05/05/2013 - #Syria - Damascus- Massive explosion hits Damascus outskirts
Syrian opposition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib said Tuesday he has asked the United States to extend NATO’s Patriot missile system to protect rebel-held areas in the north of the war-torn country.
“I have asked [US Secretary of State] Mr. John Kerry during our meeting to provide Patriot [missile protection] that encompasses northern Syria, and he has promised to look into the matter,” said Khatib at an Arab summit in Doha, Qatar.
“We are still awaiting a decision from NATO on this matter.”
NATO’s sole involvement in Syria’s brutal civil war to date has been to position Patriot missile batteries along the Turkish border in order to prevent any air or missile launches from the Syrian side.
“The United States has a bigger role” which it could play beyond offering humanitarian aid worth “$350 million,” said Khatib.
Hours after Moaz al-Khatib, the head of the Syrian National Coalition, called on the United States to use Patriot missiles to protect rebel-held areas in Syria, the NATO military alliance said it isn’t getting involved: “NATO has no intention to intervene militarily in Syria,” an unnamed official told the Reuters news agency.
Rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday seized a key air base in the southern Syrian province of Daraa after two weeks of fierce battles with loyalist troops, a watchdog said.
Elsewhere, at least 35 rebels were killed in battles against troops loyal to Damascus that raged near the sensitive ceasefire line with Israel, in the southern province of Quneitra.
“Opposition fighters loyal to Al-Nusra Front, Al-Yarmuk Brigade and other rebel groups seized air defense Base 38 near the town of Saida, on the road linking Damascus to Amman, in the province of Daraa,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The seizure came “after 16 days of fighting,” the Britain-based monitoring group added.
At least seven rebels were killed in their final assault on the base, said the Observatory, which also documented the deaths of at least eight regime troops including an officer.
“Dozens of prisoners were freed from the base’s headquarters,” the watchdog added.
Amateur video filmed by rebels and distributed by the Observatory showed the bloodied, mutilated corpse of a man identified as Mahmud Darwish, an officer.
Activists also distributed footage showing a group of men, most of them bearded, being freed.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of activists on the ground, meanwhile reported the rebel capture of a checkpoint in the town of Sahem al-Golan, also in Daraa.
Amateur video showed rebels seizing at least two regime tanks and several military vehicles after they captured the checkpoint.
“I swear to God, we are coming for you, O Bashar” al-Assad, according to one rebel fighter shown in a video distributed by anti-regime activists.
In Quneitra meanwhile, at least 35 rebels were killed on Wednesday and Thursday fighting troops loyal to Assad, said the Observatory.
Some 20 other fighters were also believed dead after battles in majority Druze villages in Quneitra province, which lays on the sensitive ceasefire line with Israel.
The Observatory’s reports came a day after at least 128 people were killed across Syria — 38 troops, 53 insurgents and 37 civilians.
At least 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since the an anti-regime revolt that broke out in March 2011 morphed into an insurgency after the regime unleashed a brutal crackdown on dissent, the UN says.
Two mortars were fired at a military headquarters in the Syrian capital on Thursday, state television reported, shortly after a powerful car bomb exploded near the Baath party headquarters.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the incident, saying that two mortars landed at the General Staff building in central Damascus but gave no information on casualties.
Israel will maintain close tabs on its border with Syria and only let people to cross in “exceptional circumstances,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday after seven injured Syrians were let in.
“We will continue to watch over the border and prevent anyone from crossing it and entering Israel, except in a few isolated and exceptional circumstances — each of which will be weighed on its own merit,” Netanyahu told his outgoing cabinet.
Israeli troops in the occupied Golan Heights on Saturday allowed in seven people who were wounded in clashes on the Syrian side of the strategic plateau to cross the armistice line, taking them for treatment at a hospital in the northern town of Safed.
One person was in critical condition while the other six were moderately wounded, a spokesman for Ziv hospital told AFP, saying all of them had been operated on.
Neither the army nor the hospital would provide details on the nature of the injuries, or whether they were members of the Syrian military or the opposition forces.
Netanyahu said the tensions along Israel’s frontier with Syria would be a key element of his talks with US President Barack Obama when he makes his first visit to Israel as president next month.
On Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe told Channel 2 TV that letting in the wounded Syrians was “an isolated incident” on humanitarian grounds, and a military source told public radio Israel had prepared designated areas along the frontier to receive Syrian refugees under the auspices of the United Nations.
There have been several instances of mortars or gunfire inadvertently landing on the Israeli side of the plateau, prompting troops in November to respond with artillery in the first such instance of Israeli fire towards the Syrian military since the 1973 war.
Israel seized the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981, in a move never recognized by the international community.
It is currently upgrading its security fence along its armistice line with the work expected to be finished by the end of the year.
Former Syrian Vice President Abed Al-Halim Khaddam said a foreign military intervention was the only solution to the danger that is being posed by the Syrian regime.
“I call for the establishment of an international military coalition, [one that will be responsible] for an intervention in Syria,’ Khaddam said in remarks published by Kuwaiti daily As-Seyassah on Thursday.
“This is the only solution that is capable of saving the region from the threat posed by the Syrian regime, [which is currently] enjoying military support from Iran and Hezbollah and political support from Russia.”
He added that the complexity of the Syrian crisis could not be addressed solely by way of politics.
Khaddam also cautioned that a spread of chaos in Syria could easily occur if the decision to intervene militarily was not taken.
“This chaos could spread to the rest of the region.”
Syria is witnessing a violent uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which has killed more than 60,000 people since its outbreak in March of last year, according to figures released by the United Nations.
Source: Now Media
An Israeli air raid in Syria this week struck surface-to-air missiles and a nearby military complex on the outskirts of Damascus, as Israel feared the weapons would be transferred to Hezbollah, a US official said Friday.
Earlier reports had suggested Israeli warplanes may have targeted two separate locations in Wednesday’s raid in Syria: a military site outside of the capital and a weapons convoy near the Lebanese border.
But the US official said the strike was confined to one location.
“It was in the suburbs of Damascus,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
“There were surface-to-air missiles on vehicles” that were targeted by the Israel aircraft, he said, adding that they were believed to be Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles.
The planes also bombed an adjacent military complex of buildings suspected of housing chemical agents, the official said.
The Israelis suspected the weapons would be transferred to Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group, he said.
The Syrian regime has accused Israel of launching a dawn strike Wednesday on a military research center in Jamraya, near Damascus, and threatened to retaliate.
But the Israeli government has maintained a public silence on the strike.
Israel has repeatedly expressed concern that Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group, which is an ally of the Damascus regime, or other militant organizations.
President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has put together a new paramilitary force of men and women, some trained by key ally Iran, to fight what is now becoming a guerrilla war, a watchdog said Monday.
The force, dubbed the National Defense Army, gathers together existing popular committees of pro-regime civilian fighters under a new, better-trained and armed hierarchy, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The popular committees were originally formed to protect pro-regime neighborhoods from rebels.
“The [regular] army is not trained to fight a guerrilla war, so the regime has resorted to creating the National Defense Army,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
Most of the new fighters are members or supporters of the ruling Baath party, said Abdel Rahman. “They include men and women, and members of all the sects.”
The new force is not connected to the pro-regime shabiha militia, which the army and security forces have deployed ever since the outbreak of an anti-regime revolt to help it suppress dissent across the country.
Members of the paramilitary force, like the popular committees before, will focus on fighting in their own neighborhoods.
On Friday, Moscow’s Russia Today reported on its website that the new National Defense Army was being set up to “defend districts against gunmen.”
“The Syrian authorities are set to create … a National Defense Army, parallel to regime forces, so that the [regular] army is freed up for combat,” the website reported citing an unnamed official.
Abdel Rahman, whose Observatory relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground, said Iran was involved in building the paramilitary force.
“The paramilitary force includes an elite fighting force trained by Iran,” Abdel Rahman told AFP.
“Iran has provided training to the paramilitary force’s commando fighters.”
Iran, Damascus’ key regional ally, staunchly backs Assad and in September 2012 said its elite Quds Force, which is tasked with carrying out operations outside the Islamic republic, was giving Damascus “counsel and advice.”
On the ground, an activist said the new force was already active in the central province of Homs.
“The number of regime fighters in the province has swelled in recent days, as the National Defense Army has started to come into action,” anti-regime activist Hadi al-Abdullah told AFP via the Internet from the rebel-held town of Qusayr.
NATO began deploying Patriot missiles in Turkey Friday to defend against threats from neighboring Syria, the US military’s European Command (EUCOM) said.
US military personnel and equipment arrived at Incirlik Air Base in southeastern Turkey to support NATO’s Patriot battery deployment at Ankara’s request, EUCOM, based in the southwestern German city of Stuttgart, said in a statement.
The United States will transport some 400 troops to Turkey in the next several days to operate two Patriot batteries supporting NATO’s mission there. Additional equipment will arrive by sea later in January.
“The deployment of six Patriot batteries, including two each from Germany and The Netherlands, is in response to Turkey’s request to NATO,” EUCOM said.
“The forces will augment Turkey’s air defense capabilities and contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along the Alliance’s border.”
EUCOM deputy commander Charles Martoglio said the Patriot batteries would fall under NATO command “when set-up is complete and the systems are operational in the next several weeks.”
“The deployment will be defensive only and will not support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation,” EUCOM added.
The duration of the deployment will be determined by the contributing nations in coordination with Turkey and NATO, it said.
Germany, The Netherlands and the United States agreed to supply the ground-to-air missile batteries, which Turkey requested after repeated cross-border shelling from Syria, including an attack that killed five civilians.
NATO-member Turkey, a one-time Damascus ally, has turned into one of its most vocal opponents over the 21-month civil war in Syria that monitors say has killed some 60,000 people.
The deployment will continue Monday when two Dutch Patriot batteries will be transported to the port of Eemshaven from a military barracks in Vredepeel in the southeast of the country, the Dutch Defense Ministry said.
The next day, 30 Dutch and 20 German soldiers charged with preparing for the missiles’ arrival by ship, scheduled for January 22, will fly from the Dutch air base of Eindhoven to Turkey.
Another 270 Dutch troops, who will operate the missiles, will leave for Turkey on January 21, the ministry added.
The German Defense Ministry said that its Patriots would be shipped Tuesday from the port of Luebeck-Travemuende and were due to arrive at the Turkish port of Iskenderun on January 21.
The main German contingent of up to 350 soldiers will begin deploying in mid-January.
January 4, 2013
Syrian rebels, some from Islamist units, fired machineguns and mortars at helicopters grounded at a northern military air base near the main Aleppo-Damascus highway on Wednesday, a monitoring group said.
The al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham Brigade and other units operating in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib were attacking the Afis military airport near Taftanaz, the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
There was no immediate account of the fighting around the air base from Syrian state media.
Insurgents trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad see his air power as their main threat. They hold swathes of eastern and northern provinces, as well as a crescent of suburbs around the capital, Damascus, but have been unable to protect rebel-held territory from relentless attack by helicopters and jets.
In recent months, rebel units have besieged several military installations, especially along Syria’s main north-south artery from Aleppo, its most populous city, to Damascus.
The Observatory’s director, Rami Abdelrahman, said Wednesday’s attack was the latest of several attempts to capture the base. A satellite image of the airport shows more than 40 helicopter landing pads, a runway and aircraft hangars.
An estimated 45,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011 with peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule but turned into an armed revolt after months of government repression.
In Damascus, Assad’s forces fired artillery and mortars at the eastern districts of Douma, Harasta, Irbin and Zamlaka, where rebels have a foothold, activists living there said.
Syria’s civil war is the longest and deadliest conflict to emerge from uprisings that began sweeping the Arab world in 2011 and has developed a significant sectarian element.
Rebels, mostly from the Sunni Muslim majority, confront Assad’s army and security forces, dominated by his Shi’ite-derived Alawite sect, which, along with some other minorities, fears revenge if he falls.
U.N.-led diplomatic peace efforts have stumbled. Western and many Sunni Arab states demand Assad’s immediate removal, an idea resisted by Russia, China and Syria’s Shi’ite ally Iran.
The rebels say they will not negotiate unless Assad, who has vowed to fight to the death, leaves power.
More than 110 people, including at least 31 of Assad’s soldiers and militiamen, were killed in Syriaon the first day of 2013, according to the Observatory, which tracks the conflict from Britain using a network of contacts inside the country.
The head of Syria’s military police has defected from the army and declared allegiance to the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to a video and a Syrian security source.
The high-level defection, while not a strategically significant development in the 21-month-old conflict, will be a blow to morale for Assad’s forces, which are hitting back at a string of rebel advances across the country.
“I am General Abdelaziz Jassim al-Shalal, head of the military police. I have defected because of the deviation of the army from its primary duty of protecting the country and its transformation into gangs of killing and destruction,” the officer said in a video published on YouTube.
A Syrian security source confirmed the defection but played down its significance.
“Shalal did defect but he was due to retire in a month and he only defected to play hero,” the source said.
Wearing a camouflage uniform with red officer insignia on the shoulder, Shalal spoke from a desk in a room in an undisclosed location. Some rebel sources said he had fled to Turkey. It was not clear when Shalal had changed sides. “The army has destroyed cities and villages and has committed massacres against an unarmed population that took to the streets to demand freedom,” he said. “Long live free Syria.”
Syrian rebels have seized a military base in the country’s north, capturing weapons they hope will repel air raids by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, rebels said on Sunday.
Under cover of rain and fog, Col. Anas Ibrahim Abu Zeid led 200 fighters in a four-hour operation to take over the 135 Infantry Brigade base in the village of Hawa, a mostly Kurdish area in northern Aleppo province, on Saturday, they said, as they showed the base to journalists.
The rebels found about 150 soldiers at the base, though it can hold up to 3,000 troops, Abu Zeid said. Between 10-15 soldiers were taken prisoner, he said. They would not say what happened to the other troops, although a Reuters journalist saw at least one corpse.
The rebels said they lost six of their men.
The weapons were hidden in secret locations in Aleppo’s countryside, where the majority of the rebels fighting in this part of the country are from. At a warehouse in a residential area down a narrow street, rebels showed off two .57mm field guns and three 14-1/2 mm anti-aircraft guns.
The weapons, which could be dated back to World War Two, looked like they had never been used. The guns were still greased and wrapped in brown paper.
“We can now take down planes and helicopters … by using more than one anti-aircraft gun to guarantee superior firepower at the same time on the target,” Abu Zeid, a bearded man with specks of grey dressed in army combat gear, told Reuters.
The capture of artillery and anti-aircraft guns has been a turning point for the rebels, who have gained momentum in recent months, seizing swathes of territory in northern Syria and surrounding key army bases and airports across the country.
Assad has relied increasingly on airpower to repel advances by the rebels, who do not have the firepower to take on Assad’s helicopters, MiGs and Sukhoi jets.
Abu Zeid, who defected from Assad’s brother’s 4th Mechanised Division in February, said they made the raid after intelligence a plane would drop ammunition for the weapons the next day.
Also seized were several dozen wooden boxes of new Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortar base plates, rocket-propelled grenades, bayonets, grenades, sniper rifles and at least 22 boxes of gas masks.
The weapons could help make up for rebel shortages. They complain they are yet to receive steady supplies from Western or Arab nations despite promises of support after most rebel forces vowed to unify under a regionalized chain of command this month.
“No group can now say they have no ammunition,” one fighter said. Another chimed in: “These are the bombs we will liberate Aleppo with.”
The base, with buildings perched on a hilltop overlooking miles of olive groves, served mostly for restocking and refueling forces in the northern sector, Abu Zeid said.
Activists said the base was set up in 2004 when tensions flared with ethnic minority Kurds. Because of its presence in mostly Kurdish territory, activists said the army had not used it to launch attacks to prevent Kurds from siding with rebels.
Soldiers from the rebel Fatah brigade tore down a picture of Assad perched on the roof of a deserted mess hall and spray painted Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) in red across walls.
A pool of blood lay behind the sentry post. The body of a dead Alawite soldier, the same minority sect to which Assad belongs, lay in a field, covered in a brown blanket. Most of the rebel forces are from Syria’s majority Sunni population.
A prisoner lay on an army issue mattress. The young, bearded man was covered in a blanket, smoking, in a debris-filled room. He said he was a special forces sniper and had fought in Azaz, a border village near Turkey partially destroyed by tanks and shelling when rebels captured the town last summer.
Bone protruded from his wounded shin. Asked by Abu Zeid why he hadn’t defected, the prisoner said: “I feared for my family. They told us they were terrorists and killers.”
Sun Dec 23, 2012 3:01pm EST
International coalition could offer air and sea support as well as military training
A plan to provide military training to the Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime and support them with air and naval power is being drawn up by an international coalition including Britain,The Independent has learnt.
The prospect of Western intervention comes as opposition groups, which have been disorganised and divided, at long last formed an umbrella political group and a command structure for their militias. Their foreign backers are said to believe that the 22-month-long civil war has now reached a tipping point and it has become imperative to offer help to the revolutionaries to enable them to make a final push against the regime.
The head of Britain’s armed forces, General Sir David Richards, hosted a confidential meeting in London a few weeks ago attended by the military chiefs of France, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the UAE, and a three-star American general, in which the strategy was discussed at length. Other UK government departments and their counterparts in allied states in the mission have also been holding extensive meetings on the issue.
The commanders’ conference was held at the request of the Prime Minister, according to senior Whitehall sources. David Cameron is said to be determined that more should be done by Britain to bring to an end the bloody strife which has claimed 40,000 lives so far and made millions homeless.
One key concern is the onset of winter, with 2.5 million people inside Syria needing help and 1.5 million internally displaced by the fighting, according to the UN. More than 100,000, it is estimated, will be gathering at borders with neighbouring states which are already hosting refugees and refusing to take them in.
There is also a growing belief among the Western backers of the opposition that intervention in some form is necessary now to influence the future political shape of Syria. Jihadist groups among the rebels, some like Jabhat al-Nusra linked to al-Qa’ida, have steadily gained in power and influence because of their access to weapons and money coming from the Gulf states putting more secular groups at a severe disadvantage.
The Obama administration is considering proscribing Al-Nusra as a terrorist organisation, making it illegal for American citizens to fund it and sending a warning message to Arab states not to back it. At the same time Western help will be directed at and strengthen the moderate groups. The unified rebel command structure set up in Turkey, at the behest of the US and UK, has excluded the Islamist militias.
Britain, France and the US have agreed that none of their countries would have “boots on the ground” to help the rebels. The training camps can be set up in Turkey. However, the use of air and maritime force would, in itself, be highly controversial and likely to lead to charges that, as in Libya, the West is carrying out regime change by force.
Furthermore, any such military action will have to take place without United Nations authorisation, with Russia and China highly unlikely to back a resolution after their experience over Libya where they agreed to a “no-fly zone” only to see it turn into a Nato bombing campaign lasting months.
The plan will also draw accusations that the decision to station Nato Patriot missile defence systems at the Syrian border, at the request of Turkey, was, in reality, to camouflage intervention. The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Foreign Secretary William Hague and the alliance’s Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, had all insisted at a meeting in Brussels last week that the deployment was a purely defensive measure. British defence sources maintain that Ankara would have made the request even without the plan to aid the rebels. Neither Germany nor the Netherlands, which will be deploying the Patriots, have been part of the secret Syria talks.
There has been a steady flow of briefings from the US that the Damascus regime is readying its stock of chemical weapons. Ms Clinton stated that a desperate Assad may resort to such an attack, while President Obama has warned of a “red line” on chemical weapons, saying the use of them will not be tolerated.
However, there is a growing belief that the Russians, who had steadfastly backed the regime, are now reconciled to a future Syria without Assad. Officials in Ankara say that a visit by President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Turkey last week went extremely well. Speaking in Istanbul, President Putin said: “We are not lawyers for the Syrian leadership’s actions; we are concerned with other things, namely what will happen in the future.”
British and American officials say that the Kremlin’s concerns about chaos following the departure of Assad, with jihadists emerging in control, is shared by governments in the West and Russian help will be needed in averting a bloody endgame.
Intervention, they say, is now inevitable. Le Figaro newspaper has reported that French military advisers have met rebel groups just across the Lebanese border. The US is said to have stockpiled weapons retrieved in Libya for future supply to Syria.
One senior Whitehall official said: “The efforts have so far been unco-ordinated without any focused objective. If this is worth doing, then it is worth doing professionally; training the FSA and providing them with air and maritime support when necessary.
“Obviously there are risks involved in such a mission, but there is enough capability to accomplish this.
“We are aware of the Russian view. We know that Syria is an important strategic ally for them. But it will not remain an ally if the jihadists take over after Assad goes, we are sure they realise this. We still hope they can persuade Assad to leave and an agreement can be formed on the future of the country.”
MONDAY 10 DECEMBER 2012