters on Friday: “Throughout history, Sunnis have never been involved in starting a sectarian war.”
 
Until recently, Egypt’s new Islamist president, the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi, was promoting rapprochement with Iran, the bastion of Shi’ite political power and in February he hosted the first visit by an Iranian president in over 30 years.
 
But spokesman Ahmed Aref said Hezbollah had launched a new “sectarian war” last month by joining Tehran’s other key ally Assad in a fight that pits mainly Sunni rebels against a Syrian elite drawn from Assad’s Alawite minority, a Shi’ite offshoot.
 
For that reason, Aref said, the Brotherhood, which emerged from oppression after the fall of military rule two years ago to run by far the most populous Arab state, had joined a call made on Thursday by leading Sunni clerics for holy war in Syria.
 
That statement, made at a Cairo conference of more than 70 religious organizations from across the Arab world, urged “jihad with mind, money, weapons - all forms of jihad,” but stopped short of repeating an explicit call by high-profile Brotherhood-linked preacher Youssef al-Qaradawi for fighters to go to Syria.
 
Asked whether the Brotherhood would urge Egyptians to travel to the war, Aref said it was still considering its position and would coordinate with the other groups at the conference.
 
Mursi would address the assembly on Saturday, he added, saying that speech may clarify the Egyptian position: “Up to now there’s merely been talk,” he said.
 
“We need to coordinate well in terms of logistics.”
 
An aide to Mursi said on Thursday that Egypt disapproved of external intervention in Syria, notably that by Hezbollah. It was not sending fighters but, he said, the government could not stop Egyptians from travelling and would not penalize any who went to Syria, where he said many were engaged in relief work.
Saudi cleric
Also on Friday, a leading Sunni cleric from Saudi Arabia, Mohammed al-Afifi, preached at an ancient Cairo mosque, calling for jihad in Syria “in every way possible.” Some worshippers waved Syrian rebel flags and dozens of men gathered outside afterward to chant their support for bringing down Assad.
 
Saudi Arabia, where the monarchy espouses the strict Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam, is locked in a regional rivalry with Iran and has been arming the Syrian rebels while Egypt’s leaders, who rose to power in the same wave of Arab Spring protests that began the Syrian civil war, have held back from such engagement.
 
The 7th century rift between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam has fuelled violence across the Middle East in recent decades, including the sectarian bloodletting unleashed in Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion and the Lebanese civil war of 1975 to 1990.
 

U.S. Considering Options to Help Rebels

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 13 June 2013 15:41
John Kerry in Ramallah - AFPThe United States is considering what steps it can take in order to help the Syrian opposition, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday.
 
"We have said that we will do everything we can, that we are able to do, to help the opposition achieve that goal and to reach a point where that can be implemented, and that's what we trying to do," Kerry said during a joint news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, according to the AFP news agency.
 
He said the U.S. administration was meeting "to talk about various balances in this issue right now."
 
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's choice of weapons "challenges anybody's standards of human behavior and we're going to have to make judgments ourselves about how we're going to be able to help the opposition deal with that," Kerry said, according to AFP.
 
He stressed, "Nobody wins in Syria the way things are going. The people lose and Syria as a country loses."
 
Reports this week said that President Barack Obama is close to approving arms for the rebels fighting to oust Assad.
 
Officials said that the Obama administration could decide this week to approve lethal aid for the rebels and are also scheduled to weigh the merits of a less likely move to send in U.S. aircraft to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria.
 
To date, President Obama has only committed non-lethal aid, despite lawmakers' calls for more forceful action from the U.S. as the civil war there intensifies and threatens neighboring countries.
 
One of the reasons for the hesitation in arming rebels is that they include radical, jihadist groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
 
Hague said on Wednesday that Britain and its allies must be "prepared to do more" to save innocent lives in Syria.
 
"The United Kingdom believes that the situation demands a strong, coordinated, and determined approach by the UK, the U.S., and our allies in Europe and the region," Hague said, according to AFP.
 
Calling the conflict in Syria "the most urgent crisis anywhere in the world today," Hague warned that Assad’s regime "seems to be preparing new assaults, endangering the lives and safety of hundreds of Syrians who are already in desperate need."
 
"The scale of the regime's repression and the human suffering that it has caused beggars belief -- a campaign of murder and tyranny that they have waged for more than 800 days now. It is not only a moral outrage -- it's a grave threat to the wider region," the British minister said.
 
He confirmed that he had discussed the Syrian conflict, now in its third year, with Kerry in their talks, saying the "innocent victims of war and repression" had been "at the forefront of our minds."
 
Kerry insisted the goal of diplomatic efforts was to reach a political solution and transition of power that "gives the Syrian people the chance to have a new beginning where they choose their future leadership."

15 Yr Old Publicly Executed for Blasphemy in Aleppo

Category: Islam
Created on Tuesday, 11 June 2013 07:57
Al Nusra terrorist in Raqa - ReutersThe UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Sunday that Islamist rebels in the city executed 15-year-old Muhamma Qatta’ in the Sha'ar neighborhood of Aleppo, before the horrifed eyes of his parents. 
 
The punishment came after the boy was overheard by someone during an argument while he was working. “Even if Muhammad comes back to life, I won’t lend,” the boy reportedly said in his workplace, where he sold coffee and from where he was detained at 10 p.m. Sunday. He was later returned by the rebels to the area, his shirt covering his head and with his body marked from torture and beating.
 
The men who escorted him then announced to the crowd in classical Arabic that apostasy and cursing the prophet is a “terrible vice” and that anyone who does so will face a similar fate. The SOHR reported the boy was then shot by the two men with an automatic rifle in front of the crowd – which included the boy’s mother and father -- once in the neck and once in the head. The two men then drove away in their car, leaving the boy’s body behind.
 
An extremely graphic photo of the teen’s face, shot in the mouth and throat and covered in blood, is posted on the SOHR Facebook page. “The SOHR demands that the killers of the child be brought to justice,” said the Observatory in a statement on Facebook. “It is important to note that the Shari’a court of Aleppo has a security branch in the area but did not stop the summary execution of the boy.
 
Meanwhile, Syrian government troops are preparing for a siege of Aleppo, currently held by the rebel forces who plan to declare the northern commercial hub a separatist Islamist state.
 
Troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are “deploying heavily in the countryside near Aleppo in preparation for a battle that will be fought inside the city and on its outskirts,” said Syria’s al-Watan pro-government newspaper. 
 
Just days after Assad forces recaptured the town of Qusair with aid of Lebanese Hizbullah guerrilla fighters, the government troops now plan to do the same in Aleppo “in the coming hours or days.” The report went on to say, “Beseiged areas will be freed in the first stages and troops which have been on the defensive will on the offensive. The Syrian army will take advantage of its experience in Qusair and Eastern Ghouta (near Damascus) to advance in the provinces of Hama and Homs.”
 
A security source told the AFP news agency, “It is likely the battle for Aleppo will start in the coming hours or days, and its aim is to reclaim the towns and villages in the province.” Shi’ite fighters from the Hizbullah terrorist organization and from Iraq have been reinforcing the Syrian Army soldiers in their battles.  Last month, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah vowed to fight “to the end” to put down the uprising and to “defend Lebanon” from “jihadist extremists.”

Israel Intensifies Warning to Syria Over Golan Heights

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 09 June 2013 10:31
Arab TanksIsrael has allegedly reiterated its warnings to Syria over activity in the Golan Heights, threatening in a document sent to the United Nations the IDF will attack Syrian tanks on its border.
 
Jerusalem allegedly sent the warning to the U.N. Security Council via Herve Ladsous, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations (UNDOF), according to a report published this weekend in the Hebrew-language Yediot Acharonot newspaper.
 
Israel warned it would “take action” if Syrian tanks continued to operate in the buffer zone, according to the report, which was also picked up by the Al-Arabiya news network.
 
Tensions are rising in Israel’s northern region, as the country prepares itself for “any possibility.” Coastal police are conducting a drill simulating an emergency response to a terrorist attack on Sunday morning in Haifa, officials announced.
 
Bomb Squad sappers, detectives and scouts are all participating, and the public was warned to expect the presence of “many police vehicles” as well as possible temporary traffic adjustments.
 
The U.S. State Department called on the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad on last Thursday to take care to avoid violating the ceasefire with Israel in the Golan Heights.
 
“We’ve been very clear about our concerns over regional instability caused by the crisis in Syria,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, after a day of fighting between Syrian government troops and rebels near the border with Israel. 
 
“This is of course another example of that, and we continue to call upon all parties to avoid any action that would jeopardize the long-held ceasefire between Israel and Syria.”

Austria Withdraws Peacekeeping Force from Golan Heights

Category: News
Created on Friday, 07 June 2013 20:47
Peacekeepers Force from Golan HeightsAustria is pulling its United Nations peacekeeping force from the Golan Heights, the government said in a statement released Thursday.
 
Austria accounts for about 380 of the 1,000-strong UN force monitoring the Israel-Syria ceasefire line in the Golan Heights.
 
“Freedom of movement in the area de facto no longer exists. The uncontrolled and immediate danger to Austrian soldiers has risen to an unacceptable level," the Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, and his deputy, Michael Spindelegger, said in a joint statement.
 
The announcement came hours after Syrian rebels seized the Syrian-controlled section of the Quneitra crossing early on Thursay.
 
A Filipino peacekeeper was also wounded during the fighting, a Philippine military spokesman said.
 
The soldier suffered a leg injury from an artillery or mortar shell that landed at Camp Ziouani, a logistics base for the UN Disengagement Observer Force, said Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala.
 
"This morning's developments show that a further delay (in pulling out soldiers) is no longer justifiable," the Austrian statement said.
 
The head of United Nations peacekeeping confirmed earlier Thursday that shots had been fired in "incidents" on the Israel-Syria ceasefire line in the Golan heights, where Israeli radio reported a crossing point falling into the hands of Syrian rebels. Syrian government forces retook the position.
 
"We are following the situation in the Golan extremely closely, it is very sensitive," the head of UN peacekeeping operations Herve Ladsous told reporters in Paris, according to the AFP news agency.
 
"We have adjusted the stance of the UN force (in Golan) in real time, taking particular account of the security of our staff."
 
Ladsous added that "there were shots," but would not confirm the report that the Syrian rebels had taken control of the crossing point. "It is in the interest of the international community that the UN force is able to continue its work in favor of regional stability."

Hamas's Mashaal: Assad Refused to Accept Political Solution

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 04 June 2013 18:12
Khaled MeshaalThe Hamas terrorist group left Syria because President Bashar Al-Assad refused to consider a political solution to the conflict in the country, its leader Khaled Mashaal said.
 
In an interview with Britain’s Channel 4, which aired on Thursday, Mashaal said, “The military approach is wrong. It makes the crisis worse. It doesn’t solve anything, it only makes it more complicated. What we are witnessing today proves our advice was right.”
 
The interview came amid reports that the head of Hamas in Lebanon, Ali Barakha, was informed by Hizbullah that his people were no longer welcome in the country, and that Hamas members should evacuate the country immediately. The message raised the possibility that the two Islamist groups could end up fighting each other in Lebanon, as each vies for influence with opposing parties in Syria, analysts said.
 
Mashaal denied that his group was supporting the rebels fighting Assad, saying, “We do not interfere in Syrian internal affairs nor do we interfere in the Syrian crisis and this is our policy towards the Arab Spring and all other Arab and non-Arab countries in the world.
 
“Hamas policy is against any foreign intervention in our countries,” he added. “This is our general principle. But at the same time we support the rights of people to freedom, democracy and reform and we are against the use of force and violence, massacres, and military options against them. We support people to win their rights, but we are against foreign intervention.
 
“The international community has been talking about this for months and I think there is a kind of deception going on, and that there is a hidden agenda from many international parties to prolong the Syrian crisis and destroy Syria. These parties do not want to see recovery for Syria…they use positive slogans but in reality their attitude identifies with the Israeli agenda of destroying Syria, more death, and prolonging the Syrian crisis,” said the Hamas leader.
 
He denied that Hamas’s leaving Syria and moving its headquarters to Qatar was a message to Assad that he needs to go.
 
“This is not what we meant. We, as the leadership of Hamas, had to leave Damascus the moment we felt that our efforts to convince the Syrian leadership to choose a solution other than the military one failed,” said Mashaal. “On the other hand, the Syrian leadership was not happy with Hamas’ political stance and also, I felt they wanted to put pressure or demand on us to stand by the official Syrian position and support the leadership in their military solution to the Syrian issue … this is why we did not feel then I could stay, so we left – circumstances forced itself on us, but if Assad goes or stays, that’s up to the Syrian people not to us.”
 
In the first months of the uprising, Hamas’s leaders expressed support in principle for the struggle of the Syrian people while also highlighting the importance of the movement’s historical relationship with the Syrian regime.
 
However, as the rift deepened, reports surfaced that Hamas was moving its headquarters from Damascus and strengthening itself in the Sinai and in Qatar.
 
Some reports claimed that the Damascus-based Hamas leadership left Syria after the Syrian government asked the Hamas leaders to leave. In November, Syrian security forces shut down all the offices belonging to Hamas in the country.
 
In the interview with Channel 4, Mashaal also slammed Israel for its “assault against Gaza” and claimed that it is an “occupying force”. The remarks were made in response to a question by the interviewer, Alex Thomson, that Hamas and Israel were “close to being on the same side” because of the rift between Hamas and Assad.
 
“Israel looks after its own interest and has its own policy of assault no matter which country it’s assaulting, if it’s Lebanon or Syria or any other country in the world. Israel is our enemy,” Mashaal stated.
 
“I am surprised that the world keeps concentrating on the recognition of Israel and its right to exist, while it is an existing state on the ground, occupying the land and expelling its people while practicing all manner of killings, aggression and terror,” he added. “In all civil and religious laws in the world, there is no legitimacy to anyone who establishes themselves by means of violation and the seizure of land and the rights of others. Does the international community accept this equation?”
 
He stressed that PA Arabs “are the real owners of the land. We have the right to live freely without occupation, settlements, aggression, prisons and Jewishization of the land. The law I believe in, and I think it’s the same for every human being in the world, not only the Arabs and all Muslims, is that there is no legitimacy or future for occupation or aggression.”
 
Asked if there were any circumstances in which he could conceive shaking hands with the Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Mashaal replied, “Although the question is legitimate, how can I have peace with a killer like Netanyahu. Think logically. I am the Palestinian victim, my land is occupied, and my people are displaced. Netanyahu is waging war against my own people, and denies my rights, so why would the world expect me to shake his hand in the future? There was a historical handshake between Rabin and Arafat, in the White House garden, but what was the result? This hand, Arafat’s, the hand that shook Rabin’s hand, was poisoned and killed by Rabin’s followers after that.”
 
Several months ago, Mashaal claimed in a CNN interview that Hamas would accept a Palestinian state along the indefensible pre-1967 borders but would refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

UN Blacklists Syrian Al-Nusra Front

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 04 June 2013 17:05
Syrian supporters of the Al-Nusra groupThe UN Security Council on Friday blacklisted the Syrian group Al-Nusra Front and added it to its global sanctions list because of its links to Al-Qaeda, Al Arabiya reported.
 
The group, a feared force battling President Bashar al-Assad, is now subject to an international asset freeze and arms embargo, according to an announcement made by the Security Council’s Al-Qaeda sanctions committee.
 
Al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani last month pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, confirming suspicions of ties between the rebel group and the terrorist group founded by Osama bin Laden.
 
The announcement followed a message from Zawahiri, urging rebels to fight to establish an Islamic state in Syria, and was received with caution by the mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army.
 
The U.S. government designated Al-Nusra a terrorist organization last year and added al-Jawlani to its terrorist blacklist this month.
 
Al-Nusra is one of 13 factions in the radical Islamist rebel council that announced its secession from the main opposition force and declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo.

Rebels to Hizbullah: Stop Attacking Us Or We'll Hunt You to Hell

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 30 May 2013 08:45
HizbullahAn official with the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) warned the Hizbullah terror group on Tuesday to end its involvement in the Syrian conflict and stop backing government troops.
 
Brigadier General Salim Idris, the current chief of Staff of the Supreme Military Council of the FSA, told Al Arabiya, “If the attacks of Hizbullah [on] Syrian territory do not stop within 24 hours, we will take all measures to hunt Hizbullah, even in hell.”
 
“I will no longer be bound by any commitments I made if a decision to stop the attacks... is not taken and implemented,” he warned.
 
Idris said “everyone” should “excuse FSA” for retaliating as “we are being subjected to genocide conducted by Hizbullah.”
 
Qusayr, a town in the central province of Homs, became the flashpoint of confrontation between Hizbullah terrorists and the armed opposition battling President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
 
The Iran-backed Hizbullah sent almost 1,700 fighters to Qusayr more than a week ago to support the regime’s assault on the rebel stronghold.
 
Initially Hizbullah said it wanted only to defend 13 Syrian villages along the border where Lebanese Shiites live, and the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine near Damascus, which is revered by Shiites around the world, noted Al Arabiya.
 
However, its terrorists later encircled Qusayr with regime troops before the launch of a withering assault on the strategic border town that is home to 25,000 people.
 
A draft resolution condemning the Syrian regime’s use of foreign fighters in the rebel-held area will be debated on Wednesday by the UN’s top rights body, AFP reported.
 
The draft resolution, presented on Tuesday, “condemns the intervention of foreign combatants fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime in al-Qusayr,” an implicit reference to the involvement of Hizbullah in the fierce battle for the strategic town.
 
At least 75 Hizbullah members have already been killed fighting alongside Assad’s soldiers, and Hizbullah head Hassan Nasrallah vowed Saturday to continue the group’s support for Assad.
 
Meanwhile, the fighting in Syria has continued to spill into Lebanon. On Monday, cross-border mortar shells from Syria killed one person and wounded another near the eastern Lebanese town of Hermel.
 
The incident came one day after two rockets exploded in southern Beirut on Sunday morning. The rockets hit the Hizbullah-dominated neighborhood of Dahiya, injuring at least four people.

Hizbullah Gives Hamas 'Eviction Papers' from Lebanon

Category: Reports
Created on Thursday, 30 May 2013 07:59
Village in southern LebanonThe head of Hamas in Lebanon, Ali Barakha, was informed by Hizbullah that his people were no longer welcome in the country, and that Hamas members should evacuate the country immediately, Israel Radio reported Thursday. The message raised the possibility that the two Islamist groups could end up fighting each other in Lebanon, as each vies for influence with opposing parties in Syria, analysts said.
 
Syrian rebels have been receiving assistance from the Sunni-oriented Hamas terror group, while the Shi'ite-affiliated Hizbullah terror group has been helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the ongoing civil war in Syria.
 
Hizbullah is aiding Assad as a proxy of Iran, the main backer of the Syrian despot, while Syrian rebels, seeking to unseat Assad, have turned to Sunni Muslim groups in the Middle East for help. Saudi Arabia is Sunni and fears Iran's increased domination.  Assad himself is a member of the Alawite cult, considered heretical by both Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims.
 
Recent reports said that hundreds of Hizbullah terrorists have died in fierce fighting on the Syria-Lebanon border, as units of the Syrian army and terrorists battled Syrian rebels for control of the area. Many of the deaths occurred in the Syria-Lebanon border town of Al-Qusayr, a city of over 40,000, which over the past two years has been turned into a war-torn danger zone. It is not known how many Hamas terrorists fought in those battles, but it is thought to be a substantial number by analysts, as both rebels and the Syria army placed a great deal of importance on the battle.
 
Reports of the Hamas “eviction” by Hizbullah appeared in the Arab press on Thursday, based on information supplied by Syrian rebels, Israel Radio reported, adding that there had been no independent confirmation of the story.
 
In a separate interview Thursday, Barakha denied the story, saying that Hamas and Hizbullah worked together for the benefit of Lebanon.

Israel's New Neighbor: Syrian Al-Qaeda Rebel Group

Category: News
Created on Monday, 27 May 2013 17:08
al-Qaeda terroristsIn recent months, there has been a shakeout among the various Syrian rebel groups, and one of the dominant ones that has emerged is Jabhat al-Nusra, closely identified with al-Qaeda. The Sunni Islamist group is seeking to take over as much of Syria as possible and place it under Sharia Islamic law.
 
Now, the group has taken up positions close to Syria's border with Israel, adjacent to the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. In a video released on Youtube, the group's soldiers are seen conducting training exercises in the Dar'a area of southern Syria, right next to the Heights. In the exercise, the soldiers are seen attempting to take over a building, using weapons and bombs.
 
They are also seen singing Arabic songs in praise of terror, and swearing revenge on the “unbelievers” - the Alawite group that runs Syria, as well as Shi'ite Muslims who, according to Sunni views, hold an incorrect interpretation of Islam.
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The video provides evidence of a well-trained, motivated fighting force, military experts said. The group is clearly better equipped and trained than the other rebel groups, they said, and apparently has incorporated a large number of Sunni Muslim defectors from the Syrian army.
 
While the group says that putting the “Syrian house in order” is its first order of business, it says that it eventually plans to deal with the “Zionist enemy” and end the “occupation,” first of the Golan, and then of the “rest of Palestine.”

Clashes intensify in Syria's Qusayr

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 25 May 2013 11:20
Smoke rises from Syrian shelling of HomsClashes between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, aided by Hezbollah, and rebels intensified as they fought to seize Syrian town of Qusayr on Friday.
 
Online footage shows a whole row of houses demolished after shelling in Qusayr on Thursday with fires still raging within the shattered buildings.
 
Brigades of rebels have joined the battle for Qusayr. Some were filmed firing on enemy positions with rocket-propelled grenades.
 
Plumes of white and black smoke rose over nearby Daba military airport, which rebels claimed was under their control.
 
State media said the army had killed eight people they described as terrorists in Daba.
 
More than 80,000 people have been killed in what is now a full-scale civil war that has dragged in Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas and is spilling into other neighboring countries.

Attacks against Lebanese Alawites deepen fears

Category: Islam
Created on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 09:06
Attacks against AlawitesLebanese members of the Syrian leader’s Alawite sect fear their tiny community will be a casualty of the civil war raging in the neighboring country.
 
Already, Sunni Muslim extremists have stoned a school bus, vandalized stores and beaten or stabbed a number of men in a wave of attacks against Lebanese Alawites, stoking fears of even more violence should Syrian President Bashar Assad be removed from power.
 
In one particularly humiliating case, angry Sunnis tied a rope around an Alawite man’s neck and dragged him around the streets of Tripoli.
 
“The Alawites are being subjected to an organized campaign that aims to eliminate them on all levels,” said Ali Feddah, a prominent member of Lebanon’s Arab Democratic Party, which is mainly Alawite.
 
Feddah spoke to The Associated Press in his office in Tripoli’s predominantly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen. Sitting next to a picture of Assad, he said the Alawites face an “existential threat,” mainly because of extremist Sunni incitement against them.
 
His words echo the sentiments of many Alawites, who have long enjoyed privileges in Syria under Assad family rule and now fear for their future. The tiny community in Lebanon, which has long been a Syrian client state, has also benefited from Assad’s rule, particularly during Syria’s three-decade hold on its smaller neighbor that ended in 2005.
 
The Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, represents little more than 10 percent of the population in Syria and about 2 percent in Lebanon. Before their ascent in the mid-20th century, the Alawites were impoverished and marginalized, largely confined to the mountains of the province of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.
 
Under the French mandate, the Alawites were granted an autonomous territory stretching in a band along the coast from the Lebanese border to the Turkish border. It lasted a few years until 1937, when their state was incorporated into modern-day Syria.
 
After the 1963 coup that brought the Baath Party to power in Damascus, Alawites began consolidating their presence in the Syrian government and armed forces.
 
The uprising against Assad’s rule that began in March 2011 quickly became an outlet for long-suppressed grievances, mostly by poor Sunnis from marginalized areas. It has since escalated into an outright civil war.
 
Many of the rebels trying to overthrow Assad today say they want to replace his government with an Islamic state.
 
The war, now in its third year, has turned increasingly sectarian with countless cases of tit-for-tat slayings between Sunnis and Alawites. Sunni rebels are often seen in videos posted online referring to Alawites as dogs and heretics.
 
Abu Bilal al-Homsi, an activist in the central Syrian city of Homs who has links with several rebel groups, said the Assad regime has carried out massacres against Sunnis. He points to waves of sectarian killings this month, allegedly carried out by pro-government Alawite gunmen in the coastal towns of Banias and Bayda. More than 100 civilians were killed in the attacks.
 
“We will completely wipe out the Alawite sect,” said al-Homsi, who does not use his real name because of fear of government reprisals. “There will be no Alawites in Syria. The young and the old will be punished.”
 
Bassam al-Dada, an official in the rebels’ Free Syrian Army, disagrees with al-Homsi. “The Alawites have nothing to do with Bashar’s crimes,” he said.
 
The U.N. estimates that more than 70,000 people have been killed in the war. Human Rights activists say most of them are Sunnis, but Alawites have also paid a heavy price. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday the group has documented the names of more than 35,000 Alawites who have died, most of them soldiers and pro-Assad militiamen.
 
“Their losses statistically are very high. There is a lot of resentment in Alawite regions,” said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University in Beirut.
 
The tensions in Syria are playing out in Lebanon, which is sharply split along sectarian lines and has recently seen repeated bouts of street fighting related to the war across the border.
 
Northern Lebanon, in particular, is a potential powder keg. It has a strong Sunni population but also has pockets of Alawites.
 
The Alawites live mainly in Jabal Mohsen, a hilly district where posters of Assad and his father and predecessor, the late Hafez Assad, decorate the streets.
 
For years, residents of Jabal Mohsen have traded short bouts of automatic weapons fire and volleys of rocket-propelled grenades with residents of the mainly Sunni Bab Tabbaneh neighborhood.
 
The two districts in Tripoli are separated by a roadway named Syria Street.
 
The clashes have become more frequent since Syria’s uprising began - and so have the targeted attacks.
 
Ali, an unemployed 25-year-old Alawite from Jabal Mohsen, says he has not been to Sunni neighborhoods of Tripoli for more than a year after he was beaten up in the central Tal neighborhood.
 
Ali, who declined to give his full name for fear of reprisals, described how he was intercepted by a man who ran toward him, grabbed him by the neck and tried to choke him as he shouted: “Are you from the Jabal?”
 
He said he denied he was an Alawite and was eventually saved by a Sunni man who knew him.
 
Last month, a bus carrying school children was attacked on the edge of Jabal Mohsen by a group of extremists who pelted it with rocks for several minutes before troops intervened.
 
“Since then, all school buses from Jabal Mohsen are accompanied by troops,” Feddah said.
 
Residents say several men have been stabbed and beaten up in the past few weeks. Several shops in Jabal Mohsen were set on fire, their fronts seen shuttered on a recent visit.
 
Earlier this month, bearded extremists grabbed a Syrian man in Tripoli, beat him up and stripped him to the waist before tying a rope around his neck and parading him through the streets. “I am an Alawite shabih,” they wrote on his bare chest, in reference to widely feared pro-Assad militiamen who fight alongside soldiers in Syria.
 
In Syria, thousands of Alawites have left their homes in war-shattered cities such as Homs, for the relative safety of the overwhelmingly Alawite provinces of Tartous and Latakia.
 
Syrian opponents of Assad say Alawite fighters are trying to carve out a breakaway enclave in the country’s mountainous Alawite heartland by driving out local Sunnis. They say recent killings in overwhelmingly Sunni villages close to Alawite communities are meant to lay the groundwork.
 
Earlier this month, regime forces from nearby Alawite areas were blamed for killing dozens of civilians in Banias and Bayda, two Sunni communities in western Syria. The violence bore a closer resemblance to two reported mass killings last year in Houla and Qubeir, Sunni villages surrounded by Alawite towns in central Syria.
 
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper that having failed to control the entire country, Assad was now executing his “plan B” - which involves opening up an Alawite corridor between central Syria and Lebanon and driving Sunnis away from the area.
 
“There is an effort to cleanse the region,” Davutoglu said in the interview, published last week. “This will cause turmoil in Lebanon too. It could cause a culture of revenge.”

Saudi urges U.N. action against Israel strikes on Syria

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 07 May 2013 09:49
IAF Syria strikeSaudi Arabia on Monday called for U.N. action to end Israeli strikes on Syria, describing the raids as a “dangerous violation” of the sovereignty of an Arab state, the official SPA news agency reported.
 
Israeli raids on Syrian targets near Damascus at the weekend killed at least 42 soldiers, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog said.
 
A senior Israeli source said the raids targeted Iranian weapons destined for the Shiite Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
 
The Saudi cabinet voiced “deep concern from the worsening situation in Syria” and urged “swift action by the U.N. Security Council to stop these Israeli attacks on Syrian territories and ensure they are not repeated,” said SPA.
 
The kingdom has repeatedly voiced support to rebels in Syria battling President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and severed diplomatic ties with Damascus since 2011.
 
But its government on Monday described Israel’s raids as “flagrant attacks and a dangerous violation of the sovereignty of an Arab state, warning of its dangerous effects in the region's security and stability.”
 
A diplomatic source in Beirut told AFP the sites targeted by Israeli warplanes were the Jamraya military facility, a nearby weapons depot and an anti-aircraft unit in Sabura, west of Damascus.
 
Sunday’s strike came about 48 hours after a reported Israeli raid on a weapons storage facility at Damascus airport.
 
U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon has warned against any escalation of a conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people in Syria since it erupted in March 2011.

Syrian Minister: All Possibilites Open After Israeli Attacks

Category: News
Created on Monday, 06 May 2013 21:22
F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jetSyria responded angrily to the overnight air strikes on military targets that it accused Israel of carrying out, warning that the attack "opens the door to all possibilities."
 
"We will not accept to be humiliated," Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoubi said at an afternoon press conference, according to ABC News.
 
"We are all in a state of anger. We are abused by this attack," he added.
 
Israel has not confirmed or denied the series of strikes early Sunday morning, which the Syrian foreign ministry said had targeted three military sites: a "research center" at Jamraya, a "paragliding airport" in the al-Dimas area of Damascus, and a site in Maysaloun.
 
Syria accused Israel of "coordination" with the extremist rebel groups it is fighting, including Jabhat al-Nusra, which has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda's leadership.
 
Zoubi’s warning came after Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Feisal al-Mekdad, earlier called Israel's bombing of a weapons transport in Syria a “declaration of war.”
 
Speaking in an interview on CNN, al-Mekdad said that Israel was siding with “Islamist terrorists” to unseat President Bashar al-Assad, and that Syria would respond “at the time and in the manner that it chooses to.”
 
President Barack Obama, who has faced growing questioning over the American role in the conflict that has left more than 70,000 dead, did not confirm the Israeli attacks, but said on Saturday that Israel has a right to stop its enemies from getting advanced weapons.

 

Israeli Strike 'Declaration of War'

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 05 May 2013 19:51
F16 Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Feisal al-Mekdad on Sunday called Israel's bombing of a weapons transport in Syria a “declaration of war.” Speaking in an interview on CNN, al-Mekdad said that Israel was siding with “Islamist terrorists” to unseat President Bashar al-Assad, and that Syria would respond “at the time and in the manner that it chooses to.”
 
Israel has not confirmed or denied the claims that it had attacked a convoy in Syria that was transporting Iranian produced missiles to Hizbullah over Syrian territory. “We don't respond to these kinds of reports,” an IDF spokesperson told foreign news media Sunday.
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Also condemning the strike was Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, demanding that the Arab League take “a decisive stand against Israeli terrorism.” Mansour complained that the League had remained silent “for too long” in the wake of “Israeli hooliganism,” and demanded that the League “immediately condemn the Israeli action against the Assad regime.”
 
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, on the other hand, expressed “understanding” for Israel's need to defend itself from terror groups. “Israel made it clear that it would respond if it suspected that advanced weapons systems were being handed over to Hizbullah,” he said. “Israel will act to defend its security,” and such actions must be “respected,” he added.

Israel Bombed ‘Game-Changing’ Weapons Going to Hizbullah

Category: Reports
Created on Sunday, 05 May 2013 08:41
F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jetIsrael bombed a weapons shipment headed for Hizbullah on Friday, an Israeli source confirmed Saturday. The source spoke after American media outlets reported the strike.
 
Israel has not officially commented on the alleged strike.
 
A diplomatic source in Lebanon told the AFP news agency that the operation destroyed surface-to-air missiles recently delivered by Russia that were being stored at Damascus airport.
 
The Israeli source confirmed that the strike targeted “game-changing” weaponry, but not chemical weapons.
 
Lebanon's army said pairs of Israeli airplanes entered Lebanese airspace three times overnight. The first two entered over the southern city of Sidon at 7:10 PM (1610 GMT), followed three hours later by a second pair that entered over Jounieh north of Beirut, a statement said.
 
The last pair flew in over the capital, the statement said, adding that the warplanes stayed in Lebanese airspace for two to three hours at a time
 
There were unconfirmed reports during the past week that Israeli planes had staged mock strikes in Lebanese air space..
 
US media reported that Washington does not believe Israeli warplanes entered Syrian airspace to conduct the strikes. A senior US official told NBC News that the air strikes were probably tied to delivery systems for chemical weapons.
 
White House and Pentagon officials declined to comment on the air strike reports.
 
But Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was quoted as telling an audience that Israel had indeed bombed Syria.
 
"Israel bombed Syria tonight," Graham was cited by the Politico news website as saying in passing, without offering any further details.
 
If confirmed, this would be the second Israeli air strike on Syria this year.   Earlier this month, Israel implicitly admitted carrying out a January raid on a weapons convoy in Syria thought to be en route to Hizbullah.

Steinitz: Nuclear Iran is Like 30 Nuclear North Koreas

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 30 April 2013 06:54
Yuval SteinitzInternational Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz warned on Sunday that Iran having a nuclear weapon would be equal to “thirty nuclear North Koreas”.
 
“We have the right and the ability to defend ourselves,” he said in a speech at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York. “The cooperation with the United States is very important but ultimately each country will make its own decisions on maintaining its security,” said Steinitz, stressing that “Israel can deal with any threat.”
 
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80 years ago, said Steinitz, “only one person identified on time and warned the world against the rearmament of Nazi Germany. This was Winston Churchill, but people refused to listen. Some people even mocked him.”
 
“We shouldn’t repeat the same mistake again,” he added, referring to Iran. “The Nazis spoke about the final solution of the Jews in Europe, and the Iranians are talking about destroying the Jewish State in the Middle East. We have to learn from history, even if it doesn’t repeat itself exactly, and if there’s a lesson to learn from history, it is not to repeat the same mistake again and not to allow, come what may, the nuclearization of Iran.”
 
Referring to Syria, Steinitz rejected allegations that Israel asked the United States to take military action in the war torn country..
 
“We never asked and never encouraged the U.S. to take military action in Syria,” Steinitz told the conference, referring to reports that Israel has been pressuring the Obama administration to get involved in Syria, in the wake of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.
 
“It is up to the U.S. to decide its policy on Syria,” said Steinitz. “Of course, we exchange views with the U.S. about the situation; it’s a very complex and difficult issue."
 
He emphasized that Israel will “do its utmost to prevent delivery” of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles to terrorist groups such as Hizbullah.

Syrian PM 'Survives Damascus Car Bombing'

Category: News
Created on Monday, 29 April 2013 11:19
Syrian PM Survives Damascus Car BombingSyrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halaqi survived a bomb attack that targeted his convoy in central Damascus on Monday, according to media reports.
 
The blast occurred in the Mazzeh district, state television said.Syrian PM
 
Both Syrian state television and the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the incident.
 
At least one person was killed in the attack, the observatory said.
 
Syrian news agency Sana said the explosion hit near Ibn Rushed Park.

Lebanese Youth Sign Up for 'Jihad' Against Hizbullah

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 25 April 2013 08:00
HezbollahLebanese youth from the city of Saida, south of Beirut, began on Wednesday to sign up for “armed Jihad in Syria”, Al Arabiya reported.
 
The youth were responding to a call a day earlier by Sunni cleric Ahmad Assir, who called on Lebanese youth to fight the Hizbullah terrorist group.
 
Individuals in charge of enlisting the youth told Al Arabiya that “hundreds” have signed up so far and that the number is expected to reach thousands.
 
On Tuesday, Sheikh Assir lashed out at Hizbullah for helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces fight the predominately Sunni opposition in the country.
 
Sheikh Assir had announced the formation of “Free Resistance Brigades” to go fight Hizbullah in Syria.
 
In an interview with Al Arabiya, Assir said his call came in response to “Hizbullah’s continued role in the persecution of Sunni Muslims in Syria.”
 
He said it was a “a religious duty” for his Sunni followers to join the fight against Hizbullah and the Syrian regime.
 
Assir slammed the Lebanese government for not being able to prevent Hizbullah from interfering in Syria.
 
Reports in a Saudi daily last week indicated that over 1,000 Hizbullah members had entered Syria over a period of a few days via waterways in the Mediterranean Sea.
 
The daily quoted sources as having said that the regime in Damascus "is resorting to the aid of fighters from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, which implies that the Syrian recruits' desire to fight alongside the regime is decreasing."
 
Several months ago, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah publicly offered to place his terrorists at Assad’s disposal.
 
Syria's opposition warned this week that Hizbullah’s role in fighting in Homs province amounts to a "declaration of war," while the terrorist group said it is merely protecting Lebanese people.
 
Analysts told AFP on Wednesday that Hizbullah’s decision to fight openly alongside the Syrian regime will increase Lebanon's involvement in Syria's conflict, despite a policy of neutrality.
 
Despite the inflaming tensions, however, the country is unlikely to face serious instability as a result, because none of its political forces have an interest in such a scenario for now, the analysts added.
 
"Hizbullah’s public involvement is no longer the world's worst-kept secret, and now we are in a crisis where the Lebanese are not only politically divided... but also militarily divided," Ghassan al-Azzi, a professor of political science at the Lebanese University, told AFP.
 
"Hizbullah’s involvement in the Syrian crisis now involves all of Lebanon because we've heard from the other side calls to fight jihad alongside the opposition to the Syrian regime," he added, referring to Lebanon's Sunni community.

Syrian Opposition Denounces Hizbullah's Role in Civil War

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 23 April 2013 07:41
Destruction in Homs - AFPSyria's opposition warned on Monday that Hizbullah’s role in fighting in Homs province amounts to a "declaration of war," while the terrorist group said it is merely protecting Lebanese people, AFP reports.
 
The comments came as a watchdog said the Lebanese Shiite terror group was leading the battle in the Qusayr area of Homs, which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has reportedly termed "the main battle" his troops are currently fighting.
 
"What is happening in Homs is a declaration of war against the Syrian people and the Arab League should deal with it on this basis," George Sabra, the interim chief of the opposition National Coalition, was quoted by AFP as having said.
 
"The Lebanese president and the Lebanese government should realize the danger that it poses to the lives of Syrians and the future relations between the two peoples and countries," he told a news conference in Istanbul.
 
"We hope that the brotherly Lebanese people will raise their voices against the murder of free Syrians," said Sabra, shortly after his appointment was announced.
 
"We call in particular on our Shiite Lebanese brothers to stop their sons from going to kill Syrians and becoming victims of the conflict as well," he added, according to AFP.
 
Hizbullah, a close ally of the Assad regime, has defended any involvement of its forces in Syria as a bid to protect Lebanese citizens in a string of villages inside the war-torn country.
 
"What Hizbullah is doing with regard to this issue is a national and moral duty in the defense of the Lebanese in border villages," Lebanon's official news agency quoted senior Hizbullah leader Sheikh Nabil Qauk as saying on Monday.
 
"To those who ask us to allow our brothers in these border villages to be victims of murders, kidnaps, massacres and expulsions, I respond to you: 'Can we leave these Lebanese hostage to this situation?" he added.
 
"Hizbullah’s martyrs are the martyrs of the entire nation because they are defending their Lebanese compatriots," he said.
 
Fighting has raged in the Qusayr area of the central province of Homs for days, with regime troops winning control of a series of strategic villages in the area during the weekend.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog said Hizbullah forces were leading the battle in the area.
 
The area is of strategic importance because it runs along the border with Lebanon and is near the route from Damascus to the coast.
 
Nasrallah publicly offered to place itself at Assad’s disposal.
 
But already several months earlier, a soldier from the Free Syrian Army told The Independent newspaper, published in the UK, that Hizbullah's Shiite Muslim terrorists are full military allies of the Syrian army and that "everyone knows they have fighters there."
 
Reports in a Saudi daily last week indicated that over 1,000 Hizbullah members had entered Syria over a period of a few days via waterways in the Mediterranean Sea.
 
The daily quoted sources as having said that the regime in Damascus "is resorting to the aid of fighters from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, which implies that the Syrian recruits' desire to fight alongside the regime is decreasing."

Syria Accuses US of 'Throwing Oil on Fire'

Category: News
Created on Monday, 22 April 2013 11:58
Members of the Al-Baraa bin Malek batallion - AFPA Syrian government daily accused the United States on Sunday of having "thrown oil on the fire" of the country's conflict by doubling its aid to the opposition.
 
"The meeting of the so-called 'Friends of Syria' held in Istanbul yesterday has thrown oil on the fire of the Syrian conflict," said the Al-Watan daily, as reported by the AFP news agency.
 
The United States announced at the meeting in the Turkish city that it would double its aid to Syria's opposition, including new non-lethal military equipment, but paid no heed to calls for arms supplies or a direct intervention.
 
Secretary of State John Kerry said American assistance to the opposition would rise to $250 million (191 million euros).
 
Some of the money will be used to "provide an expanded range of support" to rebel fighters battling President Bashar al-Assad, beyond the current provisions of food rations and medical kits, "to include other types of non-lethal supplies."
 
However the pledge fell short of opposition demands for foreign backers to supply the rebels with arms, impose a no-fly zone and carry out air strikes on positions used by the Assad regime to launch missiles.
 
"The results of the meeting were known in advance with the American statements made last week on providing new aid to the opposition," Al-Watan stated.
 
"The statements were not surprising, given that Washington has opted since the start of the crisis to line up with armed groups by giving them political, financial and military support," it said, according to AFP. 

U.S. to Double 'Non-Lethal Aid' to Syria's Opposition

Category: News
Created on Monday, 22 April 2013 08:09
Syrian rebels patrol in town of Jisr al-Shughur - AFPThe United States said on Saturday it would double its aid to Syria's opposition, including with new non-lethal military equipment, but paid no heed to calls for arms supplies or a direct intervention, AFP reports.
 
In a statement after talks among the pro-opposition "Friends of Syria" group in Istanbul, Secretary of State John Kerry said U.S. assistance to the opposition would double to $250 million.
 
Some of the money will be used to "provide an expanded range of support" to rebel fighters battling President Bashar al-Assad, beyond the current provisions of food rations and medical kits, "to include other types of non-lethal supplies," the statement said, according to AFP.
 
It did not elaborate, but U.S. media reported that Washington is preparing to provide the rebels with protective battlefield equipment such as body armor, armored vehicles and night-vision goggles, as well as communications gear.
 
"The president directed me to step up our efforts," Kerry told a news conference.
 
"The stakes in Syria couldn't be more clear: chemical weapons, the slaughter of people by ballistic missiles and other weapons of huge destruction, the potential of a whole country," he said.
 
"This bloodshed needs to stop."
 
The pledge fell short of opposition demands for foreign backers to supply the rebels with arms, institute a no-fly zone and carry out airstrikes on positions used by the Assad regime to launch missiles.
 
Many in the West have raised concerns about arming the rebels, fearing weapons could end up in the hands of radical Islamist groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, which this month pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda.
 
Western diplomats have said increased military support will hinge on the opposition showing it can be more inclusive and that it could ensure weapons would be secure. They would also have to reject the use of chemical weapons and guarantee respect for human rights.
 
The head of the main opposition Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, offered reassurances after the talks.
 
"Our revolution is for the entire Syrian people. We are not supporting one group at the price of another and we shall never allow that to happen," he told the news conference, according to AFP.
 
The Coalition said in a separate statement that the opposition rejected "all forms of terrorism and any extremist ideology" and promised that "weapons will not fall in the wrong hands."
 
The opposition had also voiced frustration earlier at the lack of a strong international response.
 
"Assad is firing missiles against densely populated areas... without consequences," said Yaser Tabbara, a spokesman for the opposition's interim prime minister Ghassan Hitto.
 
"Throwing money at the problem won't solve it."
 
Washington has been gradually shifting its policy on providing assistance to the opposition, with Kerry announcing at the last Friends of Syria meeting in February that the U.S. would start providing direct non-lethal aid to rebel fighters.
 
Britain and France had been pushing for a European Union arms embargo to be allowed to expire by the end of May. Paris has since appeared more wary about arms supplies since the Al-Qaeda pledge from Al-Nusra.
 
Supporters of arms supplies have said the rise of Islamist groups such as Al-Nusra is only a stronger argument for providing weapons to more moderate voices in the Syrian opposition.

Jordanian Islamists reject U.S. troop deployment

Category: News
Created on Friday, 19 April 2013 13:27
US soldiers  joint military exercise near the JordanSaudi border south of Amman. AFPJordan’s Islamist opposition on Friday denounced the presence of US troops in the kingdom due to deteriorating security in neighboring Syria, urging a rethink of the deployment.
 
“The government must review its decision to authorize the deployment of foreign troops on Jordanian soil,” the Islamic Action Front, political arm of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, said in a statement.
 
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel revealed on Wednesday that some 150 U.S. military specialists have been deployed in Jordan since last year and that he had ordered a U.S. Army headquarters team to bolster the mission, bringing the total American presence to more than 200 troops.
 
“These personnel will continue to work alongside Jordanian Armed Forces to improve readiness and prepare for a number of scenarios,” said Hagel.
 
The U.S. troops were deployed to Jordan to help secure chemical weapons amid fears they could fall into the hands of Islamist militants fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and prepare for a possible spillover from Syria.
 
Assad, whose regime has been battling rebels trying to oust him since March 2011, warned in an interview Wednesday with Syrian television that the war in his country could spread to Jordan which he said was allowing rebels free movement.
 
“The Islamic Action Front... categorically refuses the presence of foreign troops in Jordan,” the statement said, stressing that Jordan’s armed forces were capable of defending the nation.
 
Jordanian Information Minister Mohammad Momani told AFP on Wednesday that the U.S. deployment was “to boost the Jordanian armed forces in light of the deteriorating situation in Syria.”
 
But the army denied this and said in a statement on Thursday: “The 200 U.S. troops have nothing to do with Syria’s situation. They are the first of the groups that will take part of the annual Eager Lion military exercise, in which 15 countries are participating.”
 
“The Jordan Armed Forces have the required capabilities to defend Jordan’s borders, stability and security against any threat,” it added, saying the drill will take place “in the coming weeks.”

Israel Has a Right to Prevent Syrian Weapons Flow

Category: News
Created on Friday, 19 April 2013 07:41
British PM David Cameron greets PM Binyamin Netanyahu - ReutersIn an interview with the BBC, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that Israel was very concerned over the possibility that Syrian weapons would end up in the hands of terrorists, and that Israel had a right to prevent this from happening.
 
“The main arms of concern to us are the arms that are already in Syria - these are anti-aircraft weapons, these are chemical weapons and other very, very dangerous weapons that could be game changers,” Netanyahu said in the interview Wednesday night. They will change the conditions, the balance of power in the Middle East. They could present a terrorist threat on a worldwide scale. It is definitely our interest to defend ourselves, but we also think it is in the interest of other countries,” Netanyahu said.
 
Netanyahu was asked if Israel would act more “aggressively” against Syria to prevent the dissemination of its chemical and advanced weapons to Hizbullah and other terror groups, Netanyahu said “We are not aggressive. We don't seek military confrontation, but we are prepared to defend ourselves if the need arises and I think people know that what I say is both measured and serious.”
 
Netanyahu was in London for the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, which took place earlier Wednesday.

Syria's Muslim Brotherhood: There's No Extremism in Syria

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 17 April 2013 07:22
Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Riad Shakfa R - AFPSyria's Muslim Brotherhood sought on Monday to defuse fears that Islamist extremists were seizing Syrian territory, saying that a "united front" controlled land captured by the rebels.
 
"It is not true that extremists are in charge of liberated lands," the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, Mohammad Riad Shakfa, was quoted by AFP as having said at a press conference in Istanbul.
 
"The land ... belongs to a united front of the opposition," he said.
 
Speaking in Arabic, Shakfa added, "As far as I know, there is no extremism in Syria."
 
His comments came days after the jihadist Al-Nusra Front, one of the fiercest forces battling the Syrian regime, pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda, sounding alarm bells in the West and triggering concerns among the main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC).
 
The announcement followed a message from Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri urging rebels to fight to establish an Islamic state in Syria, and was received with caution by the mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army.
 
Western powers have been cautious in how they aid the opposition amid fears they could bolster Islamist extremists.
 
The powerful Muslim Brotherhood also denied it controlled the SNC, saying such claims were "manufactured" by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as part of a "defamation campaign."
 
"What we are up against is a campaign to defame us," Shakfa said. "We make up less than 10 percent of the SNC and we have never influenced its decisions," he added.
 
Shakfa was particularly referring to the election of Syria's rebel prime minister Ghassan al-Hitto last month in a majority vote that had exposed rifts in the SNC.
 
"They claim Mr. Hitto was elected because he is our representative... We didn't even know him before he was elected," he said.
 
The Brotherhood, a strong Islamist component of the fragmented Syrian opposition, supported Hitto because he was "more in tune with the wish of the majority," according to Shakfa.
 
On Sunday, the SNC said Al-Nusra's alleged merger with al-Qaeda would "only serve the goals of the Assad regime," and called on the group "to stay within the ranks of the nationalistic Syrians."
 
Al-Nusra is one of 13 factions in the radical Islamist rebel council that announced its secession from the main opposition force and declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo.

More than 1,000 Hizbullah Terrorists Enter Syria to Help Assad

Category: News
Created on Monday, 15 April 2013 17:17
HezbollahHizbullah is continuing to assist Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in his fight against the rebels. Over 1,000 members of the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group entered Syria in the past few days via waterways in the Mediterranean Sea, the Saudi daily Al-Watan reported on Sunday.
 
According to the report, around 1,200 fighters arrived at Syria's Tartus port in order to fight alongside regime troops.
 
The armed members who arrived from Lebanon to Syria committed "a hideous crime" in the town of Talkalkh, the daily said, adding that tens of thousands of fighters entered from Iraq to aid the Syrian regime.
 
The daily quoted sources as having said that the regime in Damascus "is resorting to the aid of fighters from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, which implies that the Syrian recruits' desire to fight alongside the regime is decreasing."
 
The source added that reservists are also not complying with the army command's repeated calls to join the regime troops in their fighting.
 
The regime has also been arresting men in their forties and forcing them to join recruitment camps so they join the fighting between regime troops and the rebels, Al-Watan reported.
 
Last week, twelve members of the Hizbullah terrorist group were killed in an ambush near Damascus.
 
More than 20 other Hizbullah members, part of a military brigade deployed in Syria to defend Assad, were also wounded in the attack, according to sources in the terror group.
 
Last July, as the ongoing civil war in Syria continued, the terror group led by Hassan Nasrallah publicly offered to place itself at Assad’s disposal.
 
But already several months earlier, a soldier from the Free Syrian Army told The Independent newspaper, published in the UK, that Hizbullah's Shiite Muslim terrorists are full military allies of the Syrian army and that "everyone knows they have fighters there."
 
On Tuesday, Bahrain became the first Arab country to blacklist Hizbullah as a terrorist organization.
 
Its alleged backing and training of radical Shiite groups against Bahrain was the main reason given for the decision, the report said.
 
The United States, Canada and Israel have long blacklisted the Shiite group, but in Europe, only the Netherlands lists Hizbullah as a terrorist group, while Britain blacklists its military wing.
 
In recent months, pressure on the European Union to add Hizbullah to the list of recognized terror groups has increased, particularly since Bulgaria named the terror group as being behind the terrorist attack in Burgas last July, in which five Israelis were killed.
 
However, diplomats have indicated that it is unlikely that Europe will name Hizbullah a terrorist organization because of its political strength in Lebanon.

Rebels clash with Syrian government forces AFP file

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 13 April 2013 13:15
Rebels clash with Syrian government forces - AFPPresident Barack Obama authorized the release of as much as $10 million in additional aid to rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday, as calls continued for the U.S. to arm the rebels.
 
The president, in a directive to the secretaries of state and defense, said the U.S. would draw on the inventories of government agencies to provide “nonlethal commodities and services” as well as food and medical supplies, Bloomberg reported.
 
“The humanitarian crisis has gotten worse” in Syria, Obama told reporters at the White House before starting a meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The president said he and Ban share the view that the conflict there is “at a critical juncture.”
 
Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who heads the Foreign Relations Committee, said he will introduce legislation to allow the U.S. to provide weapons to the Syrian opposition.
 
“The time has come, in some form, to provide military aid,” to Syrian rebels, Menendez said at a committee hearing, according to Bloomberg. The chairman also proposed that the U.S. give Syrian rebels training and intelligence on the Assad regime’s assets.
 
"Shouldn't we do something to prevent this massive slaughter that's going on?" said Senator John McCain during a heated exchange that ended with him walking out of the hearing, as Elizabeth Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, was replying to one of his questions.
 
The administration is discussing different ways to step up support for rebels who are demanding more U.S. involvement in the two-year conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people.
 
The UK and France are pushing to lift a European Union arms embargo on Syria and already supply rebels with military-style equipment such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.
 
Syrian opposition leaders renewed their appeals for arms at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday, but the White House has been reluctant to do more because weapons could end up in the hands of Islamic terrorists.
 
A statement on Wednesday by the head of Syria's jihadist Al-Nusra Front pledging allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri will only increase Western doubts about arming the rebels.
 
The statement came several days after leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist group, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urged rebels to fight to establish an Islamic state in Syria.
 
Islamist rebel groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, which has links to Al-Qaeda, have eschewed the main opposition National Coalition.
 
Al-Nusra is one of 13 factions in the radical Islamist rebel council that announced its secession from the main opposition force and declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo.

Watchdog: Southern Syria Army Assault Kills 57

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 13 April 2013 12:03
Free Syrian Army fighter - ReutersSix children were among at least 57 people killed in southern Syria as the army launched an all-out assault on two towns in Daraa province, a watchdog said on Thursday.
 
"At least six children, seven women, 16 rebel fighters, 16 other unidentified men and 12 army troops were killed on Wednesday, in fighting, shelling and summary executions waged after the army launched an assault on Al-Sanamein and Ghabagheb," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
 
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP the army's assault came a day after a dozen troops defected from a nearby military post to join the rebels.
 
"The defectors took refuge in the area of Al-Sanamein and Ghabagheb, which up until then had remained somewhat more calm than other areas of Daraa," said Abdel Rahman.
 
"The army launched its assault, and shelled several houses," he added.
 
Nationwide, at least 179 people were killed in violence on Wednesday -- 50 civilians, 86 rebels and 43 soldiers, the Observatory said.
 
On Thursday, at least four military personnel were killed when rebels shot down a helicopter delivering supplies to besieged troops in Idlib province in the northwest, the Observatory said, according to AFP.
 
Rebels have laid siege to the sprawling Wadi Deif camp for several months and its garrison can only be resupplied by air.

UN Warns Libyan Weapons Spreading to Gaza, Syria

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 11 April 2013 07:50
Rebels Control Chemical FactoryA United Nations panel says weaponry from Libya is spreading across North Africa to Gaza and Syria “at an alarming rate.”
 
The five-expert committee said in a 94-page report sent Tuesday to the U.N. Security Council that illegal transfers of arms from Libya to armed groups and terrorists have been proven. 
 
The arms trafficking violations involved more than 12 countries and included light and heavy ordnance, such as portable air defense systems, mines, explosive materials, ammunition and small arms.
 
The panel made 28 visits to 15 nations in the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Ten of those visits were within Libya alone, The Washington Post reported.
 
“Libya has over the past two years become a significant and attractive source of weaponry in the region,” since the fall of 41-year Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011," the report said. “The lack of an effective security system remains one of the primary obstacles to securing military materiel and controlling the borders.”
 
Last November, Cairo blocked two arms shipments to Gaza from Libya, with security forces arresting smugglers as they intercepted a large weapons shipment headed for Sinai from Libya. The move followed the ceasefire agreement that ended Operation Pillar of Defense against Gaza terrorist rocket fire on southern Israel.
 
The areas into which Libyan arms have flowed included West Africa, the Levant “and potentially even the Horn of Africa,” the report noted. “Illicit flows from the country are fueling existing conflicts in Africa and the Levant and enriching the arsenals of a range of non-state actors, including terrorist groups.” 
 
The panel also warned that armed terrorist groups in Libya, who it said are the best financed, are strengthening their position.
 
“The lack of political and security stability, the continuing absence of control over stockpiles by the national authorities and delays in disarmament and weapons collections encourage illicit trading and have generated considerable money-making opportunities for traffickers,” the report said.
 
On September 11, 2012, Al Qaeda terrorists attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, torching the compound and murdering four American diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. For more than six months prior to the attack, Stevens and other diplomats on the team repeatedly had urged the State Department to beef up defenses at the Consulate, warning the security situation in Libya had deteriorated. Their pleas were ignored.
 
British officials warned UK citizens in January of this year to leave the area immediately due to a concrete terrorist threat as well. An advisory by the British Foreign Office has already been in effect against trips to Benghazi and most of the rest of the country since last September following the Al Qaeda attack on the U.S. Consulate.
 
Likewise, Italy closed its consulate in eastern Libya in January for similar reasons. 
 
"The Italian government has temporarily suspended activity at the consulate in Benghazi for security reasons. The staff will return to Italy in the next few hours," the ministry said in a statement. Consul Guido De Sanctis's bullet-proof car came under fire in the latest of a series of attacks targeting foreign missions and security officials. The consul escaped unharmed.

Al-Qaeda Chief Wants Islamic State in Syria

Category: News
Created on Monday, 08 April 2013 09:13
Ayman al-Zawahiri - terrorist leaderThe leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist group, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has urged rebels to fight to establish an Islamic state in Syria, AFP reported.
 
The message came in an online audio message Sunday, in which the Al-Qaeda chief also warned France against its military intervention in Mali.
 
"Let your fight be in the name of Allah and with the aim of establishing Allah's sharia (law) as the ruling system," he said, in his first message posted on the Internet since last November.
 
"Do all that you can so that your holy war yields a jihadist Islamic state," said Zawahiri, adding that such a state would help to re-establish the Islamic "caliphate" system of rule.
 
"The enemy has begun to reel and collapse," he said, referring to forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad.
 
Islamist rebel groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, which has links to Al-Qaeda, have eschewed the main opposition National Coalition.
 
Al-Nusra is one of 13 factions in the radical Islamist rebel council that announced its secession from the main opposition force and declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo.
 
Zawahiri's message will not sit easily with Western powers, who have expressed fears of extremist Islamism playing a growing role in the Syrian conflict and are reluctant to arm the rebels on the ground.
 
Assad's regime has long dismissed the rebels as "terror" groups backed by Western powers and driven by Al-Qaeda-style ideologies.
 
The United Nations says more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's two-year conflict, which broke out after the army unleashed a brutal crackdown against dissent, turning the uprising into a bloody insurgency.
 
Zawahiri in his message also warned France over its military involvement against Islamists in Mali, AFP reported, saying it will be defeated in the same way, according to him, the Americans were defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
"I call upon our Muslim nation in Mali to hold and be patient, and hopefully, effect a new defeat to the global crusade," said Zawahiri.

Hamas Training Syrian Rebels in Damascus

Category: Reports
Created on Sunday, 07 April 2013 09:08
Syria fightingHamas, a former ally of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, is now training the rebel Free Syrian Army in eastern Damascus, according to a report Friday in the British Times.
 
Diplomatic sources told the newspaper that members of Hamas’s Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades were training FSA units in the rebel-held neighborhoods of Yalda, Jaramana and Babbila.
 
The development confirms that Hamas, the terror group that runs Gaza, has broken with its former Syrian host and fully embraced the patronage of Qatar, a major financial and logistical backer of some rebel factions.
 
"The Qassam Brigades have been training units very close to Damascus. These are specialists. They are really good," a Western diplomat with high-level contacts in the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition who visits Damascus regularly told the Times.
 
Other sources suggested to the newspaper that Hamas trainers were helping the FSA to dig tunnels beneath at least one contested area of Damascus. in preparation for a widely expected assault on the city center.
 
A source from the Ain al-Hilweh “Palestinian refugee” camp located in Lebanon told the Times it was common knowledge that a few hundred Hamas terrorists were fighting alongside the FSA in the Yarmouk and Neirab camps in Damascus and Aleppo.
 
Hamas, meanwhile, has vehemently denied any such link. Osama Hamdan, a leading Hamas official based in Lebanon, told the Times, "It's a false thing. There are no members of Ezzedine al-Qassam or any militant members of Hamas in Syria.
 
"We don't interfere in the internal problems of Syria,” he claimed. “Our members there are normal civilians, Syrian Palestinians, who live with their families there. From the beginning of what has happened in Syria, we rejected as a movement any involvement of any Palestinian in the current events in Syria."
 
In the first months of the uprising in Syria, Hamas’s leaders expressed support in principle for the struggle of the Syrian people while also highlighting the importance of the movement’s historical relationship with the Syrian regime.
 
However, as the rift deepened, reports surfaced that Hamas is moving its headquarters from Damascus to Egypt and the terror group is strengthening itself in the Sinai and in Qatar.
 
Some reports claimed that the Damascus-based Hamas leadership left Syria after the Syrian government asked the Hamas leaders to leave. In November, Syrian security forces shut down all the offices belonging to Hamas in the country.
 
The Assad regime has fiercely criticized Mashaal's decision to break with the regime, recalling Damascus's willingness to host the Hamas leader when other regional capitals refused to do so.
 
This week, a Syrian regime newspaper slammed Hamas and its leader, Khaled Mashaal, for breaking with Damascus, accusing them of giving up on resistance against Israel.
 
Hamas has shifted "the gun from the shoulder of resistance (against Israel) to the shoulder of compromise", the Al-Thawra daily said.
 
"Today, as Mashaal becomes the head of Hamas for the fifth time... the West Bank, Gaza and the whole of occupied Palestine have no reason to celebrate," wrote the newspaper.
 
Mashaal "cannot believe his luck. After an acclaimed history of struggle, he has returned to the safe Qatari embrace, wealthy and fattened in the age of the Arab Spring's storms," the newspaper added.

North Africa Al-Qaeda Branch Launches Twitter Account

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 31 March 2013 20:05
Twitter icon - AFPIraqi Influx Doubles Syrian Al Qaeda-Linked Rebel Faction
 
Syria’s Al Nusra Front, allied with Al Qaeda, has more than doubled and is continuing to grow with the influx of jihadists from abroad.
 
Chana Ya'ar
 
Syria’s Al Nusra Front rebel faction, allied with Al Qaeda, has more than doubled and is continuing to grow with the influx of Syrian jihadists returning from abroad.
 
The group was the lead faction among those who recently invaded the buffer zone along the Syrian-Jordanian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights.
 
Listed in the United States as an officially banned terrorist organization, Al Nusra Front has become increasingly attractive to individual jihadists and small radical Islamist groups.
 
The most recent recruits flowing in are Sunni Muslims previously sent to Iraq to advance the interests of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a report published Thursday in the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News.
 
According to the report, jihadists have been flowing into Syria in “small numbers and isolated groups,” and thus their movements have remained largely under the radar of the international community until late last year.
 
Prior to its decision to list Al Nusra as a foreign terrorist organization, Turkey reportedly warned the U.S. government that doing so would increase the group’s “popularity” and raise its attraction for Al Qaeda-linked jihadists in the region.
 
Al Nusra does not cooperate with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), which fights on behalf of the more “moderate” Syrian National Coalition (SNC).
 
But there have been several occasions upon which the FSA has collaborated with Al Nusra, specifically in the conquest of Raqa, and in attacks on Aleppo. Most recently, the jihadists have had open access to the no-man’s-land buffer zone between Syria and Israel – an area that until recently was considered off limits to anyone but the United Nations peacekeepers’ force.
 
SNC coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib has urged the U.S. to reconsider its blacklisting of Al Nusra, and issued a statement in December 2012 warning his Western backers: “We can have ideological and political differences with certain parties, but the revolutionaries all share the same goal: to overthrow the criminal regime (of President Bashar al-Assad).”

Iraqi Influx Doubles Syrian Al Qaeda-Linked Rebel Faction

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 30 March 2013 16:23
Al Nusra terrorist in Raqa - ReutersSyria’s Al Nusra Front rebel faction, allied with Al Qaeda, has more than doubled and is continuing to grow with the influx of Syrian jihadists returning from abroad.
 
The group was the lead faction among those who recently invaded the buffer zone along the Syrian-Jordanian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights.
 
Listed in the United States as an officially banned terrorist organization, Al Nusra Front has become increasingly attractive to individual jihadists and small radical Islamist groups.
 
The most recent recruits flowing in are Sunni Muslims previously sent to Iraq to advance the interests of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a report published Thursday in the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News.
 
According to the report, jihadists have been flowing into Syria in “small numbers and isolated groups,” and thus their movements have remained largely under the radar of the international community until late last year.
 
Prior to its decision to list Al Nusra as a foreign terrorist organization, Turkey reportedly warned the U.S. government that doing so would increase the group’s “popularity” and raise its attraction for Al Qaeda-linked jihadists in the region.
 
Al Nusra does not cooperate with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), which fights on behalf of the more “moderate” Syrian National Coalition (SNC).
 
But there have been several occasions upon which the FSA has collaborated with Al Nusra, specifically in the conquest of Raqa, and in attacks on Aleppo. Most recently, the jihadists have had open access to the no-man’s-land buffer zone between Syria and Israel – an area that until recently was considered off limits to anyone but the United Nations peacekeepers’ force.
 
SNC coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib has urged the U.S. to reconsider its blacklisting of Al Nusra, and issued a statement in December 2012 warning his Western backers: “We can have ideological and political differences with certain parties, but the revolutionaries all share the same goal: to overthrow the criminal regime (of President Bashar al-Assad).”

Syria Slams Arab League for 'Giving Away' its Seat to Rebels

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 28 March 2013 06:56
Syrias rebels commit another war crimeThe ruling regime in Syria had harsh words Monday for a decision by the Arab League to hand over Syria's seat in the League to representatives of rebel groups in the country. In an editorial, the state newspaper Tishrin said that the move was “an attempt by Qatar and the rest of the traitorous Arab states to force a political reality in Syria, and this is a political crime against Syria.”
 
The editorial added that the League had transferred the seat “stolen from Syria into the hands of criminals and violent groups.”
 
Meanwhile, the military leader of the largest rebel group in Syria, Riad al-Ass'ad, was badly injured in an explosion Sunday. The vehicle that he was riding in blew up after a bomb was placed next to it. One of Ass'ad's assistants was also injured in the blast. A report in Arab media said that Ass'ad was being treated in a Turkish hospital..
The report quoted rebel groups as saying that “the attempts by President Assad to kill the military leader Riad al-Ass'ad was part of the government's efforts to punish citizens of Syria for their support of the rebel groups.”

Syrian Cleric Supported Blowing Up American and Israeli Targets

Category: Islam
Created on Wednesday, 27 March 2013 17:35
Mohamed al-BoutiA Syrian Sunni cleric who was killed last week in a suicide bomb attack on a central Damascus mosque has in the past expressed support for Hizbullah and advocated for bombing American and Israeli targets around the world.
 
The cleric, Mohamed al-Bouti, was one of 42 people who were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque last Thursday. Bouti was the most senior pro-regime Sunni cleric in Syria.
 
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) posted to YouTube two clips in which Bouti is seen supporting terrorists.
 
In the first clip, which aired on the Hizbullah terrorist group’s Al-Manar TV in August 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, Bouti said, “The enemy in this war appears to be Israel, but, as everyone knows, the fighting enemy is actually America. Israel is merely the claw of America in this war.”
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He then stated, “I hold that people who cannot stand with the Islamic resistance, but can carry out, in their countries and in other places actions that would in some way paralyze this enemy -  they should indeed paralyze the enemies’ interests and destroy their facilities wherever they may be.”
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In a second clip which aired on Al-Azhari TV in 2010, Bouti said, “Many Western European societies – and the American leadership, in particular – characterizes Jihad that was ordained by Allah as terroristic. They link terrorism to crime. They have instilled within the word ‘terrorism’ the meaning of crime, extremism, and deviation from humanity, and so on.”
 
He added, “We discovered that there is a form of terrorism that is legitimate – a terrorism that is necessary and may even be described as sacred. Indeed.
 
“We have examined cases of the terrorism practiced by America, which purports to be fighting terrorism. In contrast to the first type of terrorism, which is acknowledged by the legal and educational principles, and which we have termed ‘sacred terrorism,’ the [American] terrorism is undoubtedly filthy and impure,” said Bouti.

Assad vows to "cleanse" Syria of extremists following cleric killing

Category: News
Created on Friday, 22 March 2013 13:12
Bashar al-Assad 0Syria’s president has vowed to rid the country of Muslim extremists whom he blamed for a suicide bombing that killed over 40 people, including a top Sunni preacher.
 
"I present my condolences to the Syrian people for the martyrdom of Sheikh Mohamed Saeed al-Bouti, a great figure in Syria and the Islamic world," he said in a statement issued by the presidency overnight. "Those who killed you think they are silencing the voice of Islam and belief in the Syrian nation... they killed you for raising your voice against their ignorant and obscurantist ideas which are intended to destroy the principles of our tolerant religion."
 
Assad’s statement came hours after the explosion ripped through a mosque in the heart of Damascus, killing Bouti.
It was one of the most stunning assassinations of the two-year civil war and the first time a suicide bomber struck inside a mosque.
 
"I swear to the Syrian people that your blood, and that of your grandson and all the martyrs of the homeland, will not be spilled in vain because we will be faithful to your ideas by destroying their extremism and ignorance until we have cleansed the country," Assad said.
 
On Friday, state news agency SANA said the toll had risen to 49, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog putting the number of dead at 46. It was reported that more than 84 people were wounded.
 
Bouti was Syria's most prominent pro-regime Sunni cleric, and his weekly sermons were frequently broadcast on Syrian television. He called on Syrians to join the army to fight the uprising against the regime and was reviled by the opposition.

Syria's ancient city of Palmyra on brink of destruction

Category: Archeology and History
Created on Friday, 15 March 2013 21:06
ancient city of PalmyraAs the Syrian crisis enters its third year, an end to the violence in the country is nowhere to be seen. The world has become accustomed to rising death tolls and reports of shelling and destruction. However, another threat looms in Syria, and this time it is targeting its cultural heritage.
 
Palmyra, one of the oldest cities in the country, has been subjected to intermittent shelling by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
 
The ruins of the city, which is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, date back thousands of years. “Bombs and rockets come in all directions,” eyewitnesses said.
 
Assad forces have struck the Roman Temple of Bel – built in 43 A.C. – and damaged its northern wall, eyewitnesses said, adding portions and stones of the wall have been destroyed.
 
The Fakhreddine II citadel, Al-Basateen and the Monumental Arch, under which Romans’ Queen Zenobia’s celebrations took place, have also suffered their fair share of destruction.
According to the eyewitnesses, priceless sculptures and statues had been stolen from the ancient city’s museum.
 
Meanwhile, Palmyra, swarming with tanks, no longer hosts tourists. Its hotels, once full of curious visitors, are now empty only to harbor soldiers on their roofs.
 
In early March, one of the oldest Synagogues in the worlds was destroyed by regime forces in the Damascus district of Jobar.
Syria’s civil war has caused damage to six World Heritage sites in the country with shelling and open fire between opposition fighters and the regime forces. Numerous historic buildings, archaeological sites and residential areas are being left in ruins.
 
On 30 March 2012, UNESCO called for the protection of Syria’s cultural heritage sites and expressed “grave concern about possible damage to precious sites.”

Syria’s Brotherhood calls for action amid escalating violence

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 18:18
TerroristsSyria’s Muslim Brotherhood called on Wednesday for a week of action both in the strife-torn country and elsewhere to mark the two years since the revolt broke out against President Bashar al-Assad.
 
“We in the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria declare the week following March 15 a national week of solidarity with the Syrian people and their blessed revolution,” AFP quoted the exiled opposition group as saying.
 
“We call on the heroic Syrian people to bring back to life all aspects of the uprising... inspired by the spirit of real national unity, speaking in one voice,” a statement added.
 
Protesters in towns and cities across Syria have taken to the streets every Friday since March 15, 2011 to call for the fall of Assad.
 
The banned Muslim Brotherhood was forced out of Syria by Assad’s father and predecessor Hafez after the brutal repression of an Islamist-led anti-regime movement in the early 1980s.
 
Dissidents say the group plays a significant role in the opposition today.
 
In its statement, the Brotherhood also called on “people in Arab and Islamic countries, and on free people everywhere in the world... to consider March 15 to 22 a week of global support to the Syrian people... with marches, demonstrations and sit-ins.”
 
The organization also renewed its criticism of the international community’s paralysis over the Syrian crisis.
 
“The Syrian people, men, women, old and young, carry out wonderful acts of bravery and make sacrifices, holding out despite the regime's massacres and its crimes against defenseless civilians,” said the Brotherhood.
 
But “the international community has watched and listened on, failing the Syrian people, and failing to fulfill its legal and humanitarian responsibilities,” it added.
 
Fierce battles in Damascus
 
Meanwhile, Syrian government troops fought fierce battles with rebels on Wednesday for control of key neighborhoods in the north of Damascus, Assad’s seat of power, the Associated Press reported residents and activists as saying.
 
Opposition fighters trying to topple Assad have been trying to take Damascus for weeks, battering regime checkpoints and military bases in the heavily fortified capital. They have also fired mortars into residential districts and into the capital’s main football stadium, sowing fear among residents.
 
Both sides see Damascus as the ultimate prize in the civil war.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday’s clashes were concentrated in the capital’s neighborhoods of Jobar and Barzeh.
 
A resident in the area said shelling overnight “shook apartments” and terrified the inhabitants. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was afraid for his safety.
 
Clashes subsided by early Wednesday but sporadic gunfire could still be heard in the contested districts.
 
A car bomb exploded outside a police station in Khan Sheih neighborhood, west of Damascus, the Observatory said. The Britain-based activist group also said fierce clashes broke out after the blast but had no immediate reports of casualties.
 
Fighting also raged in other Syrian cities, including in Homs, where the regime pounded rebel positions with artillery and carried out several airstrikes on the Baba Amr district, a former rebel stronghold which the opposition has tried to recapture in the past days.
 
First death of EU employee
 
Also in the Syrian capital, a European Union staff member was killed in a rocket attack in an opposition stronghold south of the capital, the EU said.
In Brussels, the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said a policy officer with the European delegation in Syria was killed on Tuesday in the Damascus suburb of Daraya. It was the first death in the Syrian civil war of an EU employee.
 
Ahmad Shihadeh, 32, had worked for the EU for five years, a spokesman for Ashton said Wednesday. He said Shihadeh had lived in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus that has been one of the main battlefields in the capital.
 
Ashton said he “died while providing humanitarian help to the community of Daraya,” Ashton said. “Ahmad was known for his courage and selflessness.”
The neighboring countries also saw the spilling over of the conflict. 
 
The U.N. refugee Chief Antonio Guterres says his agency is working with Jordan to bolster security at a camp for Syrian refugees where reports of drug trafficking, prostitution and other crimes have emerged.
Syria’s uprising morphed into an insurgency after the regime unleashed a brutal crackdown on dissent. The conflict has left some 70,000 people dead, the U.N. says.

PA Arabs Nabbed in Egypt, Suspected of Spying

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 17:31
PA Terrorists (file)Seven Palestinian Authority Arabs have been arrested by Egypt security forces on suspicion of carrying out a military reconnaissance mission. It is not clear for whom they may have been spying.
 
The men were stopped at Cairo airport, and held after their arrival Wednesday from Syria and Iran. 
 
All were found to be carrying fake passports, according to the source, as well as maps of “vital state facilities.”  
 
Passport officers suspected the seven after learning they had entered Iran, despite not finding Iranian entry stamps in their passports, an Egyptian intelligence source told The Egypt Independent.
 
A separate source told the Turkish news agency Anadolu the suspects had initially entered Egypt through underground tunnels from Gaza before heading to Syria and Iran. They returned to Syria and then to Egypt from Syria, this time by aircraft.
 
They are suspected of collecting material on sensitive military installations in Egypt, the sources said, adding the seven are being interrogated about their reasons for possessing the maps.

Syria Ready to Fight Rebels 'For Years'

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 10:36
Damascus Carnage May10 2012Syria warned Tuesday that it is ready to fight "for years" against rebels, as world powers worked on a new initiative to find regime officials suitable for peace talks with the opposition, AFP reports.
 
The pro-government newspaper Al-Watan said the army was "in perfect condition" and that it "has at its disposal enough men and weapons to fight for years to defend Syria."
 
Syria "is in a state of war" and "facing a real invasion," the paper said, stressing citizens could also join in the battle.
 
President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, which has consistently blamed foreign powers for the violence, also sent letters to the UN urging "pressure on certain Arab and Western countries that supply aid to terrorism," reported AFP.
 
Meanwhile in Geneva, said the report, UNESCO sent out an SOS that a whole generation of Syrian children could disappear.
 
The UN children's agency UNICEF said an entire generation risked being lost in the spiralling conflict between Assad's forces and insurgents.
 
"As the crisis in Syria enters its third, tragic year without any end in sight, the risk of a lost generation grows every hour, every day and every month," UNICEF spokesman Patrick McCormick said.
 
"We cannot afford to lose any more time. We certainly cannot afford to lose another year. We risk creating a generation of children who have seen, or know, only fighting, and may well end up perpetuating that cycle of violence," he added, according to AFP.
 
UNICEF pointed out that nearly half of the four million in dire need of aid inside Syria are under the age of 18, and 536,000 of them are children under five.
 
As the bloodletting approached a third year without a solution in sight, France said it was working with Russia and the United States to draw up a list of regime officials with whom the opposition can negotiate.
 
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said "we worked together on an idea... of a list of Syrian officials who would be acceptable to Syria's opposition National Coalition."
 
Opposition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib has offered to talk to regime representatives without "blood on their hands."
 
Britain said it would consider ignoring a European Union arms ban and could supply weapons to rebels if it would help topple Assad.
 
Prime Minister David Cameron said he hoped London could persuade its EU partners "if and when it becomes necessary (to provide weapons) they'll agree with us."
 
Meanwhile in Homs, fighting focused on Khaldiyeh, with regime forces backed by tanks pounding the northern district, reported AFP.
 
"Troops launched rockets from the Baath University into parts of Baba Amr," said the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.
 
Battles also raged on the road linking Damascus to the airport, said the watchdog. Rebels have been trying to seize control of the road for months.
 
Fighting returned this week to the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, which has been dubbed 'capital of the revolution'.
 
Regime troops seized Baba Amr from rebels just over a year ago after a bloody month-long siege that left the district in ruins and claimed hundreds of lives, including those of two foreign journalists.

Syrian Rebels Vow to Conquer Golan, Refugees Refuse Israeli Aid

Category: News
Created on Monday, 11 March 2013 18:20
Golan HeightsSyrian refugees might be desperate, injured and even starving – but they won’t accept Israeli aid, as rebels vow to reconquer the Golan Heights.
 
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor says Israel has offered to send humanitarian aid into Syria via the International Committee of the Red Cross, as the desperation of civilians fleeing the violence grows. Nevertheless, Palmor told the Turkish Hurriyet daily newspaper, the refugees are still unwilling to accept assistance from Israel, which had coordinated with the Red Cross to send humanitarian aid into the country.
 
But at the private level, aid organizations are coordinating between Israel and Jordan to provide assistance to the refugees who have crossed the border into the Hashemite Kingdom, Palmor noted. “This shows that the Israeli public wants to help Syrians no matter what politics dictates,” he pointed out. Jordan cannot possibly provide on its own all the assistance the refugees need, its own officials have repeatedly pointed out.
 
But while Israelis are trying to help those who have been mistreated the most by the Syrian government, and hurt the worst by the savage civil war raging across the border, Syrian rebel fighters are vowing to wage war against Israel once their battle against President Bashar al-Assad is over.
 
In a video posted on the Internet a couple of weeks ago, a small group of jihadist rebel fighters was filmed against the backdrop of the demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights – the buffer zone that for some 40 years has served to keep the border quiet between Syria and Israel.
 
“We are in the occupied Golan Heights, which the traitor [former President] Hafez Assad (the present president’s father) sold to Israel 40 years ago,” a rebel spokesman tells the viewer, waving around his assault weapon. These lands are blessed and the despicable Assad family promised to liberate them, but for 40 years the Syrian army did not fire a single bullet.
 
“We will open a military campaign against Israel,” the bearded rebel spokesman vows, as his fellow fighters fire their weapons, some of them yelling “Allahu Akbar!” (Allah is Great).  We will fire the bullets that Assad did not, and we will liberate the Golan.”
 
On Monday, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz warned that terrorist groups fighting Assad's regime alongside other rebels are "becoming stronger" and voiced concern they could turn on Israel in the future.    "The situation in Syria has become exceptionally dangerous. The terrorist organizations are becoming stronger on the ground," he told AFP. "Now they are fighting against Assad but in the future they could turn against us." 
 
Israel’s military establishment has been preparing for some time for the day that Bashar al-Assad may fall, with IDF units carrying out military exercises throughout the country.
 
In the northern Negev, the sounds of artillery fire could be heard echoing through the hills of the wadis in the early hours of the morning on Monday, as troops prepared for the possibility of battle in the Golan Heights.
 
As early as July 2012, IDF military intelligence director Maj.-Gen. Avi Kochavi warned that Al Qaeda operatives had moved into the buffer zone and was transforming it into a staging area for future attacks on Israel. Kochavi likened the situation to that taking place in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, noting that just as the Cairo government was finding it difficult to extend its authority to the lawless Sinai, so too Damascus seems no longer able to control rebel forces in the demilitarized zone of the Golan Heights.
 
Another sign of the chaos is last week's kidnapping of 21 United Nations peacekeepers, held by rebels for three days in southern Syria. The Filipino peacekeepers - part of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) that has been monitoring the ceasefire line between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights since 1974 - were seized by the Martyrs of Yarmouk rebel brigade on Wednesday. They crossed into Jordan on Saturday, having been freed after extensive negotiations. 
 
A flood of foreign jihadists – most linked to Al Qaeda -- has flowed into Syria to join the rebels in the battle against Assad loyalists, just as Iranian-backed Lebanese Hizbullah terrorist guerrilla fighters and elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards have joined forces with the Syrian Army soldiers.
 
Kochavi has estimated that should Assad fall, both local and foreign rebels would aim straight at Israel with the huge caches of ordnance that have been stockpiled along the border.
 
Meanwhile, the United States, Britain and France have begun training and equipping Syrian rebel fighters in Jordan at special military camps, albeit opposition fighters affiliated with “moderate, mainstream” groups and not those linked to the radical Islamist camps. At least 200 members of the Free Syrian Army have already received training so far, with plans for a total of 1,200 FSA members to be trained by the project’s end. 

Syrian Rebels Hang 'Palestinian Refugees' who Aided Assad

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 03 March 2013 10:17
Residents of the Yarmouk camp in Damascus - AFPSyrian rebels on Saturday hanged two Arabs registered as “Palestinian refugees” at a camp in Damascus on suspicion of aiding the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, a rights watchdog said, according to AFP.
 
"Rebels in the Yarmouk camp executed two men accused of cooperating with the regime by identifying targets that were bombed last week," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
 
"They were hanged from trees in the camp," added the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground to collect information. It provided a picture illustrating the hangings, reported AFP.
 
The Observatory says hangings of people suspected of working for the regime have been reported in Hama and Aleppo, but this was the first time that such an execution was announced along with a picture.
 
Yarmouk is a suburb of Damascus that began as a refugee camp for Arabs who had fled Israel in times of war, and their descendants. It has become a regular site of clashes between pro- and anti-regime supporters.
 
Yarmouk became a ghost town in December, with some 90 percent of its people having fled the violence. Many of the residents later returned as the fighting died down.

Syria Jihadists Claim Bus Bombing on Hama Factory

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 08:53
Syrian explosion - ReutersThe jihadist Al-Nusra Front on Sunday claimed responsibility for a suicide attack earlier this month on an army factory in the central Syrian province of Hama that reportedly killed at least 60 people.
 
"Thank God, your brothers in Al-Nusra Front... carried out a martyrdom (suicide) operation that targeted an army factory in the town of Tal Baraq in Hama province," on February 6, the jihadist group said in a statement posted on the Internet, as quoted by AFP.
 
According to its account, one of its fighters "drove a bus loaded with 2.5 tons of explosives" towards a group of "shabiha," or pro-regime militiamen, as they gathered outside the factory to receive their pay, and blew himself up.
 
Al-Nusra said the attack was "in revenge for the Muslim children of the Sunni community who suffered from the crimes of the Alawites and their collaborators."
 
he majority of Syria's rebels -- like the population -- are Sunni Muslim, while President Bashar al-Assad belongs to the minority Alawite community.
 
Al-Nusra, listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, has claimed responsibility for the majority of suicide attacks in Syria's continually deteriorating conflict, which the UN says has left some 70,000 people dead in two years.
 
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 60 people were killed in the factory attack. All the victims were civilian workers at the factory that produced army uniforms, it said, according to the news agency's report, 

Obama may reconsider arming opposition forces in Syria

Category: Reports
Created on Tuesday, 19 February 2013 09:11
muslim-brotherhood-receives-157-billionWith the situation in Syria continually deteriorating, U.S. officials could re-open the debate on whether to provide weapons to select members of the opposition, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
 
U.S. President Barack Obama, reluctant to be drawn into a proxy war, has previously rebuffed those in his administration who want to arm the opposition. There is also concern that weapons could be used against Israeli interests.
 
However, with a new U.S. administration, and a Syrian death toll approaching 70,000, the impetus towards arming opposition groups could be revived. 
 
“This is not a closed decision,” said a senior administration official. “As the situation evolves, as our confidence increases, we might revisit it.” 
 
European Union foreign ministers agreed Monday to “provide greater nonlethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians.”
 
Some analysts say the United States must foster a relationship with opposition forces in Syria.
 
“The odds are very high that, for better or worse, armed men will determine Syria’s course for the foreseeable future,” Frederic C. Hof, a former senior State Department official and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, was quoted by the NYT as saying. “For the U.S. not to have close, supportive relationships with armed elements, carefully vetted, is very risky.”
 
Training the opposition in judicial and legal matters is also important, as the Free Syrian Army has captured prisoners and detained criminals in the areas they control, Hof added.
 
Despite the White House’s reluctance to send weapons, Russia and Iran have displayed no such qualms in support of the Syrian regime.
 
U.S. divisions
The former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, support the arming of Syria’s opposition as a way to create allies and influence the military situation inside the country without American boots on the ground.
 
However, like Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Susan Rise, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, are against the proposal. Rice had pushed for military action in Libya during its revolution.
 
“In a situation as chaotic as Syria’s, you don’t know where weapons might end up, and what the consequences are if those weapons are used against civilians, against Israel, against American interests,” said an official on condition of anonymity. 
 
Secretary of State John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, the president’s nominee for defense secretary, have differing opinions on what role the United States should play in foreign politics. Hagel is said to be reluctant to become entangled in the affairs of other countries, the NYT reports. 
 
Despite a recent focus on domestic politics by the newly re-inaugurated president, policy towards Syria is constantly under inspection as the death toll rises. 
 
“We have consistently looked at all elements of our Syria policy, including what we can and should supply to the opposition,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor.

Region's Armies All on High Alert

Category: Reports
Created on Monday, 04 February 2013 11:26
Members of the Al-Baraa bin Malek batallion - AFPThe armies of Syria, Lebanon and Jordan are all on high alert, a report in a Lebanese newspaper said Sunday. The report in Ad-Diar said that the alerts were due to Israel's attack on a Syrian missile transport and, according to Syrian claims, an attack on a sensitive Syrian military installation.
 
The report said that the Syrian army has instructed its units to break up into smaller groups, “similar to what Hizbullah has done in south Lebanon.” The strategy is designed to protect troops in the wake of another possible Israeli attack, the report said.
 
The report added that Syrian troops had joined Hizbullah terrorists in several areas of south Lebanon. According to the report, the Syrian and Hizbullah forces were stationed very close to the Israeli border, in the area of Har Dov (also known as “Sheba Farms”). The Lebanese and Jordanian armies are also on high alert over the possibility of a clash between Israel and Syria in the area.
 
Unconfirmed Lebanese reports said that Israeli warplanes had been seen over Lebanon earlier Sunday.
 
Syria has threatened to retaliate against Israel for the attack. Israel has not commented on the attack, and has not officially confirmed its involvement, although Defense Minister Ehud Barak earlier Sunday hinted at the possibility that Israel did carry out the attack.

Syrian Rebels 'Steal' Credit from Israel for Attack

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 02 February 2013 15:33
Free Syrian Army fighters pose with their weaponsWhile Russia, Hizbullah, Syria and Lebanon condemned Israel and threatened retaliation over the attack early Wednesday on a convoy carrying Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, and/or of Israel's alleged attack against a military research center, Syrian rebels said that they were condemning and threatening the wrong guys; it wasn't Israel that bombed the convoy, the rebels said. Instead, the credit belongs to them.
 
While Syria said that there had been an Israeli attack, it disputed the target. Western media reported that Israel had attacked a convoy carrying Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles from Syria to Hizbullah terrorist bases along the border with Lebanon. The US later said that Israel had confirmed this. But in a statement, Syria denied that Israel had struck the missiles, but that it had hit a military research center in a Damascus suburb.
 
At least in the latter case, the rebels said, Syrian officials got it wrong. In a statement, a coalition of rebel groups in the Damascus area said that a statement by Syria attributing the attack to Israel was incorrect. “The attack was carried out by the Sheikh Ahmed Yassin special forces unit, together with the A-Sham Martyrs Brigades. They destroyed the science center at Jumharriya, on the outskirts of Damascus.”
 
According to the rebels, they fired six 120mm rockets and destroyed a large part of the building, which they said was a center of chemical weapons research. The statement added that the building had housed research teams from Russia and Iran, along with large numbers of Hizbullah terrorists.

Hizbullah Already Has Syrian Chemical Weapons

Category: Reports
Created on Saturday, 02 February 2013 15:20
Hizbullah preparing to stage chemical attackAs reports and analyses of what was said to be an Israeli attack on advanced Russian missiles dispatched from Syria to Hizbullah terrorist bases along the border with Lebanon, Syrian rebels said that Hizbullah had already received numerous advanced weapons from Syria – including chemical weapons. A report in a Saudi newspaper quoted Syrian rebel groups as saying that Syria had already last year transferred chemical weapons to Hizbullah.
 
Israel has said that transfer of such weapons would be a “red line” which Jerusalem could not ignore, essentially a declaration of war by Syria and Hizbullah against Israel.
 
The report in the Al-Wattan newspaper quoted a rebel spokesperson as saying that the transfer took place over a 40 day period in February and March 2012. The shipment included at least two tons of mustard gas, along long range missiles that could reach within 300 kilometers into Israel that were capable of carrying chemical weapons.
 
On Wednesday, western media reported that Israel had attacked a convoy carrying Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles from Syria to Hizbullah terrorist bases along the border with Lebanon. The US later said that Israel had confirmed this. But in a statement, Syria denied that Israel had struck the missiles, but that it had hit a military research center in a Damascus suburb. Israel has yet to make a public statement on either allegation.
 
Reports in the American media said that the convoy that was targeted by Israel carried conventional weapons, not chemical weapons. The Washington Post quoted an unnamed American government official as saying that there was “no connection” between Israel's declared intolerance of Syrian chemical weapons and Wednesday's attack.

Syria Airstrike Targeted Chemical Weapons Center

Category: Reports
Created on Thursday, 31 January 2013 07:49
Chemical WeaponsConflicting reports continued on Wednesday night about an air strike in Syria, what exactly was targeted and who carried out the attack.
 
Syria’s official news agency SANA reported that Israel had staged an air raid on a military research center in Jamraya, near Damascus.
 
While the statement by the Syrian military claimed that the target was “a scientific research center in charge of raising our level of resistance and self-defense,” a Lebanese news website on Wednesday night quoted a Syrian source as saying that the target of the strike was a chemical weapons center.
 
The source told the Lebanese site that four security guards were killed in the attack and that the blast could be heard as far as Damascus.
 
The Lebanese television network Al-Manar, which belongs to the Hizbullah terrorist group, reported Wednesday evening that four Israeli warplanes had taken part in the airstrike.
 
Meanwhile, the rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria denied the reports that Israel had attacked the research center, claiming that they were the ones who attacked the facility.
 
The rebels posted a video allegedly documenting a series of blasts at the center, but the video could not be authenticated.
 
Earlier reports said that Israel had struck a convoy carrying SA-17 missiles, among other things. The SA-17 is a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile.
 
It is not clear at this point which report is the more accurate one, and what actually happened. If the target was indeed a chemical weapons center, it may have been a strike to prevent Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal from falling into the hands of Hizbullah or into the hands of terrorist groups among the rebels.
 
Reports on the weekend indicated that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had convened a special discussion on issues of defense, attended by defense officials and some of the members of his Cabinet. The meeting centered on the ongoing civil war in Syria and included a discussion of Syria's chemical weapons.
 
Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said on Sunday, “We have been monitoring for a long time the possibility that chemical weapons will fall into the hands of extremist rebels, or worse, into the hands of Hizbullah.”
 
He added, “This is a very disturbing and dangerous situation, and there is consensus and cooperation among all countries in the free world that this should be prevented.”
 
Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, which dates back to the 1970s, is the biggest in the Middle East, but its precise scope remains unclear, according to analysts.
 
Some reports have indicated that Assad’s forces have already used non-lethal chemical weapons against rebels.

Salafists Vow to Fight Until There Is 'Islamic State in Syria'

Category: Reports
Created on Tuesday, 22 January 2013 09:45
Members of the Free Syrian Army perform prayers in Damascus Reuters"Rami Youssef" is his revolutionary alias. This young man — aged 18 with dark features and a full, circular beard and shaved mustache in the tradition of the Prophet — has been in Turkey for less than a week. His elder brother said of Rami, "He wants to go back to Aleppo tomorrow and continue fighting." Speaking to Al-Monitor on Jan. 15 via Skype from his brother's house in Gaziantep, Rami acknowledged that he is from the al-Suddik brigade of the Ahrar al-Sham Battalions.
 
It is rare for Salafist fighters to speak with reporters. In his conversation with Al-Monitor, Rami Youssef shed light on the origins and objectives of Ahrar al-Sham (Free People of Syria), which was established in late 2011 as a Salafist group, as well as the still-fragmented nature of the Syrian opposition.
 
"We are an Islamic group, and we want to establish an Islamic country when the [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad era ends," said Rami. Rami claimed to have no knowledge of Mouaz Alkhatib, the former imam of a Damascus mosque and the new, internationally recognized leader of the Syrian opposition.
 
"Most of the fighters just fight because Assad is evil, but they don't know anything about this guy or the opposition outside. They just believe Assad needs to go." He then stressed, "We will fight until we establish an Islamic state in Syria. Even the 75% of the Free Syrian Army is fighting with this in mind. We don't want it as strict as Saudi Arabia, but we will not let go until we achieve our goal."
 
Rami told Al-Monitor that three months after Ahrar al-Sham was established, nine trainers arrived from abroad to assist them.
"The leader was of Syrian origin but came from Chechnya. His pseudonym is Abu Maryam," said Rami, when asked what foreign support his group has received. "The others came from Libya, Tunisia and other places. Among other things, they taught us how to promote our organization. People started to join us, and we grew quickly."
 
The founder of Ahrar al-Sham goes by the name Abu Abdallah, but he remains mysterious. No one knows much about him. Even Rami preferred not to talk about him or his whereabouts except to reveal, “He is also from Aleppo.” Rami claimed that there are some 5,000 to 6,000 Ahrar al-Sham fighters in Aleppo and the surrounding countryside and admitted that they receive foreign funding.
 
“We get money from the Gulf – mainly from Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well as Kuwait and Bahrain,” he said. “We fight in our name as Ahrar al-Sham, so our budget is not the same as the Free Syrian Army's. And we only use this money to buy weaponry for ourselves and the battalion.”
 
“We usually have machine guns and RPGs,” Rami told Al-Monitor. “We just recently started to get anti-aircraft weaponry. We looted some from the regular army. We buy the rest from Turkey or Chechnya or other places.”
 
Rami is careful when talking about Turkey. “The Turkish government is helping us because they’re an Islamic government too,” he told Al-Monitor. “But they are also profiting from this war by selling weaponry to us at far higher prices. They are becoming opportunistic.”
 
Rami did not want to go into detail about his group's Turkish sources for weapons. He did, however, offer, “It’s important that the government allows the weapons to go through the borders.”
With great pride he said that although Ahrar al-Sham fights alongside the Free Syrian Army (FSA), his group is not connected to the latter. He is also not shy about admitting that atrocities have been carried out by both sides. 
 
“There are many shabiha [supporters of the Syrian regime] who are raping, stealing and robbing in the name of the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic groups. They just want to give us a bad image,” Rami said. 
 
“There are many others who also joined the FSA and Islamic groups to get weapons, and do all the bad things, like stealing and robbing.”
“Many people who joined Ahrar al-Sham were not good people. 
 
They were unemployed people, bad guys, who drink and waste their time,” Rami told. “Most of the real fighters, the jihadists, were either martyred or injured and came to Turkey and other places for hospitalization. So the people who remain now are actually those who are just there for looting, stealing.”
 
Rami argues that the fighting in Syria has been sectarian from day one. “What do you think the fighters coming from Russia or Iran are doing? They just want to kill as many Sunnis as they can so that they can assure that Assad continues to stay in power,” he said. “After the Islamic groups started to operate across the country, we also started to do the same. It’s our jihadist duty. Now the Alawites are escaping to the coast, moving toward the Latakia region.”
 
The composition of Ahrar al-Sham is different from the Free Syrian Army, whose members are mostly retired from or defectors from the regular Syrian army. “About half of us are Syrian. We have members of the Muslim Brotherhood in our group,” said Rami. “But the rest are coming from Libya, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, Turkey and Azerbaijan. There are even people coming from Belgium.” He claimed that he has seen “plenty” of al-Qaeda members in Syria, but that “their numbers are not as big as the FSA.”
 
Describing himself as having the body of an 18-year-old but the experience of a 50-year-old, Rami brags that he has become “one of the best snipers” in his group. “I have killed many Syrian military men.” His mother, seated beside him, spoke proudly of her son. “I’m always worried about his life,” she told Al-Monitor. “But he is doing a noble act. If all mothers want their son to avoid fighting, then who is going to fight against this regime? Assad is an evil man. And I believe my son is doing a favor for all of us by fighting against the army.”
 
All said, however, Rami does not believe the Syrian president will go anytime soon. “The regime is collapsing and getting weaker and weaker each day,” he said, “but it could take yet another year for Assad to lose power.” 
 
Tulin Daloglu is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign Policy, The Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report. She also had a regular column at The Washington Times for almost four years. Daloglu tweets from @TurkeyPulse.

Iran Spying on Israel from Syria

Category: Reports
Created on Monday, 14 January 2013 07:31
View from the GolanIran has been establishing signals intelligence stations in several parts of the Middle East, including the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the U.S.-based World Tribune reports.
 
The Defense Department has indicated that one of the intelligence stations was established in the Golan Heights, close to Syria's border with Israel, the report said.
 
The Pentagon’s counter-terrorist support office said the stations were established by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps together with Tehran’s leading ally, Syria, according to the World Tribune.
 
“Two Iranian-Syrian [signals intelligence] stations funded by the IRGC reportedly have been active since 2006, one in the Al Jazirah region in northern Syria and the other on the Golan Heights,” said the report, entitled “Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security: A Profile.”
 
The report, issued last month and prepared by the Library of Congress, said IRGC was planning to establish additional listening stations for northern Syria. The stations were meant to supply information on Israel to Hizbullah, Iran’s leading terror proxy.
 
The ongoing civil war in Syria has spilled over several times into Israel from the Golan Heights. The incidents have included mortar shells landing in the religious Zionist town of Alonei Habashan, which is less than a kilometer from the border, as well as IDF vehicles being hit by bullets fired from Syrian territory into Israel during the fighting between the sides.
 
The IDF changed the rules of engagement along the Syrian border after the fighting in Syria spilled over into Israel more than once.
 
The new orders instruct soldiers to respond if fire from Syria is dangerous and persistent.
 
Israel has also been monitoring Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, which dates back to the 1970s, is the biggest in the Middle East, but its precise scope remains unclear, according to analysts.
 
The country has hundreds of tons of various chemical agents, including sarin and VX nerve agents, as well as older blistering agents such as mustard gas, dispersed in dozens of manufacturing and storage sites, experts say.
 
U.S. officials recently said there was evidence that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's troops had not only moved deadly sarin gas that might be used against rebels, but also that its binary components, usually stored separately, had been combined and placed into bombs for use.
 
Doctors have said that Assad’s forces are probably also using “Agent 15,” which causes paralysis.
 
The United States and its allies, including Israel, have repeatedly expressed concern that Syria's stockpile, believed to be one of the biggest in the world, could be stolen and fall into extremist hands or be transferred to the Hizbullah terror group by a crumbling Syrian regime.

defected General: Syria’s Chemical Arms Match Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 19 December 2012 07:00
Major-General Adnan SilluThe chemical weapons arsenal of the Syrian regime, believed to be one of the largest in the world, is a match for Israel’s alleged nuclear arsenal, the defected former head of Syria's chemical warfare program told Al-Arabiya on Monday.
 
Major-General Adnan Sillu, who defected from the regime earlier this year and was reportedly “party to top-levels talks” regarding the use of chemical weapons on both rebel fighters and civilians, said that the Syrian government had stashed chemical weapons in various cities, specifically in Homs and Aleppo.
 
“Syria’s chemical arsenal has reached similar levels to Israel’s nuclear weapons,” he told Al-Arabiya.
 
Sillu, who once led the army’s chemical weapons training program, warned in June that although the central storage sites for sarin and mustard gas are being guarded by thousands of Syrian Army troops, they could easily be captured by rebel forces.
 
“Probably anyone from the Free Syrian Army or any Islamic extremist group could take them over,” he said.
 
The Pentagon has drawn up plans for responding to possible scenarios involving Syria’s chemical arms, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday during a visit to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, about 60 miles from the Syrian border.
 
The United States has become increasingly concerned that Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Islamist terrorists, rogue generals or other uncontrollable factions.
 
In recent days, the Syrian regime has fired more than a half-dozen Scud missiles at rebel forces trying to oust Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
 
The move represents a significant escalation in the fighting, which has already killed more than 40,000 civilians in a nearly two-year-old conflict and suggests increased desperation on the part of the Assad government.
 
United Nations peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said that the UN is sending kits to protect soldiers in the peacekeeping force on Syria’s border with Israel from the effects of a possible chemical attack.
 
"We have taken measures to enhance security," he told reporters after briefing the Security Council on Monday. "For those personnel who are not equipped on a national basis we are sending them some kits to protect them from chemical attack, if that were to happen."

Syria's Muslim Brotherhood Slams US Terror Label on Al-Nusra

Category: News
Created on Friday, 14 December 2012 08:13
Free Syrian Army soldier in military exercise in HomsSyria's Muslim Brotherhood chapter has slammed the United States State Department for adding the Al-Nusra group to its list of outlawed terrorist organizations.
 
An official in the Brotherhood said Tuesday the U.S. had made a “very wrong” decision by designating the Al-Nusra Front rebel group as a terrorist organization.
 
The radical Islamist Syrian opposition group, which allegedly has ties to the international Al-Qaeda terrorist organization, was designated as a “foreign terrorist organization.”
 
The, group which appears to be connected with the Al-Qaeda branch in Iraq, has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide and other bombings in Aleppo, Damascus and Homs.
 
Al-Nusra is a leading member of a group of 13 radical Islamic groups that issued a statement posted on a jihadist website declaring Aleppo to be a new, independent Islamic state in Syria.
 
The group is also referred to as Jabhat al-Nusra, and as Ansar al-Jebhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham (“Supporters of the Front for Victory of the People of Syria.”) Al-Nusra has referred to the United States and Israel as the “enemies of Islam” and has attacked the religious beliefs of non-Sunni Muslims in Syria, including Alawites.

Syria Combining Chemicals for Sarin Gas

Category: Reports
Created on Tuesday, 04 December 2012 21:37
Syria Combining Chemicals for Sarin GasEngineers working for President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria have begun combining the two chemical precursors needed to weaponize sarin gas, an American official with knowledge of the situation told Wired.com’s Danger Room on Monday.
 
International observers are now more worried than they’ve even been that the Damascus government could use its nerve agent stockpile to slaughter its own people, the report said.
 
The U.S. doesn’t know why the Syrian military made the move, which began in the middle of last week and is taking place in central Syria, nor are they sure why the Assad government is transferring some weapons to different locations within the country, as the New York Times reported on Monday.
 
“Physically, they’ve gotten to the point where they can load it up on a plane and drop it,” the official told Wired.com.
 
Sarin gas has two main chemical components: isopropanol, popularly known as rubbing alcohol, and methylphosphonyl difluoride. The Assad government has more than 500 metric tons of these precursors, which it ordinarily stores separately, in so-called “binary” form, in order to prevent an accidental release of nerve gas.
 
Last week, reported Wired.com, that changed. The Syrian military began combining some of the binaries. “They didn’t do it on the whole arsenal, just a modest quantity,” the official said. “We’re not sure what’s the intent.”
 
Back in July, the Assad regime publicly warned that it might use its chemical weapons to stop “external” forces from interfering in Syria’s bloody civil war. The announcement sparked a panic in the intelligence services of the U.S. and its allies, which stepped up their efforts to block shipments of precursors for those weapons from entering the country.
 
“This is a more serious moment than July,” the official said.
 
CNN confirmed the report later on Monday. A U.S. intelligence official told the network that the U.S. obtained intelligence over the past weekend indicating this concerning development.
 
The intelligence, the official said, came from multiple sources but declined to provide any more specifics about how the U.S. learned the information.
 
The report came several hours after the Damascus government promised that it wouldn't use chemical weapons against its own people.
 
In a statement broadcast on government-run national television, the country's foreign ministry assured the international community that Assad would not approve such a measure.
 
"In response to the statements of the American Secretary of State, who warned Syria against using chemical weapons, Syria has stressed repeatedly that it will not use these types of weapons, if they were available, under any circumstances against its people,” the statement said.
 
The statement came following one by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said earlier in the day, “This is a red line for the United States. I'm not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice to say we are certainly planning to take action.”
 
A similar “red line” on chemical weapons was drawn for Assad by U.S. President Barack Obama in a statement he made in August from the White House.
 
"We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people,” Obama told reporters at the time. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime – but also to other players on the ground – that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”
 
Israel has expressed concern that the chemical weapons arsenal maintained in Syria will indeed end up in the wrong hands – specifically, the hands of Hizbullah or other terrorists who aim to annihilate the Jewish State.
 
A report published Monday by The Atlantic indicated that Israel has consulted with Jordan twice over the issue of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, both times with plans to take out multiple sites.

Missiles for Rebels May Spell the End of Assad

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 29 November 2012 06:29
Syrian army helicopter being hit by a ground-to-a - AFP-youtubeSyrian rebels downed an army helicopter for the first time on Tuesday with a newly-acquired ground-to-air missile, in what a watchdog said could be a turning point in the 20-month-old conflict, AFP reported.
 
Another bad sign for Syrian President Bashar Assad is Russia’s sudden change of heart, indicating that Moscow realizes it is supporting a loser even though it voted against Tuesday’s United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Assad’s brutal suppression.
 
Previously standing side-by-side with Syria, a large purchaser of Russian-made weapons, Russia now claims it only has a "working relationship" with the Syrian president and insists special ties were a thing of the past.
 
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, which has backed Damascus throughout the conflict, said in France that "there are no special or privileged relations with President Assad.”
 
Rebels have turned the tide against Assad, not for the first time, with this week’s successful battles for control of the commercial hub of Aleppo, while another car bomb hit a regime security post near Damascus. The death toll on Tuesday was 105, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
The helicopter that the surface-to-air missile downed was strafing civilians near besieged northwestern base 15 miles west of Aleppo, last garrison in government hands between Syria's second city and the Turkish border.
 
"It is the first time that the rebels have shot down a helicopter with a surface-to-air missile," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
Amateur footage posted by activists on YouTube showed a helicopter plunging to the ground in a ball of flames as rebel fighters shouted: "We hit it; G-d is greatest."
 
The Observatory said the missile was part of a consignment newly received by the rebels that had the potential to change the balance of military power in the conflict.
 
Little more than a week ago, the rebels seized tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, 120mm mortars and rocket launchers when they took the government forces' sprawling Base 46, about 12 kilometers (eight miles) west of Aleppo.
 
The rebels, a mix of military defectors and armed civilians, are vastly outgunned but analysts say they are now stretching thin the capabilities of Assad's war machine and its air supremacy by opening multiple fronts.
 
This was evident again on Tuesday, with a car bomb killing at least two soldiers at a military police checkpoint at near Damascus as the regime pursued insurgents south of the capital.
 
In a battle in the north, 70 soldiers were killed or captured, and the rebels seized six 23mm cannons, rocket batteries and other weapons and ammunition.
 
The source of the missiles that the rebels have obtained is not known, but Saudi Arabia and Qatar are prime candidates.
 
Saudi weapons have been seen at rebel bases, and The New York Times has reported that more fighters are arriving across the border from Saudi Arabia to join Syrian rebels.
 
Saudi and Qatar are Sunni-ruled monarchies and oppose Sunni Muslims in Syria being ruled by Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

Gunfire from Syria hits occupied Golan Heights as fighting lingers

Category: News
Created on Monday, 26 November 2012 07:44
U.N.-monitored ceasefire line in response to Syrian fire. ReutersGunfire from Syria hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights overnight close to an Israeli military vehicle monitoring the ceasefire line but causing no injuries, the military said on Monday.
 
“There was gunfire near an Israeli military vehicle which was driving along the security fence,” a military spokeswoman said, adding the incident had occurred late on Sunday.
 
But she said troops in the area had not returned fire as they have done on previous occasions.
 
Such incidents have occurred with increasing frequency in the past few weeks as violence from the civil war in Syria spills across the ceasefire line.
 
Earlier this month, Israeli troops fired warning shots and tank shells across the U.N.-monitored ceasefire line in response to Syrian fire, in the first instance of Israeli fire directed at the Syrian military in the Golan Heights since their 1973 war.
 
Fears of a spillover of the conflict which has ravaged Syria for the past 20 months and left more than 40,000 dead, have widened as violence has spread to Syria’s borders with Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
 
Meanwhile on Monday, rebels seized control of a strategic dam on the Euphrates river in northern Syria after days of fierce fighting, activists and a watchdog said on Monday.
 
Videos posted on the Internet show about a dozen rebel fighters in military fatigues walking at night on a road crossing the Tishreen dam, which straddles Aleppo and Raqa provinces, with others inside a control room, as one man proclaims: “The Tishreen dam is under Free Syrian Army control.”
 
The authenticity of the videos could not be confirmed but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which receives information from a network of activists and medics on the ground, confirmed the dam had fallen to the rebels.
 
The Observatory also reported tha