Today, October 8, the Aleppo-Salamiyeh road will be opened to civilians and convoys carrying supplies and fuel, ending the weeks-long siege imposed by opposition militants on the city. According to sources on the ground, the move will usher in a new phase of military operations in the city and surrounding areas.
Aleppo – The city of Aleppo has breathed a sigh of relief. After weeks of the siege imposed by the militants, the Syrian army managed to reopen the road to the city of Salamiyeh, and from there, to Hama, Homs, Damascus, and the Syrian coast.
Starting today, the road will be opened officially to civilians and convoys carrying flour, food supplies, and fuel, according to a source in the governorate. Buses and supply convoys are traversing the road under military protection, led by units from the Engineer Corps to dismantle mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – which the militants often plant at night and detonate in the day, in order to slow down and then attack the convoys.
The Syrian army has regained control over the area extending from Syria’s economic capital to the southeast town of Khanasser, through the defense manufacturing facilities in Sfireh, allowing the army to secure a road more than 200-km long from Aleppo to Salamiyeh.
Official Syrian sources told Al-Akhbar, “This achievement was the result of cumulative gains from various military operations during the past weeks, and heralds a new phase in the city of Aleppo and its environs.” The sources likened what is happening in Aleppo to what the Syrian army had accomplished in east Ghouta between November 2012 and April 2013, culminating with the siege of opposition militants in the area, and the elimination of their immediate threat to the Syrian capital.
While the people of Aleppo are waiting for the reopening of the road to improve their daily lives, especially in terms of reducing the prices of goods and improving their availability in the markets, the Syrian army continues its efforts to secure the hills overlooking the Athraya-Khanasser and Khanasser-Aleppo roads. The army also tightened its grip on the villages of Rasm Okeiresh, Rasm al-Sheikh, Rasm al-Helou, Rasm Bakrou, al-Wawiyeh, Rasm al-Safa, Barzanieh, Jalagheem, Zarraa, and Kafar Akkad.
However, dozens of cars and buses heading from Aleppo to Hama, Homs, and Damascus along the international highway – which extends from Aleppo to the southwest – were forced to return to Aleppo after militants attacked the Souran army checkpoint north of Hama. The road was blocked for three hours, and buses were forced back to the town of Zarbeh, south of Aleppo.
The Syrian air force carried out a series of strikes against encampments belonging to radical Islamic groups in various areas of the Aleppo countryside, killing large numbers of militants from different nationalities, according to a military source. Air strikes and artillery shelling pounded areas in Ikarda, Barqoum, Tall Hadiyyeh, al-Zarieh, Azzan, Andan, Babis, Kafar Naha, Mennagh, Hraytan, Kaffin, Maarasta, and the vicinity of the Aleppo Central Prison.
In Afrin, northwest of Aleppo, thousands of local residents attended a funeral of seven members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPD), who were killed while staving off an attack by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The mourners chanted slogans against Turkey and takfiri groups.
A YPD source told Al-Akhbar that the seven men were stationed on the Qastal Jendo-Azaz front, where attacks by takfiri groups are frequent. The source indicated that the residents of the villages and farms nearby dug trenches to defend against a possible large-scale attack by ISIS, after large numbers of fighters and vehicles equipped with medium to heavy machine guns were seen flocking to the flashpoints there.
After fighting between the YPD and ISIS militants resumed, dozens of Kurds from Afrin were kidnapped while traveling along the Aleppo-Afrin road, near the village of Deir Jmal.
Adham Sheikho, a lawyer from Afrin, shared with Al-Akhbar his account of the incident. He said, “Militants from the opposition forced dozens of passengers to leave their small buses and cars, and took them to an unknown location, for the sole reason that they came from Afrin.”
In the meantime, the tragedy of 63 women and children who were kidnapped from the towns of Nbel and Zahraa on their way to Damascus continues. A source in Nbel said that the kidnappers have moved the hostages to a farm they had seized in the village of Bawabieh, southwest of Aleppo.
In the Damascus countryside, the Syrian army launched a series of attacks against militant concentrations and weapons caches in Qaboun, Jobar, and other villages and towns across the countryside, according to SANA. The operations killed dozens of militants from Liwaa Omar al-Mukhtar and al-Baraa Brigades.
In Deir al-Zour, Syrian army forces bombarded militant outposts in al-Mraiyyeh. According to al-Mayadeen TV, an explosion took place under the National Hospital building in Deir al-Zour, while militants from al-Nusra Front were attempting to dig new tunnels underneath it.
Clashes between the Free Syrian Army and ISIS continued in al-Raqqa, meanwhile, killing and injuring scores on both sides.
The Battle of Wadi al-Deif
In the Idlib countryside, 20 armed brigades, most notably Ahrar al-Sham, announced the start of a battle to “liberate” military bases in Wadi al-Deif and al-Hamdieh in Maarrat Numan. The Wadi al-Deif base is located east of the strategic city of Maarrat Numan. It is the largest military complex in the area, containing large quantities of military hardware and ammunition. The opposition fighters previously besieged the complex for eight consecutive months before the Syrian army managed to end their siege nearly four months ago.
In Homs, opposition forces issued a statement announcing that indirect negotiations with the regime had failed. The negotiations focused on trying to get a number of people out of the neighborhoods besieged by the Syrian army in the city. The statement’s authors pledged to begin a new offensive in Homs.
- FSA on verge of collapse in Syria: Analyst (presstv.ir)
The Syrian government has accepted the ‘essential modalities’ under which the UN was ready to investigate whether chemical weapons had been used in the country, the body has announced, signalling that experts will shortly be traveling to Syria.
“The departure of the team is now imminent,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement. “As agreed with the Government of Syria, the team will remain in the country to conduct its activities, including on-site visits, for a period of up to 14 days, extendable upon mutual consent.”
The Secretary-General has expressed his appreciation to the Syrian government for accepting “the modalities essential for cooperation to ensure the proper, safe and efficient conduct of the Mission.”
The statement also reminded that the use of chemical weapons “by any side under any circumstances” would constitute an “outrageous crime.”
Two weeks ago the United Nations said that an agreement had been reached with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government as to the three locations that UN inspectors would be investigating, led by Swedish scientist, Ake Sellstrom.
One site to be visited by the UN team is Khan al-Assal in Aleppo, where the country’s government says rebels used chemical weapons in March. The two additional locations have yet to be confirmed.
Both Syria’s government and rebel forces have long been accusing each other of using chemical weapons, and both have denied it.
Russia welcomed the move, saying on its Twitter feed that “Damascus is ready to bring clarity into the situation”, and expressing hope that the move will “provide a springboard for a political solution of the ongoing crisis”.
Last month Russia submitted “a full set of documents” to the UN and its analysis of samples taken west of Aleppo. Russia’s findings indicated that it was rebels behind the Khan al-Assal incident, in which more than 30 people died.
The United States cast doubt on the Russian findings saying its own intelligence services believed Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons. However, Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN commission’s inquiry into rights violations in Syria, said the evidence provided by the US did not meet standards as his commission was “very worried about the chain of custody of the substances.”
Back in March Damascus requested UN investigators to visit Khan al-Assal. The UN formed a mission then, but was reluctant to send it, demanding “unconditional and unfettered” access across the country, according to Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry rejected the UN’s effort to broaden the probe claiming that it was “at odds with the Syrian request” and that its “possible hidden intentions” could violate Syrian sovereignty.
In total, the UN received some 13 reports of alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria and the UN inspectors will be investigating the “allegations” of chemical weapons use, rather than determining who was responsible for the attacks.
There was a time during the 30-month covert dirty war on Syria when the Western governments and mainstream media would make a clamor over reported massacres.
Now, despicably, these governments and media just ignore such atrocities.
Why? Because it is increasingly clear that the groups committing these crimes against thousands of Syrian civilians are the foreign-backed mercenaries, whom the Western media and their governments have tried to lionize as “rebels” fighting for “democratic freedom”.
That charade is rapidly disintegrating, exposing not just criminal Western governments sponsoring the violence against civilians, but an entire media industry that is also guilty of war crimes through its willful complicity.
This is not mere hyperbole. To disseminate false information and lies about conflict – under the guise of independent news – is to be complicit in covering up war crimes. You can hardly get more serious misconduct than to tell lies about crimes against humanity.
These toxic lies and propaganda are now being exposed as the Western-backed plot to subvert the sovereign state of Syria unravels; this unraveling is accentuated by the West’s death squads becoming even more unhinged as they stare at looming defeat at the hands of the Syrian army.
The latest massacre occurred in the town of Khan al-Assal in the northern province of Aleppo. Some 150 people, mostly civilians, were reportedly slaughtered in cold blood. Many of the victims were shot in the head execution-style. The groups claiming responsibility are the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and Ansar al Khalifa.
Reliable sources say that the killers tried to cover up their barbaric crimes by mutilating the corpses and burning the remains. Only days before this orgy of murder, the same groups are believed to have massacred at least seven civilians in the town of Maqbara in the province of Hasakah.
Elsewhere, as the Syrian national army makes searing advances against the militants, it is apparent from the identities of the dead that the majority of these fighters are foreigners, from Saudi Arabia, Libya, Jordan, Turkey, as well as from the US and Europe, including Britain, France and Germany.
Just last week, it was reported that Saudi Arabia bought $50 million-worth of heavy arms from Israel to supply this foreign network in its endeavor to terrorize the people of Syria into submission.
Already, the US, Britain and France have stumped up over $200 million which they claim is provided to “the Syrian opposition” in the form of “non-lethal aid”.
This is just cynical semantics to cover up the fact that the Western governments and their regional Turk, Arab and Israeli proxies are sponsoring genocide in Syria.
Over the weekend as the mass murders in Khan al-Assal and Maqbara emerged there was a telling silence in the Western media. A cursory glance at outlets such as New York Times, Washington Post, Voice of America, the Guardian, BBC, France 24, Deutsche Welle, Reuters, among others, showed no or negligible reports on the atrocities.
A notable exception was the London-based Financial Times, which headlined: “Syria opposition condemns rebel attack”. The FT tried to obfuscate the mass murder of civilians by claiming that “extremist rebels” had executed captured Syrian army soldiers and by giving prominence to condemnation of the “abuses” by the exile non-entity group, the Syrian National Coalition.
Similar Western silence followed another massacre last month in the village of Hatlah in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour. In mid-June, more than 60 mainly Shia inhabitants were slaughtered again by Western-backed foreign militants. Most of the victims were women and children. Syrian government appeals for international condemnation at the United Nations were ignored.
Contrast this void in Western government and media reaction to earlier massacres. In May and June 2012, the Western media went viral with reports of mass killings in the villages of Houla and Qubair where some 108 and 78 inhabitants were murdered, many of them with throats slit. Immediately, the Western media then claimed or implied that the perpetrators were Syrian state forces and roundly condemned President Bashar al-Assad.
Back then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Assad of “ruling by murder and fear” and led the chorus of Western governments calling for Assad to step down.
It later transpired that the Houla and Qubair massacres were the work of the Western-backed foreign militants. But Western media did not follow-up with corrective reporting. This is the conduct of a propaganda ministry, not independent journalism.
The same propaganda formula of sensationalist headlines and innuendo, with minimal evidence, was repeated in subsequent massacres, such as in Tremseh in July 2012, or the bomb attack on Aleppo University in January this year in which more than 80 were killed. Also in that same month, more than 100 bodies were fished out of the Queiq River in the Bustan al-Qasr district of Aleppo – all of those victims with gunshot wounds to the head. Never mind that the district was under the control of foreign militants, the Western media continued their campaign of innuendo that it was the Syrian state forces that carried out the executions.
The Syrian government has consistently alleged that all these mass killings are the work of Western-backed militants. This sickening terrorist methodology concatenates with the Takfiri mentality of killing everyone who is deemed to be an infidel – Sunni, Shia, Alawite, Christian, non-believer alike, who does not subscribe to their fundamentalist twisted theology.
It is entirely in keeping that Western governments and Wahhabi Arab despots sponsor such groups given the long history of collusion between these protagonists, going back to the creation of al-Qaeda by Western military intelligence in Afghanistan during the 1980s to fight the then Soviet-backed government in Kabul.
The indiscriminate murder of civilians in wholesale massacres by Western-backed death squads operating in Syria to overthrow the Assad government is also consistent with the countless no-warning car bombs that have ripped through markets, streets, hospitals and schools all across Syria. Days before the latest slaughter in Khan al-Assal, a car bomb killed at least 10 in the Jaramana district of the capital, Damascus.
A few months earlier, another deadly bomb attack also targeted Jaramana, killing more than 30. The district is a mixed community of Muslim, Christian and Druze, which is largely supportive of the Assad government. As with the many other massacres in Syria, the aim is to terrorize the civilian population, to sow sectarianism and to coerce
the populace to relinquish support for the government.
As the foreign criminal conspiracy to force regime change in Syria flounders – with the turning point being the Syrian army victory in Qusayr early last month – the Western-sponsored terrorists are resorting to more and more desperate methods. This depravity was manifested yet again in the slaughter of civilians in Khan al-Assal and Maqbara. Tragically and despicably, we can expect more such atrocities in the coming weeks and months as the Western criminal conspiracy suffers more defeats.
But what is truly remarkable is how the Western governments and their propaganda machine, known euphemistically as the mainstream news media, are ignoring these latest massacres. That is because their vile game is up. They can no longer dissimulate on the reality of who is carrying out these massacres and how it is all part of a criminal genocidal campaign directed from Washington, London and Paris. That is why they are feigning to ignore such atrocities. To look into them honestly would uncover the ugly face of Western imperialism and the unconscionable role played all along by so-called Western news media.
Meanwhile, proper journalistic services like Press TV that are reporting the reality of what the Western governments are really doing in Syria via their death squads are being banned from satellite networks controlled by Western authorities.
Indeed, a very real extension of this censorship is how Press TV correspondent Maya Nasser was murdered last September by Western-backed death squads in Damascus for the very reason that he was helping to uncover the truth about what is being inflicted on Syria. Assassination is just an extreme act of censorship, as the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once noted.
Western government and media silence over the latest massacres in Syria is not just a matter of indifference or sloppy journalism. It is indicative of their complicity in the covert genocidal war on Syria.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that “political games” prevented Russia from investigating the data on the use of toxic substances in Aleppo: the UN Secretariat couldn’t respond promptly to Moscow’s demand to look into the matter.
In March, the Syrian government invited the United Nations to investigate possible chemical weapons use in the Khan al-Assal area of rural Aleppo. Military experts and officials said a chemical agent, most likely sarin, was used in the attack which killed 26 people, including government forces.
Several countries, including Israel, the UK, France and the US – all vocal critics of Syrian President Bashar Assad – all claimed they had evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria.
Damascus denied that a chemical attack was carried out by the Syrian army, blaming the rebels and Turkey for the incident: “The rocket came from a place controlled by the terrorists and which is located close to the Turkish territory. One can assume that the weapon came from Turkey,” Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi alleged in an interview with Interfax news agency.
Lavrov spoke following the reports that Turkish security forces found a 2kg cylinder with sarin gas after searching the homes of Syrian militants from the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra Front who were previously detained.
The sarin gas was found in the homes of alleged Syrian militants, who were reportedly planning a terrorist attack on the southern Turkish city of Adana.
Russia expressed concern over the incident, urging for a thorough investigation into the matter.
Almost a month ago, the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad said that Damascus was ready to have the UN investigation team look into alleged chemical weapons use in Syria.
“We were ready and we are always ready, right now, to receive the delegation that was set up by [UN Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon to investigate what happened in Khan al-Assal,” Muqdad said, referring to the March 19 incident near Aleppo.
Syrian rebels are accused of using a rocket with a chemical warhead, killing 25 people and injuring 86, according to SANA news agency.
The Syrian civil war has been raging for more than two years now, with more than 80,000 people killed, according to UN estimates.
In his latest statement on the matter, Lavrov noted the Russian government’s concern over the issue due to the chance of provocations around the situation.
As the battle for Qusayr winds down, regime forces are preparing to wrest Aleppo from the Syrian opposition, which overran the city last July.
According to Syrian security sources, the Syrian army has begun building up its forces in several areas in preparation to storm opposition-controlled Aleppo. The sources explained that they are in the process of surrounding the city in order to cut off the oppositions supply lines.
If it were to succeed, then the regime would have managed to regain two of Syria’s most important governorates: Homs and Aleppo.
Homs was the “capital of the Syrian revolution,” until government troops retook the city. Ten months have passed since opposition fighters managed to flood Aleppo by the thousands, surprising both the regime and the city’s residents. The city had remained solidly in the loyalist camp for more than a year into the Syrian crisis and no one expected it to fall into the hands of the opposition so quickly and easily.
Government sources attributed the fall of Aleppo to the collusion of Mohammed Mufleh, the former chief of Syrian Military Intelligence in Hama, with the opposition’s Tawhid Brigade. According to military sources, Mufleh was paid a large sum of money to facilitate the passage of thousands of opposition fighters into the city.
Military sources maintained that the Aleppans were not particularly welcoming of the opposition, which committed massacres against whole loyalist families, like the Bazzi clan. The same sources estimated the number of fighters in the city may have now reached 20,000.
Mufleh’s defection and the role he played in Aleppo is old news by now. What has not been known until now, however, is his relationship to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Tawhid Brigade, particularly in its initial phases.
Reports suggested that the intelligence chief – before announcing his defection – was in cahoots with Tawhid as it tried to establish its hold in the areas of Aleppo and Idlib.
The relationship reached a point in which Mufleh was prepared to hand over all the weapons at his disposal to the brigade. Tawhid waged a series of successful side battles with other armed groups, accusing them of working for the regime.
After Mufleh’s defection, contacts between Tawhid and commanders loyal to him continued. The breaking point, however, came when these commanders requested that Tawhid “lay down its weapons and declare that it will enter into negotiations with the regime,” only to discover that the opposition brigade had opened up new channels with Turkey and Qatar, before finally announcing its loyalty to the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Syria: Border Clashes Pit FSA Against Kurds (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Have Washington and Tel Aviv Miscalculated Events in al-Qusayr (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Tension returns to the already unstable relationship between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Kurdish Popular Protection Units in the countryside of Aleppo, following attempts by the FSA to raid Kurdish-controlled villages in the Afrin region.
The clashes in the Afrin region – between units of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Tawhid Brigade and Islamist and Kurdish groups supported by Ankara – resulted in the displacement of some villagers and the closure of the Afrin-Aleppo road.
Kurdish sources confirmed to Al-Akhbar that 14 members of the opposition units and two Kurdish fighters were killed over the weekend. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes caused the death of 11 rebel fighters and the injury of more than 20.
Reports on injuries and the clashes’ cause conflicted. In a statement, the Popular Protection Units (YPG) announced the deaths of 11 members of armed groups, including a battalion commander, and the injuring of 15 other fighters.
On the other hand, the Tawhid Brigade said that the “commander of Battalion 21″ was killed, as well as the commander of the Sayyid al-Shuhada al-Hamza, AKA Shamel. Dissident Kurdish captain Bioar Mustafa, commander of the Salaheddin Battalion fighting alongside the FSA against the YPG, was also injured.
The Tawhid Battalion accused one of the Kurdish checkpoints of “facilitating the passage of residents of Kfar Nebel,” which the FSA has put under siege.
The YPG, however, said in a statement that “FSA groups attacked the village of Aqiba in Nahiet Shirawa and the YPG responded to the attack.”
FSA units kidnapped two Kurdish citizens from the village of Bassila on the Aleppo-Afrin road. The Syrian army exploited the clashes between the two opposition groups. A source close to the FSA was reported saying that the regime’s forces sent military and logistical reinforcements to the besieged Ming Military Airport.
In the meantime, the Sheikh Said Piran battalions fighting alongside the FSA at the Ming Airport and some neighborhoods of Aleppo announced its “complete withdrawal from Aleppo and the beginning of a march to Afrin to defend it against the FSA.”
The Kurdish Front Brigade, which is close to the YPG despite fighting against the Syrian army alongside the FSA, announced that they are coordinating all their operations with the YPG. “They are with us in the same trench,” it said.
The YPG, however, maintained that the FSA’s attack “targets the entire Afrin region and was planned in advance.” Kurdish sources maintained that there is a plan by the FSA in the Aleppo countryside to attack the villages of Afrin and impose an economic siege.
However, this is not the first attempt by FSA groups in Aleppo to attack villages under the control of the Kurdish units. In this respect, a Kurdish source explained to Al-Akhbar that the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood “is a bigger threat to the Kurds from the entire Baathist doctrine.”
“But anytime the Brotherhood thinks about cleansing Aleppo or its countryside, they will find that the Kurds will be their biggest challenge,” he added.
“Despite the Brotherhood knowing that they are fighting a losing battle in Afrin, which will weaken and drain them, they seem to be pulled ideologically,” he said. “This cancels the pragmatic side.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has chosen Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom to lead a UN investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
“He is an accomplished scientist with a solid background in disarmament and international security,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky announced on Tuesday.
The fact-finding team was set up at the request of the Syrian government after insurgents in Syria were accused of using chemical weapons against civilians near the northern city of Aleppo where dozens of people have been killed and nearly 140 more injured.
It was not immediately clear who else would be on Sellstrom’s team. Russia said on Monday that Russian and Chinese experts should be part of the investigation, but Moscow’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on Tuesday that Russia would “most likely not” be represented.
Sellstrom was a chief inspector for UNSCOM, the U.N. inspection team that investigated and dismantled Iraq’s biological and chemical weapons programs in the 1990s, reports said.
Sellstrom also worked with UNMOVIC, the U.N. group that returned to Iraq in 2002 and found no solid evidence that Baghdad had revived its weapons-of-mass-destruction programs before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion as Washington and London alleged at the time.
Partitioning Syria at the Doha Summit (Excerpt)
The US-European-Gulf axis has succeeded in dragging the world into a new round of violence and anarchy, all in the name of taking Syria away from Bashar al-Assad.
Those behind this phase no longer care about their public face; they have revealed the true state of the Syrian opposition groups they sponsor. They have brought them totally under their control. So Moaz al-Khatib can protest and resign, Free Syrian Army fighters and officers can object, and opposition figures can complain as much as they like in the press or on TV. What matters is that in conjunction with this decision, the following must be done:
– Sponsorship of opposition forces from Turkey to be escalated. This seeks to impose new military and intelligence chiefs on the armed groups, providing them with new kinds of weapons, and bringing them more firmly under the control of the foreign capitals concerned. A central military objective has been defined: to fully occupy Aleppo as a prelude to proclaiming the new Syrian state in the north.
– The world presented with a fait accompli in the form of an “interim government.” This reflects the total submission of the Islamist opposition, be it Muslim Brotherhood or Salafi, to Gulf leadership, and the collusion of military commanders on the ground. The idea is for this body to be able to request foreign assistance in various forms.
– The Syrian government’s allies, whether in Iraq, Iran or Lebanon, are to be threatened by means of additional funding for civil conflicts that are liable to preoccupy them.
The conspiracy against Syria being hatched at the Doha summit is a massive gamble, as well as a historic crime. The Gulf sheikhs, in conjunction with Western and Arab capital, are launching a step-by-step process of partitioning Syria. – Full article
Residents and medics transport a Syrian soldier, wounded in Aleppo chemical attack, to hospital on March 19, 2013.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi has described militants’ use of chemical weapons as the “first act” by the so-called opposition interim government.
The Syrian minister also said that Turkey and Qatar, which support militants fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, bore “legal, moral and political responsibility” for the chemical attack in the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday.
At least 25 people were killed and 86 others were injured after militants fired rocks containing “poisonous gases” into Aleppo’s Khan al-Assal village. Women and children are reported to be among the victims.
According to a Reuters photographer in Aleppo, victims of attack were suffering breathing problems.
“I saw mostly women and children. They (witnesses) said that people were suffocating in the streets and the air smelt strongly of chlorine,” he said adding that “people were dying in the streets and in their houses.”
Foreign-backed militants, who had threatened to use chemical weapons against the army government forces and Assad supporters a few months ago, have denied using chemical weapons and have accused government forces of being behind the attack.
The attack comes hours after Syria’s opposition National Coalition elected Ghassan Hitto, a former US-based IT executive, as prime minister for what it called an interim government.
Militants fighting against the Syrian government have fired at a civilian plane as it was preparing to take off from Aleppo airport.
A militant commander told Reuters on Friday that snipers from his brigade had hit the wheels of Syrian Airways flight RB201 a day before.
The commander, who gave his name only as Khaldoun, said the attack was a message to the government that all planes, either military or civilian, are within the militants’ reach.
It was the first direct attack on a civilian flight since fighting escalated between foreign-backed militants and government forces a few months ago.
Meanwhile, Palestinians are returning to their homes in Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus after government forces managed to clear the camp of militants.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011. Many people, including large numbers of army and security personnel, have been killed in the turmoil.
A recent UN report has revealed that militants from 29 countries have so far filtered into Syria to fight against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, most of whom are extremist Salafists.
The Syrian government has repeatedly said that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and that a very large number of the militants operating in the country are foreign nationals.
In their fervent struggle, a Syrian rebel group has “arrested” a Lebanese journalist in Aleppo saying his “presence as a journalist no longer receives approval in areas controlled by the rebels.”
Fidaa Itani, who works for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBCI) and several other news outlets, was travelling though Aleppo under protection of a rebel group when he was arrested and handed over to another rebel group which controls a small town some 30km away from the besieged port-city.
The rebels said on their Facebook page they found Itani’s work “incompatible with the path of the Syrian revolution and rebels.”
They promised to free the reporter who is now in rebel custody “shortly” – after the necessary documents and information are acquired.
Itani was seized after he raised suspicions, taking pictures and videos of “large amounts of operations” in Syria’s second largest city. The content of his reports also seems to have fallen afoul of how the rebels want the popular uprising against Bashar Al-Assad’s government to be covered.
“Reports and videos have not proven yet Itani’s involvement with any party that works against the revolution, but his presence as a journalist no longer receives approval in areas controlled by the rebels,” the group said in a statement.
LBCI, as well as Lebanese MPs, are in contact with the group and their leader, Abu Ibrahim. They expect Itani to be set free in a couple of days.
Abu Ibrahim and the Azaz rebel group have abducted Lebanese nationals before. Eleven Lebanese pilgrims, who were returning from Iran through Syria, were kidnapped by the group in May. Only two of them have been released so far.
The rebels have used the term “detained” to describe the abduction of the journalist, but they in fact have committed “a criminal action” and “kidnapped” him, Manuel Ochsenreiter, editor-in-chief of the German monthly news magazine Zuerst, told RT.
“Indeed this is an alarming development but this is not new,” he said. “He is not the first journalist to have been kidnapped in Syria. We see a huge number of journalists that were killed by the rebels in Syria, who were killed by the Al-Qaeda related groups. I just want to remember the journalists of the Syrian TV channel, Syrian News TV where some journalist were killed and where the building was attacked at the end of June this year.”
At the same time the Syrian government does not prevent journalists making reports that disagree with the official line, says Ochsenreiter, who himself had visited Damascus during the conflict.
“I was in Damascus and what I can say is that I met a lot of journalists who were not filing reports consistent with the official line of the Syrian government’s cause and they were not detained, they were not kidnapped, they were free to work in the country,” he said. “So, you see that there is a huge difference how journalists work in Syria and there is a monster huge difference in the risk.”
Itani was kidnapped just hours after the release of a video in which Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawari had called for Muslims to kidnap Westerners as a bargaining chip, to win the release of its members held captive around the world. In a new video posted online he also urged Islamists to support Syrian rebels with “all that they can.”
This is not the first time that a foreign reporter has gone missing in the Arab country since it plunged into civil unrest in March 2011. In one of the most recent incidents, Ukrainian reporter Anhar Kochneva disappeared several weeks ago and has not yet been freed. In total, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, three international reporters remain unaccounted for in Syria, while over 20 have been killed adding to more than 20,000 casualties suffered by Syria.
Ankara – It would seem to be quite simple. All that has to happen for the fighting to end in Syria is for those with guns in their hands to put them down. So why isn’t it happening?
Again the answer is simple and not just seemingly. Outside governments supporting the armed groups do not want them to put their weapons down. It has been deliberately locked into a cycle of violence which its enemies hope will end in its destruction. This strategy is the prime cause of the death and devastation over which the sponsors of this violence have been wringing their hands before the UN General Assembly.
Agendas vary slightly but the prime goal of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the governments of the US, Britain and France is not political reform but the destruction of Iran’s best friend in the region. Syria is the central arch in a strategic relationship between Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. The fall of that central arch would give western governments one of their greatest strategic victories in the modern history of the Middle East.
Syria is frequently described as collapsing or bleeding or plunging into ‘civil war’. None is correct. Syria is being collapsed, being bled and being plunged into devastation as the direct consequence of decisions taken outside Syria. The collective calling itself ‘The Friends of the Syrian People’ has deliberately brought Syria to where it is now. There are no small mercies in this situation but it could have been even worse, if these ‘friends’ had been able to launch an aerial assault under the aegis of the Security Council. Had Russia and China not blocked them, Syria would be now be a total ruin, with an infinitely greater number of dead than the 20,000 or so already killed. Their fallback position was the war of attrition being waged by their armed protégés.
Few countries could withstand the battering Syria has taken in the past 18 months. In the name of ‘regime change’ horror has followed horror. Aleppo has been turned into a replica of Beirut at the height of the civil war, with a large part of the medieval souk now burnt to the ground. Yet the government has not collapsed and neither has the army disintegrated. The message from this is that Syria has a government and not a ‘regime’ and an army – in which the ordinary soldiers are mostly Sunni Muslim – and not ‘Assad loyalists’.
Military defections have been few. So have defections from the ranks of government despite the large amounts of money on offer. Foreign Minister Walid Muallim was offered $100 million by the ruler of Qatar if he would defect but turned it down and went public with the bribe. One of the last known of cases was the $20,000 a month for the next 20 years and a home in Doha offered to the Syrian consul in Mauritania. He also refused. Bashar al Assad was totally correct when he said a few days ago that the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar think they can buy anyone. If there is anywhere where ‘regime change’ is needed it is surely in these gulf states.
One of the last defectors was the head of security in Aleppo. Before his departure and untimely end (he was assassinated a few kilometers short of the Turkish border by persons unknown) he had arranged for the infiltration of thousands of jihadis into the city. Many are not even Syrian. They have come to fight the jihad from all corners of the Muslim world. There are Chechens, Afghans, Pakistanis, Tajiks, Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans (lots of Libyans), Saudis and Iraqis. Aleppo has been targeted because it is close to the Turkish border, and the hope is that it can be turned into a ‘rebel’ capital in a ‘liberated’ zone stretching up to the Turkish border. This could be done only over the dead bodies and against the wishes of the people of the city.
Whether inside the cells fighting in the name of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) or operating independently, the salafi jihadis inside Syria are tactically cooperating against the common enemy. The FSA is little more than a convenient trademark. Most of the armed groups have their own command structure and take no notice of the FSA. Recently Riad al Assad crossed the border from Turkey to direct the struggle from inside Syria, only to stay a day and a night before going back because there was no point in him staying. The political arm of the FSA is the so-called Syrian National Council, touted as an alternative government but dysfunctional from the start and now recognized as such even by its sponsors. Put these two hard realities together and you have the formula for complete chaos. There is no alternative government in sight. There is no rational end in sight. The armed groups cannot overthrow the government without the direct intervention of their outside sponsors and that possibility seems to be receding although Qatar is still trying to talk it up. All that lies ahead of Syria unless the violence can be ended and negotiations begun is more chaos, more destruction and more loss of life.
Not that chaos is to be discarded as an end in itself. It will take Syria decades to recover from the damage already done whoever governs in Damascus. If the decision is finally taken to attack Iran, Syria would probably be too stricken to come to its aid even if the government has not been overthrown; if Syria cannot help, then Hezbollah might have to stay on the sidelines as well, releasing Israel from the fear of a second front opening in the north. This is how the governments orchestrating the campaign against Syria want the dominoes to fall. The implications for the Palestinians are clear. Any gain for Israel is a loss for them and the overthrow of the Syrian government, followed by the collapse of the strategic relationship between Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, would be an enormous gain for Israel, releasing pressure on one front and giving it more time to complete its absorption of Jerusalem and the West Bank.
What most Syrians want is to be left alone to sort out their own affairs. They want change but not at any cost. They don’t want the west sticking its nose in their affairs and they don’t want armed gangs running amok in their country. The west might have forgotten its own bloody record in the Middle East dating back to the beginning of the 19th century but Syrians have not. They know how disastrously western intervention always ends in the Middle East. Heads of governments who have been fueling the armed opposition have been lining up at the UN General Assembly to call for an end to the violence. If they mean what they say, they would be throwing their weight behind the attempts of the non-violent domestic opposition to bring a mediated end to this conflict. But they don’t and therefore must be seen for what they are – hypocrites who are pushing their own agenda at massive cost to Syria and its people.
- Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.
- ‘West wants end of Syria as a functioning independent state’ (alethonews.wordpress.com)