Syria News Wire

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Syria admits possessing chemical weapons

July 23rd, 2012 · Politics

The Syrian Foreign Ministry has admitted what many have believed for years – it does possess chemical weapons. But it says it will only use them if there is foreign intervention.

There seem to be mixed messages, though. Here, Jihad Makdissi, says that they will use chemical weapons, “if they exist”. But then later, he says that they are kept under lock and key by the Syrian Arab Army.

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Has Assad lost ‘day-to-day control’ of Syria?

June 8th, 2012 · Politics

Something very interesting caught my eye in the sidebar of this BBC story. BBC Middle East Bureau Chief Paul Danahar, who’s in Damascus, made the following claim:

There is a sense in Damascus shared by many diplomats, international officials and those opposed to President Assad that his regime may no longer have complete and direct day-to-day command and control of some of the militia groups being blamed for massacring civilians.

Let’s, for a second, assume this is true (always a difficult thing in the current circumstances where rumour/speculation trumps fact). If it is, that means the regime is well and truly crumbling. It means the armed forces’ chain of command (at least the paramilitary side) is collapsing. And it means the FSA should be able to win more converts, and may even gain the upper hand with a critical mass of defectors.

On the other hand, if Assad really isn’t directing some of these massacres, and the boys in white trainers are doing it on their own initiative…then, well, we know what that means. It’s every man for himself. We really have entered hell.

I’d still be wary of jumping to this conclusion. For months we heard claims that it wasn’t Assad ordering the violence, but his evil henchmen (notably his brother, Maher). The Assad emails blew that theory apart.

But the difference here is the credibility of these reports. Danahar’s sources are “diplomats, international officials and those opposed to President Assad.”

Opposition activists claiming that it’s a free-for-all? Really?

Oh, and one last point. Danahar’s analysis at the side of that BBC story has now been replaced by a Jim Muir report (he’s in Beirut, not Damascus) on the same page.

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What’s up with Fisk?

June 4th, 2012 · Politics

Below his usual low standard, today Robert Fisk tells us that:

“[In] Lebanon. Its press is free. Its people are. It got shot of Syria in 1995 (albeit at the cost of an ex-Prime Minister’s life)”

So Hariri died 10 years before he was killed, apparently.

“In Yemen, there are bad times – the government helping the US drone attacks on Al Jazeera operatives.”

Topped off with a healthy dose of sectarianism:

“Ahmed Shafik, the Mubarak loyalist, has the support of the Christian Copts, and Assad has the support of the Syrian Christians. The Christians support the dictators.”

Bad times indeed.

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Playing cat and mouse with the Free Syrian Army

June 1st, 2012 · Politics

Another ‘we sneaked into Syria’ story. A brave journalist and photographer spent time with the FSA in Idlib. I’m not sure what to make of this. Opinions on Twitter please, @ me (@syrianews).

Two hundred men and children shouted anti-Assad chants, drums beat loudly and people lifted their arms, swayed and waved flags and banners. Suddenly, a hail of bullets flew from the rooftops, the crowd scattered and chaos ensued. FSA fighters charged towards the bullets, returning fire, and we followed close on their heels. As the two sides exchanged fire, we found ourselves in the middle of a terribly one-sided gun battle.

As with all these engagements, the FSA’s strategy is to return a bit of fire and then pull back; There is little they can do against the vastly superior weapons of the army.

We had retreated to our hideout when suddenly a group of flustered men ran in. The army had been tipped off that western journalists were in the country and that we had filmed them opening fire onto the protests. They had left their base and were making a move to capture us.

Read the full story at VICE Magazine. Will this divide opinions like the same magazine’s Paintballing with Hezbollah did?

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Asef Shawkat assassinated?

May 20th, 2012 · BREAKING NEWS

The FSA seems to be claiming that it has killed Asef Shawkat. (This has NOT been reported elsewhere yet).

6 or 8 high-ranking officials were rushed to the Shami hospital in Malki, according to the LCC, after they were poisoned by a chef. Malki is the richest neighbourhood in Damascus, and is home to the president’s house.

Shortly afterwards, there were reports of heavy gunfire in Malki and neighbouring Abu Rumaneh. Further downhill, in Shalaan, there was apparently a large explosion.

Is this the night that changes it all? Or just another moment in Syria’s enduring tragedy.

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From Rankous

May 18th, 2012 · Politics

Just stop what you’re doing and read this from an incredibly brave Economist reporter in a village next to Zabadani.

A report from Rankous – The Economist

THE houses in the western half of Rankous, a small town north of Damascus, reek of acrid smoke. A burned shoe lies on the floor while fans droop from the ceilings like dead flowers. The living rooms are the most haunting: the televisions that were once a centrepiece of family life are crumpled and withered, a testament to the heat of fire. Walls have gaping wounds in them; some have been demolished entirely. The top floor of one house has collapsed.

 Read the full story here. And then look at the photo gallery.

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12 months of Syrian stories

May 13th, 2012 · Commentary

One of the reasons I started this site was to raise awareness about a country rarely in the news. A country whose stories were not being told. The past year has changed everything.

On the anniversary of the start of the revolution a couple of months ago, The Syria Report did an excellent job of collating the best writing on the uprising. You need to work your way through each one of these articles.

Of course, it starts with the now infamous WSJ Bashar interview in January – after the Arab Spring had set the region on fire, but before it arrived in Syria. He confidently predicted that Syria would remain under his thumb. Six weeks later he was proven oh, so wrong.

There are contributions from Elias Muhanna, Camille Otrakji, Robert Mackey, Bassma Kodmani, Josh Landis, Robin Yassin-Kassab, Robert Worth, Amal Hanano, Bassam Haddad, Donatella Della Ratta, Peter Harling, Sarah Birke and Nir Rosen. In other words, almost anyone who counts as an essential read on Syria. Of course there are a few names missing from that list and a few stories not included. I’m especially sad not to see A Rose in the Desert on there.

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Dozens dead after bomb blast in Damascus

May 10th, 2012 · BREAKING NEWS

At least 40 are dead after double bomb blasts in Qazaz in the south of Damascus.

The attacks hit military intelligence headquarters and have been claimed by the Nusra Front, a small Islamist group. The Guardian is reporting that the group appears to be real, rather than a figment of state media’s usual wild imagination.

However, the SNC, itself no stranger to conspiracy theories, is already blaming the government despite a lack of evidence.

The SNC says the army planted the bombs to scare the UN monitors into going home – even though it previously accused the regime of using the monitors to buy time. Can’t have it both ways.

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UN confirms Syria arms smuggling

May 9th, 2012 · Politics

UN Special Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen says arms are being smuggled into Syria across the Lebanese border.

Now, this is very interesting, because until recently, observers – myself included – had dismissed ‘discoveries‘ of arms factories and large-scale weapons shipments as theatrics aimed at tarnishing the Syrian rebels. When Syria’s allies in the Lebanese government impounded a ship full of arms (some Libyan) in Tripoli, eyebrows were again raised. What convenient timing, just as the UN monitors were reporting on breaches of the ceasefire.

Roed-Larsen believes he has confirmed, though, that arms are indeed going from Lebanon into Syria. There is an arms trade. Roed-Larsen was sent to Lebanon to report on the demilitarisation of Lebanon’s militias. The irony is that he has been monitoring the border for illegal arms crossing from Syria into Lebanon – now he’s seeing weapons going the other way.

While the arms trade is the inevitable result of a brutal, year-long attack on a civilian population by one of the world’s strongest armies, using the Lebanon border is unfortunate. It provokes the Syrian army into doing nasty things like mining the border which is more likely to kill refugees fleeing the fighting, than prevent weapons flooding into Syria.

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Urgent Red Cross appeal for Syria

May 8th, 2012 · Politics

The Red Cross has made an urgent appeal for $27 million for its vital work in Syria.

To date, it has helped 200,000 victims of the violence across the country. The International Committee for the Red Cross is the only international aid agency working in Syria, and despite occasional hiccups, it has managed to get help to those in need, while others talk only about violence and vengeance.

Any money you donate will go to Syrians displaced by the violence, and to those working with the 24,600 refugees currently living in camps in Turkey.

The ICRC’s President, Jakob Kellenberger, made a rare political statement on the situation in Syria, telling the BBC that he urgently wanted more UN monitors to be sent to the country:

“I am afraid [the Kofi Annan peace plan] might not succeed, but I really strongly hope it does succeed. But for this to happen, the deployment of the UN observers really [has to be] a rapid deployment. So far, very few are there.”

The organisation’s priorities are to:

  • provide food for 100,000 people
  • supply basic household items for 25,000
  • and to restore public services such as water and electricity to 1.5 million

Despite their fantastic work, the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and two volunteers have been killed. Please donate now.

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